Norwayne Boxing Gym Gives Local Youth Fighting Chance

Photo By JL Vipond

Typically when a person visualizes the idea of a boxing gym, their mind paints a picture which likely resembles the old gym that Rocky called home in the classic film series. It’s dark, dingy and full of guys grinding their way to a title. Others may think of the more modernized, fun, loud, and bright fitness-style cardio gyms that have gained an immense amount of popularity in recent years.

But whatever your impression of a boxing gym is, the Norwayne Boxing Gym is unlike anything you have ever seen before.

The gym is the product of Jeff Styers (current chairperson of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission), who had a vision for a community center that not only focuses on training fighters in the ring, but also helps local youth excel in their academic and personal lives. Styers called the Norwayne neighborhood home as a young, up-and- coming boxer, where he amassed an impressive 98-4 amateur record, and retired as a professional with a perfect 11-0 record. Training with local legends Steve McCrory, Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson and James Toney, Styers routinely traveled to the Coleman Young Center, Kronk, and Crowell Community Center since a ring closer to home was unfortunately unavailable.

In an effort to give back to his childhood community, Styers set out to introduce a boxing gym in the Norwayne district to give the young people in the area a place to train their bodies and their minds. Styers worked with Mayor William R. Wild to have the Norwayne subdivision zoned as a historical district. The homes that were built in this subdivision originally housed World War II workers, of Rosie the Riveter fame, who built the B-24 bombers. Once the historical district certification was earned, grants and state funding could be acquired to renovate buildings in the neighborhood, particularly the abandoned Jefferson-Barnes Elementary School (the future home of Norwayne Boxing Gym).

Photo By JL Vipond

The Norwayne subdivision officially become a registered historic district in 2013. Styers immediately went to work on securing the necessary grants to renovate the Jefferson-Barnes Elementary building. This included a $25,000 grant for the computer lab that is essential to execute the full vision of the community center. As an addition to the learning lab, Styers utilized his charity, Champions of Wayne, to provide tutoring to the members of the Norwayne Boxing Gym. These tutors are 4.0 high school students at Wayne Memorial High School who

volunteer their time to assist the gym members with their studies.

The extensive legislative work that is necessary to undertake a project of this magnitude became a reality with the help of an impressive board of directors assembled by Styers. These members include David Segura (CEO, Vision IT), Richard Helppie (Vineyard Capital Group), John Hern, Jr. (CEO, Clark Hill), Jim Line (Director of Corporate Procurement for BCBSM), and Wolfgang Mueller (Mueller Law Firm, Former chairperson of Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission).

The last piece of the puzzle was to find a head coach.

Originally Styers had hired longtime Kronk boxing trainer Keith Lee to oversee the gym, but his untimely passing left a void not only at Norwayne Boxing Gym, but in a city who mourned the loss of a local legend. Stepping in to fill the vacant position was longtime trainer and former professional boxer, Erskine Wade. Styers as not only an excellent trainer and coach, but as a positive role model and mentor have praised Wade.

Wade has assumed a plethora of responsibilities outside of the normal scope of a boxing coach. This includes taking gym members to get haircuts, driving them to church on Sunday, and even advocating on their behalf if they find themselves in trouble at home or in school. Wade is even known by the city judges as someone who is willing to supervise alternative punishments for the troubled youth in the area.

Photo By JL Vipond

As successful as Wade has been as a mentor, he has enjoyed equal success in molding the fighters who train out of Norwayne Boxing Gym into top level boxers. Last year the gym crowned two Michigan Golden Glove champions, and this year the gym produced a National Junior Olympic champion and a national Silver Gloves champion. The gym has also drawn the attention of local professional fighters Winifred Harris (15-0, 9 KO’s) and Antonio Wade (4-0, 3 KO’s), who have trained at Norwayne Boxing Gym.

For all the good work that Styers and co. have produced thus far, their collective vision for the future of the gym appears to promise more expansion and an even greater positive influence on the community. The team plans to increase the size of the gym to allot for more participants, as well as adding a substantial feature to the computer lab. That feature is focused on providing 9 th -12 th grade students with training on how to write computer code so that when they graduate they will have an internship level of coding skill at their disposal. This skill will position the students to be able to enter the job market (particularly in IT), with a tangible ability that affords them an advantage over their potential competitors.

Moving forward, the main mission is to provide the gym with stability and sustainability. Achievement of that goal comes with inherent financial burdens, including travel expenses, equipment and uniform costs, and compensation for the hardworking trainers and assistants that make this all possible.

So how can you help?

You can make a donation (501C3 exempt) to the gym at http://www.norwayneboxinggym.org/ and help support the efforts of Norwayne Boxing Gym in enriching the lives of our future generation. Visitors are also welcome to stop by the gym to see the facility, which is located at 32150 Dorsey St. Westland, MI 48186.

Follow Ray Vipond on Twitter @akaOliverTwist

Punch/ Counter-Punch: Mayweather vs McGregor

When deciding how to construct a proper point/counterpoint article breaking down the upcoming Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight, I contemplated an array of options, but ultimately settled on an approach that I find to be direct, efficient, and downright fun. I scanned MMA message boards, and found the five most common arguments that are being made that support McGregor beating Mayweather.

Each of these points will be diagnosed and countered with the intention of dispelling them as nothing but baseless opinion. Let me preface this by saying that I have an enormous amount of respect for Conor McGregor, and the UFC, as I have been a fan of the sport for a long time, but I also value facts over hype.

So, let’s get started…

ARGUMENT #1 – Mayweather is too old

In almost any other case, I would be the first in line to argue that father time is undefeated in the sport of boxing, and it’s virtually impossible to beat the clock. But with every rule, there is an exception.

Floyd has the same attributes that allowed Bernard Hopkins to successfully box well into his late forties: A) he doesn’t gain significant amounts of weight between fights, and stays in shape year-round, B) he hasn’t been in any wars that required an absorption of large amounts of physical damage, and C) he’s technically sound, and is arguably one of the greatest defensive fighters of all-time, which allows him the luxury of not relying purely on reflexes and athleticism to succeed in the ring (for an example of when a lack of fundamentals are brutally exposed when reflexes and athleticism erode, see Roy Jones Jr.).

The 11-year age advantage may look significant on paper, but it truly won’t make a difference in the ring. Floyd has always been able to make fighters box at his pace, and Conor will be no different.

ARGUMENT #2– Conor hits hard, and will go for the knockout

To this point, I would cordially like to invite Mr. McGregor to join the club; the club of “fighters who hit hard and tried to KO Floyd”. This club includes: Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Andre Berto, Diego Corrales, Victor Ortiz, Marcos Maidana, and Ricky Hatton (I purposefully chose to not include Pacquaio, because let’s be honest, he wasn’t trying to KO Floyd nor did he come close). It should be noted that I would pick any of those fighters, at any points in their careers, to beat Conor McGregor in a boxing match.

While I can’t in any way deny that Conor clearly has superb punching power in the Octagon, it’s meaningless if it doesn’t land, and land clean. Forty-seven have tried, forty-seven have failed, and a large number of them are going to the Hall of Fame in Canastota. I’ve watched compilation videos on YouTube showing Floyd getting buzzed by Judah, Mosley and DeMarcus Corley. Do you know what those three fighters have in common? They’ve all lost to Mayweather.

Let’s also keep in mind that the window for Conor to land a significant shot is relatively small. It takes more energy to punch, and miss than to land. I expect Conor to set an early pace that he will not be able to maintain. The five minute/five round duration of a UFC title fight starkly contrasts from the three minute/twelve round duration of a championship boxing match. Conor may start the bout at a high level of intensity, but that unsustainable pace will cause him to tire early. Once the fatigue sets in (which I expect to occur around round three), Conor’s
window of opportunity closes.

Side Note: Floyd has a provably solid chin, there is no counter argument. The guy can flat out take a punch. The few times he has been hurt, he recovered immediately.

ARGUMENT #3– Floyd has never seen anything like Conor

This one is my personal favorite. Floyd had ninety-two amateur fights, forty-nine professional fights and countless rounds of sparring. What would possess someone to believe that just because Conor is coming from MMA that he is going to bring something to the table that Floyd is unfamiliar with? Two immediate examples of awkward fighters that Floyd has faced that come to mind are Emanuel Augustus (nicknamed “The Drunken Master” for his highly unorthodox fighting style), and Marcos Maidana (whom Floyd fought twice). Both fighters are known for throwing punches from odd angles, and utilizing attacks that go against the traditional techniques in boxing. These two highly trained professional boxers with unusual and unorthodox styles are 0-3 against Mayweather.

Mayweather can also be credited as having one of highest ring I.Q.’s ever. Once he sees something thrown at him, he immediately makes the adjustment, and it’s highly unlikely that it will work again (i.e. Oscar’s jab and Shane’s right hand). With that in mind, McGregor has the burden of ensuring that the first shot he lands (particularly his left), is enough to knock Mayweather out. Anything short of a knockout with that first big landed punch, and Mayweather now has data on how to avoid it or counter it, significantly reducing the chances of it landing again. In short, he has absolutely seen something like McGregor before.

ARGUMENT #4– Conor is too big, and strong

Conor is definitely bigger, but in this fight size won’t really matter. Aside from the two fights against Nate Diaz (where he was clearly not a legitimate welterweight), McGregor has spent most of his career at Featherweight (145 pounds) and Lightweight (155 pounds). Mayweather has fought the past ten years at Welterweight (147 pounds) and Junior Welterweight (154 pounds). Conor stands 5-foot-9 with a 74-inch reach, Floyd is 5-foot-8 with a 72-inch reach (which is not only a negligible difference, but neutralized by Floyd’s considerable speed advantage).

Canelo Alvarez, Oscar de la Hoya and Diego Corrales enjoyed considerable size advantages against him. Do you know what those three fighters have in common? Losses to Floyd Mayweather (are you seeing a pattern here?).

If Conor is not successfully landing punches, and he obviously can’t grapple or wrestle, his size and strength advantages are nullified. Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see. All the muscles in the world can’t help you if your opponent is boxing circles around you.

ARGUMENT #5– Anything can happen

Except when it can’t. I could also win the lottery tomorrow, but I’m not going to quit law school just yet. At a certain, distinguishable point, the talent discrepancy becomes so wide that blind luck and miracles become so statistically improbable they are no longer worth discussing. Sure, crazy things have happened in boxing in the past. Buster Douglas defied 42-1 odds to knock out Mike Tyson, but we all later learned that Tyson was nowhere near the invincible fighter we once thought he was, and he was also woefully unprepared for the fight. McGregor’s own (former) sparring partner Chris van Heerden said he doesn’t stand a chance. Comparatively, Sachin Tendulkar is considered one of the greatest batsman in the history of cricket. But if I had to bet on how he would fair against Kershaw under MLB rules, my money is confidently on Kershaw.

Listen. McGregor is going to lose. But you should still watch this fight.

It’s a fun event that will be entertaining, however long it lasts. As long as the fight is viewed through the lens of being the spectacle that it is as opposed to being viewed as a legitimate boxing match, then everyone wins. Conor will pay more in taxes from this fight than his entire UFC earnings combined, and I’m never mad at a guy for getting paid. I’m picking Floyd by TKO (referee stoppage) in rounds 5-7.

But hey…what do I know? Everyone gets lucky sometimes.

Follow Ray Vipond on Twitter @akaOliverTwist

Bantamweights Beware: Detroit’s Hottest Boxing Prospect is on the Rise

In recent years, the city of Detroit has experienced a drought in the production of world championship caliber boxers. A city once steeped in boxing history has reduced itself to an occasional shooting star without producing any real fireworks. But much like the city itself is experiencing a renaissance, so is the local boxing scene.

Jarico O’Quinn intends to be the torchbearer.

Hailing from Detroit’s west side and fighting out of Dynamic Boxing Club in Westland, O’Quinn amassed an impressive amateur career before turning pro. He joined Dynamic in 2009 at 14-years-old, and almost immediately began collecting hardware. During his time as an amateur,O’Quinn won the Junior Olympic National Title, the PAL National Title, the Youth Nationals, the USA Elite (no headgear) National Title, the Pikes Peak International Championships, the James Toney Invitational Tournament, and was runner-up at the National Golden Gloves tournament.

That list fails to include multiple local and regional tournaments.

With an amateur record of 129-19 and little left to conquer,O’Quinn turned pro. Under the tutelage of trainers Chad Jaquillard and Paul Soucy, he currently has a professional record of 7-0 (5 KO’s). His next fight is Friday, Aug. 4 at the MGM Grand Detroit Event Center at 8pm. The fight is promoted by former world title challenger Dmitriy Salita. Tickets are still available for the fight on Aug. 4 through www.ticketmaster.com, and the televised portion of the event will be shown on Showtime.

I sat down with O’Quinn to discuss his boxing career and what his plans are for the future.

Ray Vipond: How has your preparation changed as a pro compared to when you were an amateur?

Jarico O’Quinn: I just go harder; there’s more intensity on everything. I do more rounds. I take it more seriously mentally, more running, and a little bit more strength and conditioning.

RV: Have you traveled to any training camps or sparred with any top ranked fighters since you turned pro?

JO: I went down to Robert Easter’s training camp, and I got some good work with Tyler McCreary. He’s making some noise in his division (Super Featherweight), and I got some good work in with James Smith. Nikolai Potapov. I got some good work with him, too, and then I was just recently getting some good work with another one of Salita’s guys, he’s 16-0 and he’s the TV opener for on August fourth.

RV: What attributes do you think sets you apart from other top contenders in the Bantamweight division?

JO: I got good speed. I got decent power, and my ability to adapt to any situation that I’m in the ring with. It might take me a round or two, but I’m going to make my adjustments. I’m going to adapt, and I’m going to get the job done.

RV: So you would say you have a very high ring IQ?

JO: Yes, I got a good boxing IQ.

RV: Are there any Bantamweights in the top-ten in particular that you are gunning for?

JO: Man, I want them all. Whoever you are in the top-ten, I want you. I want everybody.

RV: What would bringing home a world title mean to you?

JO: It wouldn’t just mean everything to me; it would mean everything for the city because who was the last guy to do it in recent time besides K9 (Cornelius Bundrage)? It would just mean everything for the city because we haven’t had no true champions. No real, true, legendary PPV champions since Floyd Mayweather and Tommy Hearns.

RV: Do you think fighters like Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez have done a lot to put the spotlight back on the lower weight classes?

JO: Yeah. but no disrespect to Chocolatito, but I’ll stop him. I would beat Chocolatito, and I don’t see nothing special about him. He’s straight up and down, no special effects, you know? He’s one dimensional. But I’m glad that those little guys are making noise so that I can come through like a salt truck and take all their ice away.

RV: Any upcoming televised fights after the fight on August 4th?

JO: There may be another fight at the Masonic Temple, an eight-round tune-up for TV. Then we’re looking at TV, hopefully.

RV: How did you get hooked up with Dmitriy?

JO: Actually, Salita. I guess he was hearing about me, and my manager and him are good friends. They made some calls and set up some sparring with one of Salita’s guys. These were Salita’s words, he said “he was not looking to sign no more Bantamweights, no more smaller guys.” But, I got tremendous talent and he couldn’t pass it up. So that means a lot.

RV: Can I get your pick for the GGG vs. Canelo fight?

JO: GGG is a bigger guy, but I want Canelo to win. I’m not a fan of GGG, and I’m going with Canelo.

As hard as O’Quinn works inside the ring, I was just as impressed to learn how hard he works outside of it as well. He is currently a construction worker, logging in well over forty-hours per week during the day while training full-time at night. The only way to maintain such a rigorous schedule is through an immense amount of self-discipline and dedication, whichO’Quinn has in spades. He has all the necessary attributes to win a world championship, and I encourage all local sports fans to support him on his journey to the top.

Tickets are still available for the fight on Aug. 4 through www.ticketmaster.com, and the televised portion of the event will be shown on Showtime. You can followO’Quinn’s career through his fighter profile at http://boxrec.com/boxer/717382.

Follow Ray Vipond on Twitter @akaOliverTwist

Manny Pacquiao Coming to Basic Cable, Why It’s A Big Deal

Ever since the rubber match with Timothy Bradley in April of 2016, the future and direction of Manny Pacquiao’s career seemed uncertain. Would he retire? Would he go on a world boxing tour as proposed by his promoter Bob Arum? Would he commit himself to being a full-time politician in the Philippines? His future became even more unclear when HBO declined to carry his unheralded fall showdown with Jessie Vargas.

HBO had televised his bouts since 2005, and it was a marriage that saw both sides enjoying incredible financial success while making Pacquiao a household name. It is difficult to imagine that a boxing superstar, who has produced huge Pay-Per-View numbers for over a decade, including a mega fight with Floyd Mayweather, would not be able to find a premium network to televise his fights.

In April, Pacquiao signed to fight relatively unknown Welterweight Jeff Horn (after negotiations for a fight with fellow superstar Amir Khan fell through), but until the announced deal with ESPN last week there was no TV outlet. While it may seem as if a former boxing megastar appearing on a non-premium cable network is the completion of the standard “falling star” narrative, this deal could have a massive impact on the televised boxing infrastructure and ultimately benefit the fans.

The fight will take place on July 1 at 9pm from Brisbane, Australia for the WBO World welterweight title. Also appearing on the card is former Irish Olympian Michael Conlan.

ESPN can succeed where the PBC failed

The Al Haymon-owned broadcast operation known as Premier Boxing Champions attempted a takeover of boxing and considering recent evidence, has failed. The abbreviated version of the story goes something like this: Haymon was backed by asset management company Waddell & Reed with a reported investment of approximately $900 million dollars. Haymon used that money to sign inflated management contracts with big name fighters such as Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Danny Jacobs, and Deontay Wilder. The PBC promised to bring the biggest names in boxing back to cable television while still maintaining the lofty paydays that the fighters had enjoyed on HBO and Showtime. The only problem with that was that Haymon was actually paying for the airtime to televise his events, as opposed to the traditional method where the network pays the promoter. Essentially, the plan was to lure the biggest names in boxing by overpaying them, buying as much airtime as possible to get the fighters on tv, and survive long enough to choke out the competition. Once the other promoters were adequately weakened, Haymon would reverse the cashflow by owning the supply to the demand, and begin profiting from his mini-monopoly. While that all seems like a game-changing plan on paper, it didn’t pan out that way and proved to be an unsustainable business model. The PBC ended up with too many fighters that weren’t active enough, and save for a few events, the PBC wasn’t putting on competitive matches. There was just too much money going out, and nowhere near enough coming in.

Further issues arose with the filing of a lawsuit from Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. GBP sued Haymon in 2015 on antitrust allegations and predatory pricing, among other things. While the case was dismissed in January 2017, the court documents revealed that the PBC had lost massive amounts of money estimated in excess of $800M. Whether the PBC survives remains to be seen, but their failure does not necessarily doom the resurrection of boxing to the masses.

If ESPN is truly inserting itself back into boxing, it has all the advantages to do so with seemingly few hurdles to overcome. Even amidst companywide layoffs, ESPN is still the world wide leader in sports programming and can provide quality primetime coverage of boxing events. They also aren’t acting as the promoter, so unlike the PBC, they will not have to compete for airtime and talent in the same way that PBC must compete with promotions. While it may be too early to fully see what ESPN intends on doing, the forthcoming boxing schedule shows great promise. Starting with and including the Pacquiao fight on July 1, ESPN has televised boxing scheduled on eleven different dates through the end of the year on either ESPN, ESPN2 and/or ESPN Deportes. Though many of the dates occurring later in the year do not have fights officially announced yet, it is not uncommon to have a boxing schedule in a “to be determined” status this early in the year.

So why should you care?

Boxing fans in the U.S. who wish to watch the most popular fighters box in marquee matchups are all but required to pay monthly subscription fees to HBO and Showtime as well as purchase pricey Pay-Per-View events. The days of your dad or grandad watching Howard Cosell call a heavyweight title fight on ABC are merely relics of the past, and over time the premium networks have taken advantage of being the only resources for premier boxing. And in turn, the product has suffered. The promotional model of scheduling contenders in mismatches to preserve their undefeated records, then moving them to main event overpriced Pay-Per-View cards with boring undercards has turned off many viewers. There is also the constant conflict of HBO and Showtime refusing to co-distribute fights which leaves countless interesting matchups and title unifications unrealized and relegated to fantasy discussions. Sure, there has been plenty of boxing on cable in the past; ESPN Friday Night Fights and USA Tuesday Night Fights both had long runs of successful boxing broadcasting, but they often lacked in star power, competitive matchmaking and relevant title fights. The reason to care about this fight is that even though his prime is behind him, Manny Pacquiao is still Manny Pacquiao. And to be able to see him in primetime on a Saturday night demonstrates that ESPN is willing to invest its resources back into the fight. The best-case scenario is that having a giant like ESPN become a legitimate player in the game will lure some of the other super star fighters to leave the premium networks as well. There are obviously no guarantees that any of this will be successful, but at the very least it is disruptive to the natural order of how the sport is distributed. In the meantime, fans can enjoy a steady increase of boxing events on regular cable with the hope of more to come.