Portland Boxing Club owner Bob Russo works with Wade Faria, 22, of South Portland. Russo’s boxers have won more than 200 Golden Gloves titles, including nine national championships. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bob Russo got his introduction to boxing when he was 8 years old, serving as a glove boy at the Portland Expo in the early 1960s when his uncle, George Russo, was the state boxing commissioner.

From there he became a boxer, then a trainer, then the owner of Portland Boxing Club. Now he has the opportunity to further shape the sport at the amateur level. Last week, Russo, 64, was named president of Golden Gloves of America, the governing arm of amateur boxing. The post runs for two years.

Russo, who served as vice president the last four years, will oversee 30 regional franchises around the nation. He still plans on training and coaching boxers in Portland.

“That’s his love and his passion, training young people,” said David Packard of Michigan, Russo’s predecessor as president of Golden Gloves.

“He’s a good leader and he knows the ropes of (Golden Gloves),” said Packard. “I know he’s going to do a good job because he has good leadership qualities.”

Russo, who will remain the executive director of the Golden Gloves New England franchise, has run the Portland Boxing Club since it opened in 1992. He said his boxers have won 212 titles overall, including regional and junior divisions. Three of his boxers won nine Golden Gloves national titles: Jorge Abiague (one), Liz Leddy (three) and Lisa Kuronya Coombs (five).

They have been among his greatest success stories. But his love for boxing runs deep and he wants to introduce the sport to a new generation. He knows boxing faces an identity crisis, especially among younger fans.

“It’s not what it used to be, and we’ve got to diversify how we promote ourselves,” Russo said. “You can never stop promoting, and I think we rested on our laurels for a while there because we were the top brand in the business.”

When boxing stopped being shown regularly on television, Golden Gloves lost some of its luster. Russo believes boxing lost a generation of young fans to mixed martial arts. He wants to get them back.

“That’s who we’ve got to go after,” he said. “The old fans are always going to be there. We’re losing (the younger fans). You see that in every one of our franchises. We just need kind of a facelift.”

He wants to tap into the rich history of Golden Gloves, bringing back past champions such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. “All of them,” he said. “We just have to put more energy into what we do.

“Golden Gloves is the most recognizable and respected brand in boxing.”

Russo describes himself as a “gym fighter.” His career never got on track because of a disease that left him legally blind in his right eye. So he looked to stay in the sport in other ways. At 18, he left Portland and went to Las Vegas, where he happened to meet up with Chuck Bodak, the legendary trainer and cornerman who is enshrined in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

There he learned from Bodak how to become a trainer. “That was my college education,” he said. Still, it was many years before he became a trainer on his own, in 1990. Then in 1992, he and Skip Neales found the building near Morrill’s Corner that now houses Portland Boxing Club.

Bob Russo outside of his gym, the Portland Boxing Club. Russo was named president of Golden Gloves of America. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Neales, who still works with Russo at Portland Boxing Club, said he is well deserving of his latest title. “He’s been in the business a long time,” said Neales.

Packard said Russo’s long history with the sport is a plus in his new position. “He’s made his way through the ranks in this sport,” said Packard. “The very qualities he learned over the years, especially with his boxing program, have helped him work his way to the top.”

Russo knows he’s still got a lot to learn. He’s going to have to communicate with the regional franchises regularly. He’s the liaison to USA Boxing, the Olympics arm of amateur boxing, and wants to develop a strong relationship with them. He needs to oversee the national tournament. And he has to keep everyone happy.

“There’s a lot of stuff to do,” he said. “But there’s also a lot of politics involved. We have to be able to get along. If we don’t have good communication and good relationships, everything bogs down.”

And he doesn’t want that to happen. He wants to push his sport to the forefront again.

“I have a tremendous love for the sport,” he said. “It’s more of an obsession then anything else. It just kept getting better and better, and one thing led to another and here we are. I’m proud and humbled to be leading the Golden Gloves of America. It’s been a good run.”


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