By: Sean Crose
“Listen,” Eric Kelly tells me. “I’m as happy as can be.” Kelly, for those who don’t know, is a world class amateur standout turned trainer. Although he was born in Florida, Kelly is a New Yorker through and through – engaging, opinionated and unafraid to speak to his mind. He’s also about as generous as they come. “A big piece of me feels that New York City and boxing gyms in New York City gave up on the group.” What group, you might ask? Young people who could use a local gym to grow in, both mentally and as boxers.
“They train and work out free of charge,” Kelly says of his “Pizza Box” youth program, “because a lot of these gyms are just too expensive right now.” Anyone can talk the talk, but Kelly lives it. Kids are even known to get a meal, courtesy of Kelly, after a workout. “Three blocks from the gym, he says, “I own a pizza place called Monte’s Brick oven.” Kelly’s generosity is more than just a nice gesture. “I do know that there’s a lot of poverty in the neighborhood,” he tells me. Which is at least part of the reason why the 39 year old is so pleased to have his Bronx based gym, Southbox reopened after the trials of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The members, he says, “they’ve been hitting me up on social media.” Not that the man has spent the pandemic letting time pass him by. “We’re opening in a bigger, better facility,” Kelly tells me. “We used this pandemic time to grow.” Although there’s certain aspects of contemporary life that will make operations different than they were before at Southbox, it will essentially be back to business as usual, which is the business of boxing. “Right now, I like where boxing is at on the professional side,” Kelly tells me. “The best are fighting the best right now” Kelly is particularly excited, as are many fans, for the impending Teofimo Lopez-Vasyl Lomachenko throwdown. Not that he’s a fan of every fighter out there.
“Canelo,” he says. “He’s everything that’s wrong with boxing.” Kelly was particularly displeased with Canelo’s notorious drug tests a few years back. “How can you blame it on the meat?” he asks. “Canelo’s trainer is a butcher.” If Kelly sounds passionate about boxing, it’s because he’s truly lived within the sport. Before an injury from a pool stick took him out of competition, Kelly could boast of being one of the best amateurs on earth. “I was one of the top fighters in the country,” he says. “I won National Championships.” He won four of them in fact. “It took a guy like (Andre) Ward to beat me,” he points out, referring to the pound for pound great who he was a finalist with in his amateur days. “No one else was going to beat me.”
If Kelly looks familiar, it’s because he has been spotted everywhere, from Vice Sports (where he’s been a broadcaster), to commercials (he was in a Powerade ad) to the UFC (where he’s worked as a boxing trainer and cornerman). Kelly’s home, though, is Southbox, where he offers guidance – and sometimes pizza – to those want or need it, regardless age, background, or pedigree.
Southbox gym can be reached online at: https://www.southboxgym.com/