St. Catharines’ punching cousins
Cousins Antonio Napolitano, James Hughes and Charlie Ryan are in various stages of their careers at the St. Catharines Boxing Club.
Training sessions at the St. Catharines Boxing Club are like an extended family reunion for Antonio Napolitano, James Hughes and Charlie Ryan.
The three St. Catharines natives are all cousins and are the latest family members to make the Niagara Street club their home base.
Napolitano, a 26-year-old who boasts an unblemished pro record of 5-0 and is a former silver medalist at the Canadian senior amateur championships, kept company at the club with his brother Joe before the younger sibling moved to Ottawa with the rest of the family.
Hughes, a 20-year-old former Canadian youth champion and bronze medalist at the 2020 Olympic trials, followed older brother Liam into the ring. Liam also won a Canadian youth title and younger brothers, Chris and Sean, have also trained at the club.
Ryan, a 15-year-old who won his division at the 2020 Brampton Cup by stopping both of his opponents, has the most impressive boxing lineage of the three. Brothers Daniel, Stephen, Gerard and Matthew have also boxed at the club with the older siblings winning provincial titles and medals at the national championships
All three cousins are related to pro boxer Charlie Flynn. Flynn won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014 representing Scotland before turning pro. Hughes went over to Scotland and trained with Charlie Flynn and his father Tom.
While all three cousins have different styles, they do have two things in common.
“They are dedicated and they train really hard,” coach Joe Corrigan said. “Charlie has really good power in his left hand, James is more of a boxer and Antonio too is more like a boxer/puncher.”
Napolitano started boxing when he was 15 and had his first fight when he was 17.
“I got my ass kicked, loved it and kept going,” he said.
The Thorold tunnel construction worker points to family dynamics for producing punching rather than kissing cousins.
“It really comes down to there’s so many kids in the same family, especially boys, and it is how disagreements get settled,” he said. “It’s obvious. You have a disagreement in a big family and it’s one way to get it solved.”
The cousins have taken turns motivating each other to join the sport.
“You walk into the basement and you see a bunch of trophies. It looks good and you think it could be you,” Napolitano said. “It might cost you a few punches to the head but it’s worth it.”
He feels the sport is addictive
“If you end up boxing, you are going to like it. It’s kind of like quicksand.”
The three cousins’ mothers, Kate Napolitano, Maureen Hughes and Monica Ryan, are sisters and Napolitano believes they deserve credit for the boxing gene.
“My mom isn’t confrontational and doesn’t like to fight but she definitely has an aggressive streak,” he said. “To this day, I choose my words carefully around her.”
Hughes also points to his mother’s side.
“They come from a family of 13 so it has always been kind of fending for yourself and you always have little brothers and sisters to look after,” he said. “They were always looking after themselves and others and our moms’ parents were tough people as well.”
And with 12 siblings, each sister had to fight for what they wanted.
“You had to get what you could while you could,” Hughes said.
His father’s side also contributed to his fighting DNA. His paternal grandfather (Mike Hughes) trained in judo in Scotland.
That upbringing has passed on some important attributes for the cousins.
“We are all rugged in nature and we know how to fend for ourselves,” Hughes said. “We are also really competitive and we’ve had to fight for what we’ve got. That’s how we view it.
“Also, the Scottish love a good challenge.”
He agrees that success has bred success.
“It’s contagious, even if it’s a cousin that you have never met. It makes you want to get in on it.”
After losing a split decision in the semifinals of the Olympic trials, Hughes is back training with no clear plan in mind.
“It’s hard to say because we don’t know what is coming up when and it depends on when the shows come back,” he said. “I would like to wrap things up with a couple of fights and then maybe turn pro.
Ryan, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Holy Cross, has been boxing for the last two years and has spent a lot of time thinking about what attracts all the cousins to the sport.
“My brothers were boxing so I went into boxing,” he said. “We all started boxing and we liked it.”
He agrees that his mom has given him some characteristics that help in boxing.
“She’s from Scotland so I guess she is pretty tough.”