Elijah Clarke Opens on Wall Street

Fightland Blog

By Jimmy Jolliff

Going down to Wall Street at night is one of those things you catch yourself in the middle of doing, and you can’t help laughing at how strange things around you have become. Walking down Exchange Place and cutting over to Broad Street from the train station, the anti-riot design is unmistakable. The short, narrow steps up the hill are at odd angles and would be hard for a large, enraged group to navigate. You also can’t help but notice the portion of the street that angles upwards after business hours, making the road inaccessible at night and setting a hostile tone. The landscape of the neighborhood implies a paranoiac, systemic violence, anticipating riots as the inevitable response to economic chicanery.

Traversing this 100 feet or so of dystopia, turning right down the brick street, and entering one of the many bank-like buildings on the left, you’re transported out of one strange world and into another. The Broad Street Ballroom is a large venue with vaulted ceilings, supported by half a dozen massive pillars covered completely in the same mosaic tile that adorns the walls. Tonight a decent throng has gathered in this improbable location around the room’s strange centerpiece: a Thai kickboxing ring.

The night's promotion, Friday Night Fights, is a good one. Their utilization of picturesque locations throughout New York City makes their events something worth attending at least once, fan of Muay Thai or not. I had come because I was interested in seeing the pro debut of Brooklyn-by-way-of-the-Carribean amateur sensation Elijah Clarke. I just didn’t realize that everyone else had as well. The crowd at these fights is typically fractured along fault lines of gym loyalties, which you can map by the T-shirts on fans’ backs, but when Clarke, representing the Renzo Gracie Fight Academy, walked into the ring, everyone seemed to meld into a united New York front, rooting on one of their own.

I’ve met Elijah a few times through New York strength trainer Gavin Van Vlack. Standing well over six feet tall, Elijah's body looks designed for delivering swift powerful strikes, but he’s as affable as he is athletic. He's humble yet confident, and literally soft-spoken. He told me that he went pro “mostly because (he) was running out of challenging fights” on the amateur circuit. This was said matter-of-factly and without a hint of self-satisfaction. Not an easy thing to pull off.

Friday Night Fights was the first full-rules Muay Thai event in New York. Meaning Elijah was making history when he grabbed his opponent, Gil Pinheiro, in the clinch and started delivering elbows to his head, a move that wasn't allowed before. Those elbows set up a flying knee knockout, which was ruled just at the bell signalling the end of the second round. The crowd erupted as the ref flailed his arms. I noticed that 15 feet to my right, Renzo Gracie himself beamed, visibly excited by the promise of one of his camp. I couldn’t resist the urge to congratulate Prof. Gracie and his school.

But I also made sure to applaud Pinheiro, who fights out of Puerto Rico. His gameplan was correct: He tried to walk Elijah down to eliminate his reach advantage, but he was in all ways outclassed. It was his professional debut as well, and it can only be chalked up to bad luck that he went pro on the same night Clarke did.

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