1) Eric Kelly
Neeraj) When did you first realize that you had what it took to be a fighter?''
Eric) At fifteen is when I felt that I could be something as a fighter. Growing up I got the opportunity to spar and train with some of the biggest boxers in the professional ranks. They inspired me a great deal, and I wanted to be like them. Fighters like Kevin Kelley, Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti. I would train and spar with these guys and hold my own. I knew that the other kids in my division didn't have the same magnitude of training partner that I did.
Neeraj) You're originally from Titusville, Florida. What was that like?
Eric) It was great! I love Titusville, Florida and I want to be the one to put Titusville on the map. We have tons of NFL football legends from there, plus surrounding areas, but I really want to get Titusville known for more than just Kennedy Space Center.
Neeraj) What was more rewarding – your first Golden Gloves win or your second?
Eric) My first Golden Gloves win was probably my biggest win ever! I fought Luis Sánchez who had won the title the year before at 147 lbs. He was a killer! When I fought him it was my first senior bout and I had to fight open-class because I was the Junior Olympic National champ. My fight with Luis won me the Boxer of the night award!
Neeraj) Who was the best boxer you ever fought?
Eric) His name was Henry Markin. Henry "Hank" Markin. Many don’t know about him, but in my first national tournament in the senior division, I had to fight him. I was 17 and he was in his 20’s. He'd been fighting for years on the national level and was a national champ. He knocked me down but I got up and waxed his ass.
Neeraj) Who is your favorite client, past and present?
Eric) So many! But if I had to pick one, it would be Keith Rubenstein, Jr. He's only 12. I also work with his dad and older brother, Peter Rubenstein. I love those guys! Keith Jr. and I also share the same birthday – September 20th. Virgo Power.
Neeraj) Which client made the most dramatic improvement under your tutelage?
Eric) Ann Hong was so green when I first started with her, but she's very determined and hard working. She went from the worst in the gym to the best in one year.
Neeraj) How much should a client tip you?
Eric) Those fucktards better tip me at least ten bucks. I teach them, entertain them, train them, and serve as their psychiatrist.
Neeraj) Mayweather or Pacquiao?
Eric) Mayweather is just too smart for Manny. And yes, Marquez beat Pac three times and I believe that Pac is on PEDs.
Neeraj) Tyson or Ali?
Eric) Ali was just too smart for Tyson. It's like me versus other trainers. No other trainer does this like I do it. I am the Cassius Clay of this shit.
Neeraj) The “street altercation” that caused permanent damage to your eye – let’s not dance around it. What exactly happened?
Eric) I was out in Detroit, Michigan at the time, training at the Kronk Boxing Gym with Javan Hill, Emanuel Stewart and some other friends. I was kicking ass in the gym, looking to turn pro as a Kronk fighter, but I was too damn stupid to live like I wanted to be a world-class athlete. I was partying in clubs, out with women, and slacking on my training. I was really fucking up. I wasn't doing what it took to be a supreme athlete. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. Long story short, I got in to a feud with a few dudes and they jumped me in the bar. One took a pool cue and struck me and beat me with it. The initial shot struck my eye, and I was fucked. I treated it like a normal black, bloody, eye. I iced it and applied Neosporin but never went to the doctor. Little did I know, the injury was internal. The muscles in the nerve of my eyelid were struck and are very weak. Thus, my eyelid droops.
Neeraj) Do you feel that in some way your eye injury was a blessing, in that it led you to Church Street perhaps earlier than intended?
Then, maybe that led to the video, and perhaps increased revenue in the short and long term? Or is that a stupid question, because you would have made money anyway, yet now you're stuck with a damaged eye?
Eric) I don’t know. I was fairly decent as a fighter and thought that I could have done good things in the professional ranks. Lots of guys who I fought and beat -- and who beat me -- are doing good things in the pros. One guy who beat me in the amateurs and who is now a top pro is Andre Ward. I love him. I'm happy that if I had to lose my title, I lost to someone like him. Because he has the mental toughness and faith to be a better champion than me. I was too stupid and not as grounded. As for Church Street and the video, I felt that something would have happened anyway. I'm always being wild and comical. I appreciate the guys at Church Street; I commend them for having me and letting me be who I am.
Neeraj) I'm sure men never talk smack about your eye, but has a woman ever given you a hard time?
Eric) At first I was embarrassed and ashamed. Then I asked a girl what she thought about it, and she said that it was sexy. It adds character. In terms of my [REDACTED] intake, it's gone up since the eye injury. So if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.
Neeraj) What are the problems that professional boxing currently faces? How would your solve these problems if you were in charge?
Eric) It's become too much of a business. I would minimize the number of belts and not pay the fighters crazy millions for a boring- ass fight. Ten million would be max. And give a million dollar bonus to best knockout and boxer of the night.
Neeraj) How has your life changed since the Eric Kelly "Boxing Lessons" video went public?
Eric) I get recognized in the street a bit more. I actually hired three husky females to follow me around and make sure I'm safe from groupies and haters. I've got the opportunity to meet and form good relationships with some of the Hollywood elite and I'm actually traveling to Los Angeles next week for the 2012 MTV VMAs. Of course I'm going to be the best dressed person there because RVCA makes sure that I'm always picture perfect.
Neeraj) Why do you think the video took off in the way that it did?
Eric) Because it was real! Nothing was scripted or rehearsed at all. My cock-eyed ass just called it like I saw it. And the sad thing is that these were grown-ass fucking men in the video. If I were their parents, I'd drop them from my will.
Neeraj) Do strangers shout out any of your catchphrases on the street? How does that make you feel?
Eric) It happens all the time. It actually happened tonight. I was at the W Hotel and a guy was with his wife and he shouted at me.
"Ride the bullet!" It feels awesome. I love the fact that I am able to make people happy and inspire them in a positive way.
Neeraj) What does your family make of your newfound fame?
Eric) They don’t really get it, but they sort of do. Because when I was a fighter I was always featured on TV, fighting in Madison Square Garden and winning championships. I was on the Chris Rock show on HBO and many other shows. So I guess it's nothing big to them, which is cool. But the world’s gone viral since my fighting days, so now it's much bigger.
Neeraj) You have a prolific and spirited Twitter feed. Things I've learned about you – aside from cereal preferences which highlight the classics – include the fact that you don't necessarily value the institution of marriage. What advice would you give to a young man or young woman who wants to tie the knot?
Eric) Learn to humble yourself.
Neeraj) You also concede that you're difficult to date. I don't buy that. For the interested women out there – and there are many – what makes Eric Kelly difficult to date?
Eric) I'm not trusting, probably because I've been a damn slut myself.
Neeraj) On the flip side, what do you look for in a woman?
Eric) I love a smart woman that's witty and charismatic, I don’t like women who are predictable. I like a woman with a bit of a sassy edge but she's classy and smart. She must take pride in her appearance and conditioning also. I can’t be walking around New York with a woman that looks like a Jeep Cherokee. She can't mess around and make me look worse than that pool cue did!
Neeraj) Any advice for the men out there?
Eric) I ain’t trying to commit adultery, but don't leave your woman unattended in my presence, because if she's hot, she will get got!
Neeraj) You don't drink. What does Eric Kelly drink at the club (besides water)?
Eric) 31 years sober of drugs and alcohol. My swag is too rich for that shit. They should bottle my piss and sell that because vodka ain’t got shit on me. So, in the club I normally have a Coca-Cola, orange juice, or cranberry juice. Also my boy Ryan at the Green Rock bar in Hoboken makes up a secret drink for me known as "Glass of Swag."
Neeraj) You maintain a very active social calendar, but you also mention on Twitter the nights when you stay in. What does a Saturday night at your crib entail?
Eric) Saturday nights at my crib generally includes boxing, Chinese food, and a slice of [REDACTED].
Neeraj) You're a huge Michael Jackson fan. Favorite M.J. song? Most underrated track?
Eric) Michael Jackson is my idol. He inspired nearly everything about me. I love Michael. My favorite songs are "Dirty Diana" and "Human Nature." His most underrated track is "Earth Song." I love "Earth Song."
Neeraj) You mention the actor Michael Pitt a lot. What does Michael Pitt do well in the ring?
Eric) Michael "Spicy-White" Pitt is like my little brother. He gives me lots of tips and ideas and I train him also. What he does so well in the ring is be unpredictable. He likes to switch from an orthodox to a southpaw stance and he has a very hard right hand.
Neeraj) You're an unapologetic McDonald's fan. What do you like to order there? Is there anything you stay away from?
Eric) Oh, my God. I love McDonalds. That sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle is fire, and the double quarter-pounder with cheese is banging. Plus, their fish sandwich is by far the best fish sandwich. I also like their Oreo, Butterfinger McFlurry, and their fruit smoothies, too. I super-size all my shit.
Neeraj) What would you say to someone who is a bit chubby, wants to come down to Church Street for a lesson, but is perhaps holding back due to their insecurities?
Eric) In all honesty, come down to the gym and I will help you help yourself. If I see you're passionate about your workout and weight issue, but really want help, then I won’t advise you to forget how to breathe. I'll help you get that weight off and as a team, we will succeed. I actually have a client in the same predicament and he's lost 45 pounds with me this year. (I do tell him to forget how to breathe, though.)
Neeraj) How would you advise a young person to deal with teasing or outright bullying?
Eric) Just know that we all have shortcomings and no one is better than the next. Just believe in yourself and count all your blessings. I know it's hard growing up, but try to stay positive and know who you are. People will always try to break you down, so don’t go around not being yourself in order to please others. Be a star. Be who you are. The day I'm viewed as normal is the day I want to be buried.
Neeraj) George Foreman has his George Foreman Grill. Eric Kelly doesn't cook, but if Eric Kelly did cook, and there was an Eric Kelly cooking appliance, what would it be?
Eric) Good question. I would like to invent a lunch box with a built-in microwave. Has that already been invented? If not, then let me write it down and present it to the nerds at the gym tomorrow.
Neeraj) How would you advise someone who's about to fight someone bigger and stronger than they are?
Eric) Don’t box with your heart, box with your brain. David beat Goliath.
Neeraj) Life is short, and you appear to be making the most of it. What do you look forward to in life?
Eric) Seeing how my kids grow up. In all honesty, I live for them. I gave up on myself in my early-to-mid 20’s. Then in 2006, when I conceived my first child, it gave me the passion and drive to live again. Not exist, but live. I feel that the ultimate test of a man is how he reacts when there are other lives depending on him for their survival. If I don’t move my feet, my babies don’t eat. I can’t have that! Luckily, I was blessed for my children to have two awesome mothers that will always be tremendous to them.
2) Jasvir Rakkar
Neeraj) You can throw a baseball pretty fast. I can throw a baseball quite fast as well. How fast is your fastest on an average radar gun?
Jasvir) Ninety-three miles per hour.
Neeraj) That's fast.
Jasvir) It's alright.
Neeraj) That's faster that I can throw.
Neeraj) On June 6, 2012, you were drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Walk me through the process of how that came together for you. When you did know for certain that you would officially be drafted? Was it weeks or months beforehand? Later, what was the actual phone call like?
Jasvir) Well, I knew before the season started that I was on the map for scouts. I really didn't officially know that I would be drafted until my phone rang and the scout called me to congratulate me. Unfortunately, I wasn't with my family at the time, but I was lucky to be with my second family, my team. They were all as excited as I was.
Neeraj) Four days after the draft, you and your Stony Brook University teammates beat LSU to reach The College World Series. A lot was made of the team’s humble, Division III origins and its Cinderella status. How did that shared experience rise and crescendo?
One week you’re going to class and watching Sportscenter, the next week you’re property of the Chicago Cubs and the lead story on Sportscenter.
Jasvir) I knew we had a good team and had a chance to beat LSU. Still, the thought of winning a Super Regional -- being a team from the Northeast -- it was unheard of. The fact that I got drafted by the Chicago Cubs didn't actually sink in right away because of what our team was accomplishing. It was just so unreal, the entire run.
Neeraj) You grew up in Canada, where the cold weather and limited daylight place aspiring ballplayers at a disadvantage compared to their peers from warm weather climates. Other athletes are able better develop their skills in baseball hotbeds like Florida, Georgia and California. Given this, it seems that earning the opportunity to play professional sports, and being from Canada to boot, it stands as a tremendous accomplishment on top of a tremendous accomplishment. What was it like to learn the game and compete in that environment?
Jasvir) A lot of my training was done indoors. This past winter I actually was forced to throw long toss outside in the snow because the space indoors just wasn't enough distance for me to throw. Luckily, I have a really supportive father and a brother (who also plays college ball in the U.S.) They were willing to layer up and throw with me. In terms of learning the game, I was also lucky to have older cousins who began playing before me and taught me the aspects of the game when I was young. I must also give a lot of credit to my coaches and teammates over the years because you can't play baseball by yourself.
Neeraj) Where does your brother play college ball? Do you two ever hit against one another? How does that turn out?
Jasvir) My brother's name is Barinder Rakkar and he goes to Mount Olive College in North Carolina. In high school we went to different schools and played against each other once, it was pretty cool. Our entire family was there. Now that I look back at it, I wished I had taken it easier on him since he’s two years younger.
Neeraj) No, your initial instincts were spot on. If you faced him in that game, I hope you drilled him in the ribs. By the way, Canada is awesome.
Jasvir) Canada is awesome. Canada is home.
Neeraj) Do you know the percentage of players that were selected from Canada?
Jasvir) Five percent? I don't know.
Neeraj) I do. It was exactly .021 percent. I counted. There were 1,238 players drafted, 26 of which were from Canada. That's .021 percent. Not only that, none of the 26 had a name like Jasvir Rakkar. There was this one guy who was close, a Tissenbaum. Oddly enough, not only are you and Tissenbaum both Canadian, you were also teammates at Stony Brook. During your time with the Seawolves, which teammate would you most want to go to war with, both on and off the field?
Jasvir) Well, I would want to go with war with every single one of them. Like I said, they were my family away from home. However, if I had to narrow it down, there would be one player I would most want to go to war with. It would be my catcher, Patrick Cantwell. I was truly blessed to have a catcher like him for the three years that I was at Stony Brook. He was the definition of a true captain and a leader on-and-off the field.
Neeraj) Hm. What about Tissenbaum?
Jasvir) He was a great teammate, too.
Neeraj) To the point, Rakkar and Tissenbaum aren't prototypical baseball names one expects to see on the big board. For example, in glancing over the 26 Canadian names, one does expect to see "Keaton Briscoe" and "Brock Dykxhoorn." But your name is Jasvir Rakkar. So, not only did you help lead a former Division III squad to The College World Series, not only did you learn the game in Canada, you’re the first South Asian to ever be drafted in one of the four major American sports. Granted, Sanjay Beach caught the first pass of Brett Favre’s career. Brandon Chillar also suited up for the Packers. Manny Malhotra was Manny Malhotra. However, neither of these gentlemen had two South Asian parents. All that said, what do you think this means for your community? How proud is your family? And frankly, how proud are you?
Jasvir) I find it hard to believe that I am the first South Asian ever to be drafted, but I hope that it opens the eyes of South Asians around the world and helps them realize that with hard work, their goals and dreams are attainable as well. For our community, I hope that my recent success will show kids, teens and maybe even adults that if we work hard and stay positive our goals are within reach. Hopefully, it also helps make baseball (and sports in general) bigger throughout our community. My family is extremely proud of me, however, they know (as I do) that this is only the beginning. The hard work has only just begun.
Neeraj) Were there ever instances of negativity with regards to your ethnicity?
Jasvir) I must say that I think I got lucky. I really did not experience any negative comments or remarks regarding my ethnicity. However, I guarantee some people may have thought I would not have made it as far as I have because of my Indian descent.
Neeraj) You're Canadian, we've covered that at length, but let’s pretend you're not. If you were American, with your choice of American Presidents to spend time with, would you rather:
A) Play the saxophone with Bill Clinton.
B) Play basketball with Barack Obama.
C) Go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt.
Jasvir) Even though I love basketball, I'd go with "C."
Neeraj) Thank God. I was worried for a moment that you were going to say “B.” Even if you're staunchly anti-hunting or what have you, the answer is "C," go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt.
Jasvir) I wouldn't turn down a chance to go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt.
Neeraj) You love basketball. What's your position?
Jasvir) I guess you can consider me a swing man. I used to play power forward and small forward in high school. I love basketball but I adore baseball.
Neeraj) On paper, both the draft and the road to Omaha stand as obvious career highlights. Aside from those landmark achievements, what are your fondest baseball memories?
Jasvir) When I was 17 I played for Team Ontario at the Canada Cup and won a National Championship. Before this year, that was one of my greatest accomplishments on the field. I also got the opportunity to play in the Ontario Summer Games when I was 15.
Neeraj) You won a National Championship? Did you get a trophy for that?
Jasvir) Yes, we actually got really big rings and our names engraved on the Canada Cup.
Neeraj) I bet it was really nice. Can you describe it for us?
Jasvir) It was amazing. To win at a national stage and be recognized as a national champion was amazing. A lot of the guys I played with on that team I still play with or against today. For example Tissenbaum and Tanner Nivins were both at Stony Brook with me.
Neeraj) I was actually asking you to describe the Canada Cup itself. I was being silly. Anyway, when did you first become aware of your physical gifts? When did you realize that you had coordination and general motor skills that exceeded those of your peers?
Jasvir) I realized I had potential to earn a scholarship when I was around 17 years old. In terms of the draft, I always dreamt of a pro career but didn't actually realize I had what it took until my sophomore year at Stony Brook.
Neeraj) But were you markedly better than other kids at 5, 8 or 11 years old? You didn't dominate gym class in elementary school?
Jasvir) There were a lot of athletes at the schools I went to, but I was at the top of the class most of the time. I actually won the 12th grade Phys Ed award.
Neeraj) Are you competitive in other aspects of life, or generally laid back about things? It seems athletes either need to beat you at ping-pong and traffic lights, or they’re very serene and Zen about life.
Jasvir) I think I tend to be on the serene and Zen side. I find myself trying to enjoy every moment of every day.
Neeraj) How do you prepare yourself for a start, from the moment you wake up until the first pitch? How does it differ from relief work?
Jasvir) I really don't have a crazy routine. I usually wake up, have my daily meals, call my parents and head to the field. Really, for me the only difference between a start and a relief appearance is the amount of time you are allowed to warm up. Generally, I try and stay loose and calm before all games. No matter whether it's a start or a relief appearance, I am going out there to get outs and help my team win a game.
Neeraj) You're from Brampton, Ontario. Aside from home, where would we find Jasvir Rakkar when he's in Brampton? What's your spot? How about in Stony Brook?
Jasvir) I am happiest when I am at home with my family.
Neeraj) I tried to take away that option. Let's try this: when I'm in Stony Brook, I don't do much hanging out in bars or what have you, but I do spend time at the Domino's across from the train station near campus. A lot of people have it in for Domino's, but that's their issue. Also, I'm sure you're familiar with the Green Cactus nearby -- One chicken, one fish, one shrimp taco, along with the free chips and salsa. That's my go-to. So, asking again, where do you eat or hang out in Brampton or Stony Brook?
Jasvir) Well in Brampton the place I like to go to for food and to hang out is probably a place called Arizona's that has great wings and pool tables. That's usually where my cousins and I hang out.
Neeraj) What would you like to do after baseball?
Jasvir) I was studying accounting and math in college but I really haven't decided exactly what I want to do. I have also given thought to teaching and even possibly being a firefighter.
Neeraj) Accounting? No 21-year-old in the history of 21-year-olds has ever left accounting for professional athlete-dom, only to come back to accounting. Firefighting is cool, teaching is cool, but dude, you can do anything you want. Accounting is great for regular Indian kids, not Indian kids who play for the Cubs farm system. Be a firefighter, be a teacher, be a trial attorney or an astronaut or military man. You can work in Major League Baseball's front office. You can work for the Yankees or Cubs, you can go into politics, but you are not going to be an accountant.
Jasvir) I would love to work in the Front Office for the Toronto Blue Jays. That way I would be close to home.
Neeraj) You were drafted with the 6th pick in the 26th round. Do you know the name of the guy the Royals drafted right before you with the 5th pick?
Jasvir) Who was it?
Neeraj) Mark Donato. He’s a first-baseman from Indian River Community College. Did the Royals make a mistake, Jasvir?
Jasvir) Not at all. I’m sure Mark Donato is a terrific baseball player and I’m thrilled to be a part of the Cubs family.
Neeraj) True. You don't want to be with the Royals anyway. Beautiful ballpark, incredible fan base, young team on the cusp of brilliance… But yeah, Chicago Cubs – guys with The Chicago Cubs Baseball Club on their resumes don’t get laid off at 55.
What's it like knowing that a Theo Epstein is tracking you every day on a dry-erase board with a placard that bears your name? There are some great baseball minds at work in that front-office: Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman. Does it add any more pressure to essentially have these guys as a three-headed monster of a boss?
Jasvir) I guess when you put it that way, it is kind of intimidating.
Neeraj) Sorry. I do that.
Jasvir) I choose to set my personal expectations higher than those around and watching me. They are each great baseball minds, and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to reach my goals and dreams.
Neeraj) What’s your drink of choice?
Jasvir) Ha! I don’t really drink.
Neeraj) What’s your (non-alcoholic) drink of choice?
Jasvir) Probably chocolate milk.
Neeraj) Continuing the theme, what’s your favorite food?
Jasvir) Mom's lasagna and Dad's chicken curry.
Neeraj) Which teams do you root for?
Jasvir) All Toronto teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Cubs.
Neeraj) Favorite book?
Neeraj) Favorite movie?
Jasvir) Step Brothers.
Neeraj) Give me a song or a band I need to listen to.
Jasvir) Being from Toronto I am a big Drake fan.
Neeraj) We’ll work on that. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
Jasvir) This is a tough one. My iPod, a baseball and my toothbrush.
Neeraj) Presumably with a lot of Drake on that iPod.
Jasvir) So much Drake.
Neeraj) Sir, thank you so much for your time. I wish you and your family the best of luck and happiness. And do give my warmest regards to Maxx Tissenbaum.
Jasvir) Thank you!