Friday, September 22, 2023  |



John Leonardo, with new promotional company, plans to bring boxing back to Central NJ

Photo by Carlo Estonactoc
Fighters Network

FREEHOLD, N.J. — John Leonardo has a new challenge ahead of him on August 19.

The 23-year-old junior featherweight is attempting to extend his winning streak when he takes the ring at Sportika in his hometown of Manalapan, N.J. He also has the added responsibility of promoting his first ever show under Body Shot Promotions, a newly-formed company which he runs with his father/trainer, Donnie Leonardo.

The new company means the Leonardos will be training for their own fight, while helping ensure that the undercard fights are in place, that the tickets are being printed and sold, and the event is properly publicized.

“It just made more sense for us to promote and run our own shows and make our own opportunities and open up doors for ourselves instead of always working for somebody else all the time,” said Leonardo (9-1-1, 4 knockouts), who says his father has been carrying the bulk of the business load for this event.

Donnie Leonardo, a former welterweight pro with a 6-3-1 (3 KOs) record, says the goal is to do up to five events a year, keeping the shows local to Monmouth county, the central New Jersey county which includes popular shore towns like Asbury Park and Long Branch, and other central Jersey areas. Among the venues he has expressed an interest in running a show at is Asbury Park Convention Hall, a legendary arena known more for Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones concerts, but hasn’t hosted a boxing show since 2004.

Other club show promoters actively promote shows in other parts of the state, with Abella Promotions doing shows in New Jersey’s northeastern Bergen County, and Thomas LaManna’s Rising Star Promotions finding a home in Atlantic City and Newark, but there are currently no promoters organizing events in Central Jersey, the cutoff point where Taylor Ham becomes pork roll.

“The first show is obviously the toughest, you want to get it off the ground and then see where we’re gonna go,” said Donnie Leonardo.

For John, his primary focus remains the opponent he will face next. Leonardo will face Dominique Griffin (5-3-2, 2 KOs) of Irving, Tex. in his first eight-round scheduled fight. The bout will be his second straight at 122 pounds after coming to the realization in his lone defeat a year ago, a majority decision to Jostin Ortiz Maysonet, that the fighters at featherweight were just too big for him. Since then, Leonardo has won two straight.

Griffin, 35, is coming off a pair of impressive outings, including an upset decision over the previously unbeaten Carlos Vanegas Nunez this past April, and a draw against the 10-1-1 Robert Rodriguez in the fight before that.

To take his career to the next level, Leonardo has brought in Dustin Fleischer as an assistant trainer. Fleischer, who compiled a 6-0 (5 KOs) pro record from 2015 to 2016 before retiring to focus on training. Leonardo has set up training camp at Juice Boxx, a boxing gym (and juice bar) in Freehold, N.J. which is also home to unbeaten super middleweight pro Junior Younan.

The rest of the card includes Robert Terry (9-0-1, 3 KOs), the junior middleweight prospect from Jersey City who is coming off a draw against Raul Garcia in his ShoBox debut in April. Also slated for action is Kevin Coleman, Leonardo’s best friend and cornerman who will be turning pro after seven years out of the ring, plus lightweight James “Crunch Time” Wilkins (10-2, 6 KOs) of Brooklyn, N.Y., heavyweight Derek Starling (6-1, 4 KOs) of Philadelphia, and female lightweight Chiara Dituri (6-0, 3 KOs) of Brooklyn, N.Y., among others.

While the immediate goal of promoting their own shows is to advance the in-ring career of Leonardo, the greater vision for Body Shot Promotions includes one where Leonardo isn’t always on top of the card, or even in the ring.

“John hopefully is gonna have a profitable career but bottom line is that he’s gonna need a source of income in years to come. He’ll have a business for himself; he’ll be a boxing promoter and he’ll be able to earn a living.” said Donnie Leonardo, a 1987 New York Golden Gloves champion who had been in training camps with champions Buddy McGirt, Vinny Pazienza and Aaron Davis.

“I think the main goal is to build me up but I don’t want to fight on every show,” added Leonardo. “Especially with me fighting 8-10 rounds, I’m not gonna fight that many times a year anymore, so why not make other fighters get those other fights? I want to have other fighters I know, that I work with, I train with, I spar with, give them the opportunity to have that hometown fight, make them feel like they’re the main event.”

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].