There was a time when New York City was the hotbed of boxing. The talent was born and bred in the city’s tough streets, honed their skills in its busy gyms, and then fought on its bustling local fight cards every weekend.
Today though, California is the clear pound for pound king of boxing. The state has far overtaken every other region in the country. From Los Angeles to San Francisco and everywhere in between, if you’re a top boxer today there’s a huge chance that you’re either from California or you currently train train there.
Take a look at any list of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. You may disagree with the way the fighters are ordered, but there’s no denying where those fighters are centered.
Andre Ward hails from Oakland, California, and has brought big-time events to the region, including his fights against Chad Dawson and Mikkel Kessler. Sergio Martinez now lives and trains in Oxnard, California. Manny Pacquiao, of course, works with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. Fellow Filipino star Nonito Donaire has lived in California, near San Francisco, since he was a child, and still trains there. Abner Mares lives and trains around Los Angeles; Timothy Bradley lives and trains in Palm Springs, and hails from the region.
That’s six of the top 10 fighters in the world, and they’re all in the same state.
It doesn’t stop there. Consider some of the hottest names in the sport right now: Robert Guerrero, born and raised in Gilroy near San Jose; Brandon Rios, lives and trains in Oxnard; Mikey Garcia also lives and trains in Oxnard, as does Victor Ortiz, while Daniel Ponce de Leon resides in Huntington Park, and Josesito Lopez in Riverside.
It’s stunning, and the list just goes on and on.
The “Mega” Gyms & Trainers
Some of the above fighters, such as Ward and Bradley, have been in California their whole lives. Others have migrated to the state in search of the “mega” gyms and their big name trainers.
Freddie Roach and his famous Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles and Robert Garcia’s gym in Oxnard are the two prime examples. Also in high demand these days is Virgil Hunter, Andre Ward’s trainer, and Martinez’s trainers, the Sarmiento brothers, Gabriel and Pablo.
In economics, the term would be a business cluster, or an industry agglomeration. When businesses in the same industry are based in the same region, they enjoy a competitive advantage gained through cheaper access to resources and suppliers, increased productivity and innovation, and the stimulation of new business.
In boxing, fighters and their teams gain a similar competitive advantage from clustering in California. They enjoy tougher and more readily available sparring partners, easier and quicker access to top level gyms and their trainers, and increased opportunities for local exposure and networking, while “new business” — young fighters from the area and those coming to California from beyond to train — are encouraged to follow in their footsteps.
The boxing agglomeration was formerly in New York City — just think of the iconic names of Stillman’s and Gleason’s, the mega gyms of their day, and the scores of champions they produced. Today, that’s happening in California. The Catskills of the 1950s, every top fighter’s favorite training camp getaway, is today’s Big Bear.
The Fans & The Shows
As Thomas Hauser noted in a recent story, “California hosts more fight cards than any other state in the country.” In addition to the massive levels of talent described above, that has a lot to do with the quality and quantity of the fans in the region, and it’s an environment which fosters the continued growth of the sport.
When boxing is more deeply ingrained into a culture, such as within the Hispanic and Latino communities — a community in California of at least 14 million according to the 2010 US Census — there’s a greatly increased demand to see shows.
These fans attend more than the big events, flocking to modest weekly fight cards which showcase mid-level fighters, upcoming prospects and local talent. Otherwise known as club shows, they are the true lifeblood of the sport.
The prevalence of fight fans, gyms, top trainers and events also encourages the next generation of athletes to take up the sport. No state is churning out more top-level amateur stars and young pros than California does.
All of these factors continue to snowball, and there are no signs of it slowing done anytime soon.
California continues to reaffirm its status as the reigning pound-for-pound champion of boxing with every event held, every gym bustling with pros, every sold-out, raucous club show, and every young amateur stepping through the ropes for the first time.
This article was first published on Yahoo Sports on November 18, 2012