Stanley Couch Gym is at the epicenter of the current resurgence of boxing in Jamaica.
Located on Victoria Avenue in downtown Kingston and operated by the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control (JBBC), it is the only publicly funded boxing gym in the city. A rich history, a central location and an open-door policy all act as powerful magnets for the talent being churned up in the wake of the widespread popularity of the JBBC-sanctioned Wray & Nephew Contender boxing reality TV series.
Originally opened as Dragon Gym in 1969, it was built by local brewer and beverage producer Desnoes and Geddes (D&G) to replace Austin ‘Kid Teally’ Taffe’s Waterhouse-based gym of the same name. When construction was completed, the then-state-of-the-art setup included an outdoor ring with stands that could comfortably accommodate up to 500 people, and to keep the card full and the crowds coming, D&G brought in veteran promoter Charlie Gooden to join Taffe in running the new gym. From the outset it was an important fight venue and training facility that attracted talent across generations of Jamaican boxing greats. It was the sort of place where a teenaged future triple champion Mike ‘The Body Snatcher’ McCallum could train alongside the already legendary Bunny Grant and Percy Hayles.
Drunk on the success of Dragon, D&G’s investment in local boxing only grew. Over the years they endorsed high profile boxers like eight-month WBC heavyweight beltholder Trevor Berbick, sponsored and hosted the National Amateur Championships, and even built a sister gym in Montego Bay. Then in the early nineties the sport slipped into a period of decline, and when Guinness Brewing Worldwide (now known as Diageo) acquired a controlling interest in D&G in 1993, the new owners pulled support for the sport. Already on its heels, the sudden loss of funding from one of its largest private patrons sent the boxing industry reeling. Short of funds and looking to breathe new life into the sport, in the late nineties the JBBC petitioned D&G for access to the deteriorating property on Victoria Avenue. Today operations at the gym are taxpayer-funded and the refurbished building bears the name of the man on whose donated land it stands — Stanley Couch.
It’s shortly after 5 p.m. on a muggy August afternoon when we arrive at the gym, and while the uptown-bound rush hour traffic outside the gates slowly empties the surrounding area, the training floor inside fills up as fighters trickle in one-by-one from their various day jobs around the corporate area. The place is spartan, but the best boxing gyms usually are. Jamaica’s flyweight hero and official coach of the gym Richard ‘Shrimpy’ Clarke walks the perimeter, overseeing a handful of veterans scattered around the room working with individual fighters. Over a chorus of gloves slapping heavy bags, sneakers chirping on the poured concrete and stacks crashing on weight machines, I catch up with Sakima Mullings and Devon ‘Concrete’ Moncrieffe, two popular boxers at the forefront of the sport today, as well as their promoters, Willie Yap and Christopher Brown of Jamaica Genesis Entertainment.