Music and boxing have always been Chris Jay's two biggest passions.
The 34-year-old Lower Township native grew up in a musical household. Both of his parents, Ed and Lisa Jurewicz, are retired music teachers and own Mr. J's Music Shop in North Cape May, which is connected to their home. As a result, Chris could strum a guitar before he learned to hold a fork and sang before he spoke.
On weekends, he would often convince his dad to take him to Atlantic City to watch fights.
"I had two dreams when I was a kid," Jay said Thursday at Resorts Casino Hotel. "I either wanted to be a professional boxer or a rock star. It wasn't too long before I realized I had a better chance of being a rock star. But I never stopped being a big boxing fan."
Lately, he's been able to blend the two.
Jay, who now lives in Ventura, Calif., is the lead singer for the rock band Army of Freshmen and also one of their songwriters. He penned and recorded the rap song "Welcome to the Mago Show," which Russian heavyweight contender Magomed Abdusalamov (16-0, 16 KOs) intends to use for his ring entrance prior to tonight's 10-round fight against former Puerto Rican Olympian Victor Bisbal (25-1, 15 KOs) at Resorts on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
"Our band is mostly rock and punk," Jay said. "Think of 'The Cars' on steroids. But we do some rapping in some of our songs, so it wasn't a big stretch for me. It took me two nights to put it together. Mago asked me to do it and he loved it so much that he had it playing non-stop in the gym. And the other guys in Army of Freshmen liked it to the point where we might use it as entry song when we tour in England next month."
Jay has also been teaching Abdusalamov - a native of the Russian republic of Dagestan who now lives in Oxnard, Calif. with his wife and three daughters - how to speak English for the last three weeks or so.
Jay has made impressive progress. His work was on display during Thursday's news conference at Resorts, when Abdusalamov stepped to the microphone, gave a big smile, and said, "Thank you so much ESPN. Thank you so much my promoters. Thank you so much my team. Thank you so much everybody."
"I could speak little bit of English before," Abdusalamov said earlier. "Now I speak little bit more because my friend teach me. Chris is very good friend. His song is beautiful."
Theirs is an unlikely pairing of guys who took unlikely paths to Knuckleheadz Gym, in Ventura, Calif.
During the spring of his senior year at Lower Cape May Regional High School in 1996, Jay decided the best way to pursue his music career was to head west. He got hold of a Ventura, Calif., phone book, looked up apartment complexes, picked the cheapest one and sent a down payment. After graduating, he loaded his parents' minivan with his guitar and some clothes and drove until he saw the Pacific Ocean.
"I didn't know anybody and I didn't have much money," Jay said. "I took a job at a coffee shop, but I basically could only make coffee. If someone asked for mocha I knew to put a bunch of chocolate in it and if someone asked for a latte I put steamed milk. I was the world's worst barista.
"At night, I would play acoustic (guitar) at open mic events and I met these guys who wanted to form a band. I wasn't interested at first but I decided to give it a try. Fifteen years later, we're still together and we just released our fifth album, 'Happy To Be Alive.' "
Abdusalamov, who turns 32 on March 15, grew up in a Muslim household in Dagestan, a mountainous Russian republic near the Caspian Sea.
He focused on mixed martial arts as a teenager, but turned to boxing at age 22 after a knee injury ended his MMA career. After a solid amateur career, he turned pro and spent a few months in Florida, then eventually relocated to Oxnard in 2011. Abdusalamov, who is ranked in the top 15 by the WBC (10th), WBA (10th) and IBF (13th), now works with trainer Danny Garcia.
He began working out at Knuckleheadz Gym about the same time Jay started going there to do boxing drills as a way to lose weight. Eventually Abdusalamov approached Jay and asked him to teach him English so that he could converse with more people and make more friends in the community.
"I didn't think it was going to work at first because I didn't speak Russian and he didn't speak English," Jay said. "I told him I would try one lesson. I used sort of a poor man's version of 'Rosetta Stone.' I put up pictures of him, him and I, his opponent and a swimsuit model. Then we started with 'I am,' 'We are,' 'He is' and 'She is' and just kept going from there. We meet every day for about a half hour."
Along the way, they became friends. Jay took Abdusalamov on a field trip to Blockbuster Video store, where they went up and down the aisles trying to pronounce the movie titles. He also introduced him to Mexican food, which is now Abdusalamov's favorite cuisine.
In return, Abdusalamov taught Jay some Russian words, including some colorful phrases that are not suitable for translation. He is also planning on attending one of the Army of Freshmen's concerts before the group leaves for England.
"The whole thing is just so bizarre," Jay said with a laugh. "When we walk around town, people look at us as this very strange odd couple. But we've become good friends, at least as good of friends as a rocker from Cape May can be with a Muslim, Russian, heavyweight boxer."
Punchlines: Tonight's main event pits junior-welterweight contender Victor Manuel Cayo (31-3, 22 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, against Emmanuel Taylor (16-1, 11 KOs), of Edgewood Arsenal, Md. ... Millville middleweight Thomas LaManna (10-0, 6 KOs) is on tonight's undercard. The Millville High School graduate opposes Joshua Snyder (9-8-1, 3 KOs), of Berlin, Md., in a four-rounder.
Contact David Weinberg:
Friday Night Fights
When: Today, doors open at 6 p.m., first fight at 7 p.m.
Where: Superstar Theater, Resorts Casino Hotel
TV: ESPN2 (starting at 9 p.m.)
Tickets: $40-$125 and are available through Ticketmaster and at Resorts