POV

Best of POV: “Kid Yamaka” Riseth

A Jewish boxer is uncommon these days. We loved how he dances like poetry in the ring, the mesmerizing rhythm of his feet matched only by the classy cadence of his words.

Story Teo J. Babini - teo@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos©Icarus Blake

From Cover 9

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman photo©Icarus Blake

The first time I saw Zach he was doin’ a “hip thrust heavy” Michael Jackson impression at a lip synching contest in middle school. This was during a stint I did out in Cali, right around the time I got kicked out of school for smoking weed on a Yosemite field trip. I wouldn’t really get to know him ‘til a little while, and a lot of life experience later.

We became friends in days of being wild, high school edition. I was introduced to Zach through my PNC at the time, Jay-Sophia. He was couch surfing and living out of his car with his dog Jack. I remember I liked this cigarette case he had, and he just told me I could take it. See, that’s Zach. The guy was way too young to be takin’ care of himself the way he was, just gettin’ by, meets me for the first time and gives me one of the few possessions he had like it was nothing. He’s the type of guy that if you were to meet him today, he’d probably take you out to dinner, and if money was tight, he’d at least make sure he brought you one of his T-shirts next time he saw you.

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman photo©Icarus Blake

Zach’s an easy guy to get along with, smooth talkin’ with a good sense of humor. But we really vibed on two things: music and boxing. Although we disagreed on Hip-Hop at times, we both had a little thing for the Blues, which was rare at our age. More than the music though, it was about the lifestyle, we both had an antique taste, a nostalgic sensibility (which would only develop more as we grew up – “All Class”). Then came the boxing…

Growing up, my father was a boxer, not a pro, but into it enough that we had a full size boxing ring instead of a living room (not to mention a speed bag, heavy bag, and all the other basics). A real slice of my childhood was spent dicking around in that ring with serious training going on. We used to watch all the big fights (Tyson and Holyfield were the guys to look out for), and then, of course, there were the films: “When we were Kings”, “The Power of One”, and, my personal favorite, “Raging Bull”.

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman photo©Icarus Blake

Zach talked about boxing like he had a PhD in it. All the books he owned were about the sport. As in other things, he had an affinity for the old school, and he was the first and only guy to convince me that Muhammad Ali wasn’t the best of all time, favoring Sugar Ray Robinson instead. He even brought out a book especially for me about the Italian Stallions, due to my heritage. It was all black and white images of guys like Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Primo Carnera, and Willie Pep. He told me that Willie Pep was so fast that he once won a unanimous decision without making any actual contact, ‘cause the opponent would flinch and the judges couldn’t see his hands. I never did forget about that story.

Anyway, many years and a lot of madness later Zach was pullin’ in some scratch, and moved into a mutual friend’s spare room with Jack. At this point in time, I counted Zach among my closest circle of friends and I used to dip to his pad after class to watch “The Sopranos”. One day, after his pooch chewed up one of my Jordan sandals (which came with matching socks), we were shootin’ the shit and I told him I had this vision of me sitting ringside at the Garden watching him win a title fight. It all seemed like an impossible dream, but my chest felt swollen with pride just imagining myself pointing to the ring tellin’ people: “That guy right there, that guy’s one of my best friends.”

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman photo©Icarus Blake

I write this in the present having seen Zach, a kid who no matter how little I saw of him still dropped me a line every once in while to check up on me, come closer to realizing a dream than any other person I have ever known. And today, when I introduce him to my friends here in New York, I say: “This is my best friend Zach, he’s a professional boxer. And right now… he’s undefeated.”

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman photo©Icarus Blake

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