Luckily for me, I work a beat off the normal sanctioned beaten path. San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area are not what you think about when you think of boxing’s pinnacle. Sure, in part of the last century, this area mattered quite a bit. S.F. was something of a hub of boxing activity but as of late, not unlike Detroit’s once-dominant Kronk Gym, it has given way to more modern successes such as Southern California’s Wild Card Boxing Club, Maywood, Azteca or the Romanza Gym in Mexico City.
Yet here in San Carlos, 30 minutes by train out of San Francisco, sits the Undisputed Boxing Gym. Known to most fans as the gym where former world champion Nonito Donaire used to train, the gym is slowly developing into a cutting-edge facility where the science of fitness intersects with the “Sweet Science” of ring violence.
When Donaire was training at Undisputed, the running media angle was he was working with Victor Conte, formerly the bass player for Tower of Power-turned nutrition and supplement guru-turned founder of BALCO-turned anti-doping advocate, SNAC System supplement company owner and nutrition expert. But there was more going on at Undisputed than a charismatic unorthodox fighter working with an infamous name.
Owner of Undisputed, Brian Schwartz and conditioning coach Mike Bazzel spent much of Donaire’s camps training him at the facility. The duo are underrated, in my opinion. Schwartz won six world championships in three weight classes on the pro karate circuit. As a pro kickboxer, he went 18-0 with 11 knockouts, winning a middleweight title before retiring. Bazzel works as the cutman in the corner. In the gym, he is a conditioning coach who also understands the mechanics of fighting. Both are detail oriented. That mindset is contagious as the fighters they train are much the same way, paying attention to how each punch is thrown, how it comes back, what the rest of the body is doing while that is happening and most importantly, being well-conditioned enough to be completely present in mind while all of it is going on.
When Donaire was training at Undisputed under the guidance of Conte, the fighter was using next-level training to get results such as his brutal knockout win over Fernando Montiel. Working with Conte associate, sprint coach Remi Korchemny, Bazzel and Schwartz, Donaire would undergo hypoxic boxing training that involved doing various drills such as mitt or heavy bag work while hooked up to a hypoxicator (a device that simulates high altitude). It was cutting-edge stuff that brought altitude training to the fighter instead of having the fighter go live on top of a mountain.
Though Donaire is gone to train elsewhere following his loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux, Schwartz, Bazzel and Conte still work together closely. While Schwartz and Bazzel handle prospect Andy Vences and Bruno Escalante exclusively, Conte - as he has throughout his career - continues to attract top fighters and athletes from all over to work with he and Korchemny. When it was just Donaire before, now Alfredo Angulo, Amir Khan, Andre Berto, Demetrius Andrade, MLB All-Star Marlon Byrd and most recently, IBF welterweight champion Shawn Porter among others continue to visit San Carlos to experience this rare group and the work they produce. One and all are seeking the knowledge this collective brings to the table from sprint work with Korchemny to the new hypoxic boxing techniques being developed each day. Amid all of this is the comprehensive breakdown of the athletes’ blood work and the customized supplementation being done by Conte for each athlete. It’s detail work not being done anywhere else in sports.
Into this mix has walked Shawn Porter and his father/trainer Ken, two of the most detail-oriented fight people I have ever met. All athletes look for an edge, a new technique, a new way to keep that champion mindset in place, a new way to throw a jab or land a rear punch. You don’t get to the top yearning for the ordinary.
“Can we get 30 seconds?” Ken Porter asked the opposing corner during a recent sparring session.
The session was one of Shawn’s first at Undisputed since training here in part for his last fight, a title-winning affair against former champ Devon Alexander. Ken Porter is not afraid to stop the car and explain to his fighter why he got hit with a punch or how he is not displaying what it takes to be a champion.
Porter and Jonathan Chicas, a local 140-pound prospect, who digs into everyone he faces with equal aplomb and aggression, were moving tentatively in the first round. It should be explained that a sparring session is just that. It is not a fight but more a series of live-fire scenarios. A fighter should not be judged by one session alone but rather the entire camp’s work sessions. The reason being that each day, the fighter could be working on something new.
This day should have been named “The Devil Is in the Details.”
“Stay focused,” implored Ken Porter. “That’s what’s going to keep you in this game. Staying focused means doing everything the right way.”
Ken shot out into the ring, hands at his sides, mimicking moving out of the way of a punch. “This is relying on athleticism. That’ll take you so far.”
Then Shawn put his gloves in proper defensive position, high on the head, tucked in around the chin. This time, he pivoted out of the way of the punch, hands in position to return fire.
“The ability to take the lesson and put it on the canvas the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what it takes to be at the world-class level,” Ken explained.
Shawn nodded and the work resumed. It’s one thing to win a title. Keeping it is going to take something beyond hunger. Beyond athleticism. It’s going to take attention to detail.
By round three, after more instruction at length from Ken, who still wasn’t seeing what he wanted to, Shawn found his rhythm and his style began coming out. Awkward and low to the ground like a running back, Porter’s fireplug frame catches opponents off-guard. His strength is often underestimated as is his quickness and ability to change direction. He started using a classic boxing stance, darting in and out of position, practicing feints and safely moving into range in his guard or behind a jab. Then Shawn went to work, landing combinations that felt like tension was being released from all the instruction. The best thing about a fighter’s job is that he can take out his frustrations in the ring. The lesson on this day was burned into Porter on multiple levels and the way he went at Chicas proved it. The technique was there while the passion was as well. Lesson learned. Detail attended to.
The atmosphere is like a classroom in which all the students want to be in attendance. Whether it is the chance to work with an 81-year-old sprint coach who won’t be around forever or the facility at Undisputed (which offers technology and applications no one else is doing, the camaraderie or coaches that brings members in), it’s the attention to detail that seems to keep the fighters and athletes coming back.
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround or via iTunes subscription at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leave-it-in-ring-radio-blog/id316004573?mt=2. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show www.Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PT.
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