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Local gym aims to increase popularity of boxing

Milazzo Boxing gym located in Flowery Branch

POSTED: April 12, 2014 7:33 p.m.

Brandon Olson confidently admits he’s in better shape now than he was during his high school football days.

For that, the 18-year old can thank a new gym that opened just minutes from his South Hall home. But not the usual kind with weights and treadmills.

Complete with punching bags and a ring, Olson’s new gym is a boxing establishment, one of the few available in Northeast Georgia. Now a member for two months, he’s still a newcomer to the sport.

“It’s really easy to learn the sport,” said Olson, who just started boxing when he joined the new gym. “It’s more one-on-one when you first come in, then as you progress over time, they teach you what you’re actually going to use in the ring.”

Olson is among a growing group of area youths learning the sport through Milazzo Boxing, a new gym located on Atlanta Highway in Flowery Branch.

Founded last September by Greg Milazzo, a former prize fighter with more than 130 amateur fights to his name, the gym has a goal to introduce area athletes to boxing and help grow the less-than-popular sport in Georgia. It offers comprehensive training for children as young as six years old, with opportunities available for all ages.

“The children’s class, the average age is about 10, but you see everything,” said Milazzo, a New York native who moved to Georgia in 1993. “I have adults who are 40, I have 20-year olds. I’ve also got some pro fighters and some amateurs, and those guys are usually 20 or 21.”

Milazzo’s children’s classes, designed for new boxers ages 6-12, have ballooned to 25 students, allowing for two separate evening sessions. Students train three days a week, battling through a rigorous regimen that includes plenty of time in front of the punching bag, followed by conditioning and actual sparring in the ring.

Aspiring boxers can earn amateur status through USA Boxing as early as eight years old, making them eligible to compete in events.

“Those kids are doing two-minute rounds with a one-minute break,” Milazzo said. “They’ll do three (rounds).”

For those interested in the health benefits of the sport but not an actual boxing career, Milazzo Boxing offers fitness boxing courses two nights a week. That still includes punching bag contact and even ring time, but delivered in a manner designed to test each participant’s physical limitations.

One such activity includes attempting to hit Milazzo in the head as he quickly moves around the ring.

“It gets interesting to them because they’re trying to hit me in the head, and they’re doing everything they can to hit me,” Milazzo said. “After a three-minute round, they realize they’re dripping with sweat and they say, ‘wow.’”

Milazzo says that a single session can burn as many as 1,000 calories.

“Everybody comes through saying it’s the hardest workout they’ve ever done in their life,” he said.

“It changes things for them. It’s not the same routine — it’s something different that nobody else offers.”

Building a boxing gym from the ground-up in Georgia wasn’t an easy task for Milazzo, who has been involved in the sport since he was 14 years old.

After fighting primarily in New Jersey, he came to Georgia 21 years ago to compete for Xavier Biggs, the owner and head trainer of the Decatur Boxing Club. He kept his family in Georgia after leaving the gym, then set the groundwork for his own gym in Flowery Branch.

That meant working full-time and starting his business on the side, with no supporting investors.

“This business, you don’t make a bunch of money,” Milazzo said. “You keep the doors open, and that’s about it. A lot of it is our investment.”

Milazzo Boxing is one of only three boxing facilities in Northeast Georgia, alongside Keppner Boxing in Athens and Off The Ropes Boxing in Winder. The three gyms often collaborate on sparring sessions, creating a network of boxing opportunities for athletes across the region.

Their next step is to find a venue to promote and host events, something Milazzo says is currently in the works and could be completed in the coming months.

“We plan on doing it shortly, within the next two months,” he said. “Once we start promoting those fights and building them up, our name is going to get out there.

“We would love to get people like (former world champion) Evander Holyfield and bring him up. You have a fight, your special guest, Evander Holyfield. It’s going to bring attention to them and people are going to come just to check that out.”

Some of Milazzo’s students already have long-term aspirations, despite having never competed in a ring outside of practice.

Jonathan Pacheco, a 12-year old Davis Middle School student, already has his eyes on a competitive career. He’ll earn his amateur card in June.

“I want to go to the Golden Gloves,” he said, referring to Georgia’s top amateur event.

Pacheco picked up on the sport after watching it on television with is cousin. He began training at Milazzo Boxing six months ago.

His older teammate, Olson, plans to turn his personal curiosity that led him to the gym into a potential professional career.

“I’m hoping to go pro, but I’m not sure I will,” Olson said. “Right now I’m just trying to learn the sport and get back into shape, and see where it goes from there.”

Milazzo has built his gym to leave a lasting impression among its members that goes beyond their win-loss record in the ring.

He preaches the importance of team-building and confidence-building among his members. Each boxer receives a “gold” for personal accomplishments. Six “golds” gets the boxer’s name and picture on the gym’s wall of fame.

Each day, a different quote is written on a board next to the ring. Friday’s message said, “The only time you look down on someone is to help them up.”

“There’s good camaraderie — being around other kids and learn to be family,” Milazzo said. “They’re brothers. We teach them that. When you leave here, you stay close.”

Milazzo has no intentions of expanding his current gym, but rather building more gyms across the Northeast Georgia area.

His goal is to open gyms and introduce boxing to high-risk, low-income areas, helping more people find a physically and mentally demanding sport without the heavy price tag.

“Where people drive through and say ‘lock your doors,’ that’s where you want to having a boxing gym,” Milazzo said. “You have to brave it out, and you have to help it so that when people drive through they won’t lock their doors.

“You can do that through boxing — I’ve seen it time and time again.”


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