Quest includes restoring pride to LA gyms

Updated: April 11, 2004, 12:18 AM ET
By Steve Kim | Maxboxing.com

When Lamon Brewster stepped out of the ring at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night after beating Wladimir Klitschko by TKO in the fifith round for the vacant WBO heavyweight title, he did it without his mentor Bill Slayton, who passed away last October.

When Slayton, who trained Ken Norton in the 1970s, passed away at the age of 81, Brewster lost more than just a trainer.

"I lost a father. I feel like my manhood was brought out by him," Brewster told MaxBoxing.com before the fight. "I was out here alone and he took me in, but his spirit is still with me and inside me."

Brewster came to Los Angeles from Indianapolis in the early '90s and was soon united with Slayton, who for years had owned the Broadway Gym on 108th Street and Broadway, in the heart of the inner city. And while Slayton is no longer with Brewster physically, the fighter says he feels his trainer/mentor's presence daily.

"It's almost like the story of 'Star Wars' when Luke Skywalker lost his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi," Brewster explained. "He lost him, but Obi-Wan became more powerful because he came with spirit. Obi-Wan was able to guide Luke and for me it's sorta that same thing. It's like [Bill will] be in there fighting with me that night. It's going to be a glorious night for L.A., man."

Part of keeping Slayton's legacy alive isn't just confined to winning a heavyweight title like Norton did, but in making sure that Slayton's gym is kept up and running for years to come. Brewster feels as though the responsibility lies on him and his trainer, Shadeed Suluki.

"Yes, I do feel that way because I was the last of Bill's protégés and Shadeed was one of the last of Bill's great protégés in terms of trainers," Brewster said. "And you know, man, I think anybody would just assume that position or that responsibility because that gym has helped so many people not even in boxing but just to be able to come up there and get their frustrations out, so that they didn't go out and hurt nobody or just give them time, where when they got out of school, instead of being out there hanging on those corners, they're out there in the gym, trying to direct their life."

What Brewster says is true. There are countless gyms across the country and the world and their biggest contribution to society isn't measured in how many world champions they produce but in providing a safe haven and refuge for those looking for direction and focus in their lives outside the ropes. Asked to describe the surrounding area of the gym, Suluki says bluntly: "It's in the 'hood, it's in the ghetto." But the lesson learned inside these walls, are easily applied to the outside world.

"You learn discipline. I mean if you learn to box in the ring, you're not going to walk the streets and think you're tough, man, you're going to be humble," Brewster points out. "That gym has done so much for people that if Bill wouldn't have put his heart into it, the crime rate in that area, in this city, would be much higher. And so, because he has passed on and because he has instilled good things in me, I feel it's only fitting to try to keep that gym going on."

Years ago, Broadway Gym was bustling with activity. Alongside the Main Street Gym, Hoover Street Gym and the Teamsters Gym, it was one of the main centers of activity in Southern California. When I happened to drop by there a few years ago, sadly, it was like a boxing ghost town, with nothing left but memories and Slayton in the facility.

Nowadays, gyms such as Freddie Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club, La Brea Boxing Academy and LA Boxing are the main hubs. Broadway had fallen far behind, partly because of Slayton's advancing age and declining health. But it was also because of his generosity.

"I think it was Bill's heart, he had such a soft heart," said Suluki, who now runs the gym for the Slayton family. "Bill was the type of guy that would give you his last, I don't care who you are, and I think that's what happened, his kindness."

But a renaissance is taking place at the gym.

"Things have changed," Suluki said. "The attendance is up and it's getting better. We've made a few changes. We cleaned up the gym; we got rid of some things. There's still some things that need to be done to it now and we're in the process of doing it as we go on. A lot of old equipment we got rid off, kinda cleaned it up, trying to get the rings together, things like that."

And the goal of both Slayton protégés is simple.

"To get it back to the way it was before," Suluki says. "Man, it was a top-notch gym, everybody wanted to come here. When they came to L.A., they wanted to come to Broadway. It was clean, roomy; it's a nice gym. It's a big gym."

And now Broadway, which was the focus of a pretty sizable story in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks back, is beginning to fill up once again.

"We're starting to get people who want to know how they can help, whether it's donate something to the gym or just come to the gym, show their face, all that, all that right there helps to just promote the gym," says Brewster, whose media day took place at the gym two weeks ago. "When you get some of these celebrities that say, 'Yeah, I could go to Hollywood, those fancy gyms, but I come over to Broadway and I'll just show my face, maybe just hit the bags and it don't have to be every day.' But man, what that does for a kid, to be able to see somebody that they see on TV, they're like, 'Wow, he does it, I can do it'. That just promotes positivity, man."

Now Broadway will have a heavyweight champion calling the place his home.

I was watching the late-night show "Jimmy Kimmel Live" about six weeks ago when promoter Don King made one of his frequent appearances on the program. King had been in town to promote this show and had done a news conference earlier that afternoon. Kimmel showed a clip from the press conference of a highly emotional Brewster talking about this fight and what it meant, not only to his career, but his life. To him, this was life-and-death and he knew everything was on the line.

As he finished his passionate address to the media, he knock the microphone off its stand and stormed off the stage, where he had to be subdued by members of his camp. Kimmel and his audience seemed to be amused by his outburst. Having known Lamon, though, I found it not only eye-opening but touching that this fight meant that much to him.

In the past, his detractors have said he was devoid of that kind of emotion and passion to really succeed in this business. To many, he was too much Grant Hill and not enough Allen Iverson, or too Wayne Brady instead of Dave Chappelle or an obedient German shepard in a sport where only pit bulls thrive.

"I've heard that before," said Brewster. "It's like this: I'm the type of person that what I do in the ring is without thought, without feeling, there's no conscience. So when I'm in the ring, that's a different story. Even when I spar, I don't spar to 100 percent because what's the use of proving that you're the best in the gym? Nobody can ever say I've ever gotten in a fight, whether I've won or lost and said 'Oh, he's fighting soft, he's too nice.'

"Outside the ring, that's not my place of business. Outside the ring is where I conduct myself as a child of God as a man, and when I'm in the ring, I'm at the business table. I'm there to do a deal, I'm there to handle my business. So that's the way I look at it and it's just the on and off switch."

But there is one placid performance that he would like to forget, which was his desultory 10-round loss to Charles Shufford in October of 2000 on HBO's "KO Nation," which came shortly after his first pro loss months earlier against Clifford Etienne. Against Shufford, it seemed that Brewster was there physically, but his mind was someplace else. He agrees with that and he adds that he made things even tougher on himself by cutting too much weight.

"I didn't have the proper understanding, I didn't have nobody standing on me, trying to show me how to eat properly," Brewster recalls. "I was just trying to talk to people in the weight gym. But to lift weights and pose muscles is different between needing energy to burn for 10, 12 rounds. So I lost so much weight so fast, that yeah, I looked good when I got in the ring, but man, I was like, 'Whoa.'"

He'd have only one fight in 2001, actually spending most of that calendar year sparring regularly at Roach's gym in Hollywood. I'd see him on many occasions that summer and as he would trudge into the gym wearily, I wondered if he was long for this game. Many times, it just didn't seem as though his heart was really in it.

"To me, I look at everything from a God standpoint. I say God was testing my faith, he was testing my will, to see how much I wanted it. He gave me this gift; he gave me this talent to be this fighter. But sometimes, he tests us to see what you really want. And so when I was in that gym, I said 'OK, I don't have a fight, but y'know what? I get the opportunity to be in the ring with James Toney who I think of as one of the greatest fighters of all-time to spar with Francois Botha and Jeremy Williams. Y'know man, I was getting the opportunity to get to box with these guys every single day.

"Where as you can't even go to a training camp and get that kind of sparring. So I looked at that like 'Man, that was opportunity for me'. So I just tried to use that opportunity to just better myself and let God see that I am in this to win this. My heart is here, I'm just not going to train when I got a fight."

It's safe to assume that those sparring sessions were his toughest bouts, as his last four bouts coming into this fight with "Darth Klitschko" haven't exactly come against "Murderer's Row," as he's knocked out palookas like Nate Jones, Willie Chapman, Tommy Martin and Joe Lenhart. Not only does Brewster lack a huge quantity of fights in recent years, the quality isn't so great.

But none of that concerned him.

"Nah, man, it won't worry me going into this fight," he said beforehand. "I've had plenty of sparring, great sparring partners and you got to realize that when you're fighting for your life, it's not about activity, it's about desire, man. This is a situation where it ain't about what I've done in the past, it's about what I do next Saturday."

For Brewster, it's all or nothing.

"It is," he confirms. "It's each fighter's goal to fight for a world title. At my age, at this stage, I think it's my time. I look at it as make or break because I don't see too much for me if I don't win this title."

That's not a problem he'll have to deal with now.

I'll say it right now, I'd love to see Augustus fight the likes of Miguel Cotto, Juan Diaz, Javier Jauregui, Francisco Bojado and Arturo Gatti. I know his 23 losses would scare off HBO, but I'm sure Dan Rafael can talk them into it.

Get to work, Dano; I want those fights.

Mexi-Pendleton

With his recent hot streak and his dozen losses, David Lopez is now officially a "Mexican Pendleton" y'know, a Mexican fighter who has more than his share of L's on his record, but is extremely dangerous to anyone he comes across and continues to win and improve. Lopez, with his ninth-round KO of the formerly undefeated Jerson (Un)Ravelo, is now a dark horse in the middleweight division.

This distinction, of course, is named after "Fearless" Freddie Pendleton, who before becoming a champion was a .500 fighter after about the first 50 fights of his professional career.

Other "Mexican Pendletons" include guys like Orlando Salido, Cruz Carbajal, Oscar Andrade, Victor Burgos and Jauregui.

Final flurries

I dunno, but do you really think Frank Warren puts Ricky Hatton in there against the still-sharp-as-a-tack Sharmba Mitchell? Seeing is believing. ... By the way, shouldn't Ed Derian be the ring announcer for the big fights in England if they're going to announce the guys twice? Speaking of Mitchell, it's not a Mitchell fight unless he slips and falls onto the canvas. That guy takes more flops than Vlade Divac. ... Hey, how about David Lopez for Jermain Taylor? Or does he have too much of a pulse for Lou DiBella? Speaking of which, sources tell me that Taylor's promotional contract with DiBella runs out in December.... Which reminds me, I hear that Ricardo Williams dropped another fight this past weekend, this time to Manning Galloway. Williams is now 9-2 and if this keeps up should apply for a job at "Wac Arnold's" pretty soon. ... In the past, I've compared Williams to Benoit Benjamin, but it seems that was an insult to Benjamin (who by the way, was once repped by Don King). I guess a comparison to Chris Washburn would be more apt.-->