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Eric Kelly on his gym SouthBoX, gentrification, and the NY fight scene

From Bed-Stuy to the Bronx, Eric Kelly damn sure knows the fight scene and how fighting can save the yougins. When his new gym, SouthBoX got labeled as the source of gentrification by the New York Times, you know he had to pull up.

“Gentrification killed boxing, that’s why in a gentrifying neighborhood, I put this gym here and I ain’t gonna kill boxing, because I am boxing.”

And that he is. Kelly is a veteran in the boxing game, he’s a two-time Golden Gloves champ and former U.S. Olympic Team member but as much as he loves boxing, he loves guiding the youth more.

After seeing the neighborhood of Mott Haven consistently  ignored and underdeveloped for years, Kelly decided to link up with Keith Rubenstein, his client and close friend of 10 years, to open up SouthBoX.

A safe haven where models, Wall Street folk, pro athletes, and most importantly, the youth can all gather and learn some boxing skills.

“The goal is to make sure they have a place to go. Some kids come here and they can’t even afford the membership, so I let them shoot hoops outside. As long as they ain’t in the streets, as long as they’re right here in my cypher, and I can help them, that’s whats important. Everybody’s welcome.”

Kelly is big on authenticity and maintaining the legacy of the sport of boxing, so when a bunch of fancy, led-light filled boxing gyms started popping up in the city, he wasn’t having it.

“You got Rumble, ShadowBox, Overthrow–that’s not my thing, I’m here for real boxing, I’m not here to make a mockery of my sport. Those gyms aren’t for the kids, they can’t afford those. What’s keeping the kids off the street?”

Kelly has a scholarship and training team dedicated to the kids of the neighborhood and has seen a handful of fighters come up from their diaper days. You know Sadam Ali, the middleweight that snagged the Junior WBO title from Miguel Cotto?

He’s been in Kelly’s cypher since he was a toddler. Kelly knows plenty of young local fighters who are making noise in the game and gives props to boxing programs such as Atlas Cops and Kids in Brooklyn and Staten Island for giving them those opportunities.

Simultaneously, as new boxing gyms have been opening up around the city, so have mixed martial arts gyms.

Hell, back in November boxing heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne went at it at the Barclays Center while we saw the return of UFC vet, Georges St. Pierre at Madison Square Garden on the same night.

Kelly doesn’t hate on the MMA folk, he gives big ups to their athleticism and even trains UFC fighters like middleweight Oluwale Bamgbose.

While the two sports have their differences, Kelly acknowledges that they share similarities, such as fighters using performance enhancing drugs. Kelly stresses,

“It’s all of these strength and conditioning coaches, handing you this and making you that. Fighters never used to need that. Muhammed Ali ain’t do that shit.”

Between the businessmen, rappers, and even UFC President Dana White who have tried or shown interest in promoting boxing, Kelly thinks we should just “leave it to boxing people to do boxing.”

Despite the MMA beating boxing on the pay-per-view numbers side, Kelly is loving the current state of boxing and can’t wait to see more fighters from the city glow up.

“New York is in the house and I’m just happy to be apart of it. I’m happy to have passed the torch to some pretty good guys and they’re  gonna take the sport farther than I did and I love it.”