By Mike D’Abate
In the 2006 film ‘Rocky Balboa’ the titular character (famously played by Sylvester Stallone) is once seen imparting a valuable life lesson to his weary son, Robert. In a very poignant father-son exchange, the iconic, elder Balboa had the following advice for his only child, who (at the moment) was a bit worn down by some of the misfortunes that had befallen him:
‘It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can GET hit, and keep moving forward…how much you can take, and keep moving forward…That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky Balboa
While it might be a bit cliché to quote from the ‘Rocky’ saga when profiling a boxing champion, the parallels regarding this particular fighter are amazingly striking. Much like the fictional Balboa, he is a true fighter that refuses to quit, both inside and out of the boxing ring. His hardships only serve as motivation to constantly improve. He has taken some of life’s hardest hits, and continues to move forward. That spirit has made him a champion. He is Smithfield’s own, Anthony Marsella, Jr.
Nicknamed ‘A1,’ Marsella is a super-lightweight boxer and reigning International Boxing Association (IBA) Americas Champion. He captured the previously vacant title by defeating challenger Jorge Rodriguez in the main event of CES Boxing’s Holiday Bash on November 21, 2018 at the Twin River Event Center. Marsella scored the stoppage victory in impressive fashion, when Rodriguez was unable to answer the bell for the fourth round. The win preserved his undefeated professional record at 11-0.
Marsella, a 2013 Smithfield High School graduate, became a professional boxer nearly three years ago. During that time, the 23-year old phenom has rapidly become one of New England’s brightest young stars. As an amateur, he became a four-time Western New England Golden Gloves champion. Since turning pro, he has earned five victories by knockout (KO), and five via unanimous decision. Anyone who has had the privilege of watching him compete cannot help but be mesmerized by his mastery of technique, speed and strength. For the new IBA Americas Champion, the best has seemingly yet to come.
However, Marsella’s road to success has not been paved with ease. His rise to prominence can be considered a masterclass in desire, discipline and perseverance. It is his proficiency in each of these skills that has propelled Marsella towards his goal of not only being the best boxer he can, but also the best man.
By Marsella’s own admission, boxing was not originally “part of (his) plan.” In what was primarily intended to be used as a method of self-defense, he showed a great deal of promise in the sport. Marsella began training with local coach and family friend, Vic Fagnant, to whom Marsella credits much of his success. His father, Anthony Sr., fondly recalled watching his son quickly master the techniques that had taken his peers a much greater amount of time to grasp. “Anthony was a quick study,” per the elder Marsella. “He could put combinations of punches together in half the amount of time it took for a lot of his competitors to learn.” Unable to deny his natural ability, the junior Marsella was inspired to enter a local tournament. Little did he know that he was about to stoke the competitive fire that still continues to burn deep within him.
Despite his displaying some flashes of talent, a young Marsella lacked the training and fitness required to win. As a result, he lost his first bout. Rather than be discouraged, Marsella became singularly motivated. He developed an intense focus on improving his conditioning and sharpening his technique. Gradually, he began to achieve success by winning regional tournaments and bouts, as well as picking up several medals at nationals. However, Marsella’s sights were set much higher.
For all of his success at the amateur level, Marsella had suffered some heartbreaking losses by decision, as well. In fact, the nature of these losses could have shaken the confidence of any fighter. Never one to make excuses, however, he simply vowed to do everything in his power to achieve victory before the fight could be decided by a judge’s panel. “I always try not to let it get to that point…the great fighters always want to hold victory in their own hands,” Marsella often says with a knowing grin. He wanted more, and would not accept less.
In 2015, Marsella’s determination led him to make one of the toughest and most poignant decisions of his life. It was this fearlessness that led him to spend nearly every dollar he had to train with the best fighters in the world. Despite some concerns by his father, Marsella traveled 3000 miles to Las Vegas, and the home of one of boxing’s most prolific and recognizable names, multiple-time world champion Floyd Mayweather.
Marsella cites Mayweather as one of his biggest influences in the sport. A lifelong admirer of his in-ring prowess, the young fighter knew that there was nowhere else he would rather train. Undaunted, he went directly to Mayweather’s gym upon his arrival in Las Vegas. With a confidence that avoided conceit, Marsella began to display the talent and attitude that would make him a champion.
As his reputation grew, Marsella caught the eye of a member of Mayweather’s security team, Greg LaRosa. His performances in training impressed LaRosa to the point where he made sure that word made its way to Mayweather himself. LaRosa introduced Marsella to Mayweather, who was impressed by the young fighter from Smithfield, Rhode Island. Knowing a thing or two about talent, himself, Mayweather was quite taken by Marsella’s poise and determination. Marsella possessed what is often referred to as the ‘it’ factor in professional sports. While others may have had more raw talent, Marsella’s refusal to fail set him apart from the rest. Using the knowledge and tools he gained by working with Mayweather and his team, Marsella set out to embark on his journey to stardom.
It is against this backdrop that Marsella began his professional career. However, the bright lights of Las Vegas have done little to diminish the pride which which Marsella holds his hometown of Smithfield, as well as his home state of Rhode Island. Determined to continue, and enhance, the tradition of Italian-American boxers from the Ocean State, he remains unilaterally focused on his goals. Like any great fighter, the motivation to become a world champion is always his forefront. “The best have always held that title,” Marsella said. “If I do not achieve that goal, I cannot be considered a success.” It is safe to assume that his in-ring achievements, though very impressive, are far from satisfying Marsella’s competitive nature.
However, as prestigious of an honor it is to hold a championship (including the IBA Americas title, which he currently holds,) a title belt is not what defines Anthony Marsella, Jr. At the end of the day, he is a man that is looking to provide a better life for his family, especially his father Anthony Sr. Having suffered through the tragic passing of his mother (when Marsella Jr. was just 7 years old), the Smithfield native is keenly aware of the sacrifices and efforts that his father made to provide a comfortable life for him and his brother, Carlo. “I want my Dad to be proud, but I want him to be comfortable too.” Marsella said with a proud smile. “He has given all of his life…it’s my time to give back to him.”
Marsella is truly giving back; in many ways. Not only is he moving closer toward his goal of providing a comfortable life for his family, he is also using his platform for the greater good. In a sport that is much-maligned for its intense physicality, he has spoken several times at the National Institute for Non-Violence. While he is a fighter by profession, Marsella feels a responsibility to remind the youth of America that violence should always be the last possible answer for resolving conflict; and should never be the answer in a domestic situation. “Many of my fans are children, and there is a responsibility that comes with that.” Marsella said, directly. “I embrace it and want my fans to be proud of me. It all starts with how I live my life, and what is in my heart.”
On a personal level, Marsella remains motivated by success in his sport. One can see the pride with which he takes in describing the satisfaction achieved with hard work. Whether it be training at home with Fagnant, or in Las Vegas with Chris Ben-Tchavtchavadze, Marsella is dedicated to the fitness and nutrition regimen that makes him one of the best-conditioned athletes in all of boxing. It is important to note, however, that Marsella’s ‘conditioning’ is not limited to his physical well-being. He seeks his fitness mentally, economically and emotionally as well. He is steadfast in his desire to define his legacy by approaching his career with a balance of emotion and reason. In his own words, Marsella declared:
“I want to take advantage of boxing; I don’t want boxing to take advantage of me.”
Without letting his heart rule his head (and vice-versa), Anthony Marsella Jr. is on the cusp of a future as bright as the lights which shine on the ring of battle in which he competes. He has been well-taught. He has been well-trained. As he prepares for his next fight (likely to be early in 2019, via Jimmy Burchfield Promotions), Marsella remains calm, yet confident. However, the determination that drives him is what keeps moving him forward. Even after taking the hard hits throughout his life, he sees the positive in every situation. When all else fails, the spirit of his mother is always there, as his guardian angel. It is what gives him that “something extra.” One might say, it is his silver lining from the cloud of early tragedy. That is truly how winning is done. Anthony Marsella, Jr. is quickly becoming an expert on that very subject, in all aspects of life.