During a recent trip to Atlanta, Georgia, Maxboxing paid a visit to the Atlanta Art of Boxing Center, located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. The Atlanta Art of Boxing Center is operated by its sole proprietor, Johnny Gant. Gant, a former fighter himself implements the discipline of boxing, as its corner stone to help develop growth in areas such as vocation, social skills, and self-respect among its members.
“Our program is an amalgamation of the Amateur Boxing Association and community environment,” said Gant, now 65-years-old. “It will set in motion an avenue for the boxer to channel their interest in boxing and use their skills as they go through life’s mazes.”
Gant, a welterweight contender, faced the likes of Esteban De Jesus and “Sugar” Ray Leonard in a career that stretched 12 years. Gant called it quits in 1980, amassing a career record of 45-15-3, (26). Only to return to the squared circle 17 years later. The then 48-year-old Gant, dropped an 8 round decision to journeyman Earl Allen of Savannah, Georgia.
"What can I say?," Gant humbly asked. The father of 5, and grandfather of 18, as well as a great-grandfather of 2, lives and breathes the ’Sweet Science’.
"I love the sport," proclaimed Gant. "I am an advocate of the sport."
When you take into consideration that the city of Atlanta has 3 professional sport teams (Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, and the Atlanta Hawks) it’s no surprise that the Baltimore, Maryland native will plug the art of fistic fury as much as much as he can whenever possible.
"Atlanta is a great sports town," Gant would emphasize. "We [the city] just lack the drawing power to lure a big name opponent. Although Atlanta is a great sports town, we don’t have big events [fights] that can be sold to the public."
Prevailing wisdom would suggest simply making and hosting a “big fight” between two big names. But it’s easier said than done. 99.9% of the time a smaller market city would have to compete against a city on a much grander scale, in order to land a high profile fight. The 0.1% is an anomaly, such as Terrence Crawford fighting Yuriokis Gamboa in Omaha, Nebraska. Not only does Gant’s testimony speak volume, but most importantly, it corresponds to recent history. The last big prize fight in Atlanta was when the A-T-Lien, Evander Holyfield fought Vaughn Bean at the Georgia Dome in September of 98. And before that to no surprise, it was Holyfield again. 12 years prior to the bout with Vaughn, the "Real Deal" faced the "Camden Buzz Saw" Dwight Muhammad Qawi at The Omni Coliseum. The Omni would eventually be replaced by the Phillips Arena (The new home of the Atlanta Hawks).
The plethora of contenders, alongside the handful of champions that have made their way through the doors of the Atlanta Art of Boxing Center, wasn’t enough to attract a marketable opponent to the ’Dirty South’. Prompting some of the fighters to showcase their talents outside of Atlanta, in search of worthy opposition, bigger paydays, and most importantly exposure.
Besides Holyfield, some of the other prize fighters that have come from the same region, or have made a profound impact on the gym per say, include Robert Allen, Cedric Boswell, Paul Williams, and the late great Vernon Forrest. Forrest, a native of Augusta, who relocated to Atlanta, rose to prominence back in 2002, when he became the first fighter to defeat Shane Mosley. Ultimately, Forrest would go on to capture world titles in the 147 & 154 pound division in his career.
In 2009, Forrest’s life was tragically cut short when he was gunned down during a botched robbery in the Mechanicsville section of Atlanta. Forrest, 38, who was armed at the time of the stick-up, chased his assailants on foot. Shots were exchanged as Forrest was attempting to recover a Rolex watch and a championship ring that had been taken from him during the hold-up. Eventually, Forrest gave up the man hunt and struck up a conversation with an individual that was standing nearby. The perpetrator disguised as a pedestrian was named Charmin Sinkfield. Sadly, he shot Forrest between 7 and 8 times in the back.
The passing of Forrest left a huge void in the facility. To say that Forrest was the heart and soul of the place would be an understatement. Outside of Gant, over the course of 12 years, Forrest’s presence was unprecedented. At one time Forrest donated $15,000.00 to the gym, so that it could stay afloat.
"Vernon was a great guy," recalled Gant. "The last time we saw each other was two days before he was killed. He was laughing so much. Honestly, I have never seen him laugh like that. I had a missed call from him on Friday. I then called him back the following day, on Saturday. He didn’t pick up, so I left him a voicemail stating that I would call him back on Monday. Monday never came."
The criminals involved Jquante Crews, Demario Ware, and Sinkfield were all apprehended by the authorities. Ware and Crews, the parties responsible for committing the robbery and driving the getaway car, were sentenced to life in prison. As for Sinkfield, he was sentenced to death.
"I am not in favor of capital punishment, but hey, he [Sinkfield] killed a wonderful human being," said Gant, also mentioning that on the 25th it will mark 5 years since the ordeal happened. "He killed my friend. If you don’t want harm done to you, don’t hurt anyone else. Don’t mess with karma, it will get you. He shouldn’t have shot Vernon in the back. That’s a cowardly act. That said, I don’t have a problem with the state of Georgia executing a coward." Although a legend is gone, Forrest’s spirit still lives on at the Atlanta Art of Boxing Center. This serves as an inspiration for the next generation of kids coming up. Gant is confident that there will be another star to shine bright and put the "Peach State" back on the map. Currently, Gant has a few kids fighting in the novice and open division in the Golden Gloves tournament.
"Look out for Bobby Hornsby," Gant informed Maxboxing, filling us in on his star pupil. "He is a legend in the making. He is a regular at all of the amateur shows here on the Georgia circuit." The Atlanta Art of Boxing Center is a fighter’s gym, completely authentic in every sense of the word. It doesn’t look pretty nor does it smell appealing. But whether your niche is throwing effective combinations, or reciting boxing history, this spot is worth a visit if you can. You can’t go wrong. It is time well spent.
- The gym is located on 1135 Spring NW. The telephone number is (404) 870-8444.
- Membership dues cost 35 dollars a month. "Most of the kids in the gym, come from single-parent households. Specifically single moms. We ain’t trying to kill nobody financially," said Gant.
- The children are required to do well in school. All kids that are active members, are required to have a "C" average or better in their studies. Obviously, better is encouraged. Membership is temporarily revoked if expectations are not met. Membership is then reinstated when grades are back on par.
- Music with explicit lyrics isn’t allowed in the gym.
- Gant worked Williams’ corner 7 years ago, when Williams bested Antonio Margarito for the WBO Welterweight title in Carson, California.
- Gant feels that he got the short end of the stick in the decision loss to De Jesus 41years ago in Puerto Rico. - Holyfield’s son, Elijah, periodically trains at the gym too.
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