Nicoy Clarke (right) in his 2020 fight against Norman Neely. Photo by David Algranati/The Fight Photos
Whenever people find out that Nicoy Clarke is a boxer, he knows what the next question usually is. “What’s your record?,” he has heard countless times, though the upside-down record on his Boxrec page doesn’t include important context, like how much notice he was given to prepare for the fight.
That win-loss record is the same metric that many of the sport’s matchmakers use to gauge how much of a threat a boxer is. His disarming record probably played a role in being picked to fight previously unbeaten heavyweight Adrian Washington this past Saturday in Harrisburg, Pa.
“People can’t judge a book by its cover. They’ll look at my record, they’ll look at my age and they’ll be like ‘oh easy,’” said the 41-year-old Clarke, who also works as a school teacher in Jersey City, N.J. “That’s not how it works though.”
That certainly wasn’t the way it worked this past Saturday. Clarke, a 5’10”, 210-pound southpaw tank, barreled forward and made the 37-year-old Washington’s legs wobble with an overhand left. In times like this before, Clarke would lose focus and begin dancing, performing moves like the “Weddy Weddy” and others from his native Jamaica.
This time, he saved the dancing for after the fight, and landed a few more punches to score the first round stoppage at the Zembo Shrine.
“In boxing, seconds count. This time, I used my seconds wisely. Once I saw him hurt I jumped on him,” said the now (3-8, 1 knockout) Clarke, who is trained by local legend Guillermo “Lucky” Sanabria at Ringside Boxing Gym in Jersey City. Washington dropped to 4-1 (3 KOs) with the loss.
Heavyweight underdog Nicoy Clarke (3-8, 1KO) of Jersey City scored a first round upset knockout over Adrian Washington (4-1, 3 KOs) in Harrisburg, PA on Saturday. Clarke, 41, is a @jcps_district school teacher. The win snaps a 7-fight losing streak. @JerseyCity @StevenFulop pic.twitter.com/QQM3s2k1J3
— Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) March 19, 2023
The win snapped a seven fight losing streak, during which he was only offered fights as an “opponent,” facing a number of rising prospects in the area, including Norman Neely and Devon Young.
Clarke, who was born and raised in St. James, Jamaica, got a late start in the sport at age 29, but still managed to win a number of local amateur titles in a 14-fight career, including two N.J. Golden Gloves titles and a Diamond Gloves championship. He turned pro in 2018, at the age of 36, against Michael Polite Coffie, a 6’5”, 269-pound giant who was briefly a must-see prospect. Clarke lost his debut by decision, and then managed a pair of wins before going on his losing streak, though just one of his losses came by stoppage, in 2019 to Angel Quinones Rivera in the lone fight where he ventured below 200 pounds.
Clarke has shown that records also don’t define students in the classroom, as well.
When Clarke isn’t taking opponents to “Bong Bong City,” he is working as a Compensatory Education/Supplemental Teacher for the Jersey City Department of Education. Clarke, who has been teaching since 2004, has switched from the traditional classroom setting to working in smaller settings to boost the reading, writing and math grades of students in non-public schools whose scores are below 40 percent in their state exams.
“I get them to jump their grades up. One of my students went from 13 percent to 83 percent, and another went from 15 percent to 91 percent. Just think about that for a second. It’s a great program,” said Clarke, who credits Dr. Andrea Blake-Garrett for leading the program in Jersey City.
Clarke also keeps busy as a boxing trainer, running “Boxing in the Park” clinics through his Team Hazardous program at Lincoln Park in Jersey City. The program, which offers boxing training every Wednesday for nine weeks, beginning at 6:30 p.m., took off during the COVID-19 pandemic, as other gyms were forced to close and outdoor fitness became the norm. Clarke says he expects the next semester, which begins on April 5 and runs through May 31, to see a jump in enrollment due to his knockout win.
As for his boxing career, Clarke figures he’ll be ready to hang his gloves up for good when his boxing license expires at the end of the year. There’s another potential fight in Pennsylvania on the table for May, and then he may look for another fight before calling it a career. For now, the only thing that is certain is he has a real reason to dance.
“After this fight, I felt great, I didn’t get touched my face looks great. Let’s see how the next one looks,” said Clarke.
“End of this year I might go into full time coaching and training, but because of this win, who knows? I might pull a Tom Brady.”
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].