Eric Kelly knows what it’s like to be at the top of his fight game.
He also knows what it takes to get there from the bottom and what it’s like to have it all taken away.
Born in Florida, Kelly moved to Brooklyn and was forced to learn how to move in the streets at a young age. The most pivotal experience came when he was jumped by a group of kids on his block and was left to scrap with no experience while outnumbered.
From that moment on, his father decided to equip Kelly with the knowledge on how to defend himself for good.
He began boxing and was a natural. With the training of his pops, and a newfound focus, he became one of the best in the city in a few short years. By 1999, Kelly graduated from high school and won two consecutive New York Golden Gloves. During his rise, he was competing with some of the best in the world like Jermaine Taylor and Andre Ward. He was being interviewed by Chris Rock for HBO and seemed truly destined for greatness.
BK back in the ’80s and ’90s was significantly different than it is now. Eric may have witnessed a lot at a young age but those experiences also made him the multi-faceted person he is today. In a recent interview with Kulture Hub Kelly said,
“Growing up in Brooklyn was tough but that’s what made me a man… I remember being in the park playing and gun shots start firing off in the park and seeing crack viles all over the ground… Growing up in Brooklyn was tough and it made me tougher, so I guess it’s only natural that I became an Olympic boxer.”
Kelly was eventually selected to train at the United States Olympic Education Center and competed in the 2000 Olympics representing his country. He was on the road to becoming one of most prolific young boxers of his generation.
But with all the success and opportunities starting to finally open up, Kelly allowed himself to get caught up with the distractions outside of the ring that ultimately jeopardized his boxing career. He admitted his mistakes saying,
“I was on the perfect path. I lost focus though. I started going out partying (never did any drinking or drugs) and staying up late and f*cking with girls. I’d got my first taste at being a regular kid and I fell in love with it. Little did I know that that was my time to be a man. I was out getting in to fights and ultimately I got kicked out of the USOEC program.”
Of course when it rains it pours. This led to a downward spiral that left Kelly with a life-altering incident that ultimately led to him losing out on the rest of his boxing career.
After dipping out on his dad to avoid bearing the consequences, he went to Detroit to start training at Kronk Gym while staying with his sister when everything changed at the blink of an eye. He recalled the fateful moment,
“I was so afraid to tell my dad, I sort of hid it from him until I started needing to call the house for money all the time. So I moved to Detroit with my older sister and that’s where I started training at the Kronk Boxing gym. Like a year later, I got in to a fight at a sports bar in Detroit and got hit in the eye with a pool cue and it f*cked up my boxing career.”
The abrupt end to his boxing career was a tough pill to swallow for the once promising prospect and champion.
He would move back to Brooklyn in 2007 where instead of breaking down, he started a family, got refocused, and reclaimed success on his own terms. Taking the lessons he learned from his past, Kelly was able to to take everything that made him a great prize fighter and turn that into a new career. His personality has always been larger than life and that’s what makes him one of the best trainers in the game. He’ll keep shit real with you whether you’re ready for it or not.
Today, Kelly has fully transitioned fully into a mentor, coach, and business owner of his SouthBoX Gym in the Bronx, NY. It was the center of a New York Times investigation about gentrification in the South Bronx, which Kelly states his gym is not a part of in any way.
While the gym and business itself is new, that authenticity he brings is what makes it so attractive.
He gets plenty of neighborhood kids looking to learn the sweet science, giving them an opportunity to succeed. He also has a lot of high profile clients from models, to artists, and pro athletes like Brandon Marshall who pulls up for private sessions.
Kelly’s personality shines the brightest these days and that’s what VICE noticed when they featured his story and eventually had him host an entire VICE Sports series where he investigated different parts of the sports world and did all types of shit like go to the MLB All-Star game and learn from a combat drill sergeant.
That same energy he had as a boxer has evolved into helping him create the role he has today. He stays in touch with the youth and his audience (which he says is made up of mostly middle-aged white men), to deliver content and most importantly a message about how to live a happy life and how to get more out if it. Even after losing his boxing career, Kelly never let that stop him from achieving more.
Seeing guys he faced progress over the years was sort of bittersweet but at the end of the day Kelly has the perspective to appreciate it too. Even after losing to Andre Ward at the 2001 US Nationals, he knows his time at the top even back then served as an inspiration to the future gold medalist.
Everyone needs someone to look up to and for Ward, it was Eric Kelly. Kelly shared,
“I remember Ward sort of looked up to me. When we fought, after the fight he told me how much he respected me and watched me as he was coming up, he even asked me to autograph his boxing glove. Today I love the guy, he is the perfect definition for how one is supposed to behave as a man, an athlete and a champion!”
No matter what Eric decides to do next, he will go about it the only way he knows how and that’s keeping it real always. If one thing is for certain, it’s that he’ll be here ready to teach the next generations of boxers how to do it the right way.
He knows what it takes to build a champ just how his father did it for him, it’s all about getting someone to believe in themselves first. Now that he’s taking that role of mentor for these younger guys, the next Golden Gloves champion in the city could very well be in large thanks to Eric Kelly.
To this day, he still credits that scrap he took as a kid, which introduced him to a new world where he was able to make his living and legacy, one of the most important moments of his life.
“Ironically, the neighborhood kids wanting to kick my ass is ultimately what saved my life, because that’s when I was introduced to boxing!”
Sometimes in life, you just need to get your ass kicked to learn how to get up.