North Texas Daily

Denton boxing gym provides hope and escape for Flint native

Denton boxing gym provides hope and escape for Flint native

Boxer Corey Richards warms up at the gym on the punching bag. Sara Carpenter

Denton boxing gym provides hope and escape for Flint native
October 12
18:13 2016

Detached from the beige brick of a disused stripmall, a sanctuary of sweat called Jimenez’ Old School Boxing Gym hides behind the shadow of Duffy’s Auto Service shop and a Chevron where food stamps are accepted and their slot machines, according to the clerk are to, “win fun only.”

A step from the asphalt to the concrete slab brings the unique nostalgia of eighth grade P.E. rearing back before it punches you right in the face. But after taking a few steps inside, the smell, like the skill and strength that produced it, grows on you.

The gym, built by Joe Jimenez and operated primarily by his son, Ben, a 22-year-old computer science junior at UNT, is a home away from home for many.

“They call boxing a poor man’s sport,” Ben said. “Most people who box are kids that go to get off the streets. In Denton, you get the occasional rough house one, but most come here on word of mouth.”

People come to the gym for various reasons.

From the light feet and slender frame of Denton-Guyer junior Yessy Valdez, 17, prancing in silence as he boxes the shadows, envisioning his first official fight coming in the next few weeks, to Junior Pizarro, a 25-year-old truck driver with a devastating right hook that sends the punching bag reeling back and forth in between his back and forth trips from Waco.

Pizarro said he’s here to box and has lost nearly 60 pounds – dropping from 429 to 373 was just a bonus.

All this activity comes hard for one member of the gym’s family, seen holding a trophy from his 2011 Golden Glove tournament on the gym’s front desk. After three years spent in the shadows of his professional boxing career, Corey Richards, 32, is undertaking the challenge of teaching what comes so naturally to him.

After the gym clears out, past the 8 p.m. closing time, Richards stands toe-to-toe and teaches a wordless lecture to 22-year-old Brian Flowers, correcting the whiff of an overly aggressive haymaker with a pop, pop, thwack counter combination.

He doesn’t say much to Flowers in the long sessions stretching into the twilight hours, mostly teaching by example.

But when he does speak, Flowers is all ears.

Boxer Corey Richards works on his jab Friday at the Jimenez Old School Boxing Gym located off University Drive near TWU. Austin jackson

Boxer Corey Richards shadow boxes and “dances” to arm up for the training session. Richards listens to Christian Reggae and Rap when he works out. Austin Jackson

After graduating high school, Flowers came to the gym with 325 pounds on his 5’8” frame. Now four years later, he fights competitively at 165 pounds.

“Coming in at 325, you see [everyone else] working,” Flowers said. “You know you’re nowhere near where they are, and it’s like ‘okay, let me see what I can do and learn.'”

His mentor, Richards, was one fight away from qualifying for the Olympic trials in 2012 and fought professionally until 2014. He said the life of an athlete comes at you fast and, now 32, he struggles with the reality of his normal job as a warehouse manager at HealthTrackRx, a toxicology testing facility in Denton.

Richards first learned to box with his wrestling teammates and childhood friends, Andre and Anthony Dirrell, who are both professional fighters. Their grandfather, Leon Lawson Sr., a former sparring partner of Muhammad Ali, used to drive them to the gym. It was there Richards learned the work it takes to be great.

But instead of boxing, Richards focused on football.

Originally from Flint, Michigan, Richards’ unsatisfied hunger, fight and love of boxing were forged in the rough Dayton Avenue neighborhood on the North Side of a city notorious for using water and bullets to fill its residents with lead.

Richards said the weather and poverty make people cold-hearted, and all many want to do is get out.

At the age of 18, Richards had his shot to leave via a scholarship to play football at the University of Charleston in South Carolina. Richards said the warmth and southern hospitality, a term he described in juxtaposition to Flint’s culture of minding your own business, was a welcome shock. 

Flint Boxer Corey Richards, 32, dodges a jab from his sparing partner and trainee Brian Flowers, 22. Austin Jackson

Flint Boxer Corey Richards, 32, and partner and trainee Brian Flowers, 22, square up for a sparring session. Austin Jackson

After his freshman year, the hard-hitting safety from Flint overtook the starting spot, reeking havoc over the middle of the field just hoping quarterbacks would make the mistake of throwing his way. After graduating and spending a year abroad playing for the Aix-En-Provence Argonauts in France, and being told he wasn’t fast enough, the cocky athlete was sent home hobbled and humbled with a torn meniscus and a degree in Sports Management.

“I was a graduate with a degree and I couldn’t get a job,” Richards said. “It’s different. [Flint] is almost like a ghost town, man. Lots of abandoned buildings. Even my elementary school closed down. The whole neighborhood is wiped out.”

After mourning his career as a football player and facing the harsh reality of Flint’s economy, Richards called a friend and, in 2010, took off for the economic opportunity of Denton.

“I was just trying to get out,” Richards said. “I bought a one-way ticket and I’ve been here ever since.”

After finding a job, Richards also found Jimenez’ gym, and under Joe’s wing, he soon made his new dream of becoming a professional boxer a reality.

“I had a mentality where I expected to win,” Richards said. “I was a little cocky. I worked for it.”

Richards went to visit his family in Flint last week and said going back is always eye opening. The intervals of blight around the city just keep encroaching around his home.

His high school, Flint Central High, had been in the heart of Flint since the 1800s, but now joins the list of over 20 schools that lie vacant.

“When I go back now, It’s heartbreaking,” Richards said. “My high school closed and the middle school I went to closed down as well. Sometimes it feels like I don’t have any history.”

Richards said being a Flint expat is complicated. He misses his family left behind and misses his home, but the reality of making a life in such a bleak environment is something he can’t envision.

“It’s my history,” Richards said. “It’s where I grew up. When I go home I look at my city and it’s crumbling down to pieces. I can’t say I’ll move back there, but I miss it.”

Back in the secure comfort and warmth of Denton, Richards continues his routine, working early mornings until 3 p.m., then training four to five nights a week, imparting wisdom and keeping the dream of fighting again on life support.

“Just recently I had the urge,” he said. “I want to fight again.”

Featured Image: Boxer Corey Richards warms up at the gym on the punching bagSara Carpenter

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