The Pit Boxing Club is an Old-School Throwback to Boxing Gyms of Yesteryear
If you’ve spent any time poking around this blog or if you’re a sucker for boxing stories, then this piece and several others by me on the blog should satisfy your interests in reading about The Sweet Science. The following story profiles The Pit, one of several Omaha boxing gyms I’ve had occasion to spend time in as a journalist. Owner Paul Anderson is a no-nonsense guy who came up under the tutelage of another no-nonsense figure, the late Kenny Wingo, whose Downtown Boxing Club became the emblem for old-school boxing gyms in the metro. You’ll find on this blog profiles I did of Kenny and the Downtown.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in Nebraska Sports America
For a young man, Omaha native Paul Anderson takes an Old School attitude toward boxing. The ex-prizefighter’s love for The Sweet Science infuses The Pit Boxing Club, the back-to-basics gym he started a year ago in an old trophy shop at 2104 Military Avenue. The spacious venue caters to amateur fighters, although pros are welcome, too. Anderson, whose missing front teeth and bent nose represent battle scars earned in the ring, opened the gym as an oasis from the new age fitness scene and its trendy aerobics and martial arts. At The Pit, boxing rules.
“Because I love the sport, I want to be pure. I want to stay true to my roots,” said the 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran with tattoos etched on his massive arms. “People have been bugging me that I should have tai bao and boxercize classes, but I consider it line dancing. I like to think I’m a little bit more traditional than that.”
The owner of his own construction firm, Anderson knows well the territory he speaks of, too. Since his discharge from the Corps in 1985 he has rigorously trained in various forms of self-defense. After earning a black belt in karate, he learned the ropes in the square circle, eventually fighting dozens of amateur bouts as both a traditional boxer and kick boxer. He won the 1989 City Golden Gloves and the 1990 state ABF light-heavyweight titles under the tutelage of Kenny Wingo of the Downtown Boxing Club. Then he turned pro, logging a 5-0 record as a pugilist and a 15-1-1 mark as a kick boxer, before a detached retina in his right eye ended his competitive career. Since then he’s coached hundreds of individuals, of all ages and skill levels, at various gyms around town. Fed up with the franchise fitness culture, he sought his own training domain and House of Pain.
“To be honest, I just wanted a place to call my own where I could train the way I like to train and where I didn’t have to listen to anybody’s guff. I would have been happy with an old garage or something with just enough room to put in a ring and heavy bags,” he said. Instead, he got a great deal on a 4,500-square foot site. Every inch is utilized. Right inside the street-level door is a compact ring whose tight confines he prefers because it keeps fighters busy. The long main floor features a dozen or so bags of all shapes and sizes. The basement is outfitted with free weights. The upstairs includes a heavy bag station, an equipment/locker room and a large office from which Anderson and his wife Darla operate things.
Well aware of the unsavory reputation boxing suffers, Anderson is intent on running a user-friendly space free of intimidation. His clients range from beginners to veterans and strictly fitness buffs to hardcore competitors. “People hear the name Pit and they probably think we’re a bunch of thugs, but it’s not like that. I mean, I’ve got some tough guys down here, but I’ve got people from all walks of life. Training with us now are a lawyer, an auto mechanic, a probation officer and a Creighton women’s soccer player. There’s no big egos here. No one really tries to take each other’s head off. We just want to get in the work. We save the hostility for competition,” he said.
To ensure control, he takes a hands-on role with everyone. “When you come in, I’ll work with you,” said Anderson, The Pit’s only coach. “I’ll get you started on the basics – jumping rope, shadow boxing, working the heavy bags, doing speed bag work. After maybe a few weeks, you’ll do a little light sparring. I can look at the physical attributes of a person working out and decipher what techniques are going to work well and what won’t. But I don’t pressure anybody into fighting if they don’t want to. I don’t want people competing unless they’re into it. You’ve got to be into it. I’m not going to put someone in the ring if I think they’re going to get hurt or make a fool of themselves. It takes a certain person to get in there and trade gloves with somebody. It’s not for everybody and, to be honest, I don’t want everybody doing it because if everybody did it, there’d be no mystique about it.”
Kick boxer Undra Eggleston likes the no-bull atmosphere at The Pit. Recently relocated to Omaha from Indiana, the champion amateur now turned pro said, “I visited several gyms. I talked to Paul and I liked what I saw. I liked his commitment. He’s got everything I need and he works with the fighters real well.”
Ever the purist, Anderson draws the line at kick boxing. No grapplers, no belts, no gis allowed. He has fashioned the place after his old stomping grounds, the classic Downtown Boxing Club, whose venerable manager, Kenny Wingo, is a mentor. “Yeah, I love that place,” he said. “I’m trying to model my gym after Kenny’s. I want to keep it a nice, simple boxing club and train some good fighters. Nothing too fancy. No nonsense.” Anderson called Wingo to “ask his blessing” before opening The Pit. “He’s done a lot for me. He’s the one who got me fired up about it (boxing).” Wingo, who helped his protege stage a recent boxing show, sees a kindred spirit in Anderson. “I went into it with the same intensity as he’s going at it. He’s put a lot into that place. He’s a great kid. Boxing has a real friend there.”
Anderson has seen local interest in boxing grow lately after slumping in the ‘90s. “It’s coming back a little bit. We’ve had some pretty good turnouts at smokers and the most recent Gloves tourney.” He hopes one day to build a large enough stable of fighters to enter an entire team in area amateur events. To date, a handful of fighters have competed under The Pit banner, including a 12-year-old who won his first bout. Anderson is currently preparing some adult novices, including a couple heavyweights, for upcoming smokers. He enjoys helping these raw boxers “develop,” adding, “Boxing builds character. You find out a lot about yourself in the ring. I respect anyone who gets in there and does it.”
Outside the competitive arena, he enjoys seeing boxing gain acceptance as a top fitness regimen. “A lot of people are finding that boxing is a great workout.”
The Pit, its name emblazoned in bold lettering on a marquee above the front entrance, is making waves in local boxing circles. Notables Ron Stander and Bruce Strauss have dropped in. Anderson hopes The Pit is one day well-established enough to become a regular stopover for pros, past and present. “I want to have one of the best clubs in the Midwest. I’d like to get bigger. I would like to see pros coming through town train at The Pit. It would be a heckuva feather in my cap if after 20 years here I could look up at a bunch of pictures on the wall of me with Joe Frazier or Evander Holyfield or George Foreman.”
- Born Again Ex-Gang Banger and Pugilist, Now Minister, Servando Perales Makes Victory Boxing Club His Mission Church for Saving Youth from the Streets (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Amateur women take to boxing – now an Olympic sport (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- This Land: The Butcher and the Joe Frazier-Ron Stander Bout – Dan Barry / This Land (nytimes.com)
- Ladies, men’s boxing is a thing of beauty (telegraph.co.uk)
- South Bronx Gym Is Going Down for the Count (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)