I’ve always been a boxing fan. After I graduated from college I got fat and I found a boxing gym in Wadena, MN which was close to me at the time. I went there and after my first day of training I was as sore as I’ve ever been in my life. A couple weeks later I starting sparring and this kid Frank Orsello laid a brutal beating on me. My competitive nature took over and all I could think about day and night was what happened in the ring with Frank and making sure it didn’t happen again. Boxing puts you in tough situations and the way a person responds to those situations is what makes them fail or succeed. That’s what made me fall in love with boxing.
I started fighting 8 years ago. I started training fighters 4 years ago. When my wife and I were expecting our first child I knew it would be difficult to put the same amount of time into getting myself prepared to fight. I love the gym and couldn’t stay away so I started helping with some of the kids in Uppercut’s teen program and took off from there.
You never stop learning in boxing and I’ve learned a lot over the last year about the professional side of the sport. It’s definitely not a place for the faint of heart. One of the main things I try to remind the fighters I work with is that we all do this because we enjoy it so I do what I can to try and make sure that we get the most out of every day we’re in the gym and have fun doing it.
How do you see the overall landscape of boxing in Minnesota, both professionally and in the amateurs?
Minnesota has had a bad run of late on the National level. I do think there are a lot of promising young fighters that can change this over time but it’s not going to happen overnight. I loved seeing Caleb prepare for his fight by going to many different gyms and working with the best fighters around. The Minnesota boxing community is small so this is the type of approach I think we are going to need to take if this is going to change.
The first thing I’d do is tell them about all the fighters I work with. The other names I would bring up are Caleb Truax, Aaron Green, Robert Brant, Ismail Muwendo and Manny Contreras. Most of these guys are just starting out as professionals and they are all stand up guys. If you’re a fight fan in Minnesota I think the next few years will be fun getting to know these guys and following them as they go through the rest of their careers.
The first time I held pads for RJ I left the gym thinking man this dude has fast hands and can really crack. The main thing we’ve worked on is his balance and making sure he is in a position to land a punch at all times. I think the progression RJ has made is really in the way he is setting up his shots and taking what’s open rather than always going for that big punch the opponent can see coming. One thing is for sure if RJ hits you clean on the chin you’re going to be put to sleep. During our first camp I told him that there is an Ali quote that sums up my philosophy on getting ready for fights. “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” We are on the same page with this and know it’s not always going to be rainbows and butterflies in the gym getting ready for a fight. This approach allows us to communicate during those rough times and figure things out together so that he is ready to shine when the lights are on and the T-Rex fans are going crazy. We don’t do things his way and we don’t do things my way. We talk about things, figure it out together and do things our way.
I’m a trainer first and I feel I can see things better and coach better from outside the ring. I also feel that people learn best by doing so I want the fighters sparring as much as possible. If there isn’t any sparring available I’ll gear up and give them work. As soon as that bell rings I become a fighter and no longer a trainer. I’m not in there to play patty cakes and expect the same in return. Training and getting ready for fights together does build a sense of camaraderie and for this next training camp I’ll be a trainer first but doing all the strength and conditioning work with the fighters for a fight of my own in August.
I don’t think the traveling and scenery change is what is important. What is important is to constantly be challenged in sparring and to be in with the best fighters available. That often means traveling to get that sparring. “What got you here won’t get you where you want to go” is something I’ve always told fighters as a reminder to keep pushing forward and challenging them.
I’m a big fan of Caleb and his trainer Tom Halsted. They do things the right way. In that fight Caleb was just a bit hesitant early in the fight which is to be expected for his first time on the big stage. I think that fight was great experience for Caleb and that he will be back fighting in big fights soon.
It’s great to see all these fights taking place. They feature some great boxer vs. puncher matchups that should be very entertaining. I hope the fans come to support them all and that the boxing scene continues to grow locally.
Being good at boxing and having great fights isn’t enough to sell tickets and grow the sport. Everyone involved in the sport needs to constantly be thinking of new ways to market the fighters and events to get the word out about the strong local scene we have here. I think if people got to know some of the stories behind these fighters and the fights that boxing will grow. RJ got off to a great start with the way he promoted his first card and I hope things only get better from there.
Uppercut is like home for me and my family. I actually met my wife there during a sparring session. She also trains fighters out of there so you can find us there basically every day of the week. I started training there because it was closest to where I work but from the first day I knew it was the right place for me. I don’t think you’ll find many other places where people with more diverse backgrounds all come together for the same reason. Uppercut Gym is a great place I and would recommend it to anyone.
Any final thoughts?
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and I hope to see everyone at an upcoming local boxing show!!!