Fighting for a Show

WELLS-GOODFELLOW – The Greater Ville resident Maurice Davis is training young boxers in a building at 3303 Goodfellow Blvd. near Barrett Brothers Park. He is seeking funding to help his 501c3 grow into a more attractive option for area youth interested in the sport.

The challenges faced by 50-year-old former fighter Davis and the Gladiator Boxing Team are substantial, beginning with the lack of a home venue for hosting fights.

According to Davis, the ability to host a fight – or “show” – is a critical aspect of retaining fighters and providing structure for the young people under his wing. He estimates the cost of a single fight at around $5,000, which covers all the essentials, from the ring itself to ringside concessions.

Energy Solutions By Solar LLC president Leon James donates the space on Goodfellow for the team to use, but a part-time auto shop next door has been known to conflict with scheduled workouts. James doesn’t charge Davis for utilities at this point, but winter is coming and the coach would like to be able to contribute to expenses. Davis currently donates his time, often arriving with at least one young fighter in tow who needs a ride.

Davis described early successes recruiting boxers at area parks and public spaces.

“The older kids were hanging out, booming their sounds,” said Davis. “I’ve been trying to give them something else to do, but we’ve got to be able to throw them a show.”

Most of his current crop of 13 kids commute in from north St. Louis County, but it hasn’t always been that way. When he started at Tandy’s Recreation Center in 2014, Davis had as many as 30 fighters from all over the city under his tutelage.

After heading out on his own in 2015, he built up his group from just three kids to 23 in less than one year. According to Davis, an unrelated violent incident at the address in 2017 reduced his enrollment dramatically.

“I need a place where my kids can grow without all the negative energy,” said Davis. “I won’t let it through the door,” he said. “But I need a place where the kids can grow with the sport.”

These days, visitors to the gym will find a grim parking lot on a busy street bordering several blighted lots and apartment housing that Davis described as, “a big part of the problem right there.”

The Gladiator crew hosted a sparring session with Delwood Community Center on Oct. 5 at the Goodfellow location. It was clear that Davis’ fighters were less experienced than their challengers, but they made up for whatever they lacked with plenty of heart. From the corner, Davis shouted encouragement and instruction.

When the first pair stepped into the ring to touch gloves, a couple of overhand rights from the Gladiator side got everyone’s attention immediately. After a few flurries of hard punches, the differing fitness levels and experience in the ring began to show.

“Slow down,” Davis repeated to his overeager newcomer. “Go inside. Go to the body.”

The second matchup was interrupted by a case of the butterflies as a Gladiator aspirant raced for the bathroom after an opening round. Moments later, he was back in the ring, taking a beating.

“He’s good, but he’s not ready,” said Davis.

The vibe in the gym was positive. Despite the small number of trainees, those arriving get right down to workouts and basic training exercises like jumping jacks, push-ups, toe touches and lots of stretching. The kids listen intently to Davis, who offers the occasional prompt: “Alright, now,” Davis told a young fighter when he entered the gym and greeted us: “Get started on your pushups.”

Davis is at his best when working one on one with his fighters. The former heavyweight squats and kneels or sits in a rolling office chair, offering a moving target for practice punches while calling for different combinations.

His fighters keep their eyes on the coach, which is a good idea, as Davis’s target pads often do double duty as light slaps reminding fighters to keep their guard up and watch for counterpunches.

The size of Davis’s shoulders and his menacing intensity may have something to do with his kids’ propensity for slipping punches. They are clearly at their respective bests dodging blows.

“You can’t hit him,” is one of Davis’s go-to compliments.

A grant proposal to support the team’s efforts was prepared in July by REspace Design, a virtual architecture firm located in Collinsville, IL.

The proposal calls for funding to rehabilitate a prospective gym site at 4236 Natural Bridge Rd. According to the document, Gladiator’s goals include opening a youth boxing training facility to provide, “exhibition and training space for the local community as well as mentorship for the youth through work service programs.”

According to the proposal, the work service programs include basic construction and demolition training related to the rehabilitation of sites utilized by Gladiator.

The proposed building site is located in an area described as “impoverished” and “in need of new businesses and opportunities for the community.”

A second building at the Natural Bridge site is listed in the proposal as intended for use as, “an entrepreneurial incubator for interested members […] to establish their own businesses.”

REspace co-founder Eric Bratzler confirmed the company’s involvement with Gladiator’s proposal and described the status of the project as under development. “He [Davis] is currently still working on it,” said Bratzler.

Other board members listed as part of the Gladiator Boxing Team include Leroy Jackson and James Pointer, treasurer Brenda Grant, secretary Tammua Davis, chairmen Lester Clark, Edwin Edwards, Antoine Greenwood and Alderman John Collins Muhammed.

To get involved, write to thegladiatorboxingteam@gmail.com or call 314-226-8388. For more pictures, visit http://www.facebook.com/stlnorthsider.

James Walling

James Walling is a writer with over 10 years experience managing and editing newspapers in the Pacific Northwest, Prague (CZ), Central Texas, and Northeast Montana. He lives in the O'Fallon Park neighborhood in north St. Louis.

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