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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York firefighters will climb into the ring at Madison Square Garden on Saturday to battle Irish cops in a charity boxing event celebrating the historical ties between Ireland and the city's first responders.
The bouts, scheduled on the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, pit amateur boxers from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) against Irish national police pugilists from the Garda Soichana Boxing Club.
"If history repeats itself, it will be one hell of a donnybrook," said Bobby McGuire, who heads the New York team known as FDNY Bravest Boxing. "The Irish are lovely lads, but very tough."
The event, billed as "McMayhem in Midtown," comes at a time when interest in the "sweet science" is rekindling after fading in recent years with the rise of mixed martial arts.
Last week, NBC launched an occasional series of Saturday night fights that recalls boxing's heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when the sport was a staple of network television.
"McMayhem" is now in its third year, with the series tied.
Boxing between New York and Irish first responders is a peculiar expression of a historical bond that goes way back.
The sport, long popular in Ireland, served as a vehicle of upward mobility for generations of Irish immigrants to the United States.
Many Irish-Americans have come to embrace the image of the "fighting Irish". The University of Notre Dame's leprechaun mascot, depicted with fists up in a boxing stance, has come to symbolize determination and tenacity.
Meanwhile, Irish-Americans have historically made up the bulk of the city's firefighters and police officers.
"There's a special kinship with the Irish people," said McGuire. "Just looking into the history of the FDNY, going back, the department was 60-70 percent Irish."
At Saturday's event, three days before St. Patrick's Day on March 17, the card will feature some professional matches in addition to amateur bouts. One of the matches features Will "Power" Rosinsky, a professional boxer-turned firefighter in his first bout since joining the force.
Shepard Davis, 36, a 10-year veteran who works in the New York borough of Queens, is also on the card. The 165-pounder, with a record of three wins and two losses, says fighting in the ring is similar to fighting fires, but different too.
"When you're fighting a fire ... you're going into the fight with a group of your own guys," Davis said. "That's kind of similar to the ring, but when you're in there by yourself, you don't have somebody you can ask 'Am I doing OK'?"
Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Heneghan