Pandemic Boxing and the 4 Round War: Remembering Joshua Raineri



Pandemic Boxing and the 4 Round War: Remembering Joshua Raineri

The New England boxing community was hit with devastating news over the weekend that 4-0 super welterweight prospect Joshua Raineri from Haverhill, Massachusetts passed away unexpectedly.

He was 29 years old.

Raineri aka “The Rainman” was a fighter I was quite familiar with – I provided commentary for three of his four professional bouts, all taking place during the pandemic era.

He had a brief amateur career before signing with Boston Boxing Promotions.

Joshua Raineri

Salute to Joshua

Peter Czymbor, promoter of Boston Boxing, reflected on his first impression of Josh: “I first met Josh in 2019 at an amateur show in Skowhegan, Maine. He was fighting someone who I had been told had soundly defeated him before and I was told to keep my eye on as a top amateur prospect. I had high expectations for his opponent and little to no expectations for Josh – but Josh gave the kid hell and lost a split decision. It was a case of his opponent underperforming to everyone's presumptions and Josh overachieving.

“Josh was trained by Ray Hebert of the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club.

“I have a great relationship with Ray and have worked with him on a number of fighters and continue to work with him. He thought the world of Josh. He loved the fact that Josh improved from fight to fight, was coachable, and had no hesitation about taking a fight. He thought that Josh's style would translate well into the professional ranks.”

Josh would have his first two professional bouts at the Southpaw Boxing and Fitness Gym in Windham, New Hampshire.

Boston Boxing, like many promotional companies, had a card canceled earlier in the year due to the spread of COVID-19 and were looking for a way to keep shows running as most of the world remained shut down.

Southpaw Boxing and Fitness is located next to a garden center and is a stone’s throw away from a Dunkin’ Donuts – truly as New England as it gets. It is a rather small-ish facility.

If you walked into the gym, you likely wouldn’t realize it could fit a 16×16 ring that was home to four professional boxing events spanning 2020 and 2021.

The event that day in October was not open to the public – few people were allowed to stand ringside other than the members of the New Hampshire commission, the Southpaw staff, and teams of the other fighters on the show.

I sat in a room right next door to the ring, sitting at a desk in front of the dressing room and watching the action on a monitor.

Fighters were literally warming up behind me and using the bathroom as the stream went out to YouTube for free.

It was clear that while the event was being run on a shoe-string budget, everyone was doing their part to make it work.

As I scanned the bout sheet, one particular fight stood out to me: 1-0 Raineri was boxing Kyle Cusick of Fall River, Massachusetts, who was making his pro debut.

I had seen Raineri live up to his nickname “The Rain Man” two months prior when he rained down punches on a hapless Andre Belcarris en route to a first round stoppage win.

Cusick, at the time I knew little about other than he had a few amateur bouts years prior and had overcome a lot of personal and legal issues worthy of its own story one day.

Both guys had something to prove that day – Cusick, who wanted to show that he could be a professional fighter, and Rainieri, who needed to show what he could do against an opponent willing to return fire.

Czymbor reflected on making the fight: “Josh Raineri vs. Kyle Cusick is one of those fights that was uniquely a sign of the pandemic times. It was fought in an empty gym with no audience, was watched live on YouTube by about 12,000 people, occurred on a Saturday afternoon and featured two area fighters who have bases of fans, yet none of them allowed to be in attendance.

“In the moment, running club show boxing without the ability to sell tickets amidst a pandemic was near impossible. We needed the most cost effective fights we could make with the sponsorship dollars keeping the shows afloat, and that meant fighters as local as possible, minimal to no travel (as there were still quarantine rules in effect in a lot of places), and fighters who were willing to fight – Josh and Kyle fit the criteria.

“In retrospect, that fight would have been a fantastic supporting bout on one of our local shows with an audience going crazy. However, for the moment in October 2020 that fight made all the sense in the world.”

Josh vs Kyle was without a doubt the best professional fight that ever occurred in that gym.

After several fights ending fairly quickly, fans were treated to a four round back-and-forth battle with both men showing impressive determination.

Kyle made it clear very quickly he wasn’t there to be embarrassed and pressed Josh to fight his best, fighting on the inside and trying to grind to Josh’s body.

When Josh found himself in a war, he was able to confidently respond back and work hard the entire four rounds.

To this day I believe it is the best both men ever fought.

As both men emptied their gas tanks, all 50 or so people in the gym gave them a standing ovation.

Josh won a unanimous decision that day (39-37×2, 40-36) but both men proved they belonged in a professional ring that day and made a statement – they were doing this for pride and not a paycheck.

Kyle Cusick reflected on the bout with a public statement on Facebook: “I went into my professional debut not knowing what to expect. As we faced off for photos, Ray Hebert said ‘growl at em!’ We both couldn’t help but laugh. We went to war over 4 rounds the next day and shook hands at the end. No sooner did I make it back to my locker room, when you burst through the door and gave me a big hug telling me it was the funnest fight you’d ever had. We took this photo immediately after.

“We talked here and there, in the few years following, rooting for each other. When we ran into each other at the Boston Boxing Promotions Thanksgiving Eve show a couple months ago, we spoke of running it back.

“Not out of animosity, but out of mutual respect. I told you ‘you gotta cut some weight though’. You responded, ‘I’m 175 … okay, maybe 195.’ We laughed, hugged and told each other we’d talk soon… I’ll always remember you as a warrior in the ring and a class act outside of it. Praying for your friends and family. Rest easy Rainey’”

Josh had all four of his bouts in either small or very limited audiences.

He was supposed to main event in August 2021 against Kris Jacobs at The Castleton in Windham, New Hampshire in front of a full crowd, but he unfortunately suffered an injury due to a motorcycle accident and did not fight again professionally.

Josh with mutt, in 2020

Czymbor commented, “It was disappointing on many levels and I don't think he was ever able to recover from the layoff of that injury mentally, if he was ever able to recover 100% physically. Every fight we had in mind for him from that point forward fell apart for one reason or another.

“A teammate of his at Haverhill Downtown Boxing, Duncan McNeil, is set to fight on our next event February 16th in Melrose, Massachusetts.

“When one of our guys from Boston Boxing Promotions went to the gym to go over some stuff with Duncan for that fight a few weeks ago, Josh was there training even though he hadn't fought in a few years.

Any health issues or lifestyle issues he had, he did a good job of masking while he was in the gym. I'm guessing he didn't know the severity of things or just wouldn't ask for help or seek medical attention,” Czymbor said. has millions of fights entered and countless number of fighter pages available for the eye to see, so it’s easy for Josh to just become another name in a large pile of fighters.

However, if there’s a silver lining, all of Josh’s professional fights are available on YouTube, so friends and family will be able to relive his efforts in the ring.

Whatever the reason was that Josh wasn’t able to step in the ring again, his legacy is that he never lost in the ring and put in a professional and exciting effort each time. I personally never saw him give anything but 100%.

I think Peter’s final words about Josh’s legacy in boxing summarize it all very well, “Josh was mild mannered and I don't think ever hurt anyone but himself, and maybe a few of his opponents within the confines of the ring. He was a good-hearted kid who I wish had the chance to become a good man.”

Rest in peace, Josh, and thank you for your contribution to boxing.