Playing Grand Theft Auto V growing up, I was fascinated by the fictional city of Los Santos. I felt like I could drive around it for hours, exploring its hidden gems and the endless amount of character found in each suburb. So as I stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for me to realise that I seemed to be in real life Los Santos. The creators of GTA had nailed it: from the lush greenness (albeit artificial) of Hollywood Hills to the harsh realities of Downtown LA. I was fully immersed in “La La Land”, and I felt an all too familiar desire to explore.
The cultural differences between LA and London took some time to digest. This was my first time in America, and the California folk operate differently from what I’ve become familiar with in London. It felt like everyone I encountered was the main character of a film. The weather was hot, and the service was great. People actually smiled. But still, naturally, home comforts are missed, and in a city as vast as LA, one can feel a little bit lost.
There was, however, a reason for my seemingly spontaneous 10 day trip. I wasn’t just here to relive my days of playing Xbox in my bedroom. After coaching at Rathbone for a year, I’d been presented with some great opportunities but maybe none quite as amazing as being asked to go to LA with one of our longest serving boxers: Kenny Ojuederie. The boxing gym setting was therefore destined to be my home from home, and long before the trip, I had my sights set on one in particular - Freddie Roach’s world renowned Wild Card Boxing Club. I had great expectations. Wild Card Boxing Club exceeded every one. What a special place!
You might assume there’d be a certain degree of exclusivity to a coach who’s had 36 world champions; yet, on our first day at Wild Card, it became apparent Freddie Roach was more than happy to help. Sparring was a priority for our short camp, and Freddie was insistent we get the rounds we required. The man truly lives up to his reputation and legacy.
Over the days, we had many sparring rounds. Most memorably, Kenny sparred with a tough 3-0 Mexican fighter in the basement of Wild Card, a space held exclusively for pros. Kenny fared well in his spars and surprised the onlookers considering his limited experience. Even Freddie complimented Kenny’s right hand after watching on from beside me during a spar.
As the week progressed, we had access to more than just world class sparring. We were also given access to Wild Card’s strength and conditioning room and their regular gym where we did most of our technique based work.
The desert heat which engulfed the gym coupled with the members who packed it gave the unmistakable feel of a cauldron. Every person in there was determined to show a better work ethic than the next. Rests were 30 seconds only (forget the 1 minute rests we were used to). There was no time to waste, literally. We were amongst people that wanted to improve at boxing and improve quickly. Kenny and I were determined to match their work rate.
Manny Pacquiao’s image could be seen throughout the gym alongside many inspirational images. The man is the epitome of hard work paying off and a proven product of the gym. What an inspiration!
The Wild Card produces great fighters, but it also attracts great fighters because of its famed sparring sessions. Virgil Ortiz is perhaps one of the most feared punchers in boxing’s modern era. As I saw him stepping into his groin guard getting ready to spar, you can’t even imagine my excitement. The 8 rounds which ensued could only be described as masterclass. His perception of distance, the timing of his shots, the crispness and selection of every single movement made it obvious why boxing is often referred to as an art. Ortiz put poetry in motion that day, but it’s the spitefulness of his work that really impressed me. There was a certain tension in the room which wouldn’t be found at a poetry recital.
Several months ago I was promoted to Head up Rathbone Boxing Club. It was a big moment for me! I didn’t want to waste the chance to bring something back to Rathbone on the back of my experience! Not only did I wear my red coach t-shirt with pride but I also wanted to bring something back for our clients and our community.
The Wild Card was intense. Indeed, it gave me lots to think about... what did I learn that I could bring to my boxing gym? So much, but for starters, I think I'm going to focus on the concept of "Sparring Days". The same three days a week, pros from all over know the gym is open for sparring. They show up in spades. Freddie makes sure everyone has a fair go. Kenny was no exception. The sense of mutual respect and camaraderie was an eye-opening experience. The vibe was incredible. It won’t be long before we see something similar at Rathbone and our sister gyms!
Final thoughts. It seems the Wild Card Boxing Club places a lot of value on the immeasurable - yes technique helps boxing matches to be won but so does, heart, desire and hunger. Yes, it’s called a boxing match, but in essence it’s a fight. In war, your aim isn’t to let your opponent know you are there. It’s to defeat your opponent as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and the Wild Card is producing soldiers more than capable of doing just this. The fictional town of Los Santos never had a boxing gym, but if it did, it would’ve looked exactly like the Wild Card: rugged, magnetic and most certainly a home from home.