Written By: Shane Kendall Learning the Ropes with Olympic Boxing Trainer Basheer Abdullah
Photographed By: Jon Encarnacion
I took a deep breath and entered The Boxing Club’s doors with my chest way out, hoping to fit right in. I swung open the doors and was greeted by today’s hip-hop ricocheting off the walls—filling the gym and giving me the impression of my first title fight (with the help of my imagination). A stack of trophies from different fighters over the staircase gave me a good idea of what I was getting involved with. I walked upstairs until my eyes met the rows of punching bags lining the entire back wall; there were enough to easily wear out a couple classes of second graders. From stationary bikes to weights to jump ropes, there were countless options and zero excuses not to be moving. The place was spick and span and full of space, making it easy to get started.
Up walked Basheer Abdullah. It turns out the Olympic coach was not born with boxing gloves attached to his hands. Rather, it was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri where he discovered his talent. Growing up poor, hustling was just a way he got by. He found work at age 16 where he began supporting his single mother until shortly after he graduated high school. Then, when his son was born, he found the motivation to move towards a better life. He joined the Army and from there he found his way onto the boxing team five years later. Bout after bout, he made his way up the ladder to the peak of the boxing world—the Olympics. He saw a destination, and scaled his way to third in the nation, but lost in the quarterfinals to Jermaine Fields back in ’92 as a flyweight at 112 pounds.
He spent a year of getting over the “shoulda coulda wouldas” of defeat, finally making a new path for himself as an Olympic head coach. His coaching earned gold medals for the men in 2004 and 2012, and two of the first female boxers won medals in 2012 (gold and bronze). One of them being the historic first gold medal for women’s boxing.
Stepping Into the Ring
It was time for him to teach me a thing or two. He invited me to step into the ring where he wrapped my hands up just like the pros, and slipped a pair of gloves over the top. I was ready to show him what I was made of. I think I had the look down pat, and now it was time to show my skills. I put my dukes up exactly like the pros do and waited with anticipation for some sort of compliment on how great my form was. It never came. Instead, Basheer corrected my stance, with a slight change in hand positions closer to my chin, and feet moved to a more balanced position. I felt a real difference.
Rolling With the Punches
He slipped on a pair of boxing mitts for me to swing at. Often called Punch Mitts, these flat gloves resemble a baseball mitt and are made for absorbing fists. I gave it my best shot. My swings did not exactly send Basheer flying backward, but with a little encouragement and a change of motion, I improved. I was able to feel the difference in power from punching with my traditional flail, to using his techniques and organization that goes into one punch. He spent some time showing me how to use my whole body to throw my punch, rather than just tossing my fist at the glove. I squared up like I knew what I was doing and did my thing.
Not more than 10 minutes into some rapid fires of jabs and random uppercuts, my fitness (or lack thereof) was clear. I was out of breath, and my muscles were tight. Making fun of my heavy breathing, it was time for a break. I powered through the wobbling here and there, feeling encouraged by Basheer’s complimentary “good job.” It felt like a big deal, coming from a gold medal trainer.
The Gloves Are Off
After my session was over, a young girl showed up for her session with Basheer. With long, dark hair and a smile for days, this wasn’t the typical girl you’d expect to see in the ring. Basheer took her into the ring, and I was blown away by her ability. Her lefts and rights were doing damage; this clearly wasn’t her first time. I watched from the outside as her confidence bounced off her gloves and into the sound barrier. The next two girls stepped into the ring and showed a quick sparring lesson. Sparring refers to free-form fighting, which utilizes certain rules and boundaries to keep the chance of injury unlikely. With headgear on and mouthpieces in, it gives the boxers room to be more safely aggressive.
The Boxing Club
8650 Genesee Ave, Ste 206
San Diego, CA 92122
858.622.1903 | www.theboxingclub.net