The Brooklyn-born-and-raised Director of Marketing at Star Boxing—which promotes events that air on pay-per-view and Showtime-recalls a life in and out of the ring
by Brian Dunleavy • photos by alex barreto
Greg Cirillo thinks like a fighter. He jokes that the sound of a bell ringing still gets the competitive juices flowing, and that he can navigate a crowded room using the same footwork and vision that allowed him to move around a boxing ring efficiently.
He’s not quick to admit it, but he can also still throw a quick, punishing upper-cut should the need arise.
But the former junior middleweight fighter—born and raised in Brooklyn (with a brief stop in Manhasset on Long Island), who had a successful career as an amateur—can’t use these skills in the ring anymore, as injuries forced him to cut short his career before he could turn pro. Instead, he is applying talents he learned in the sport he loves in the business world.
“Boxing taught me how to get a competitive edge and how to apply competitive instincts to life,” Cirillo explained. “I’d like to think those attributes help me in the business world.”
So far, at least, they have.
Cirillo started boxing as a hobby, mostly as a way to help train for football when he was 15 years old. He was a free safety on his high school team, but at 5’8″ and 150 pounds (give or take), he knew he didn’t have much of a future in the sport, despite athletic skills. During one workout, he met Maynard Stovall, a legendary trainer in New York City Police Athletic League circles, who shepherded the careers of multiple Golden Gloves champions.
“He saw me working out and said, ‘Hey kid, you’ve got a little something,’” Cirillo recalled. “He started working with me and I fell in love with the sport. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Stovall, who died last year at 78, had an intense dislike for the professional fight game, due in large part to its long history of corruption, but he loved training amateur boxers, and Cirillo became one of his star pupils. That is, until injury struck. Not long into his amateur career, Cirillo began losing balance as he stepped out of the ring after fights and training sessions. He also developed problems with peripheral vision. Eventually, doctors traced both to a series of concussions Cirillo had—unbeknownst to him—sustained during fights and sparring sessions. Later, he was diagnosed with a degenerative condition in his right shoulder and hip (he still can’t raise his right arm above his neck).
Reluctant to give up his newfound passion, Cirillo continued to compete as a boxer for a time, then took on work as a sparring partner for other fighters, before doctors finally persuaded him to quit. It was when he suffered a grand mal seizure (again, likely the result of repeated concussions) that he knew it was time to hang up the gloves.
Initially, he went into the financial services industry (including a stint as a bank manager in Great Neck, Long Island), but even then couldn’t give up the sport of boxing completely. He still trained like a fighter in the gym every day.
“People would see me hitting the bag, and ask, ‘Hey, how do you throw that punch?’” said Cirillo. “I found myself teaching the sport, and discovered that I was good at it.”
Through word-of-mouth, his training business grew. Soon, he had more than 70 clients, including not just “weekend warriors” interested in the “culture” of boxing, but amateur and professional fighters (like Shawn Cameron) and professional athletes in other sports.
The “Brooklyn boy” was working out and working in a gym in Mill Basin, a neighborhood in which he has lived and spent significant time, when he met Chris and Mike Ganim, Brooklyn natives and the owners of Harbor Fitness, which has four locations in the borough. They struck up a friendship (Cirillo, a devout Catholic, describes them as his business “rabbis”), and the brothers hired him to start and oversee boxing programs in their gyms. Harbor Fitness now runs a full selection of boxing classes, with multiple trainers and state-of the-art equipment.
“[Greg] is a special guy,” Mike said.
The relationship spawned an idea: a new, boxing-specific gym—in the tradition of the legendary Gleason’s in Dumbo—that would train fighters at all levels and become both a mecca for and a monument to the sport. The Ganims and Cirillo trademarked Notorious Boxing, with the hope of using it as part of the gym’s name. They picked out a site—on Euclid Avenue in East New York—and began construction on the Notorious Boxing Club in 2016. Cirillo commissioned portraits of legendary figures in the sport—Marvin Hagler, Floyd Mayweather, and Mike Tyson with trainer Cus D’Amato—to decorate the walls and help establish the gym as a mini-museum of boxing history. Unfortunately, just before construction was completed, in December of last year, a four-alarm fire destroyed the gym’s building. Cirillo and the Ganims are now looking for new locations for the venture.
While building Notorious (literally and figuratively), Cirillo decided he also wanted to get into the promotion game. He reached out to president and CEO of Star Boxing, Joe DeGuardia, himself a former fighter, who was “impressed with [Cirillo’s] persistence” and brought him on as director of marketing at Star, which promotes boxing events that air on pay-per-view and Showtime. Current and former clients of the company include Antonio Tarver and Chris Algieri.
“Greg is determined and driven, and those are great qualities to have in any business,” DeGuardia noted. Both should serve him well, as Cirillo and partners find a new home for the Notorious Boxing Club and grow the brand’s burgeoning apparel line, and as the former fighter learns the boxing promotion game. There’s also his training work under his “GJC Boxing” moniker. (The name corresponds to his initials.)
“Even though I’m not allowed to throw punches anymore, I can still compete in boxing—as a businessman,” said Cirillo, who now lives in Howard Beach, Queens with his wife, Alison, and their 13-month-old son. “All I want from life is to be part of the sport. It makes me look forward to starting each day. Whether it’s as a trainer or an entrepreneur, as long as I’m involved in boxing, I know I’ll be happy. The sport is my identity.”