“Hard work!” a voice shouts from the corner of the Rock Hill Boxing Club.
“Dedication!” five or six more answer from across the room.
Members of the club that are fighting in Saturday’s Boxing Extravaganza at 3 p.m., at the Emmett Scott Community Center are banking on both of those paying off in the form of wins in the ring.
That’s why after a withering training session Tuesday night involving about 25 members of the club, Chameir Rice was one of five that turned up again for Wednesday’s training.
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“For me personally, it’s all about improvement. Even the smallest bit of improvement is a positive,” he said.
Like Rice, Rock Hill Boxing Club trainer and director Alonzo Lumpkin is excited to bring a boxing event back to the community for the first time since 2011.
“What people are gonna see is boxing at its best,” said Lumpkin, seated on an old bucket after Wednesday’s hour-long training session. “Guys from different backgrounds, guys that are working, school kids that are participating, and they’re gonna see the hard work they put in in preparing for this boxing event.”
Lumpkin stressed that spectators will see action and good matchups. He’s carefully setting up the bouts to avoid one-sided contests where someone could get hurt. One of the crown jewel pairings of Saturday’s card will be Rice, who recently won a South Carolina Golden Gloves novice championship, versus Terry Nelson, a fighter from York who participates in the Winthrop Boxing Club and also recently claimed an S.C. Golden Gloves novice title.
Fair and interesting boxing matchups are paramount because it wouldn’t be right to risk the fighters, who almost all have day jobs or are still getting their education, getting injured by a superior competitor. Plus, they’re not getting paid. The fighters’ daily attendance at old school, run-down boxing clubs across the southeast is motivated simply by love for boxing.
“My hat goes off to them because it takes a lot of courage to get in front of a crowd and fight,” said Lumpkin, a former Golden Gloves heavyweight champion.
Rice is a perfect example. The first time Lumpkin saw Rice at the gym at the Emmett Scott Center, he wasn’t sure he would hang around long.
Rice has been a mainstay at the gym, leading Wednesday’s session with encouragement and advice to younger, less experienced boxers, including several kids dropped off by their parents who then ran errands.
“He’s a student of the game and he’ll continue to grow as long as he remains humble and a student of the game,” said Lumpkin.
The boxing club’s head honcho said that Rice withstood the test of time, but he might as well have been speaking about the sport he loves so dearly. Boxing’s heyday might have been the 1960s, or even the 1980s, but it’s always lingered in the shadows of the sports world, popping back up from time-to-time, as it will in about a week when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao spar over piles of money on pay-per-view TV.
“It’s been around since Rome,” said Lumpkin, a Bluetooth phone accessory everpresent around his neck. “We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”
It sure feels that way in the gym located on the side of the Emmett Scott Community Center. Air conditioning from the main gym drifts down the corridor to the entrance of the boxing club, but once inside the doors, the temperature rises and the room smells alternately of sweaty gloves and headgear and floral air spray intended to stanch that very odor.
Lumpkin predicted a low turnout Wednesday because of the grueling nature of Tuesday’s training, and he was right. Rice led the small group through some warmup exercises, telling them that counting during stretches strengthens the diaphragm, improving airflow during fights. The group churned through a circuit of different drills, taking turns pounding clanging punching bags and three-minute periods in the ring with Lumpkin.
He wore a thick body pad like an apron and the fighters took turns working on delivering body blows in tight quarters. A Ringside Sparmate timer blares every few minutes to the shock of uninitiated ear drums. Boxers with gloved hands turned on a faucet and plunged their faces into a paint-splattered sink.
Rice calls out, “ I know y’all hurting from yesterday; yesterday is gone.”
The focus at the Rock Hill Boxing Club was on tomorrow - Saturday specifically.
“I’m very excited to get in the ring and see where my training has brought me,” said Rice. “All of this dedication and hard work has to pay off to something.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T
Saturday’s boxing event at Emmett Scott Community Center begins at 3 p.m., with between 15 and 20 fights lined up. Rock Hill Boxing Club director Alonzo Lumpkin says he has fighters coming from Tennessee, Atlanta, Charleston and the surrounding areas, including a number of Golden Gloves-caliber boxers. Admission costs $10.