Have you ever been to East L.A.? Or perhaps heard it mentioned in a gangster movie, or a hip-hop song? Well, that was my only point of reference before one of my talented boxers, Andy Kolle, and I ventured out Southern California to participate in an Antonio Margarito’s training camp. A boxing training camp is where a boxer sharpens his skills before a big fight. For those that have never heard of Margarito, he is a former World Boxing Champ. When we flew out there Antonio still was the reigning champion who was one of the most feared men in boxing. Antonio’s people wanted Andy to fly out there on his own but out of fear for his safety I decided to accompany him. Training camps can be very rough on the sparring partners. I have had some experience in World Champion camps prior to this. Zach Walter, another fighter from my stable, attended camp with Antonio Tarver a few years prior.
I cleared my schedule and together Andy and I ventured out to sunny California from Minnesota. The first thing I noticed was the intense heat hitting my face. We were picked up by Antonio’s manager, Sergio Diaz Jr. He drove us to our rental car. To my surprise I found out that I would be driving. The traffic in L.A. has two speeds: crawl or complete sprint. The L.A. drivers seemed to have never heard of “Minnesota Nice.” I was cursed out in so many languages that I quit counting; with extreme caution I followed Sergio the best I could trying not to be distracted by all the graffiti on the buildings and the rough looking people coming up to our car window asking for change every time we stopped. How we made it safely to our hotel remains a mystery to me.
The first thing that stood out to me about our accommodations was the courtyard at the center. It was like something out of an old Zorro movie, like an oasis. We dropped our gear and took a tour of the boxing gym. I will never forget the moment when we first stepped in that gym. The talent level was like nothing I have never seen in all my years in boxing. The intensity in which they trained was awesome. Sweat flying, jump ropes singing, heavy bags being pounded, and blood flowing off the boxers sparring. I felt a lump in my throat as Sergio asked me, “What do you think?” I tried to conceal my trepidation as I replied, “Not bad.” After a few hours we went back to our room and slept fitfully as I had a strong feeling the first day of camp was going to be difficult.
The next morning we woke to a pounding on our door as a wakeup call to start our morning run. Every successful boxer knows that running is part of their training, and we came in thinking Andy was in good running condition. Little did we know that the run would be straight up a mountain road. I felt extremely proud of Andy for being the only one to keep up with the champ during the run. I could see Antonio’s trainer looking at me from the other car nodding his approval. We were beginning to earn respect, and in the fighting world you need respect to survive. We rested after the run, realizing that the afternoon sparring session was going to be war. Andy’s legs were like rubber after the mountain run. We needed to rely on his ability to move his feet in the ring. The last thing we wanted was Andy to go in tired and trade punches with Margarito who is well known for his relentless pressure and punching power.
Once at the sparring session, the gym was packed with Latino boxers and we were the only Caucasians there. The bell rang and the war started. Andy made us both proud that day because he hung in there and gave as good as he got. Afterwards we were treated with respect. It was an eye opening experience and one of my best moments as a boxing trainer.