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Boxing with benefits

By: Nico Rubello | C&G Newspapers | Published March 1, 2012

 Mareeco Miller, 14, of Roseville, throws a left jab while sparring at Magic Boxing in Fraser.

Mareeco Miller, 14, of Roseville, throws a left jab while sparring at Magic Boxing in Fraser.

Photo by David Schreiber


FRASER — As 9-year-old Jadan Vizino and 8-year-old Jacob Flachsmann shuffled around the boxing ring, exchanging jabs, it was clear that the pair weren’t mad, but rather were focused.

The punches don’t hurt, Flachsmann said later. Once you’ve boxed a few times, you get used to them.

“It’s real fun,” he added. “You have to be real fast. You have to move a lot.”

The boys’ headgear absorbs most of the punches as they spar under the watchful and experienced gaze of Humberto Ayala. His pupils call him “Coach Magic,” or just simply “Magic.”

Moments later, when a buzzer signaled the end of the three-minute round and the boys step out of the ring, Flachsmann glanced at his parents and grinned, flashing his green mouth guard.

“He’s always smiling,” said Jacob’s dad, Daryl Flachsmann. “It’s usually always older kids he’s sparring, so it makes him feel good when he does well.”

The pending regional USA Boxing Junior Olympics are on the minds of some within the gym. This year will be the first time Fraser is represented at the competition, which takes place in May.

Inside the gym — which can be found in a Groesbeck plaza, south of 14 Mile Road — the walls of the gym are decorated with posters of famous boxers, such as Muhammad Ali and Detroit native Thomas Hearns.

Ayala was the second-in-charge trainer for Hearns and his son, Ronald Hearns, and worked as a trainer on the amateur boxing circuit in his native Puerto Rico. By the time he came to Michigan in 1989, he had heard of Detroit boxing greats like Joe Louis.

The gym’s front windows fog from the sweaty workouts as boxers follow Ayala’s strict training regime, which everyone must follow. The boxers take turns stretching, shadowboxing, practicing footwork, hitting heavy bags and speed bags, doing push-ups, working out on exercise equipment and jumping rope.

Many of the boxers — children, teens and adults — have come for the physical benefits: losing weight and getting fit.

But more than that, boxing has come to help their minds and character as much as it has their physiques, they say.

“It just relieves all the stress,” said Fraser High School student Joe Elnazly, 17. He had already taken mixed-martial arts classes when he started boxing with Ayala over the summer. He now works for the gym, helping coach younger fighters and assisting with the upkeep the facility.

Elnazly — who will be going to the USA Boxing Junior Olympics in May, and eventually would like to fight Golden Gloves — said he has learned a lot from Ayala about keeping his fights inside the ring.

“I don’t get mad anymore, when I come here,” he said. “If you’re mad, you come into the gym and you work it off or fight it off. … It’s the only place I can chill.”

The boxers spend as much as an hour-and-a-half to two hours at the gym every weeknight and on Saturdays. Each sticks strictly to Ayala’s training program: stretching, shadowboxing, hitting the punching bags, doing sit-ups and push-ups, and jumping rope.

While others work out and train, Ayala takes each pair into the ring, watching carefully as they spar. By the time they’re allowed to fight, he’s given each of them one-on-one training on how to throw, block and dodge punches.

Elnazly’s classmate, Alen Mujic, 17, echoed the sentiment that boxing evokes relaxation. Since he began boxing in April 2010, the Clinton Township resident has found a way to channel his anger and hasn’t gotten into any fights outside the ring, he said.

“After you box, you don’t try to prove that you’re tough,” he said. “You fight for the sport; you don’t just fight to fight.”

Niko Drozdowski, 15, of Fraser, started boxing because he wanted to learn how to fight using proper technique. After two weeks, he sparred for his first time on Feb. 23.

“It was fun,” he said afterward. “It’s relaxing. It helps you keep self-control. You can take your frustration out on the bags.”

His mom, Michelle Drozdowski, said Niko’s demeanor at home has improved during the two weeks he had been boxing.

“He’s just a whole different person,” she said.

Ayala and his wife, Yolanda, keep a close eye the kids.

“We tell them to keep it in the ring, not on the streets,” Yolanda Ayala said. “The boxing, you don’t need to show it off because you know what you’re doing, you know what you’re capable of doing.”

Humberto Ayala said boxing gives the kids the knowledge to know how to fight, but also the self-confidence to walk away from one when it’s outside the ring.

“It’s all about self-confidence,” he said. “It opens up your mind, and teaches you to respect people.”

The Ayalas request school progress reports from the parents and emphasize that education is first. The workout builds their energy, which improves brain function to help them in the classroom, Humberto Ayala added.

And if they seem like they have something on their mind, he will pull them aside to talk to them. Concentrating on the workout demands a clear mind.

Daryl Flachsmann admitted he was a little nervous the first few times Jacob, then 7, sparred. He doesn’t get that way anymore now that Jacob knows what he’s doing. Since he started in November 2010, Daryl and his wife, Christine, have watched Jacob progress “100 percent.”

“He went from doing push-ups on his knees and now he does it like you’re supposed to do it, without a problem,” Daryl said. “In the winter, it’s great because the kids don’t like being outside. It’s something for them to do and stay active.”

As Jacob walked away from his round with Vizina, the latter, a fourth-grader, told him he did a “good job.” The two attend Thomas Edison Elementary in Fraser together.

“He’s just as supportive as all the other kids here,” said Jadan’s dad, Dillon Vizina, who is also a member of the gym. Jadan had been taking wrestling classes for four years, but seems to enjoy boxing more.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” added Dillon Vizina. “I’ve never boxed before, so I’ll always defer to the younger kids who’ve been here. And they’re helping me. I coach football and baseball, but never boxed.”