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Fists in the forge

Oshawa's Motor City Boxing club has been shaping boxers of all talents for nearly 25 years

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Jerome Gabriel has hopes to become a professional boxer, and he’s well on his way thanks to the Motor City Boxing Club, which recently helped him to his seventh national championship, his first at the senior level.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It started out simply as a stop-gap, and now, Oshawa’s Motor City Boxing club has become one of Durham Region’s most prestigious boxing clubs, turning out numerous national champions over the course of its 23 years in operation.

Started by Don Nelson, Bill Ford and a third partner back in 1993, the club has seen several different locations – two in Oshawa and one in Whitby – before finding what Nelson sees as a perfect partnership with Durham Ultimate Fitness on Bloor Street in Oshawa.

“It’s a much better set up for the boxers,” he says.

Now, the club has a wide space on the second floor of the gym near the border with Whitby, complete with numerous punching bags, boxing ring and workout space.

It was Nelson that made it all happen back in 1993 when, after arriving from Nova Scotia five years previously, realized there was not a single boxing club in Oshawa. He set out to change that.

Since that time, the club has grown from a small group of community members to between 100 and 150 members. The club has also churned out a world champion in Lindsay Garbatt, now a professional MMA fighter, and 14 Canadian Amateur champions. Most recently, two prized fighters in Evan “Easy-E” Gillard and Jerome Gabriel captured the title for the sixth and seventh times respectively.

Gillard, who has literally defeated every fighter in his weight class in Canada, is off to Regina this week to continue his push for a spot on Canada’s team for the Rio Olympics.

The coaching situation inside Motor City is one that doesn’t work for a lot of clubs. While most coaches will dedicate themselves to a fighter, Motor City has approximately 10 coaches who all share the club’s fighters, whether they be professional, amateur or simply recreational.

“Boxing is a real ego sport, so that usually doesn’t work,” Nelson says.

Ruled by what Nelson jokingly calls a “democratic dictatorship,” as the head coach, he trains with all fighters assisted by the others on the club’s coaching roster.

“All the fighters belong to all the coaches,” Nelson says.

And the range of fighters walking through the glass doors is staggering.

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Evan Gillard practices with some pads during a training session at the Motor City Boxing Club. He is a six-time Canadian national champion and is hoping to find a way to get a spot on Canada’s boxing team heading to Rio this summer.

When The Oshawa Express was invited to visit the club on a training day, amateur pros such as Gillard and Gabriel were throwing fists right alongside those hoping to fill their shoes someday, others just looking for a different workout, and a young female boxer throwing punches solo into a punching bag in the corner.

The club also has classes for everyone, ranging from those hoping to turn pro and those with simply a passing interest in the sport – and all the boxers train together.

It’s something that Nelson says has had a profound impact not only on the club itself, but the boxers too, and has helped to dispel the intimidating atmosphere that sometimes surrounds a boxing club.

“It’s a very team atmosphere,” Nelson says. “Everyone is very helpful…I’m very proud of these kids and the boxers in here. I’ve seen a real good character from these kids. The ones that are experienced are trying to help the ones that aren’t and make them feel welcome.”

For Gillard, working with young boxers is a rewarding experience that not only helps those he’s training, but his own skills in the ring as well.

“I like it because they kind of ask you questions, they look up to you, and then it makes you happy showing them how to do stuff and then seeing them get better and progress,” he says.

According to Nelson, Gillard’s attitude is not unique to him.

“Before, a lot of guys had the attitude like this is just about me, even guys who were going pro and things like that…now these guys are kind of doing that and a pay it forward type thing,” he says.

Originally, when the club first opened, Nelson had the idea of turning it into a business. However, he quickly realized the difficulty in that and changed the club to a non-profit organization. It’s a decision that has made all the difference.

“It was the best thing that ever happened really,” he says. “I think that’s what made it more of a community club because it was a community – it wasn’t my club anymore.”

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Don Nelson practices with some pads during a training session at the Motor City Boxing Club.

Nelson originally had dreams of his own of becoming a pro boxer, but abandoned the ambition after a few early losses on the pro circuit. Despite that, he says after two decades of coaching, he’s satisfied with how his life in the ring has progressed.

“I’ve done everything that I need to do as far as goals…and now I just like having fun,” he says.

And similar to the softening of the club’s aura, speaking nothing to the force of the punches thrown inside the ring, Nelson notes that the biggest thing that has changed over the past 23 years is, in fact, himself.

“You learn a lot from coaching…Personally, I became a much better boxer after I became a coach,” he says. “I should have started coaching when I was a lot younger.”

The Motor City Boxing club is Durham Region’s cheapest boxing club and is located at 725 Bloor St. W. For more information about the club or how to join, visit motorcityboxingclub.com.