When choosing to become a boxer there are many aspects to consider but I think one of the most important things to remember is, to protect yourself at all times. This of course goes for the in-ring action as many referee’s will tell the competing boxers to do so before ringing the first bell, but it also goes for out of the ring actions as well. I’ll go over a few here for you and encourage you to comment and/or begin communication with one of the well respected coaches in your given area. Houston is a fight town and we have many excellent coaches in every part of town that can give you great advice on these matters.
Protect yourself when you choose a coach and gym to learn and apply your trade. Make sure the place and coach are a good fit for you and you feel comfortable with both. Just because a given gym or coach may have success with some people, does not mean it will automatically equal success for you. Do you understand the coaches style of teaching? Different people learn in different ways, and a coach may or may not communicate in a way that you can best understand the lessons he or she is teaching. What’s the atmosphere like there? Does the gym have an atmosphere of learning, positive reinforcement, family, and togetherness? Do the coaches give attention to, time, and effort to all their students or just the strongest competitors who they feel can win boxing matches and become champions? A coach may have the technical knowledge but the wrong approach to boxing and not be the type of coach you want to trust your health and well-being to, if you aren’t already athletic, conditioned, and tough. Do the coach and the members of the gym genuinely care about each other and every member of the club, or are there “favorites” that everyone supports because they want to be a part of winning boxing matches, more than helping people become better versions of their selves? These are just a few things to consider when choosing a “home gym”.
Protect yourself when deciding to box competitively whether amateur or pro. Does the head coach care about you as a person, or just his reputation as a “winning coach”? Do your coaches, trainers, advisers, mangers, etc over-match you and your gym mates? It’s your body and your life and you can’t get your health back once it’s gone so be careful about who you listen to and believe in. Does your coach support you every step of the way and stand with you win, lose, or draw, or does he or she only claim you when you win? Will your coach tell you the truth under any circumstances and “ride” with you for better or worse or is he more concerned with his reputation and standing in the boxing community?
In doing research to write these articles and bring them to you, I am blessed to have been able to speak to and become friends with many of the members of the boxing community that have been very successful and they all say the same things about coaches who they feel had the greatest influence on them, who they feel are the best in the business. The two biggest things they remember is that the coach genuinely cared for them and their well-being, and life in the ring and out, and that those coaches were loyal to them even if it hurt the coaches in the long run.
Some examples that come to mind are Kenny Weldon, Charlie Court, Melvin Dennis, Willie Savannah, Ray Ontiveros, James Carter, Henry Harris Sr, and Reverend Ray Martin. There are many, many, more great coaches in the past and present that have the same qualities and I encourage feedback from readers if they have similar stories to share about their coaches, these are just some examples that come to mind when thinking about the conversations I have had with people in the Houston boxing community when doing research for articles.
Kenny Weldon was well known to be sometimes brutally honest when discussing boxing with his students and constituents, choosing to consider their safety before anything else. He also was well known to have an organized, lengthy, set of boxing skills his boxers had to have and be able to display, before he allowed them to box competitively. He also taught many people for free, not to mention doing coaches clinics for our coaches in The Gulf LBC and all over the world for free.
I was told by both Jesse Valdez and Paul Tessman, son of Mark Tessman, that Charlie Court was not only a coach but a friend to his boxers, always looking out for their best interests over anything else. Jesse told me straight out that Charlie Court was his best coach because, “He cared about me as a person more than a boxer”. Paul Tessman related stories to me of Charlie Court being a friend to his father and caring for his father and Jesse Valdez as a family member would, often times traveling or contributing in other ways to their careers and lives, “On his own dime, to make sure they were safe and supported to the utmost”.
Willie and Clara Savannah are known for the family atmosphere at their gym and the support they all give to each other in the ring and out. They also have strict rules that their boxers must be in school or have a job in order to be a member of their gym. I remember hearing a story once that Juan Diaz began to feel overwhelmed from fighting pro and attending college, and told Mr. Savannah how he felt. Willie Savannah told Juan if he really felt it was too much, he should quit boxing and finish his degree. Keep in mind that at this time Juan was a top-ten contender and as his manager, Mr. Savannah stood possibly make decent money from that, but his integrity and love for Juan was number one!
Ray Ontiveros, is another coach that’s known to be brutally honest when need be with his boxers. He will tell you if he thinks you have a chance to win and if he doesn’t think you can win, he will tell you that as well. He also has a very strict program that’s well known to have made not only many regional, state, national, and world champions, but also many Northside boys into men. Mr. Ontiveros is another man, as all of the coaches I’m mentioning, that did not and does not let money guide him in his boxing journey. I have personally heard Mr. Ontiveros say several times over the years, “I don’t make any money from boxing, the gym dues are only to keep the lights on and the rent paid”. This isn’t suggesting that getting something back from a sport you give soo much to is wrong, it’s just an example of the integrity of these great coaches, including Mr. Ontiveros.
James Carter was a well loved and respected coach in Houston for many years for his work with the community kids at The Salvation Army Boxing Club. His pride and joy was though was Reggie Johnson and many former area boxers, including myself, remember well hearing the stories Mr. Carter very proudly told of his time training Reggie and their adventures in boxing. He also took a lot of time to make sure his boxers went from boys to men under his training, giving them lessons in life as well as boxing. When speaking to Reggie about Mr. Carter he told me of a few important lessons he learned from phrases Mr. Carter repeated over and over, including, “Show me your friends and I can predict where you will be in five years”, and my favorite, “We may represent different teams and fight each other in the ring, but we are all one boxing family”.
Henry Harris Sr was a local coach that not only trained his sons Tobe, Henry Jr, and Roy, with great success but also many local boys at that time in the Cut “N” Shoot, Conroe, and Huntsville areas. When speaking to Henry Jr by phone while putting together some information for an article on Roy, I asked him what made his father a great and successful coach. I asked because as a lifelong practitioner, participant, and student of boxing and martial arts, I genuinely wanted to know, maybe even more so for myself than the article I would write on Roy. Henry answered with no hesitation, “Because he not only taught us boxing, he taught us to believe in ourselves and the work we put in, making us feel like we could accomplish anything in and out of the ring”. He continued saying, “That man could get the best out of a person more than anyone I’ve ever encountered”.
Reverend Ray Martin has been one of The Third and Fifth Ward’s strongest advocates for many years, beginning when he talked George Foreman into helping him start up what was initially The H.O.P.E. Development Center, later named The George Foreman Gym, on Lyons Avenue in Fifth Ward. That gym would be the first boxing home of Melvin Dennis and Danny Donatto, two very successful Houston boxers who made noise nation and world wide. Later when The H.O.P.E. Center closed down, The Reverend opened The P.A.B.A. in The Third Ward, which from it’s inception was meant to, “Keep our local youth off the streets, away from drugs, and in the ring”. Many Houston area people can still remember the P.A.B.A. commercials and advertisements, ” A kid can’t open a knife or fire a gun with boxing gloves on”.
These are just a few examples of the many great men that have contributed to helping our city and the world be a better place. Their love for boxing and their communities are great examples of what a boxing student should look for in a coach, and current coaches, including myself, should strive to be and live up to.
I know there are many coaches not mentioned and many stories out there still that should be told. There are also some that I have recognized in the past that were not mentioned here like Santos Montemayor and Walt Hailey, and I encourage everyone to read those articles. I would also like to encourage everyone to comment on this article and share your own personal stories of coaches that have had a positive influence in your life!