Boxing Gym Does so Much More for Kids Than Teach Them a Sport

UT Concept_w_Al_Bernstein
Billy Moore, son of boxing great Archie Moore, discusses ABC concepts Tuesday with his boxers and a special visitor, noted boxing broadcaster and author Al Bernstein (right).  — Eduardo Contreras
San Diego – There are many important places in this city, but perhaps none more so than the innocuous building tucked away next to what appears to be a permanent garage sale on the 3100 block of Market Street. There you will find the Any Body Can Foundation, and it’s an urban treasure chest, a sanctuary for the young in a neighborhood that has seen numerous killings in recent weeks.
It’s an amateur boxing gym, but what makes it important is that it’s so much more. As you enter, the first thing you see is a library and study hall, where kids come after school to get help with their homework or get tutored before working out in the gym, which is in the rear. It is a great safe house, a place designed by Billy Moore, son of legendary boxer Archie (who founded ABC here in 1957 and holds the unbreakable world record of 131 career knockouts), to get children off the streets and out of gangs.
Yeah, this is an important place, all right.
The foundation is very close to noted boxing broadcaster and author Al Bernstein, who flew in Monday to talk to the kids about Archie Moore (featured in his new book (“30 years, 30 Undeniable Truths About Boxing, Sports And TV”) and the importance of the program.
“I think amateur boxing has one main goal: to be helpful to youngsters,” Bernstein was saying.
“It isn’t about world champions or Olympic medals, although in this country that seems to be how we measure success.”

“That’s it,” Moore chimed in.

“If we never win a medal, amateur boxing would be a success, and this place is that on steroids,” Bernstein said. “The first things you see when you walk in here are books, a library. This is a place that helps kids when it isn’t always good to be a kid. This is a holistic, integrated place. It’s unique in the same way Archie Moore was unique, and Billy has that gene in him — as a human being, he has that same gene in him. Archie was the most fascinating athlete I’ve ever met, and really, second place behind him isn’t really close.”

Billy, a noted trainer who has been in charge of ABC for 17 years, doesn’t brag about producing boxing champions. “Our best boxer is a girl, Jenny Hernandez,” he said with a shrug. “She’s a tough one.”

No, he talks of one of his kids going to Yale. He talks about a mother who brought in her sons, who were terrorizing the neighborhood, and how, after being around ABC for a while they came up to him and said: “You’ve got to help us get our mother’s trust back.”

Says Moore: “Most of the kids used to come in alone. Now, I’d say more than 40 percent of them come in with a parent.”

Of course, we had to talk boxing. Some will tell you MMA has taken over, that the sweet science is a dying sport. But Bernstein will have none of it.

“MMA is here to stay, but it isn’t going to replace boxing, which isn’t going away,” he said. “Internationally, boxing is very strong, while in the United States, it is more of a niche sport, as most everything is except the NFL. I’m not shilling for boxing. It shoots itself in the foot and this has been a particularly bad year. But it’s been much better than it was in the ’90s.

“The big problem, in my opinion, is that the sport isn’t covered. The media has stopped doing that. But starting about 10 years ago — by accident, really, because no one’s running it — we started to see better matches that people want to see, everything but (Manny) Pacquiao and (Floyd) Mayweather.

“My big mantra is that boxing is neither as bad as people think nor as good as people say. But the only place you can have that discussion is in America, because it’s strong everyplace else.”

To me, the problem is the heavyweight division. There isn’t one in this country, and heavyweights sell. They’re the hooks. I covered just about every major fight in the 1980s and into the 1990s and, believe me, there is nothing in sports that can match the electricity of a heavyweight championship fight. And that’s gone.

“I was just in Europe doing a (British heavyweight) Tyson Fury fight,” Bernstein said. “He’s 23 years old. If he were fighting 15 years ago, no one would pay attention to him. Now he’s ranked 15th in the world.

“It’s like tennis in America. We are bereft of American heavyweights, and there is so much mythology there. It’s an amazing thing, especially when you consider the other divisions are populated with terrific fighters.”

But the main topic for the day was not to be boxing. It was to be Billy Moore and ABC and the wonderful work he has done.

After we finished talking, Billy walked me out to my car. He looked around and became a bit emotional and waved a hand.

“If we can save just one life. …”

I think this is a good place to end the column. (July 2012)