Issues Aside, Boxing Motivates Michigan Youth

Issues aside, boxing motivates Michigan youth

Kids still want to walk down the steps, across the floor, through the ropes, into the land of opportunity.

By Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press Columnist

Down the steps, across the floor, through the ropes, into the land of opportunity.

Cameran Pankey steps into the ring for a sparring session, as rap music blares from speakers at Fisticuffs Combat Academy in Waterford.

“I want to be on top,” says Pankey, 16, of Waterford. “I want to be world champion. I want to be like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.”

On Saturday, Pankey won the state Junior Olympic title in Detroit.

A few hours later, Mayweather “fought” Pacquiao in Las Vegas, and yes, we use that term loosely.

To Pankey, it was the Fight of the Century, the biggest of his lifetime.

To others, it was the Scam of the Century because Pacquiao was fighting with a mangled shoulder and it turned into nothing but a glorified, disappointing sparring session. Lawsuits have been filed around the country.

Even so, Pankey would have loved to have watched the Fight of the Century but he couldn’t afford it on pay-per-view. Neither could most of the kids at this training center.

“Unfortunately, for most of these kids, I think it was out of their price range,” said Scott Davis, who opened this gym in March, for both boxers and MMA fighters. “This is a poor man’s sport.”

Even though he didn’t get to watch the fight on pay-per-view, Pankey was inspired by it. Just the thought of it. The possibility. Pankey is drawn to the money and excitement and hype. It fuels his dreams. It makes it so much easier for him to climb into that ring and train, thinking about the idea of becoming rich and famous.

“I want to be on top,” Pankey repeats.

The effects of the so-called Fight of the Century remain strong, several days later, both the good and the bad. The hype around the fight shined a spotlight on boxing and the controversy that followed after the fight has kept that spotlight fixed on the sport. A spotlight that has been missing.

“These kids, the boxers, know that their sport is seldom watched,” Davis says. “Everybody is watching UFC and the cage fighting. My true boxers were excited about it, for the simple fact, that there is a big buzz about the sport they are in.”

As Pankey stands in a corner of the ring, getting advice from Davis, Pierre Wallace sits a few feet away, lifting weights.

Wallace, 14, of Pontiac, also won a Junior Olympic state title Saturday, and he was just as motivated by the Fight of the Century. “It gave me inspiration in many ways,” Wallace said. “The amount of money they made was ridiculous. That made me want to get out there. I want to be pro.”

So does Marcus Guerrero, an eighth-grader from Waterford. “It made me want it,” said Guerrero, who won the 2013 Silver Gloves national title. “That’s one thing every boxer looks for, their name in lights, big money.”

What about a rematch? I cringe at the thought. But not these boxers.

“I hope they fight again,” Wallace says.

“No, Pacquiao doesn’t deserve a rematch,” Guerrero says. “Mayweather would win, even if Pacquiao were healthy.”

Personally, I’m don’t care either way.

I’m more interested to see how Pankey does in the future. Because boxing saved him. Davis saved him.

“Before I met Scott Davis, my coach, I wasn’t the best kid,” Pankey says. “He helped me out a lot. Got me off the streets. Got me in here every single day.”

Davis makes each kid sign a contract promising to get good grades and have good behavior at home before he will train them.

“I’m good now,” Pankey says. “In school, I’m getting all A’s and B’s. If I didn’t meet Scott, if I wasn’t in this gym, I’d probably be locked up right now. Dead serious.”

That might be an old boxing story. How a boxing coach pulled a kid off the streets, how he gave him direction and purpose. How a gym became a beacon of hope for countless kids.

And if the Fight of the Century — or the Scam of the Century, if you must — is motivating these kids to focus and train and stay motivated and learn dedication and change their lives for the better, so be it.

That’s not such a bad thing.

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