By: Hans Themistode
It was funny at first. A bit of sideshow if you will. YouTubers with massive followings jumping into the ring to fight one another? No harm no foul.
However, with social media stars lacing up the gloves becoming more of the norm, New York City trainer Eric Kelly became sick and tired of it. The typically laid back former amateur standout paid no attention to it in the beginning. Instead, he simply continued to punch in every day and played his part in helping the sport of boxing grow.
Recently, what seemed to be more of an experiment, has quickly turned into what many believe is completely necessary as both YouTube stars and social media influencers continue to flood the sport. However, when broached with how important these nonboxing figures have become to the sport, Kelly immediately gets apoplectic at the mere thought that these sideshows could be here to stay.
“Why would we need that?,” asked Kelly during an interview with Boxinginsider.com. “Has a boxer went and elevated YouTube? So how the fuck would a YouTuber elevate boxing? We don’t need that.”
Not long ago, Kelly’s questions were seemingly answered by social media star Jake Paul. The YouTube sensation recently claimed that boxing was a dying sport. That is, until he came along and resuscitated it. With two knockout wins under his belt, albeit against non boxers in fellow social media influencer Ali Eson Gib and former NBA player Nate Robinson, Paul has boasted of his importance to his recently adopted sport.
For Kelly, the famed trainer won’t fulminate with anyone supporting Paul’s statement. He simply has a few questions he would like the social media star to answer.
“If boxing was alive because of Jake Paul what facility does he have for the youth? What has he done to help the sport grow? People turn to boxing as a scapegoat, therapy or even want to pursue it full time. What is he doing for that demographic? I’m out here doing what I have to do on behalf of boxing. I have a facility for the youth. You can’t say you’re the reason boxing is alive, no mother fucker, Eric Kelly is the reason boxing is alive. Mother fucker, you upload videos. I upload ass whoppings.”
Contrary to what it seems, Kelly doesn’t have an issue with Paul. In fact, if asked, he would be willing to work with the newly turned boxer. Whether you’re a YouTube star or a regular Joe on the street, Kelly believes that if you have the balls to lace up the gloves, and head into the ring, then you will always have his respect. With that being said, the long time trainer doesn’t believe Paul should be in the position he’s in today. The large sums of money, the notoriety and the apparent star power he has in the sport of boxing simply doesn’t make sense to Kelly.
When the former amateur standout looks into the mirror or closes the lights before heading to bed, the aches and pains that are associated with decades spent in the ring are a constant reminder of what he has done to himself for a sport that he loves so much.
“I shared the ring with the Andre Ward’s, I shared the ring with the Jermaine Taylor’s, I shared the ring with the Jeff Lacy’s. I been in there with a lot of champions. Sparring, fighting, everything. I did that. I was a stepping stone. My face shows it, my hands show it, my body shows it. I’m the one who put my body through that damage.”
Despite it all, Kelly pulls himself up out of bed every morning, similarly to how he would climb off the canvas whenever an Andre Ward right hand would land and makes the long trek to his SouthBox boxing gym located at 171 Lincoln Avenue in Bronx, New York. From there, he holds the pads for troubled youth, instructs willing learners on how to defend themselves and helps clean up after putting in a 12-hour shift. It isn’t just his amateur record of 104-14, nor is it about his numerous golden gloves trophies that are stacked up in his office. No, it’s about the work he does every day that leads him to believe that he is an integral part of the sport of boxing.
“That’s why boxing is alive because of me. I’m giving the youth a chance, I’m giving an aspiring boxer a chance. That’s why boxing is alive, because of things that I do to help the sport.”
COVID-19 may have forced us inside of our homes, but Boxing Insider Radio is still here to keep you up to date with what’s going on in the boxing world. For this weeks episode, former amateur standout and current SouthBox gym owner Eric Kelly goes into detail on the new reality facing the boxing community and his ambition to open a new boxing gym in the midst of a pandemic. To tune into the show simply subscribe to Boxing Insider Radio on Spotify, iTunes or on Boxinginsider.com.
COVID-19 appeared to us like a thief in the night. Taking all of our belongings and leaving many of us wondering what the hell just happened? The lives of millions across the world have been changed by the deadly disease, but amongst the most affected group have been the gym community, more specially, those who are located in the New York area.
From the very moment the virus made its unwanted presence known in the United States, many of us laughed. Now, nearly four months in and over 100,000 deaths and counting, no one is laughing anymore.
But while COVID-19 hit unassuming New Yorkers with the same ferocity as former Heavyweight champion and current Hall of Famer “Smokin” Joe Frazier once did, former New York City standout amateur boxer and renowned gym owner of SouthBox Eric Kelly saw this coming a mile away. And while they say it’s the punches that you don’t see coming that leave the most deleterious effect, Kelly, while fully braced, still felt the immediate impact of COVID-19.
“I got wind of this stuff months ago when it was brewing in China pretty bad,” said Kelly on Boxing Insider Radio. “I noticed things were starting to change. So I kind of knew beforehand that we were going to close these gyms down.”
While the virus has no issue attacking every and anyone that crosses its deadly path, it seems to have a soft spot for New Yorkers. The city that “never sleeps” is anything but awake at the moment. And now, gym owners such as Kelly fully understand that it won’t be an easy process to awaken a once prosperous city, let alone boxing gyms that are currently in desperate need of help at the moment.
“Reason being is boxing gyms are a hot bed for plagues such as COVID-19. A lot of body fluids being exchanged in the gym. When it officially happened I was so distraught. Like I had a hard time even breaking it to my clients. How do I tell them that we have to close? And after I tell them that we have too close, are they going to comeback?”
Finding a gym in New York City is akin to locating a Mcdonalds or your local corner store. In short, it isn’t hard to find. Yet with the entire clientele of Kelly seemingly up for grabs from local competition, he was given somewhat of a reprieve in the shape of Governor Cuomo.
“When Cuomo came out and said every gym had too close, I immediately said thank you,” said Kelly while laughing. “Not really thank you but thank you, I’m not the only one.”
The smile on Kelly’s didn’t last long as he discussed the struggles that gym owners not only have to deal with today, but also when this virus is long gone.
“It’s gonna be a little bit of a step back. People aren’t going to so gung-ho to jump back into the gym.”
Still, even with the immediate prospects of owning a gym not proving to be worth it in this day and age, Kelly isn’t ready to give up on his life long passion just yet. In fact, he’s doubling down.
The Bronx native has boarded up the walls and locked the doors on his once prominent SouthBox home. He’s traded in the keys to his successful gym in and in turn, received a new pair.
“I’m opening up a new SouthBox. The old gym was just a try out, it was just a test. Our plan was never to stay at the old gym and now we are actually going to take down that entire building. The old SouthBox was just to see if people were going to come and could we get people’s attention.”
The attention and spotlight has always been fixated on Kelly. As an amateur fighter, he cruised to a 104-14 record while ranking number one in the country. And while his future was unbelievably bright, an eye injury left his ambitions unrealistic.
Although his pro dreams were never achieved, the success that he’s had in the gym industry is second to none. With that reasoning in mind, Kelly isn’t worried about the push back he could receive, or the countless “out of business” signs that he notices on gym doors everywhere. He’s spent several years building his name and his brand. And much like his attitude in the ring, he has no problem going toe to toe with COVID-19.
“A couple gyms are going to go out of business. But the new SouthBx is going to succeed. We did all of the groundwork and research. So I’m confident that my brand is going to succeed.”