America Has Caught Boxing Fever—and Not Because of Mayweather-Pacquiao
If you follow basically any model on social media these days, you probably know how she stays in shape.
The same goes for many young figures with a public social presence: They advertise how much they spin, stretch, hike, run, lift, juice. It’s exhausting just to keep up with.
But if you do follow them, you probably know by now that boxing is the current trendy fitness activity in the US. All the cool kids box.
“America is definitely the place where the [chic boxing] trend started,” says Stephen Cheuk, the owner of S10 Training studio in deep downtown Manhattan. "In places like Australia, the gyms are still filled with meatheads."
The athletic Aussie who came to New York in 2010 now trains what seems like half the city’s population of DJs and fashion magazine editors, many of whom he says rarely venture outside during daytime hours except to visit his gym. Membership in his unconventional body sculpting classes has doubled since last year.
“I think social media has a huge part in this,” Cheuk says. “People follow their favorite model, see they are boxing or training, and get inspired to do the same.”
Big names attract the most attention: Adriana Lima hit the April issue of Vogue in silver boxing gloves, miming a knockout punch. Kendall Jenner boxed at New York’s Gotham Gym during a recent interview on Nightline. Gigi Hadid regularly posts sparring videos on her Instagram feed with the same evident pride that she posts bikini shots.
The young models are new, but the cool cult of boxing isn’t. It has been on the rise in New York City since the late aughts, urged forward by underground model boxing rings like Overthrow New York and Friday Night Throwdown. Those formerly ad hoc institutions charge, say, $40 at the front door of random lofts in Brooklyn or Chinatown, and their fight nights usually include rap performances or impromptu art. Invites are scarce for outsiders: News of an upcoming fight circulates via texts and Facebook and Instagram feeds. Overthrow will throw its next party/fight the night of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. Models will box starting in the early evening before event organizers drop screens to show the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Booze and boxing, they're calling it.
Thing is, boutique boxing is not just underground at this point: From 2011 to 2013, the popular gym franchise Title Boxing Club exploded from 10 locations to more than 100, an expansion of 1,000 percent.
Former No. 1-ranked middleweight contender Michael Olajide Jr. has watched the sport change participants over the years. He was a boxing champion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, after an injury forced his retirement, he taught boxing to die-hards at Equinox in the mid-’90s. A few years later, longtime supermodels Iman and Linda Evangelista discovered him. They, in turn, introduced him to Victoria’s Secret Angel Lima, who has long been a regular client.
“When I started, there was absolutely nobody doing it,” says Olajide, who later founded his own gym, Aerospace, in New York City. “Even now with the models, it takes a certain mentality.”
Boxing lengthens rather than bulks muscles, he says. It increases aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and it strengthens, tones, and sharpens athletes both mentally and physically.
The rise in interest from nonsport professionals stems as much from how it affects their minds as it does their bodies. It stimulates creativity and releases crucial hormones on a whole-body level unlike any other sport.
“For the artist who likes boxing, they see the poetry and movement and elegance of body coordination,” Olajide says. “When you box, you go to another place, and when you’re finished it’s like you come up from under. You’re able to approach your problems, or your art, with a pure mind.”
Not everyone is happy about the crush of newcomers. In the boxing world, uninitiated rubes looking for a good cardio workout only get in the way of real contenders. Gyms such as Freddie Roach’s famous Wild Card Boxing in Los Angeles and Grand Avenue Boxing in Portland, Ore., train serious boxers without much thought to attracting dilettante clientele.
“Just because some gym has a boxing ring doesn’t mean it’s legitimate,” says Ben Garcia, who competes nationally under USA Boxing and trains at Mendez Boxing in New York.
Others, like 5th Street Gym in Miami, Church Street Boxing in New York, Peacock Gym in London, and Portland City Boxing and Sweet Science Boxing in Portland, welcome rookies. Price ranges vary widely. At London’s Arches Boxing Gym, unlimited monthly memberships cost $113; the Battling Club in Paris requires $65 per one-hour private session.
Regulars like Garcia stress that any new arrivals should plan to put in hard work. To him, a big part of that is learning to fight the “right way.”
“A lot of times when a girl has learned elsewhere, her stance is completely off—she has to learn all over again,” says Garcia, who works as an agent at Re:Quest Model Management. “It’s like a girl coming from Middle America trying to walk the runway—she’ll be walking like a pageant girl. I’m like, ‘No, no, no. We have to start again from the beginning.’”
Bridget Malcolm, a Victoria’s Secret model who has walked for Ralph Lauren and Rodarte, started boxing years ago at home in Australia. She says the sport has grown exponentially among her friends in the past year, although she’s more serious about it than most.
When she’s preparing for a shoot, Malcolm spends two or three hours a day, six days a week at her gym; “off” weeks mean she trains just one or two hours a day. (Training means some combination of choreographed punching, jumping rope, calisthenics, and attacking the same kind of large, heavy bags Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson made famous.)
“The results speak for themselves,” Malcolm says. “I had definitely struggled with staying in shape, but since I started boxing I was able to maintain a good weight without having to do crazy diets. And my skin is clear. I leave the gym happy.”
Does she ever worry about being hit? Not really. She doesn’t spar all that often. And the truth, as Garcia says, is that “a model’s face is her moneymaker. No one’s going to touch her.”
Of course, everybody is different. Olajide has trained Lima for so long that he’ll throw a punch at her every now and then when they’re training.
So far, so good. She’s ducked each one.
“At this point I work with her as a boxer,” Olajide says. “She wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Avoiding punches? That’s smart—useful for preserving a pretty face. Just like Mayweather.
Boxing Gyms Around the Globe:
Gotham Gym: 600 Washington St., New York, NY 10014. (646) 490-8500.
Aerospace: 121 W. 27th St., New York, NY 10001. (212) 929-1640.
Overthrow New York: 9 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. (646) 705-0332.
Church Street Boxing: 25 Park Place, New York, NY 10007. (212) 571-1333.
Peacock Gym: Caxton Street North, London E16 1JL, United Kingdom. +44 20 7476 8359.
Arches Boxing Gym: 9 Gales Gardens, London, United Kingdom. +44 20 3490 1809.
Def Boxing: 124 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong. +852 2840 0162.
Club 360: Japan, 〒106-0046 Tokyo, Minato 元麻布３丁目１−３５ Cma3ビルB1. +81 3-6434-9667.
Battling Club: Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 Paris, France. +33 1 42 01 24 12.
Mario Gym Berlin: Lion-Feuchtwanger-Straße 61, 12619 Berlin, Germany. +49 30 83217180.
Maple Avenue Boxing: 2525 Butler St., Dallas, TX 75235. (214) 812-9400.
Title Boxing Club: 2417 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614. (773) 327-7500.
5th Street Gym: 1434 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL 33139. (305) 763-8110.
Wild Card Boxing: 1123 Vine St. #14, Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 461-4170.
Grand Avenue Boxing: 8333 NE Russell St., Portland, OR 97220. (503) 235-9559.
Portland City Boxing: 619 SW 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97205. (503) 894-8896.
Sweet Science Boxing: 2015 N. Kilpatrick St., Portland, OR 97217. (503) 380-2192.