Young pros & amateurs inspired by “Desert Storm”
Timothy Bradley Jr. will square off against Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao this Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. With the nickname of “Desert Storm,” the Cathedral City fighter is well-known and well-loved in the Palm Springs area. Many young amateurs look up to the unbeaten champion who has reached the highest pinnacle in the sport.
But as they say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And the journey of a world champ began with a single punch.
A young Timmy Bradley first began his boxing career at the Palm Springs Boxing Club. Many at the gym still remember when Timmy’s father Timothy Bradley Sr. brought the future champion to the boxing club, noted for its row of silver cylinders bolstered outside of the building. The stocky boxer is an inspiration to the other fighters–proof that through hard work, sacrifice and focus you can achieve your goals. “I remember Timmy when he first came here; he was ten years old and trained with O.J.,” came the comments when I ask about Bradley’s humble beginning.
I had a chance to visit with the coaches, pro fighters and amateur boxers who call the Palm Springs Boxing Club (Bradley’s very first gym) home. Longtime trainers Steve Quinonez Sr. and Benito Silva slip into roles of mentor, big brother and father figure to the boys and girls, men and women that flock to their gym every night.
For many, it is a second home. For some, it’s a chance to attain a better life for themselves, just like Bradley has done. And for others, it’s a way out of a life of crime, drug abuse and gangs.
Whatever their reason is, the club offers each a sense of camaraderie, a learned discipline and a safe haven for those looking for one.
Coach Steve and Coach Benito have seen hundreds upon hundreds come and go through the years. Old photos with curling edges are showcased with the faces of amateur sluggers, pro champs and celebrity friends lining the walls of the hotbox gym. In a previous career, Quinonez tells me he was a lead singer and musician in a band. “I played the Congas!” the burly trainer laughs during a brief break in sparring. “I had a ten-piece band when we played.”
Nowadays, the boxing coach pays the bills with his concrete construction and pool restoration business and spends his late afternoons and evenings teaching others the sweet science. It’s a passion he’s held for decades; one in which he’s seen his son, Steve “The Mongoose” Quinonez Jr., attain NABF and WBC championship belts.
Now, Quinonez Sr. continues to provide tutelage to new aspiring athletes who make their way into his gym, located under the glare of the blazing sun and the backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. He is truly dedicated to helping these kids, hoping to enhance their opportunities in life by trying to keep them off the streets; he’s been doing this for almost 25 years.
On the day we visited, there were three pros in residence, junior welterweights Kenny Williams and Gerardo “Slow Man” Juarez and featherweight Hugo Ramos. Ramos is coming back after a short hiatus; Williams and Juarez just fought June 2 at the nearby Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino. While Williams won his bout, Juarez was defeated this time–but promises to come back stronger.
While 22-year-old Hugo Ramos’ record lists more losses than wins, the young man remains determined–and hopeful. The boxers see Bradley as one who began with nothing and rose to fame–and keep him as an inspiration.
Photos of Timmy Bradley as a boy are taped to the walls; posters of “Desert Storm” all grown up wearing a championship belt are reminders that dreams can come true.
“Bradley’s our inspiration,” Ramos agrees, during a break in his workout. “He made it to the top; he keeps us going!”
Realistically, the majority of the punchers training at the gym will never see the millions of dollars that the undefeated Bradley will make come this Saturday night. But in boxing, they’ve found something more valuable–a life worth living. A way out of the bad lands and mean streets that populate the area.
Coach Steve keeps it real by telling me that he’s seen the streets swallow up many of the young athletes, stating that most of them find their way back to the temptations in a life of crime. He does his best to keep them on the straight and narrow. As the veteran trainer watches the teens spar, he shouts out various instructions: “BE FIRST! Rock ‘n roll, Freddie!” When the rounds are offer we resume our conversation. Quinonez is stern in the ring with his booming voice. But outside the ropes I watch him quietly and patiently talk to two young girls who apparently have broken some rules. In a fatherly manner, Coach Steve gently lectures them until the kids understand what he’s saying.
“Sometimes we lose them to booze and crime but we try to keep them in the gym as long as we can,” he offers. “I’ve seen a lot of kids come and go; Hugo’s the only one who’s stuck it out,” Quinonez says, after the bell ends the last round of sparring between the two 15-year-olds.
Ramos, who’s had 16 fights as a pro, agrees that boxing has saved him. One punch at a time, training hard and trying to keep out of trouble.
“I started fighting when I was 15. But back then I was part of the ‘crime rate,’ Hugo admits. “Boxing got me straight and I began to take it seriously at 18. And it’s like a second family here in the gym.” I notice that the 22-year-old also assumes the role of “big brother” in the gym, helping out the little kids and joking with a small redhead boy they call “Lil Canelo.”
Ramos knows what it’s like to have someone to rely on when times got really tough; he says trainer Quinonez was there for him. Ramos turned pro in 2009 but not all the combatants will compete. For a few, boxing has proved to be another salvation of sorts.
Jenna Klos has been boxing at the Palm Springs gym for about a year and a half. “It helps me get aggressions out and cope with difficult situations,” the petite blonde says. “I was in a bad abusive relationship–boxing’s help to turn my life around and get a new fresh start!” She credits Coach Steve for his dedication in working with each individual that steps through the doors of the gym. There’s a sense of strength and empowerment that can be found through the discipline of boxing.
The boxing club has more than 25 fighters actively competing right now, and many more training in the gym, some as young as six. The boxers spar each other every second day and also use oversized tires in their grueling workouts.
After shadowboxing, hitting the heavybag and sparring, the gym suddenly clears out as the fighters hit the hot dusty streets for the road work that signifies the end of another training day.
“They run three miles after their workouts,” Coach Benito Silva explains. He’s been a volunteer coach at the Palm Springs Boxing Club for over 13 years now. His son was an amateur fighter and used to spar with Bradley back in the day. The amiable trainer mentions that he still sees “Desert Storm” Bradley all the time: “He lives by me and I still see him running in the streets!”
The success of Timmy will continue to inspire and spur on others hoping to achieve more in life.
Gerardo Juarez, whom everyone calls “Slow Man,” shows me his locker where he’s pasted photos of his favorite fighters and role models.
There’s a glossy photo of a group of champions smiling back at the hopeful boxer. “Everyone wants to be a champion,” Juarez says, looking up at the champs who’ve made it. “You never know, maybe I can fight on HBO someday.”
There will be one Palm Springs puncher who will be fighting on HBO Pay-Per-View this weekend. Fighting under the global spotlight will be Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley lacing up in Las Vegas. Another desert a world away from the neighboring streets throughout the Coachella Valley, where he’s a huge superstar to the city kids growing.
For the boxers in the surrounding desert where Timmy grew up and still resides, they will be watching this Saturday and rooting for their homegrown hero who got his start at the Palm Springs Boxing Club. A towering cardboard standup of Bradley vs. Campbell looms right in the middle of the gym; it’s hard to miss.
And down the road, just five miles down from the gym, the sparkling Agua Caliente Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage will be broadcasting the fight live in “The Show” in what they’re calling the “Ultimate Viewing Party.” Boasting a 20′ x 40′ big screen, the venue (where Bradley fought previously) will provide local fans a place to cheer on their favorite champion, who hopes to dethrone Manny Pacquiao.
“He should give him a war!” Gerardo “Slow Man” Juarez nods. Stablemate Hugo Ramos knows what it’s like to be an underdog and gives his own assessment: “Timmy can win. You never know what’s gonna happen!”
Whether or not, Bradley upsets “Pacman,” he will always be an inspiration to these young kids.
Photos by Michele Chong and Steve Harpst