On a Wednesday evening in late May, Lincoln Sinakin sat in a folding chair in the stuffy boxing room at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia, surrounded by fighters bench pressing, fighters jumping rope, and fighters, well, fighting.
He flashed his gap-tooth smile at the mention of his son.
“He’s ready,” Lincoln Sinakin said, and over his shoulder, his son, Benny, unleashed a series of haymakers on a helpless bag, the punches landing in terrifying rhythm.
“He’s ready to go pro,” Lincoln Sinakin said, confidently.
Benny Sinakin, the self-proclaimed “Jewish Bulldog,” has lived inside the boxing ring for the past five years, compiling a 16-4 record as an amateur, his father said. He’s slated to have his first professional fight in July with Hard Hitting Promotions, according to publicist George Hanson Jr., marking the realization of a dream.
“It’s going to be the best moment of my life,” Benny Sinakin said, drenched in sweat. On this day, he had run 3 miles to the gym, then jumped right into a grueling workout of 14 rounds on the punching bag, followed by another two rounds on the speed bag. Lincoln Sinakin asked trainer Hassaan “Candyman” Williams to arrange a sparring session for Benny Sinakin.
“Uhh,” Williams said, peering across the gym. He demurred: “Ain’t nobody on Benny’s level right now.”
When Benny Sinakin first walked into Williams’ gym five years ago, he wanted to spar with everyone, and so Williams let the then-15-year-old make mistakes against bigger, more experienced boxers. Eventually, Benny Sinakin started to develop some power behind his punches. He started to take amateur fights. He started to win.
In 2013-14, he won a pair of Philadelphia Golden Gloves championships in the heavyweight cadet division.
For the athlete, boxing is a passion rooted in family history. His father trained briefly as an amateur and had one fight, and his great-uncle had a couple of professional fights.
When Benny Sinakin and his older brother, Demetrie, learned of their father’s foray into the fight world, they both started training. Demetrie Sinakin’s amateur career has since ended, but his brother carries the family tradition — and his Jewish faith — into the ring.
Before every fight, Benny Sinakin’s team circles up, putting their arms around one another. Father and son recite the Shema — in Hebrew and English — before the boxer breaks out into the personal prayer he composed:
Please give me the strength of Samson; please give me the courage of King David; and please give me the wisdom of King Solomon. Amen.
Then, with the Star of David emblazoned on his trunks, he slips through the ropes and into the ring, protected.
“Nothing’s going to hurt me,” Benny Sinakin said. “That’s my shield right there.”
Benny Sinakin took a non-traditional route to discovering his Jewish faith. His mother, Michelle, is from the Caribbean nation Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Lincoln Sinakin is a “Jew from Philly.” His mother is Protestant, so his parents decided to let him choose his religion for himself.
When he was 10, he knew he wanted to be Jewish.
“He said, ‘When I went to synagogue and they were singing, the music just went to my soul,’” Lincoln Sinakin said of his son.
Benny Sinakin, who is biracial, said he appreciates Jewish people’s message of acceptance. He works full time as a mailman for the United States Postal Service, and recalled delivering a package to a Chasidic Jew on 18th and Pine streets one afternoon. The man noticed the tattooed Hebrew lettering running up and down Benny Sinakin’s arms and sparked up a conversation.
The interaction was especially comforting for Benny Sinakin, who’s dealt with racism in the past. On an old Little League team, a group of boys, who were white, would often call him “token.” It hurt, but not nearly as much as when one of the boys called him the N-word.
“I basically told him straight up, literally, don’t ever call me that again. That’s rude, and I don’t like that,” Benny Sinakin said.
In the boxing world, Benny Sinakin has found an inclusive environment. At Marian Anderson, he’s in the company of Muslims and Christians, Mexicans and Caucasians. They’re united by a common goal, a shared affection for the sweet science.
Benny Sinakin’s passion runs deep. He works six 12-hour days a week as a mailman, his days beginning and ending with long runs, calisthenics, pushups and situps and shadow boxing. He comes to the gym when he can, but much of his work is done alone, his focus uninhibited.
It’s the kind of dedication that helped him lose more than 100 pounds in less than a year. In late 2016, when he weighed about 280 pounds, his father told him that, since he stood only 5-foot-11, he needed to get down to 175 pounds to be an effective professional fighter. Benny Siankin slept on it. Was it worth it? Then, on Jan. 15, 2017, he woke up, found his dad and shook his hand: He was ready to lose the weight.
That marked the beginning of his massive transformation. Coupling seven miles of daily running with a low carbohydrate, protein-rich diet, his body changed.
“When you’re losing five pounds, four pounds, three pounds [per week], it don’t really look like nothing, for the first maybe, three months,” Williams said. “The next thing you know, I’m looking at him, developing, like now I can really see the s— started falling off of him.”
The result: A sculpted, 175-pound bruiser with blistering speed to go along with scary punching strength.
Though he’s expecting to make his professional debut in less than two months, Benny Sinakin doesn’t intend on changing his training schedule. He’s going to keep clocking in to work, delivering the mail, dreaming of stepping through the ropes.
Turning professional is one of his three big goals. The second is becoming world champion. And the third?
“He’s going to have a Bar Mitzvah,” Lincoln Sinakin said.
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Keep up the good work Benjamin — from your number one fan.