|ICE in Mexico, In search of Paco
By John "Iceman" Scully, DoghouseBoxing.com (April 24, 2009)
Photo included: Here I am surrounded at Paco's Power Punch Gym in Puerta Valarta, Mexico by all my new friends. April 13, 2009.
"Iceman Diary" Entry Number One. PUERTA VALARTA, MEXICO, April 11, 2009: So here I am deep in southern Mexico today hanging out at the spectacular resort when the conversation with one of the locals gets around to the sport of boxing. I tell them I was a boxer and now I am a trainer. As it happens, according to this guy, one of the bellhops at the hotel used to be a boxer, too. So I cannot resist, of course, and I seek him out. He tells me he used to train at a gym run by a professional boxer named Paco and that the gym is actually only a couple of miles away from the hotel we are in.
Well, of course that does it. I am a trainer now but I am a still boxer at
heart, always will be. Even though I haven't fought since 2001 I still like to spar on a regular basis and, as a matter of fact, the year 2008 saw me do more rounds (502) than I have ever done in any one year going all the way back to when I first started out back in 1982. I've been all over the United States in my day as well as many spots in Canada (and Germany) to get sparring. Just one sparring session in Mexico would complete my tour of North America. Just to say I did it, you know?
So when I first found out that I would be heading to Mexico for a vacation with the family (wife, three step sons and baby Sarita), it was almost instantly a thing where I figured I would check out some gyms while I was there. Problem was that I figured a well known resort town (I knew the place by name because the cast of the "Love Boat" always used to stop there on their weekly show when I was a kid) like Puerta Valarta would have very little outside of beaches, resorts and clubs. Add that to the fact that in recent days I had done quite a bit of sparring back home in Connecticut and was feeling a bit drained and burnt out and it was a thing where better judgement told me I needed to ease off of sparring for a few days. Nine days in sunny Mexico seemed like the perfect opportunity for that.
I left my gloves and headgear home.
The same day I get here, though, I have the hotel bellhop telling me there is a gym with professional fighters in it less than two miles from here. There is a guy named Paco who runs it, he was a pro, and that's all I needed to hear. I hurried upstairs and got my mouthpiece out of my travel bag (I always bring a spare mouthpiece with me, you never know when sparring will present itself, right?) and leave the entire family behind at around 4:30 in search of Paco and his boxing gym.
Well, to make a long story short, I walked all over Puerta Valarta for well over an hour. I chose to walk, as usual, under these circumstances because when I am on a trip to a place like this I like to experience it first hand. I want to walk -and run- the streets, I want to see and mingle with the real people, not just the tourists. For me, you cannot really say you've been to Puerta Valarta if all you have experienced is a hotel resort with no one to really interact with but other tourists.
Anyway, I am walking, jogging and running (I passed through several streets and areas where I felt running was the better option, especially when five shady acting young guys tried to get me to stop and go over to them) through a mixture of beautiful scenery and urban blight when, finally, I come upon a set of giant double doors on a side street that I was told housed the gym. I walk up and I knock. Nothing. No sounds inside. That's when I was told the last thing I wanted or expected to hear.
"That's the gym," some lady told me in broken English. "But today is Saturday. They do not open on Saturday."
Just like Will Smith in his old 80's song, "Just One Of Those Days" I had wasted much of my Saturday trying to get somewhere that I didn't need to be. I actually had been so exited to get to the gym that it never even occurred to me that it wasn't a week day. I had come this far, though. As I started jogging back in what I assumed and hoped was the general direction of the hotel, I knew that I would eventually be returning to this block in another attempt to find Paco very, very soon.
"Iceman Diary" Entry Number Two. PUERTA VALARTA, MEXICO, April 13, 2009: OK, so I was a little drained from all the running I did on Saturday and I was a little sunburned by now, too. But Monday afternoon was fast approaching and Rita was out by the water just sunning and we weren't going to be eating until later on and tomorrow she has some other stuff planned so, BUMP IT, I set off again in search of Paco. Had a cabbie meet me out front at around 4:30 so that I could make it to the gym somewhere around the universal gym time of 5 PM. As it turns out the gym is so out of the way that the cabbie didn't even know of it or where it was and I actually had to direct him to it street by street. So we get there and from the street I can hear the world wide recognizable "gym sounds" from behind the big white double doors (buzzers, speed bag, the noise we make when we hit the heavy bag) that I had expected to hear on Saturday. And that in itself sets my adrenaline off on an upward spiral. I tell the driver to come back at a specified time and in I go.
The gym is very different in many ways from any that I have ever seen. There are more than twenty boxers inside already in a set up that appears to at one time have been either a garage or an alley. Not very wide, it actually seems like an alley that they just threw some metal partitions over. Parts of the gym are wide open, open in that you could stand there and look up and see the sky outside because they didn't have enough partitions to cover that area, while other sections have gaping holes that leave uncovered areas where a person could actually climb one of the walls from the other side any time they want to and just jump over and into the gym.
Paco is there (for some reason it catches me off guard, I thought it was comical, that he is wearing a #8 Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey) and he is not just a former fighter as the bell hop told me but he is still a fighter, an active junior middleweight. He speaks English very well, too, and is very friendly and very open to a total stranger coming in unannounced off the street wanting to spar his guys. Within a minute he literally has several of his fighters picked out and ready to go in with me. Almost like they knew I was coming. I don't even ask how many fights each guy has but I get the impression that they are tough but relatively inexperienced professionals. I am pretty sure none of them has the experience that I have but they do have youth on their side. Each of them appears to be between the ages of 20 to 25.
Now let me tell you now, for me boxing gyms are the place to be and boxers are like no other people. World wide, no matter where you go or where you've been, boxers are like a fraternity of brothers. I come in, a total stranger, tell them I want to spar and Paco and the boys embrace me like am a member of their gym already, it is no problem. Another guy comes in with his bag while I am loosening up and walks right over out of the blue and gives me the universal "bump" (fist to fist) that every boxer knows (contrary to now popular belief we invented it years and years ago, not Obama and Michelle).
As luck would have it several pros are there with fights coming up and they all need work. Perfect timing. My new friend Paco gives me gloves and a headgear and before I know it I am in the ring getting ready to get down with a short and stocky Tony Ayala type of bull.
Now, for the record, let me just say that the ring was the definition of HOME MADE. Never seen one like it, actually. The ring floor is so soft that it immediately reminds me of something just a little bit firmer than the mattress on your bed at home. VERY SOFT. The top ring rope comes up to my belly button only, very low, and the ring floor is made up of what appears to be a patchwork of huge nylon fights posters that have been sewn together. This ring is too soft to be jumping and dancing around because it is just too slick and cushioned. Rather, this is a ring you have to fight in, definitely. Paco sees me looking down at the ring, trying to feel my way around it, and he begins laughing out loud. Tells me that he made the ring that way on purpose.
"If you can box in this ring then you can box in any ring," he says.
I know already that I will have no choice at all but to stand in front of these guys and try and rely on hands up and upper body movement. This will be no exhibition of my dancing skills, that's a definite.
OK, so I am fully expecting these guys to follow the apparent Mexican tradition of going for the left hook to the body...and boxer number one doesn't disappoint (none of them do, actually. It is the National Punch I think). We do two rounds and, to be honest, he was a bit slower handed than I was and the shoulder roll (leaning and twisting to my right every time he throws his right hand) causes him quite a bit of trouble. We work pretty good, nothing crazy. Just trying to get acclimated to the ring and my surroundings.
I am feeling pretty good at this point.
Boxer number two comes right in and he is good work, too. A strong guy, aggressive...and again the shoulder roll works pretty well for both rounds. One thing I notice with him, though, is something that will force me to alter my strategies over the next rounds of the day. I go to the ropes at one point and lean back in what is usually a maneuver I use to escape the punches of my opponent while I rest my legs for a few moments. I lean back away from several of his shots but I find my back banging into the brick wall behind me. If he were to ever catch me with a hard straight right hand at that moment the back of my head would have smacked right into that wall. As a result of this, all subsequent lounging on the ropes will take place on the other side of the ring.
Third guys comes in and this situation is a bit different as he is much taller and technically more skilled than the first two. He has a long jab and a boxing tank top with logos on it that tell me he was an accomplished amateur before going pro. Instead of trying to bull his way in and reach my body with patented left hooks he opts for the jab and the right hand from a distance. He jabs a lot, keeps me dealing with it, and that causes things to now heat up a bit. Now we're talking! I have to think in there now, I have to push into a new gear or be forced to stay outside with him jabbing at me. So I start knocking down his jab with my right (got that tricky maneuver from Marlon Starling years ago) and then drop my own right hand over the top of his now lowered left hand (perfect strategy if I do say so myself).
It works well and after we spar I catch a glimpse of him showing the shoulder roll to one of the other guys in the gym so that's cool, tells me both were good strategic choices.
So that's six rounds in the bag and all is great...except that it is now HOT in that ring (MUY CALIENTE!!!).
It's not just hot, OK? It's SOUTHERN MEXICO HOT, OK!!
Finally one of the guys asks me if I want some water...and I say no. As hot as it is I have to abide by my own personal mantra of NO WATER between rounds. It's just a crazy personal thing I do (I do NOT recommend it to any of the boxers out there) and have been doing ever since 1984 when twenty-three year old Bobby Dowden used to try to bully me at the gym in Windsor Locks when I was just fifteen. I started not taking water between rounds when I sparred him because I wanted to somehow mentally gain an edge over him. I wanted him to wonder WHY I didn't need water while fighting him...and it stayed with me all these years!
OKAY, so now I am in with another guy for the 7th and 8th rounds when Paco asks how many more I want to go. Now having done eight rounds I know that I need to do an even ten (it's just another "thing" with me. If you make it that far you may as well do TEN, you know?). So he gears up another guy and I go two with him too. Now THIS guy, he's apparently not interested in just "working" with me. It is very apparent to me that he would like to do some physical damage. This became clear at one point early on when I was laying on the inside with him, moving my upper body, when he makes an attempt at a HUGE uppercut!! He tries several more of those in the first thirty seconds or so and each one is thrown with very bad intentions. I like it, though. It's GREAT, I love this situation, because that's like the signal that it's okay for your adrenaline to take over. Boxers will know what I mean by that. Up until then I was boxing "respectfully" but when he tried those big shots I felt that was the signal that it was fine by him for me to up my intensity level, too. I needed to show him some attitude, too, because when guys in the gym try to hit you really hard like that it's like an open invitation to go hard back...all bets are off.
So I instinctively start dropping my hands a little lower and making my face a little more available to him, kind of daring to hit me...I think for a second that maybe the visitor (me) being cocky like this might not go over too well with the hometown boys but, screw it, we're fighters. We're in the middle of the action and my boxer instincts take over for the most part. And off we went for two solid rounds of attitude filled sparring. It's definitely a bit tense at certain moments in there but right after the final bell rings he gives me a hug and a big glove to glove bump and says "good work" in broken English.
It's just more proof that it is here just like it is in EVERY country in the world when it comes to sparring, the gained respect afterwards is mutual in any language.
Now, let's backtrack for a second: That guy was my 9th and 10th rounds of the day and it looked like they would be the final two. However, after the ninth finished there is yet another pro standing near the ring looking at me and he asks, "Are you just doing one more?"
So that to me is an OBVIOUS sign that he wants to box with me, too. I had seen him standing there for several minutes already and he just had the look of anticipation on his face, you know? I know it well and I knew that he was just waiting for someone to invite him in, too.
Now, one thing about me, I am always jumping on my fighters in the gym to "train themselves mentally" to accept challenges. Don't look at the gym as just the gym, look at it all as something more than that. TRAIN YOURSELF to respond to challenges, real or imagined. Now I have to admit, I am ten rounds in already and I am very hot and sweaty and even weary to a certain degree in this heat combined with this very soft ring. I also don't actually train for boxing. I don't do sit ups or hit the bag or the mitts or run. I just spar whenever I can. But I also think of my boxers back home and how if they were here watching me I would have no choice but to keep going because for now I like to think that for the most part I am still able to practice what I preach to them.
I also like to think that if I can do this at my age for no other reason than I WANT TO, then these young guys who are fighting for a living should certainly be able to as well, right?).
So I say to the boxer at ringside, "Why, did you want to box, too??"
So funny, this guy didn't even answer me I don't think, he just took off running to get his headgear!!!
And off we go into my 11th and 12th rounds of the day.
I am hot, though, man!! And this puts me at yet another cross roads for the days: Do I just skate through the last two just to say I did it or do I actually try and suck it up and put the work in??? Again, I try and imagine that my boxers are standing there watching...and I suck it up. I am weary but I have a good technique I developed over the years where I am able to relax my arms as I punch so that I can throw punches without putting a ton of stress on them. Truth be told I actually got the idea for this from watching -and then fighting against- former two-time world champion Michael Nunn. Michael always had a pretty cool thing he did where he would let his hands go with bunches of punches while simultaneously relaxing himself as he did so in a way that would allow for him to not expend as much energy as a person who was already fatigued might. I took his idea and expanded on it and now here in the 11th and 12th round down in Mexico at age 41 I found myself in need of it.
It's like if I want to throw eight punches I will throw the first five softly, just to get my range, and then let the last ones go with a bit more force. Like you gradually build up a momentum to the last few, like a bowling ball rolling down a hill...all while relaxing your arms. It usually works for me, anyway, and I do a lot of that for the last two rounds. Trying to let bunches of shots go while not throwing so hard that I completely drain myself in this intense heat.
This guy I am sparring with likes it, though. He seems to like the action and he bangs back at me hard, too. A few times we are both in the center of the ring really letting go with some shots, back and forth, pure adrenaline.
And then right in the middle of a particularly fiery exchange the bell rings and my 12th and final round in the great fighting country of Mexico is over!! Good work!! Twelve rounds with six different guys, five of them professionals and one an amateur.
Afterwards the entire gym, all twenty something of them including one teenage amateur female, surround me to take photos with my eight dollar throw away camera. They bust out the THREE belts -not sure exactly what sanction bodies- that Paco has won in his career and we repeatedly pose for pictures with each other. Everybody is high-fiving me and asking me questions. They write down my name and my website and I promise to send them copies of the photos we just took.
And with that I was gone. Back to my hotel for five more days of fun in the sun by day and quesadillas for dinner by night. The sparring is out of my system for the time being. I just had to say I did it, you know? I couldn't rest until I boxed in Mexico at least once in my life. Been boxing for twenty seven years now but I am still experiencing some "firsts" for myself. I would have thought I would have reached all my goals by now but this week showed me I still have a few more to complete.
Supposedly this summer we are heading to a time share in the Virgin Islands. Another planned week or so of sunny relaxation. Hmmm...Julian "The Hawk" Jackson is from there, right? His sons box, I heard. Two of them are pro I think I read. Bet they have a pretty nice gym there.
Better bring my mouthpiece on that trip, too.
Just in case.
Until next time,
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