Philadelphia’s Russell Peltz is celebrating 50 years as a boxing promoter/matchmaker with a card at Philly’s 2300 Arena on Friday night.
Atlantic City lightweight Osnel Charles (13-19-1, 2 KOs) is on the undercard. The 35-year-old is fighting a six-round bout against Gerardo Martinez (4-1, 1 KO), of Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
Those who know about their relationship are not be surprised that Charles is part of the special event. Although Peltz has worked with some of the greatest boxers in history — the late Bennie Briscoe, Vineland’s Richie Kates and former world light-heavyweight champion Mike Rossman among them — he has a soft spot for Charles, a native of Haiti who has lived in Atlantic City for 17 years.
“He’s my favorite Haitian lightweight,” Peltz said with a laugh. “Seriously, Osnel’s a genuinely nice kid with a great personality. And he never says no to a fight, no matter who it’s against or how much notice I give him. I wish more fighters were like him.”
Over the years, what began as a promoter-boxer partnership blossomed into a friendship.
When Charles got married last Oct. 20 to Catherine Reynolds-Charles, Peltz served as the co-best man with Charles’ manager, Arnold Robbins.
“I’m an old man in this game, and I’ve certainly gone through my ups and downs,” Charles said. “But through it all, Russell never gave up on me. It’s an honor to be fighting on his 50th anniversary card.”
Atlantic City is a common bond.
Peltz, 72, has been staging boxing on the Boardwalk since the early 1970s, when he served as matchmaker for Ventnor promoter Frank Gelb. They had such an impact that both were members of the inaugural class of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.
Peltz’s first bout on the beach was on March 24, 1973, when Kates took on Ron Oliver in what is now Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom. Three months later, Rossman made his pro debut at age 18 in Boardwalk Hall’s West Hall. That show also included a hard-hitting super-welterweight from Ocean City named Guy Gargan.
Peltz’s Jersey Shore career really took off in the 1980s when he served as ESPN’s Atlantic City promoter. He staged so many shows that Peltz and his wife, Linda, bought a home in Ventnor in August 1980 and still spend a lot of time there.
“The ‘80s were all about Atlantic City for me,” said Peltz, who helped bring a card to Ocean Casino Resort in 2018 and still serves as matchmaker on occasion for Millville-based Rising Star Promotions.
Charles first came to Atlantic City in the summer of 2001. The day after graduating from high school in West Palm Beach, Florida — he grew up there after moving from Haiti as an infant — Charles and some friends decided to take a road trip and picked Atlantic City.
His buddies went back south after Labor Day, but he decided to stay. He held a variety of jobs, starting as a blueberry picker in Hammonton.
One evening in the summer of 2007, he was working as a security guard at what is now called The Playground. He had just gotten paid and was leaving the mall when five guys mugged him on the Boardwalk.
The next day, with a black eye and wounded pride, he walked into the Atlantic City Police Athletic League on New York Avenue to learn how to box.
Every once in a while, Charles runs into the guys who mugged him.
Sometimes they come into Cedar Food Market, where he’s been a cook for the last eight years, to order a sandwich, unaware that the guy making it is the one they attacked 12 years ago.
“Every time I see them, I thank them,” Charles said. “If they hadn’t jumped me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
When he’s not at the market, he can be found on the third floor of the PAL, working the heavy bag, jumping rope and sparring so he’ll be ready the next time Peltz calls to offer him a fight.
He’s never turned him down.
“Whenever Russell calls, the only thing I ask him is, ‘What’s the weight (class)?’” Charles said. “I don’t need to know anything else. I trust him and he trusts me.”
Win or lose Friday, Peltz will congratulate him.
That’s what a best man does.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.