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End Violence With Fighting Gym

This may sound like an oxymoron, but how does one end violence by fighting?  Here’s a good article written by  Kate Gardiner on how two local Chicago people came together to start they south side gym-

Gym owners Chad Robbins and Ricky Spritz leveraged everything they had into three buildings on the city’s South Side, coming together to form a gym that combines a traditional workout experience with something a little edgier: one of Chicago’s newest fighting gyms.

The gym, which encompasses about 15,000 square feet at 1601 S. Morgan St., has the traditional classes — yoga, for example — but it specializes in fighting classes — mixed martial arts and boxing. It came together in late 2006.

“They come here to train like the pros,” trainer Ray Garcia said. “We can offer that to everyone.”

It’s a unique experience in Chicago, that amateurs are encouraged to train as hard as the pros — but it’s even rarer that the amateurs get to spar against professional fighters.

Because the gym is becoming so popular, however, Spritz said amateurs come to compete against anyone — including a few pros like Luciano Perez, a middleweight boxer headed for a professional fight next month.

“It’s awesome for them,” Spritz said. “They practice really hard. And sometimes we can come together for bouts like this one.” Perez fought five competitors for 10 minutes each, as if he was in the ring.

Though no winners were announced, Perez’s quick jabs, punches and obvious skill overwhelmed the majority of his opponents.

“Well, sometimes you just have no where to go,” said Spritz, talking about Perez’s strategy of chasing his opponents into the ropes.

The other fighters, less-skilled but clearly enjoying themselves, grew sweaty with the exertion. Perez, meanwhile was clothed in a plastic shirt. His manager said the goal was to keep his weight down. “It’s always about weight,” he said. “I’m wearing one too, to keep up with him.”

Perez trains all over the city, sometimes for more than five hours at a stretch — and he works a day job.

Spritz said this is typical of someone trying to make a go as a professional boxer. “You have to be really dedicated,” he said. “But you get a pretty decent payday.” If Perez wins his upcoming fight, Spritz said Perez may be paid between $7,000 and $10,000.

But for the amateurs, the glory is in the winning.

The Golden Gloves, Chicago’s biggest amateur tournament, begins Thursday. GoTime is sending at least 11 fighters into the ring this year, and several competitors said they hope to win it.

Justin McElfresh, 28, came to Chicago from Cincinatti this year to train with one of GoTime’s trainers. Though he’s a mixed martial arts champion, he said he hopes to learn even more at GoTime, with coach Joe Kaehn, 53.

“He teaches a really technical game,” McElfresh said. “And that’s what I want to learn — every punch needs to be perfect.” McElfresh has a distinct advantage — he’s a light heavyweight at 205 pounds — but he has the second-longest reach in boxing due to his height. He’s 6’6″.

“I’d love to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s a sheetmetal worker with a degree in engineering, still getting used to Chicago after a life in Cincinatti.

Spritz said the community has come to realize that there’s a fighting gym in the neighborhood, but they haven’t quite figured out precisely what to do about it.

“Guys come around, sure,” Spritz said. “They try to challenge us, but then the gangs, they can’t handle it. Some of ’em, they come into the program for a couple weeks, and then we never see them again. The rest of ’em think they’re so tough. And then they aren’t.”

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