Inside Miguel's Gym
I pass under a railway bridge in Brixton, South London. I’m approached by a young mum with her two little girls, who are no older than five. She asks if there’s a boxing gym here to which my chaperone for the day, Lambeth Borough Commander Rick Ogden of The London Fire Brigade, answers yes. After a few more steps, we are greeted by the smiling face of Miguel’s Gym owner Steve Miguel, who along with his brother Alan has run the club for the past 20 years.
“I started boxing at nine. I boxed at the Lynn [amateur club] and had 75 fights,” Miguel told BM. “I was going to turn pro, but I had a good job with BP so I went that route. I was made redundant so I used my redundancy money to open a gym. There were no other businesses down here so it was basically given to us. We came in and it was all asbestos, metal and junk everywhere. It took me and my brother six months to clear it out.
“Everyone knew us in the boxing world because we boxed out of the Lynn, so we was able to take a group of champions with us,” Miguel continued. “We had Danny Williams, Spencer Fearon and Wayne Alexander all come with us, so we started out as a pro gym and eventually became an amateur gym. We trained [Brixton heavyweight] Ian Lewison as an amateur and pro and it kind of took off from there.
“Boxing’s a hard business and training the boxers wasn’t paying the bills so we thought, ‘You know what let’s just do some personal training.’“
The young mum in question is here for the Afternoon Kids’ Class, one of the many projects being undertaken here at Miguel’s. Steve and Alan are assisted by Sarah who, after some soul-searching, gave up her former career to work full-time in the gym. As well as starting the kids’ class, Sarah has worked with people suffering from obesity with one girl, in particular, the inspiration for it all.
“We trained a girl who had some big weight problems,” she told BM. “She went up and down, but we trained her to a point where she had a fight, where she competed. That made us think, anything is possible and we can help other people like this. We did some advertising and now parents are bringing their children in, young teenagers.”
Steve then points at the monitor. He’s pointing at a young man shadowboxing in the ring. “Sammy, he went waydown the wrong way. Now he’s club captain and he did the L.I.F.E. (Local Intervention Fire Education) course with the London Fire Brigade.”
“In the beginning, I used to just come here and be a nuisance really,” Shamari ‘Sammy’ McKay (pictured second left) told BM. “But then a year later I thought, ‘I like the training, let me give this a go’ and I’ve been doing it a year-and-a-half seriously now and competing.”
“They robbed him!” an older gentleman shouts from the bench.
“I got a controversial silver [in the Haringey Cup],” Sammy says with a grin. “When I started here, I was 14 stone. I’m 10 stone now. When I was younger, I used to get into so much trouble. I just had so much energy and boxing gave me somewhere to place it.”
Sammy is a prime example of the work Miguel’s Gym has done with young people, some of whom have been affected by the Gang (or ‘Postcodes’) problem in London. Miguel’s not only gives people a place to work out but also helps with education and employment, getting the gym users on courses such as personal training and assisting them in getting their ABA Coaching Badges.
Sarah added: “We have this postcodes thing. Sometimes they meet other postcodes in here and they know, ‘You’re not from here and I know where you’re from.’”
“But they come in and it just breaks it down,” interjects Steve. “Peckham can spar with Brixton and it’s controlled, it’s… a sport.”
The gym is also home to Dillian Whyte who takes on Olympic golden boy Anthony Joshua for the British and Commonwealth titles on 12th December at O2 Arena.
While Whyte wasn’t in attendance while I was there, the buzz of the upcoming fight was evident. Sammy as well as everyone in the gym that day were convinced that Whyte will emerge victorious and, while Miguel’s is rightly known as ‘London’s Friendliest Boxing Gym’, I wasn’t going to argue with them!
For more info on Miguel’s Boxing Gym, you can visit http://www.miguelsboxinggym.co.uk/