By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
Scranton lightweight “Irish” Gene Reed closed out his boxing career with wins a year apart in his hometown on outdoor cards on Franklin Avenue outside a then-sports bar, Whistles Pub & Eatery.
Reed, who combined training young amateurs and occasionally professionals with his own time fighting, finished a professional career that spanned 10-plus years with a 24-8-2 record.
A tactician in the ring, all but 11 of Reed’s fights – 7 wins and 4 losses – went to a decision.
The first Whistles fight card was a free show that drew nearly 3,000 to downtown Scranton to watch six one-sided fights, four first-round knockouts and two unanimous decisions in which the winner won every round on all three judges’ cards.
Throop cruiserweight Chris Mills was just starting his own career that covered nearly 10 years and produced a 26-3-1 record when he headlined the first Whistles card July 19, 1997.
Mills made quick work of Herschel Hamilton in the main event for the fourth straight knockout to begin his career.
Boxing returned to Whistles July 25, 1998, but this time admission was charged.
Ryan Poletti, a cruiserweight from Hegins who trained with Reed and developed a following in Scranton, and Mills shared top billing on the card in separate bouts that highlighted their power punching.
Poletti improved to 19-0 with his sixth straight stoppage, a technical knockout of Anthony Williams.
The win set up Poletti for a title shot close to home, taking on Jacob Mofokeng for the vacant World Boxing Union cruiserweight title at Martz Hall in Pottsville.
Poletti showed incredible toughness in a brutal, high-action fight against the 6-foot-3 southpaw from South Africa, but ultimately lost by TKO in the seventh round of the scheduled 12-round fight. He only fought one more time, briefly coming out of retirement to wrap up his career with a 20-1 record.
Mills, a football and baseball player at Bishop O’Hara in his high school days, improved to 10-0 with his ninth knockout by beating Availeo Slate.
Reed, who had not been included a year earlier, joined the card and posted the last knockout of his career, beating Aaron Shockley.
Only one fighter appeared on all three of the cards.
Scranton’s Chris Walsh, who turned pro after a successful Golden Gloves amateur career, posted unanimous decisions over Bernard Robinson, Jose Williams, then in his July 31, 1999 main event debut, against Gordon Finnie.
Walsh went from there to finish out a pro career, that extended from 1998 to 2004, with a 19-7-1 record. He served as the opponent for Olympian and future undisputed world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor’s successful pro debut at Madison Square Garden and later defeated an aging legend in Hector “Macho” Camacho.
The final Whistles card added a new twist, a pro-amateur card that the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission agreed to as long as there was an hour-long break between.
The amateur card included wins by Scranton’s Marty Flynn, the most experienced fighter on the card, and Jason Gavern, who made his debut on the way to fighting professionally.
Flynn was fighting for the 13th time, but the first time locally. Three earlier fights had fallen through and it appeared the same was about to happen before last-minute negotiations created an acceptable matchup for USA Boxing approval.
“I was kind of upset,” Flynn, a former Scranton Prep wrestler, said after the win. “I’m happy they found somebody.”
Flynn, now a Pennsylvania State Representative out of Scranton, went on to win 10 of the 12 fights in his professional career.
Gavern went 27-21-4 as a pro 2003-2016, fighting to a draw in a North American Boxing Federation title fight, then going 0-4 in a variety of championship fights – the World Boxing Union, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Organization and World Boxing Federation Intercontinental titles – during a stretch in which he went 6-13 to close out his career, but did manage a victory over former multiple world title holder James Toney in a three-round bout.
The pro card included local wins by Bruce Corby in a first-round knockout and Reed in a uneventful unanimous decision in a six-round, junior welterweight bout.
For Reed, it was the final bout in a career that saw him fight in Lackawanna County 17 times, exactly half of his matches. He had started with two fights at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City and made his way to places like the Hartford Civic Center and Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon along with making three trips overseas to take on and lose to unbeaten opponents in their home countries.
Walsh, giving up weight while fighting up a class at super middleweight, was disappointed that he could not finish Finnie in the 95-degree heat under bright sunshine. He dominated the eight-round bout despite dealing with some facial cuts, but could not put away an opponent he said content simply to go the distance.
“The main event carries a responsibility,” Walsh said. “I wanted to give people what they paid for.”