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Observations from 2009 Visit to Wild Card Boxing Club

Boxers and Writers Observations from 2009 Visit to Wild Card Boxing Club, Hollywood, California

I was fortunate enough to travel to California from May 20 through June 3, 2009, and I visited the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, where today’s most successful boxing trainer, Freddie Roach, runs his program. Roach himself and the other trainers proved very kind, and it was a privilege to communicate with them. However, after superstar Manny Pacquiao won World Championship titles at Welterweight and Junior Welterweight with respective victories over Oscar de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton in December and May, the constant stream of fans and press at the gym has been overwhelming. So gym manager Marie Spivey told me I could not interview anyone unless first approved by their press agency, which turned out to be unfeasible because I’d initially contacted her too close to the time of my actual visit. I was welcome to workout, though, which I did on May 28, 29, and 30. In honor of Spivey’s request to “Please” not “interview any of the boys,” I kept my interactions with the trainers social and I did not take any pictures. However, after my first workout I sat down at a fast food Thai Restaurant just up the block, on Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, and wrote the following assessment of my experience. I also observed some admirable qualities in some of the trainers, including Freddie’s big brother Pepper, which I plan to share in a later article.

My initial observation about working out at The Wild Card Boxing Club is that it’s as healthy an environment for a boxer as could possibly be. The people there treat each other with respect, everyone concentrates, and it’s nothing but business every moment. In spite of the cramped quarters, such unbreakable focus creates the environment in which a fighter can develop to the fullest potential because there are no distractions through which to dissipate energy. This truth was reinforced in my mind metaphorically through an epiphany I experienced in the middle of my workout.

Mr. Roach had shown to me the doors through which I’d find the changing room, the shower, and the restroom, and also explained that besides the main room with a ring, four speedbags, a couple of two-ended bags and numerous heavybags and a jumprope platform in front of a mirror, there is a door to walk through to another room with a ring, punching bags, and exercise machines. The second room serves as an overflow space when the first one gets too crowded, and because my hour of arrival (5:00 p.m.) was so busy I began my workout with an arrangement of my own stretches added to the late Gene “Rock” White’s warm up and calisthenics routine over there. Various people were training in that room, coming and going, until I myself vacated it to continue in the main room. After shadowboxing I returned to that room, passively observing that the large black man I’d noticed earlier was still working with a fighter. I was in there to hit a heavybag, but just like in the other room none were open. So I just turned away from the ring and shadowboxed with my eight ounce boxing gloves on.

“Wasted energy,” I heard the man say to his charge, a white heavyweight with dark hair and a beard. He pointed out that the fighter had taken an extra step, bounced too much on his feet, or unnecessarily shifted the position of his hands. I don’t know exactly what the erroneous motion was because I continued concentrating on myself and did not look at them. But I remembered the first time I’d ever heard anyone say that. It was while working out in my high school years on a Friday night at the original Inner City Youth League in St. Paul. I was there because my original coach, Emmett Yanez of the Mexican American Boxing Club, had instructed me to be there every Friday night regardless of whether he made it. We’d lost our East Side gym, and been working out at a different gym that was only open Monday through Thursday. Inner City was also open on Fridays and sometimes on Saturdays; so no wonder it’s the only gym of my youth to produce a world champion. The man who’d said it was the last man to train me, World Champion trainer Dennis Presley. He was instructing professional middleweight David “The Inner City Assassin” McCall, telling him the extra steps he took in repositioning himself after a combination were a waste of energy.

“Wow,” I thought when I heard this big black man working the pads with a fighter say that. “This guy’s really intense and observant, just like Dennis.”

That’s the kind of training I like, that’s the kind of gym I like. Really, wasted energy is wasted talent, and too many gyms breed that kind of failure by running substandard programs diminished by cutting corners, ignoring the details, skipping the little things. I’m tired of seeing it, and those guilty of it know very well who they are. That’s why I was so happy in Hollywood, not chasing starlets, not begging producers to buy my script or trying to meet the right person in order to be discovered and made a star—but  training there with the best in the world who are the best because they do it right.

Near the end of my workout, in the third hour when I was hitting the speedbag, I thought of Wild Card Boxing Club’s hours. Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. That’s why they’re the best in the world, I thought, as I heard the singing rhythm of the bag against its platform, because they do it all day long all week long. That’s why Freddie Roach is so successful, why he’s trained so many world champions.

“I’m embarrassed to ask this question,” I said to Freddie after noticing the big black man working the pads with a fighter in the other room.

“What’s that?” he said.

“Is that Michael Moorer training that guy in the other room?

“Yeah,” he said.

My eyes had not deceived me when I’d looked at his face. Of course it was Michael Moorer, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World. Who else makes observations and gives instructions like that? Who else can do it best? No one else, of course, but the best.

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark Connor

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