Behind the no-nonsense doors of the simply named “Mike’s Boxing Gym” is the equally no-nonsense figure of it’s owner – Brent. Stocky, muscled, and abrupt – with a heart of gold renowned in the community, Brent has a firm handshake and a steely gaze. He sits on a wooden stool beneath a black and white poster of the eponymous Mike who looks down over the gym.
“He’s the reason I’m here, right here, right now” explains Brent, with a gesture over his shoulder to the poster. “Back in the day, I was directionless, drifting between half-assed commitment to this and that. Unfocussed, you understand?”
Like lots of his contemporaries, as a teenager, Brent was trying to find his identity, he tells me. He was trying to find his tribe – his purpose in life.
“I ended up in this place, and Mike, the old man… the Guv’nor… the Boss… he didn’t take any shit from anybody. You gave 100%, or you hit the streets.”
Brent looks up to the poster with a smile of… not fondness, but something else, as he continues “I must’ve been 14, 15 when I came in here. Thought I’d give it a shot. Mike looked me over, and put me in the ring against one his regular kids. A baptism of fire, kind of thing.”
As we talk, a couple of guys – late twenties, maybe early thirties – are sparring in the corner, jabbing at training pads as they duck and weave. Across the room, an employee is painstakingly sponging and scrubbing at the canvas of the central boxing ring.
“So this ginger kid… Thomas… he’s got hair as orange as a damn sunset… he’s got a good few kilos on me, and a good few centimetres reach… I had no right to expect I could beat him… and you know what?” Brent pauses, and looks at the sparring partners as they trade gloves and pads, switching places.
“That kid put me on my fucking ass. I went down like a sack of shit.” Brent laughs, and shakes his head “You know what I did then?”
Without waiting for a response, Brent smiles broadly and answers his own question “I got the hell out of here. Never came back until I had an honours degree, an MBA and a shit-ton of money. I bought the building out from under that bullying bastard, and terminated his lease. Kept his name on the place to piss him off.”
“Isn’t that right, Tommy?” he calls over to the cleaner, who pushes back his shock of greying red hair.
“Yeah yeah” says Thomas, and goes back to his scrubbing.