Boxing back in Socorro after standing eight count

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The boxing gym, like its occupants, is raw, unpolished and packed with potential.

 

From the outside, it doesn’t resemble a gym. The stucco is cracked, the parking lot filled with crusher fine and hunks of crumbling asphalt. Walk into the drafty, dim space and you’ll discover an unfinished construction site. Exposed electrical wiring dangles from the ceiling. The concrete floors are ridged, the leftovers from when the tile was kicked up making for an unsmooth surface.

Bags — speed bags, punching bags — hang from parapets. Off to the right, along the west wall, are small blue lockers. There is no boxing ring. In the middle of the room are 17 people, ages 8 to 26, stretching. Leading them is Russell Moses, a 30-year-old former amateur boxer.

Welcome to Boot Camp Boxing Gym, named as a salute to Moses’ days in the military. A veteran, Moses went on three tours with the National Guard — one in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. On this day, he wears a charcoal-colored sweatshirt and red, Arkansas Razorbacks shorts, as his disciples follow his instructions.

He barks out commands like a drill sergeant. There are two stations. One dedicated to stretching, a series of core-building workouts and calisthenics. Then there’s another group doing hip dips with weights.

Ding, ding, ding. The interval timer goes off. Time to rotate.

This is what Moses’ gym is all about. Rigid structure. Instilling discipline. Giving kids and adults an alternative to sitting on the couch, or for troubled youth, being in the streets.

Moses knows something about being a troubled youth. He was one himself.

Not that you’d be able to tell. The Fort Smith, Ark., native came here from Florida Tech and is now studying gas and petroleum engineering at New Mexico Tech. He is about two years from graduating, and says he holds down better than a 3.0 GPA.

This is the same Moses who didn’t graduate high school. He dropped out in 10th grade. He was 16 when he got his then-girlfriend pregnant. His daughter, Hope, an eighth-grader at Sarracino Middle School, was among those working out.

To hear him tell it, boxing is what straightened Moses out. His grandfather, Harold Pettygrew, introduced him to the sport at a young age. Moses remembers those days fondly, back in the stalls at a horse racing track in Sallisaw, Okla.

“I remember going in there as a kid,” he said. “They’d wrap my hand in a T-shirt, and one guy would train me, and another guy would train the kid across from me. We were just knee-highs.”

It was those days that sparked a lifelong interest in the sport. He remembers one fight, when he was 15 years old, in particular, because it was one of the few fights his father, Russell Moses Sr., attended.

With his dad in the stands, the son wanted so much to impress his father that he was showboating — bobbing and weaving and parrying his opponent’s attacks, with his hands down, a cardinal sin for boxers.

“And then he caught me with an open-hand right, a haymaker,” Moses said. “And I went down and I couldn’t see. As soon as he hit me, I went to a knee, and I was like, ‘(Expletive), I can’t see, but I gotta get up. I can’t lose. My dad’s here.’”

“All I could see was a silhouette of him. It was like a white fog. See, he didn’t know that he hurt me, and even the people I talked to afterwards said that it looked like I slipped. So I just jabbed the whole rest of the round and then went back to my corner.

“We’re in the corner throwin’ water on me. And I was tellin’ ‘em I couldn’t see. I was tappin’ my head. And then I got back up there and cleared up after that. And he hit me again with another one, and it stunned me for a second. It was a TKO after that. I just went off after that.”

Now that he is older and wiser, Moses’ boxing philosophy has evolved, and it’s the one he is looking to impart on his younglings.

Boxing is about being smarter and better prepared than your opponent. He stresses having sculpted legs. Legs are the foundation of any great boxer, he said, because if the foundation isn’t sturdy, the top-heavy infrastructure will tumble under a barrage of punches.

Here is Moses, mitts in hand, going over footwork with Diamond Molina, 16. She throws a flash of punches, but her footwork isn’t as exquisite as the grace she shows with the gloves, and Moses lets her know about it.

The biggest thing Molina said she learned from her trainer is that boxing is a thinking-man’s game.

“It’s like chess,” she said. “You have to think about what you’re going to throw next.”

For some of the gym’s elder statesmen, like Christie Baca, 26, she’s not sure what’s coming next. She has boxed competitively before, but with gyms coming and going in Socorro, training regularly became difficult. All she knows is she’s going to hit the gym hard now that boxing is back, because who knows how long it’s here to stay?

“Boxing’s my thing,” Baca said. “I ain’t afraid to get hit. I’ve been hit so many times, and it doesn’t faze me.”

What fazed Patrick Silva, 14, was that boxing went dormant.

David Castillo, a local professional boxer, ran a gym out of the same venue on and off for about a year and a half, but he said keeping it afloat was a financial burden. The city gave him cheap rent, but getting contributions from parents was troublesome, so he often used purse money from fights to take his boxers to events.

But eventually, the funds ran dry, and Castillo closed his doors June 2011.

When that happened, Silva remembered being grief-struck.

“There was nothing to do,” he said.

Not everyone at Moses’ gym is looking to box competitively, though.

For Nick Lawson, a student who befriended Moses at New Mexico Tech, it’s more about finding time to whip himself into shape, which is harder when balancing merciless school demands and other constraints on his time.

If anything, Lawson, only in his second week at the gym, might need to find some time to rest. He worked up quite a sweat Monday.

“It’s intense,” he said, wiping perspiration from his brow. “Even hell week in basketball wasn’t even close to this. It’s just high-intensity cardio. It’s not so much aerobic as anaerobic. Being in college for a couple years, you can pack on the pounds pretty easy.”

What hasn’t been easy is keeping the doors open.

Castillo’s gym went under a little after Moses returned home to take care of his father, who was diagnosed with cancer and died about a year ago. He went back in January 2011, and by the time he returned to Socorro, the gym had folded.

Castillo, who was at Moses’ gym Monday training for an upcoming bout in San Antonio, said he’s hoping Moses can resurrect kids’ interest in the sport and get the gym to a point where it’s self-sustaining. The key, he said: Moses needs to take his nine competitive fighters to a plethora of events.

“These kids, they get bored so easily,” Castillo said. “The No. 1 question was, ‘When am I gonna fight? When am I gonna fight?’”

Right now, that’s the furthest thing from Moses’ mind.

Between fundraisers, selling raffle tickets and training, his docket is full. Moses said Mark Jordison and John Silva have been instrumental in helping remodel and secure sponsorship. The city of Socorro, too, has backed his passion project.

Moses and his followers have raised more than $2,000 to help refurbish the gym. By the time it’s complete, he is hoping it will be something his boxers cherish.

“Hopefully, I can get these kids to feeling better and doing better things, doing things for the community,” he said. “I want them to see that there’s stuff outside their normal social life, because I’ve been all over the world, and it was a hell of a shock. Sometimes they think this is all there is, just like I did at 14.”

 


-- Email the author at iavilucea@dchieftain.com.