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.
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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.

Born in 1982 at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Sakima Mullings left the island as a four-year-old and spent the majority of his life, as his thick accent suggests, in upstate New York. Like most athletic kids in the States, Mullings grew up playing the big three — basketball, baseball and football. He didn’t start training as a fighter until his late teens but had amassed an impressive amateur record of 13-2 by the time he returned to Jamaica in 2008.
Talent tends to migrate in the opposite direction, and when I ask him about the situation surrounding his relocation, he explains, obliquely, that a misguided attempt to finance his graduate school education came back to haunt him. Understood. Stranger in a strange land, but determined to make the best of a bad situation, he did what came naturally, he fought. Organized street boxing helped to ease the culture shock, and after moving undefeated through the Jamaican amateur system, he made his professional debut in 2010 with an easy win over Raymond Gordon at the Barbican Beach Sports Complex in Kingston.
When the Contender series premiered on TVJ in 2011, Mullings held the second seed in the 16-man tournament. Though he lost in a semi-final bout against the eventual champion, Rikardo Smith, he left the competition as a crowd favorite and continues to be a big draw on the island. He currently holds the Commonwealth Boxing Council (CBC) Caribbean Zonal middleweight title, which he has defended twice, and is being groomed by Jamaica Genesis Entertainment to eventually capture the World Boxing Association (WBA) Fedecaribe welterweight title.


Sevens Clash: How would you define your fighting style?
SM: As an amateur and when I first started fighting as a professional, I’d like to compare myself to more of an Aaron Pryor, you know, just punches in bunches, overwhelm my opponent. Now, stylistically, I’m trying to change myself more into a boxer, puncher…you know, just set up that big shot, because I feel like I have the power as a welterweight if I catch my guy clean to take him out.

SC: How long have you been boxing?
SM: My history with boxing is first from a fan’s perspective ‘cause I’m an eighties baby. I caught the tail end of the middleweight era with Leonard, Hearns, Durán, Haggler, John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi, and McCallum was in the mix in there, Julian Jackson…the whole eighties was crazy. It was one of the best eras in boxing. Then when I was 17, 18 I followed a friend to the gym one day and fell in love with the sport from another perspective, from a competitive perspective. And I’ve been boxing ever since.
SC: And how long have you been fighting in Jamaica?
SM: I’ve been boxing in Jamaica for four years. A lot of these guys, they’ve been around the circuit a lot longer than me. When I first started boxing in Jamaica there was no professional scene. It was dead. Actually, when I first got into boxing [in Jamaica] it was through the street boxing. In my father’s community way up in the country, Mavis Bank, I used to hear about boxing and they said, “Yeah man there’s some street boxing going on in Stony Hill and down in Tivoli.” And I’m a big boxing fan, so whenever I hear boxing my ears perk up and I start to listen. And just one day I was in Kingston with one of my cousins and I said, “Yo, let’s run up to Stony Hill and see what’s going on with that boxing.” Some people directed us to the gym, I spoke to the caretaker and he said, “The trainer’s not here right now, but they also have a Tuesday or Wednesday night thing where they do street boxing.” So the next week we just went up there and I was watching the street fights and a guy offered me, he said, “Hey you wanna fight?” And I said, sure. You know I’m a fighter; I can’t turn down a fight. I wasn’t training for about a year, but they offered a little money also so, you know, I just took the fight. A couple people were impressed, and the trainer of the gym took my number and said, “Yo, come back to the gym for sure. We could get you fights and you could move through the amateur system.” And that’s basically how I started boxing in Jamaica.

SC: Fast-forward to Contender and now everyone is calling you the people’s champ, the people’s choice. I was wondering if you could talk a little about how it has been being embraced by the Jamaican people.
SM: I was surprised because I thought that most people would consider me as a foreigner, but when it all played out I was overwhelmed. Especially when we got onto the big stage with the Contender tournament. I don’t know, I was the overwhelming favorite in the tournament and a lot of people, no matter where I go in Jamaica people told me that they were behind me in this competition. And I was really surprised because you have a lot of local guys who have been here and been fighting here their whole lives and their whole careers and it was humbling that people would get behind me.

SC: So what’s the ultimate goal?
SM: My ultimate goal is to become world champion. I feel that if certain things fall into place and I get the certain push that I need, my goal is attainable. Still learning, still improving, still got a lot of potential, but it’s a business I know a lot about, and it’s a sport I know a lot about also. I’m a student of the game and I study my craft and I feel that with who I’ve fought as an amateur….I beat everybody, the only one I lost to was the best. In 2007 in New York I lost to Steven Martinez, and if you check his amateur profile he was 2008 USA boxing Golden Boy, and that means that he was the number one overall amateur no matter what weight division in boxing. My only losses were to him — one in the Golden Gloves and one in the Empire State Games. So I know that with who I fought and with who I beat (the other great amateurs I beat before I got to Martinez), I know that with my ability and my dedication I can get back to that stage, I can get back to beating the best and fighting the best… and I also believe that I won that second fight to throw that in there.
Also, this sport is a business. So being in the right situation and having the right people behind you to make certain things happen…otherwise you could fight as long as you want it will never happen. One of the ugly sides of the sport.

SC: Looks like a good momentum behind it though…
SM: Definitely. It’s a great time for boxing in Jamaica right now. Contender was the catalyst and there’s a lot of things happening. Myself and a lot of these other pros down here want to stay busy and we want to fight. Contender was not the be all end all, so we’re thankful that this Mayhem series started after that also to keep us busy, keep us getting fights, building our record, mastering our skills, so that when we do get on the big stage, the international stage, we’ll be ready and we’re going to bring those belts and titles back to Jamaica.
—

Devon ‘Concrete’ Moncrieffe made his professional debut as a 34-year-old middleweight on the Contender series in 2011. A one-time amateur coming off of a long absence from the sport, he was unseeded and overlooked coming in to the competition. As a hard worker and an even harder hitter whose one reason for not fighting was frustration with the impossibility of finding willing opponents, he shocked everyone except himself when he started winning fights.
Cinderella story outta nowhere, Moncrieffe went from a complete unknown to a beloved underdog with a massive cheering section as he bobbed and weaved his way through the 15-week Contender tournament. Though he lost in the finals to Rikardo Smith, he came away from the show with $500,000 ($5,000 USD) in his pocket and a new career on his hands.
In 2012 he signed a two-year contract with Jamaica Genesis Entertainment, and while they have searched for boxers either unaware or unafraid of the demoralizing Tyson-style overhand rights that have become his calling card, he has worked on improving conditioning and fine-tuning technique with the trainers at Stanley Couch. He returns to Contender this season with a professional record of 5-2.

Sevens Clash: How long have you been here at Stanley Couch?
Devon ‘Concrete’ Moncrieffe: Couple years. From amateur days mi a come here.
SC: Where were you before that?
DCM: Up a Central Village pon di roadside! When mi a go punch bag mi carry it to di ball field on mi head, tie it up and punch it and come back up wid it. Spar pon di roadside same way. When mi come a gym mi always tell dem guys seh, “Gym nuh mek yuh be a champion, you have to be champion from within you.” Yuh understand?

SC: From the roadside to TV…
DCM: Mi a tell you di honest truth. Going through Contender mi learn a lot. Nuff a these guys have a whole heap a years worth a experience, whole heap, whole heap. For around five year mi de pon break for. An mi start train back, for when Kevin Duffus tek mi up as mi manager an seh, “Moncrieffe, mi want manage you,” mi seh, “Kevin, if mi start train an mi nuh get no fight mi can’t go back through di same ting.” That was my problem, can’t get no fight.

SC: Everybody’s afraid of you…
DCM: When mi just start train, to be honest to you, mi get whole heap a beat up, but that mek mi get determine. And mi seh, “Dem guy what beat mi up? As early as mi learn di game mi know mi a go beat up some a dem.” And some a dem stop box!




SC: So what about now? Are you getting fights?
DCM: You see right now, a just di help we want to go forward. For wi can’t do it by wi self, wi always a go want backative. For if yuh no have nobody back a yuh, yuh can’t go no wheh. If yuh want a pair of gloves, yuh have to go try find it for yuhself. If yuh want a pair of running shoes, yuh have to go find it for yuhself. Sometimes you don’t have the money, but if you have somebody back a yuh can assist you, you will go far man. Just like how di runner dem, people a sponsor dem and a help dem out, said way the boxer dem can be di next world champion for Jamaica. So mi feel good right now, cause Chris tek wi up, an if is even every two month wi can get a little fight.
—


Jamaica Genesis Entertainment (JGE) is a joint venture between former mixed martial artist Christopher Brown and veteran boxer, trainer and promoter Willie Yap. In addition to Mullings and Moncrieffe, JGE recently signed two other middleweights (Tsetsi Davis and Anthony Osbourne) and one flyweight (Rudolph Hedge) to two-year contracts that provide a regular income and guarantee a minimum of eight fights over the life of the deal.
When I ask Yap how long he’s been involved with boxing, he answers, with a smile, that he’s been around since “salt fish used to shingle house top.” He’s an OG. After a run as a middleweight bruiser in the sixties and seventies he went on to train, help train or manage a diverse group of local fighters that has included Earl ‘Boom Boom’ Foskin, Mike McCallum and Lloyd ‘Ragamuffin’ Honeyghan — whose corner he worked during the infamous 1986 Atlantic City upset of undisputed welterweight champion Donald Curry. Complementing Yap’s experience, the younger Brown adds the skill to graft progressive cross-training techniques from his MMA background to the classic boxing regimen in place at Stanley Couch.
Together they understand that harnessing the explosion of interest in the sport is going to require work at every level of the industry. It won’t be an easy road, but Yap and Brown have visions of a return to the glory days of boxing in Jamaica, and while the JBBC and its related entities form Voltron, JGE is focusing on developing the fighters in their camp and finding them quality fights.
Sevens Clash: What role does Genesis play with boxing in Jamaica?
Willie Yap: We are taking boxing in Jamaica to another level.
Christopher Brown: We’re making a world product not a local product. Most of these guys down here what they think of is just local boxing. We’re thinking about the world stage, because it doesn’t make sense you have a boxer that he’s very good in Jamaica and you put him outside of Jamaica and he gets knocked out. It doesn’t make sense. So you gotta build them on a world level and see what they do well, and you develop it from that angle. Because if you’re gonna sell boxing in Jamaica, you gotta sell boxing that people recognize as boxing. You understand? You’re not gonna bring certain guys and say this is boxing; people gonna laugh at you.
SC: Can you speak about your backgrounds?
CB: Mixed martial arts. MMA. I come from that rugged hardcore training. They cry but they love it. I try to implement the strength training with plyometrics, using different things to trigger muscles that they’re not used to. Because most people think that training is just pushups, situps, and it has nothing to do with that anymore. I tell them all the time, “If you’re conditioned properly, I can teach you to throw a left and a right and you’ll beat the guy that’s the fanciest boxer.” Because he might be able to punch hard, but you’re gonna be able to punch hard for 10 rounds.



WY: Where the experience comes in, I’ve been there. You hear of Mike McCallum? He trains right here. I took him up to that level. Lloyd Honeyghan? Worked with him all the way through his career. So I know what it’s like up the top, and I’ve been through the whole scenario of boxing. Been in it 50 years. I’m a fighter. I fought 10 rounds here. I came back from England and do a 10 rounds here. Whoop the guy [Wendell Spencer, October 1971].




SC: What class were you fighting?
WY: Middleweight. I was a professional boxer in England, and I came home and start a business, but my family didn’t ever see me box. So they said do something and I come and do a 10 round here. Well, first they give me a six round and I knock the guy out in the first round. Then they bring this guy from the army, he’s supposed to be the baddest thing here, and I give him a good lesson. Leroy Brown was one of the judges, vote against me. And I tell him off over it. I got The Star paper write up against him, and he’s now my friend, our friend.
CB: What I look at down here, boxing died because there’s too much politics. Politics killed it.
SC: What about the problems of going abroad though? Like you said, the politics, the local politics. So you bring a fighter from Jamaica and go to Barbados or the Bahamas and you have no control over it…. 
WY: No, none. You got to knock them out to get a draw!
CB: That’s why now we do it our way. We’re giving it the world-class way, where instead of bringing them outside, we bring the fighter here as opponents. That’s the key. 

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.

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Armed Response

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Armed Response

Richard “Shrimpy” Clarke’s name is synonymous with boxing in Jamaica.
A natural flyweight, he was active as a professional boxer between 1981 and 1996, retiring with a record of 27-6 — seven of those wins coming by way of knockout.
Early on Shrimpy developed a repertoire full of the gloves-down-chin-out taunts, off-hand wind-ups, and Ali shuffles that his hero Sugar Ray Leonard was famous for. As an amateur he frequently suffered lost points for the flamboyant displays, but as a professional the style garnered him the notorious honorific, “The Sugar Ray of JA.” More than a simple showman, however, hand speed and intricate footwork formed the substance behind the flash, and I suspect that even if he didn’t look like Ray Leonard’s 112-pound twin, the name still would’ve stuck.
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Beginning in 1986 with his fourth-round knockout of the Australian Wayne Mulholland to capture the Commonwealth flyweight title (after which he was famously hoisted up in the air by then–WBC heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick), Shrimpy won a series of title bouts throughout the late eighties culminating in a hard-earned WBC number one contender status by the end of the decade. His shot at the world flyweight championship came on September 7, 1990, against Thailand native Sot Chitalada at the National Arena in Kingston. The Jamaican government went to great lengths for the opportunity to play host, and, in the months leading up to the fight, Shrimpy’s camp even brought in veteran trainer Larry Kent (who had worked with a long list of champions, including Sugar Ray Robinson — the original “Sugar” and, to many, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history) to work alongside his longtime coach Fitzroy Guisseppi. The hype surrounding the fight was tremendous, and though Shrimpy lost — he was counted out after a savage uppercut from Chitalada sent him to the canvas 44 seconds into the 11th round — he never ceased being the people’s champ.
We met Shrimpy at the Jamaica Boxing Board-operated Stanley Couch Gym on Victoria Avenue in downtown Kingston, where he is the resident coach at what is now Kingston’s only remaining public boxing gym. We were officially there to talk to Sakima Mullings and Devon “Concrete” Moncrieffe, two popular boxers at the forefront of the current resurgence of the sport in Jamaica, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sneak a quick conversation with this living legend.

Sevens Clash: When did you first know you were a fighter?
Shrimpy: Well, I started boxing from [when] I was 11 year old. There was a gym close by to where I live, up by [National] Heroes Park — Guinness Gym. All of us that live over in that area used to go over to the park to play ball and all those things. So I would go over to the gym. I started to see some little youth like myself training — and in the ring boxing, too. So that kind of draw me to it, because I used to love engaging in a lot of fights. I always believe that I could beat the guys that I saw. And I always used to tell them that I’m going to come to the gym and beat them up, and they would always bet me to come. I eventually went and beat them out the gym.
SC: In the ring?
S: Yes! I had a couple fights before I reach 12. I had my first fight about a month after I start. I was just eager to go inside the ring.
SC: Who was the trainer at Guinness at that time?
S: An old, old gentleman by the name of Mr. Frank “Spider” Foster and another one by the name of Jimmy Taylor and also Mr. Emilio Sanchez. And Emilio Sanchez was the national coach for Jamaica, for all the boxing teams at that time that used to leave Jamaica and go to the Olympics and all those things. He was also the coach for Mike McCallum. I was on that team with McCallum, so I’ve been to all of those tournaments. The only tournament I haven’t been to is the Olympics — and not being selected for the [1980] Olympics changed my mind. I think at that time the country never had the funds to send us all, and so they just trim down the team. I quit amateur boxing at that time. But I had close to 200 fights as an amateur, and I became a professional fighter like two years after. My career start from there.

SC: Were they calling you Shrimpy back then?
S: They used to call me Shrimps when I came to the gym. Then, when I became a professional fighter and start to come on TV, the people started saying Shrimpy, and you would hear people shouting, “Lick ‘im Shrimpy! Lick ‘im!” You know? And it just stuck. Even overseas.
SC: You were also known as The Sugar Ray of JA…
S: Well, Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the main fighters that I used to love watching, and anything I see him do in the ring I would do that in my boxing. It was an announcer by the name of Bagga Brown that used to introduce me in the ring as The Sugar Ray of JA.
SC: What would you say is the most memorable fight from your professional career?
S: I fought for the world championship against Sot Chitalada from Thailand. I was fighting for the WBC flyweight championship. I was winning the fight all the way, and he knocked me out in the 11th round. He just turned it around that round. The fight was here in Jamaica at the Arena, and I was getting too comfortable and too carried away with the crowd. You know, you only have two more rounds left, and you say, “Chu, he can’t beat me.” You know? You was beating him in every area so you get kinda relaxed, but he’s a very experienced fighter. He knocked me down; I never beat the count. I got up at nine but the referee stop the fight. But that was one of my most memorable fights because of the training that I did. It wasn’t the training that I’d normally do, so everything went haywire from the training. I was in Miami for six to seven weeks, and during that time it was running, like, 110 degrees — it was hot, too hot. It was draining every strength out of me, and I don’t think I recovered when I came back to Jamaica. The fight was like the week after, so I never fully recovered. But I still wanted to do it for Jamaica — that’s why I went through with the fight.
SC: I was just a kid at the time, but I still remember the hype around that fight. It was huge — the whole island was behind you. It’s been a long time since boxing in Jamaica has been at that level, but it seems like there’s a buzz around the sport again…
S: It’s a resurgence. Contender [a Jamaican reality TV show about boxing, similar to the HBO series of the same name] brought back interest. When Contender just finish everybody come to the gym, everybody want to fight on it. “When the next Contender?” You have not been seeing this kind of action and this kind of vibe with the people for boxing for a long while. It kind of get stagnant since we, all of us, drop out, the thing kind of fall back. With these guys now, the onus is on them now to lift up the game. If they can bring in overseas boxers and win against them, that’s the way they’re gonna prove themselves. Not with each other, with overseas boxers.
SC: So that’s where you see it heading?
S: It has to be. You can’t escape that if you want to build a following. Because each boxer has to build his own cheering group, their own fan base. That is one of the main things that can bring back the support to what it was. People like a special fighter. Mullings is one fighter that people talk about now, and people talk about Rikardo Smith and Moncrieffe and Nicholas Walters, who is going for the championship. [Ed. Note: In December 2012 Walters defeated Colombian fighter Daulis Prescott in Jamaica to win the WBA featherweight title. He is the first Jamaican boxer ever to win a world title on home soil.] They can become main draws. It looks good and it can only get better. I see a bright future.

Richard “Shrimpy” Clarke’s name is synonymous with boxing in Jamaica.

A natural flyweight, he was active as a professional boxer between 1981 and 1996, retiring with a record of 27-6 — seven of those wins coming by way of knockout.

Early on Shrimpy developed a repertoire full of the gloves-down-chin-out taunts, off-hand wind-ups, and Ali shuffles that his hero Sugar Ray Leonard was famous for. As an amateur he frequently suffered lost points for the flamboyant displays, but as a professional the style garnered him the notorious honorific, “The Sugar Ray of JA.” More than a simple showman, however, hand speed and intricate footwork formed the substance behind the flash, and I suspect that even if he didn’t look like Ray Leonard’s 112-pound twin, the name still would’ve stuck.

Read More

© Alexander Richter | Sevens Clash

"One, two, three!"

Half Way Tree in Kingston moments after Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir took gold, silver and bronze in the men’s 200m final at the 2012 London Olympics.