There is a certain expectation that comes with meeting a guy named Cletus Seldin. When people meet the unbeaten junior welterweight boxer from Long Island, N.Y., the picture in their mind rarely matches what they see before them.
“Everyone thinks I’m this redneck or black guy from down south. It turns out I’m this big Russian Jew,” said Seldin (13-0, 10 knockouts) with a laugh.
Seldin, 27, is as New York as they come, having been named after Clete Boyer, the New York Yankees third baseman during the late 1950s to mid-’60s who was a close friend of his grandparents. Boyer won a pair of World Series titles with the Yanks in ’61 and ’62, and like the scrappy third sacker, Seldin is looking to gain a championship or two of his own in another sport.
Seldin, who faces Bayan Jargal (17-5-3, 11 KOs) at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, N.Y. in the eight-round co-main event of this week’s “Friday Night Fights,” has become one of New York’s most popular ticket draws. Though the main event will pit the Bay Area’s Karim Mayfield against Maryland’s Emmanuel Taylor, the majority of the crowd will be there to cheer on the local kid made good Seldin.
“If you come to one of my fights and it’s your first time there, you always bring somebody back with you,” said Seldin, who says he sold $20,000 in tickets personally. “They come and they do the same thing. It’s amazing how fast it grew.”
Seldin’s boxing style is very much fitted to his body type; short and stocky, Seldin bulls his way in on opponents and tries to wear them out with constant pressure. He fights going in one direction: forward. “First one to get tired loses, that’s my plan,” says Seldin.
The downside is that he isn’t hard to hit. “One thing when I came out of the amateurs was everybody said I wasn’t going to be anything. They said, ‘Oh you get hit too much,'” recalls Seldin, who says the only fight in which he was ever busted up was his third-round knockout of Rashad Bogar in his fifth pro fight.
Recalling his youth in Shirley, N.Y., Seldin says he was the “poorest kid in the blue collar neighborhood,” which had its share of chickens and roosters.
Seldin came to boxing at the relatively late age of 22. In his high school years he was a multi-sport athlete, playing cornerback for his football team that won the 2004 Long Island championship. In his senior year he broke the state deadlifting record by lifting 470 pounds as a 145-pounder.
He also wrestled in high school and took up jiu jitsu. “My brother always tells this story; the first day I was in the jiu jitsu school I tapped out the sensei,” claims Seldin.
His bulky frame is the product of years spent in bodybuilding, which he credits for being able to impose himself on opponents.
“The one thing I have over these other guys is I put that foundation work in all those years ago playing football, the bodybuilding,” said Seldin. “When you go see these other boxers, they’re all these skinny little guys, but because I’ve put in that foundation work in all those years ago, I got something more than them.
“And that’s power; that’s what everybody wants.”
Initially, Seldin had wanted to go into mixed martial arts, which was experiencing a boom during the early part of the last decade. With the sport banned in New York, Seldin traveled to Atlantic City for fights. When opponents failed to show up, he decided to try his hand at boxing.
“[Boxing trainer] Mike Murphy told me two years later, ‘You’re the first wrestler that came to my gym that was able to take a punch and not go away from me,'” remembered Seldin, who is now trained and managed by Pete Brodsky. “If you watch MMA fights, the guys get hit in the face and just fall to the floor. They look tough but they’re not really that tough.”
Seldin entered the New York Daily News Golden Gloves three straight years, making it to the finals in his first year before losing to future prospect Eddie Gomez. After a brief amateur career, he turned pro in 2011 and signed with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing.
“I think Cletus is extremely marketable, good-looking, and can punch like a mule,” said DeGuardia when asked why he signed Seldin. “The future looks extremely bright for him.”
Seldin has knocked out nine of his last 10 opponents but saw his progress slow in 2013 when he underwent surgeries on his right hand and rotator cuff. Despite a nine month layoff, Seldin was able to fight three times in 2013 but experienced another layoff after hurting his hand in a decision win over Gilbert Venegas in November of that year.
Eyes on Chris Algieri
Jargal, 32, of Arlington, Va. by way of Mongolia, isn’t an opponent who will turn many heads on a resume but he has faced better opposition than has Seldin. Jargal’s losses have come against Seldin’s stablemate and fellow Long Islander Chris Algieri, as well as former contenders Breidis Prescott and Zahir Raheem.
Lately Seldin has fielded more and more questions about Algieri, with whom he shared many cards with at the Paramount Theatre coming up. Algieri cashed in on his big break, defeating Ruslan Provodnikov by split decision to win the WBO junior welterweight title.
When the conversation turns towards the subject of Algieri, so does Seldin’s demeanor.
“Every interview that I do they keep asking me about Chris Algieri, and after about the sixth or seventh interview I just said ‘I’m just going to tell the truth: I’ve never had a conversation with him, everyone tells me he’s a nice guy, but he’s just not my kind of people,'” said Seldin.
“He’s from the nice part of the island; I’m from the bad part of the island. He’s white collar, I’m blue collar. If you ever talk to Chris he does everything perfect, he speaks perfect, dresses perfect. I’m the total opposite. I’m the little villain who just says whatever he wants to say. My fans are the blue-collar people, they all respect that.
“He’s the guy with the belt that I’m looking at. As long as I keep winning, he keeps winning, he’s right in my view.”
Seldin is still at the eight-round level and is a few years from contention, while Algieri has a Nov. 22 date with Manny Pacquiao in Macau to worry about. As different as they are personally and stylistically, Seldin can draw inspiration from their similarities.
Algieri was a lightly regarded overachiever who made it to the next level through sheer determination and hard work. Seldin too has his detractors, and Friday’s fight will be an opportunity to prove them wrong once more.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.