One was Elad "The Kosher Pit Bull" Shmouel, an active-duty first sergeant with the Israel Defense Force. The 21-year-old got special permission to travel to Philadelphia to fight and entered the ring with a professional record of 18-1. The olive-complexioned, short-haired Shmouel hails from Tel Aviv and is one of Israel's top boxing prospects.
His opponent was Lenny "The Hitman" DeVictoria, a rugged fighter born and bred in Philadelphia who sported sequined blue shorts and a large Afro. Although the 28-year-old came into the fight with a 9-10 record, his previous opponents were certainly better than Shmouel's.
The raucous crowd at the Legendary Blue Horizon on North Broad Street roared throughout the all-out, back-and-forth fight that served as the main event of an eight-fight card on Dec. 7.
'No Free Time in a Place Like Israel'
Just days before arriving in icy-cold Philadelphia, Shmouel was back in Tel Aviv, dividing his time between the army personnel management unit of the IDF and training at the Combined Martial Arts gym. The army has been gracious, he said, granting him time to train and allowing him to eat special foods. Due to such a rigorous schedule, Shmouel came to Philadelphia just two days before the fight, and left the following morning.
"I finish my fight, then I'm back to working with my unit in the army," the fighter said before a Dec. 5. press conference at the Blue Horizon. "There's no free time in a place like Israel."
With just one month left in his required military service, Shmouel said that he looks forward to making boxing his No. 1 priority and said he would consider moving to the United States to train.
After growing up learning martial arts, Shmouel said that moving to boxing was an easy transition.
"Boxing is something else," he said. "The minute I put on the gloves, I just got connected, and from then on, I can't stop."
Philadelphia has become something of a "second home" for Shmouel, who has fought five times at the Blue Horizon and has an open invitation to work out at two local boxing gyms.
The competition he faces in Philadelphia far outweighs that of Israel, he added.
"You can't compare it," he said. "Philly? It's a fighting city.
"You come here, you breathe boxing, you see boxing. It's the nature of the place. In Israel," he said, "everybody's tough, but the competition isn't that great, and the boxing isn't so popular."
Shmouel added that even though he's not a local, the Philly crowds seem to like his aggressive style.
"They root for the guy who's most exciting," declared the Israeli. "They don't care who you are or where you come from. They judge you by how you fight and what you're willing to give and take — and I'm a guy who's willing to come forward and make a fight out of it."
'I Started Throwing Lots of Punches'
By the time Shmouel and DeVictoria entered the ring at the Blue Horizon, the 1,500-seat arena was filled to capacity.
Shmouel wore a blue-and-gold robe, and when the fight began, manager Raanan Tal shouted instructions in Hebrew.
After winning the opening round, Shmouel nearly ended the fight in the second, when he landed a right that sent DeVictoria crashing into the ropes, then down to the canvas.
"I started throwing a lot — lots of punches. I was 100 percent sure that he wouldn't survive that round," insisted Shmouel. But DeVictoria made it back to his feet and through the round.
It was the Israeli who was in trouble in the next round, as DeVictoria seized control. With the crowd chanting "Lenny, Lenny, Lenny," he landed shots that dazed Shmouel and split his upper lip.
By the fifth round, the action evened out, but the fast pace and lack of defense made the fight no less brutal than before. It appeared that Shmouel was in control of the sixth round, until DeVictoria landed a body shot that forced his opponent down on one knee.
Shmouel managed to get back to his feet, but after taking a few more blows, the referee stopped the fight, giving a TKO victory to DeVictoria, and thereby handing Shmouel the second loss of his career.
As the event concluded, the ring announcer all but assured that this fight would be a serious candidate for Philadelphia's "fight of the year."
Although the fans got their money's worth, the end result provided no solace for Shmouel, who sat for several minutes in the corner of his locker room with his robe around his body and a white towel wrapped around his head.
"I wasn't cautious enough. I just went out there and slugged it out. That's not always the best thing to do," he finally said.
"I should've punched and moved, punched and moved."
DeVictoria, whose own face showed considerable wear and tear, explained that he noticed early on that body punches were working, so he held off at first, then cashed in during the later rounds.
Still, he had to admit that his scrappy opponent was — and is — "definitely a strong, strong kid."
"We expect a lot from him, but he's only 21," offered Tal, "and he'll be back, definitely stronger and faster. He just needs more time.
"Although he lost the fight, I'm satisfied," continued the manager. "He needs a tough fight. He doesn't need easy fights anymore. Although it's bad for the record, it's good for the experience."
Tal said that Shmouel has a fight in January in Israel, then one in New York in February. Even though Shmouel lost in Philly, he said, that schedule will not change.
After finishing his commitment to the army, Shmouel hopes to train for an extended period in the United States, where he said that he can continue his quest towards becoming a contender and, eventually, world champion.
"I'll be here sparring and getting better," said the fighter, "and I promise you the next fight will [feature] a brand-new Elad."