It is perhaps telling of the current state of boxing that when Trini Brown Eyes, a young boxer at the Eddie Martinez Boxing Club in Rapid City, is asked about his boxing heroes, he quickly mentions former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
Trini is 15 years old, and Ali’s last fight was more than three decades ago. Then again, boxing hasn’t had much front-page draw since the halcyon days of Ali.
Nonetheless, boxing still holds a certain appeal and provides a promise of hope for many young people otherwise lacking in such visions.
“I think everybody tries to be like Muhammad Ali,” said Brown Eyes, a Lincoln Academy student who is training for tonight’s Junior Olympics boxing card at the Martinez Boxing Club. “I would like to be like him and do well in Golden Gloves and also maybe make the Olympics if I could.”
Martinez, who has trained and promoted boxing in Rapid City since 1977, believes that despite boxing’s current rear-view mirror status, the sport does provide a disciplined form of athletic self-expression and self-identity that for some is otherwise lacking.
“They aren’t the basketball player, they aren’t the football player and don’t have the chance to participate in other sports,” said Martinez, who currently has 30 kids in his program. “Here, they find a place to get in shape and perhaps find something here they can do which makes them feel better about themselves. And we ask them to become dedicated in what they do and be consistent. We want them to work hard and take pride in doing it, and they respond to that.”
Sixteen-year-old Virgil Janis has done just that since joining the Martinez Boxing Club last year. Initially surprised by the physical and mental demands of the sport, the Rapid City Central junior has found satisfaction in boxing’s aspects of self-discipline.
“I thought it would be easy, since I was pretty athletic and had been a basketball player, which actually helped my boxing, I think,” Janis said. “But getting hit and being able to throw punches back is a lot harder than I thought. And 2 minutes in the ring doesn’t seem like much, but sometimes it seems like an eternity. I try to focus on what my coaches have told me to do. I just go out and try to make the best of it.”
Janis particularly takes pride in standing up to the challenges posed by Martinez’s expectations.
“Eddie tells us to keep coming down and stay dedicated and try your best every day,” Janis said. “He also tells us to stay out of trouble and keep our grades up, and I think that helps me. I’ve learned a lot from Eddie. He’s always ready to work with all of us here in any way he can. I love to come here every day.”
A visit with Martinez and sharing his passion for working with young people leads one to believe that he loves coming to the gym each day. And likes the young people with whom he works, Martinez takes something home something special each night as well.
“We teach boxing, but our goal is to teach them to grow up as good people and good citizens,” Martinez said. “That’s what I want from the young people who come in here. When they walk out of here and go out on to the street, I want people to know that they are good people and that they came from the Eddie Martinez Gym.”