Postcard from Panama: Gimnasio, of Dreams to Heroes

By Michael Schmidt on April 16, 2012
Postcard from Panama: Gimnasio, of Dreams to Heroes
Respect for men of a different world, dreams unbroken and, perhaps, to be broken

We started to think that perhaps midway through the dinner there would be a bongo drum roll and Duran would make his entrance…

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA (Feb. 28, 2012)—Gimnasio Pedro Rockero Alcazar, “Cradle of Champions,” in Curundu neighborhood of Panama City is hot, damn hot, and it is only 11:00 am. Alcazar, in celebration of a young Champion and protégé of Duran, of a man, in Vegas, who seemingly fit after a stoppage title loss, having gone out sightseeing, collapsed and died. This is an area where I have been warned that pickpockets will be more than brazen. In short, not safe if you do not keep eyes wide open and a lively step. Around the corner sits what looks like a longtime empty huge municipal-like City Hall. A large unpainted cement building with huge cement pillars, no windows, and long terraced steps. There are old men lying about on the steps, some backs to the pillars, smoking, others sleeping, and others staring off into no man’s world, dreams broken bigger than the building itself.

In the gimnasio, other dreams, those of fistic glory, those flying in the face of the danger that laid still the gym’s namesake. It is hotter than damn hot inside. This is basically a converted warehouse with patches of corrugated steel and heavy plastic for a roof. Many Champions have walked through what otherwise is a garage door. One such Champion smiles in humility and humidity, with a small dramatic bow as I explain that he reminds me of a blend of Pernell Whitaker and Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes. I suspect, having watched him pitch close to a shutout performance of Vic Darchinyan, moving side to side, in and out, shots to the body, shots to the head, spinning, turning, hard shots, soft shots—touch touch boom touch boom boom—that you would miss hitting this Champion if you had a 12-gauge from five feet away. He is a rubber band weapon. Anselmo “Chemito” Moreno walks smoothly to a caged weightlifting area and all 118 pounds starts curling 50 pound bells much too easily. He is shockingly tall this bantamweight with the long sinewy body. He later hits the bag ever so effortlessly, hard shots mixed with soft shots, some fast some slow, some fast, slow, fast, fast, slow… I have been here less than 20 minutes and my shirt is wet. Chemito continues on, in a nylon sweat suit that looks like he showered in it. Smiling all the way, in this “Cradle of Champions.”

There are an assortment of young amateur and start up pros here. Featherweights, bantams and so they go. What is startling is that many of these little big men are hovering close to six feet. It is an impressive site matched to the skill set. One of the younger trainers, and there are many in this “Cradle of Champions,” asks what I think of his young protégé and the sparring with a short power southpaw. He has set this little dance for me and associate Varela Jr. I tell the trainer, with carefully mentioned utmost respect, that the young man’s height and skills are special but that he continued to miss his jab aimed squarely at the southpaw’s head. He brings the young man over and the young man puts his hands up in a southpaw stance and asks in Spanish “What to do.” I fire a shadowbox jab over his right ear, obviously missing, and as he moves his head to the left the right is there. Not bad for an old man. “Si, Traps traps traps.” Yes indeed. The trainer speaks rapidly in Spanish and I ask what he has said. “The big bald Canadian, yes he knows this, this is good we shall have some fun.” And to the young charge, “Listen, if you do not wish to follow my instruction you little fucker, then at least listen to this big man, he will be back in April and we shall see how you listen then.” As we leave the gym there are some interesting tough guys hanging around our van. They notice we come from the “Cradle of Champions” and simply nod. Pickpockets perhaps, but in the middle of the sidewalk, boxing gloves, wraps, shirts, all drying out, unattended in the hot Panama sun. Nobody will or does touch these items. Respect for men of a different world, dreams unbroken, and to be broken, perhaps, the hardest of ways. But not all, as some will obtain what can never be taken away on one special night….That’s Boxing!

Hotel Lobby (4:00 pm)

We have had a great lunch at Duran’s restaurant and the man himself, the Grand Champion, gives Varela Jr. and me a quick hug and an apology for not being able to slip over to say hello at lunch. Duran explains that a bunch of WBA reps and the Champions will be at the restaurant later for dinner and we should come back. There are close to 60 champions here for the WBA awards banquet/dinner. I tell him we will see him certainly at the awards dinner the next night, take some pictures with his son, and go upstairs to get ready for the evening. In fact it is a small boxing show we will attend and that we should attend. Meetings, greetings, rules committees and so it goes, but we should support the boxing show that night shouldn’t we? That’s boxing.

Palacio Dorado (10:00 pm)

“Promociones Estrellas Del Ring Presenta Boxeo Internacional Festival De Clasificados Mundial”

Ding, ding, ding. OR Takashi Uchiyama, CHAMPION FROM JAPAN got it right!!!!

The evening starts with Varela Jr. and me sitting, by mistake, at the promoter’s table. The gents that host Lo Mejor del Boxeo, Juan Carlos Tapia and company (and I might add this show has been going on damn near forever, 37 years anyways, every night of the week—this is where you get your boxing fix this neck of the woods, no ESPN. Want some web boxing update, you go to Notifight not…) explain to our Promoter host who we are and he buys us free drinks and lets us stay. Being seen on TV working a corner at a big title fight card last year has its perks apparently! The undercard is an assortment of quick stoppages and toe-to-toe action. It is to be noted that one Jorge Navarro, WBA Fedalatin Middle Champ, 10 wins no losses and eight knockouts, is a strong, strong guy. It is also to be noted that he comes, like many strong, strong guys, in a straight line. There will come a day of reckoning as always, when a straight line of power, meets a straight line of fist. I make a note of this Navarro. I have a man for the job perhaps. It is also to be noted that we are lucky to leave this evening of fisticuffs without getting into one.

It has been sometime since I have seen the ever-so-steady Varela Jr., cutman, cornerman, TV and movie actor, budding film producer, so animated. He is the only Nicaraguan, so it seems, in the crowd this night cheering for a “Nica” who wins a rousing, round to round, back and forth, give and take, scrap by way of eighth round stoppage against, drum roll please, a lad from Panama. Finally it is to be noted that with some 60 champions in town for two days, and with all these meetings and greetings, to discuss how to better our great sport, that only one such Champion has made it out to this event. Don’t support the show, don’t worry there will not be many more shows! Takashi Uchiyama, 18 wins, 15 knockouts, no losses and 100 percent humility and class wrapped into 130 pounds of pure steel, has come with two young friends with their video cameras in hand. He takes his introduction in the ring, and signs autographs after. The one, and only, Champion this night. It is also to be noted that young tough guy, class act Champion Uchiyama will give an award speech the next night in Spanish. No, it is not perfect, but the fact that he has memorized it makes him an instant hit and endearing figure with many in the Spanish speaking crowd. A Champion indeed this young man from Japan. The big ones know how to conduct themselves in and out of the ring. Champions. As to the lack of support this evening…that’s boxing.

Next Night (10:00 pm)

Dinner, Duran Missing, Missing Duran. There are some 60 great Champions here tonight, the likes of Hatton, Khan, Ruiz, Shumenov, Lalonde, Galaxy, and a stellar of introduced side-by-side greats of Panama, including Marcel and Laguna. Missing is the Grand Champion, Duran. We started to think that perhaps midway through the dinner there would be a bongo drum roll and in he would make his entrance. But it was not to be. Nor apparently was the big dinner at his restaurant the night before. Apparently the show was taken to another local. Rumors of course spread quickly as to Duran’s no-show but in the end result, here in the land of Isthmus, the simple fact was that in celebration of grand fighters, one of the grandest, in his own backyard, was not there. I am told that many Champions, after the dinner, made their way to Duran’s, in support, and stayed way late into the night, bongo drums a thumping, good food served and good drink flowing. Boxing people supporting boxing people. Be dammed fancy dinners, of rule meetings, of this of that. That’s Boxing!!!

As I leave dinner Varela is talking to Nacho Beristain and they are laughing. Nacho points a finger at me and smiles: “Schmeet he say you are the only one in Vegas, of all those fuckers that were laughing when he said Marquez would win that agreed and said it. He remember that from early as the sun rise at the track outside of Vegas.” Memories, yes those we have and they will not, health touch wood carrying on, be taken. Of dreams and heroes this past few days; Of Amir Khan, in the elevator, smiling as I mention how damn good he looked against Zab as I sat ringside, of returning John Ruiz’s trophy to him the next morning having retrieved it from the bar the night before when the chap he was with forgot to take it with them, and jokingly telling him I would have kept it but for the fact he is such a big bugger, of Duran, of missing Duran and Duran missing, of Nacho, of friend Donny Lalonde and mostly of a hot, ever so hot gym, of young men dreams to heroes…

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Vic Darchinyan vs. Anselmo Moreno



Takashi Uchiyama vs Jorge Solis 内山高志vsホルヘ・ソリス



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Beibut Shumenov Vs Danny Santiago Part 2/2



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  1. Don from Prov 11:40am, 04/23/2012

    Wow, some writing takes place on this site.

    Great pacing, voice, images.
    Fine fine stuff.

  2. MIKE SCHMIDT 05:39pm, 04/19/2012

    We shall see of course Irish but I would certainly say this—unlike some of these guys that look like they would not even know how or want to go ball to the walls in throwing a KO intent shot—Adam throws to take your head off so you better come ready willing and able!!!!

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 04:39pm, 04/19/2012

    Mike Schmidt-Yikes!....this is the kind of excitement boxing needs…..any fighter in Adam’s wheelhouse is in the danger zone….big time!

  4. mike schmidt 06:27am, 04/19/2012

    Irish if you google Trupish’s name you will see at least two of his better KOs against Trotter and Palmer and if you google the Canadian content only boxing website “theboxingexaminer” and scroll a few articles down “A-Bomb Detonates…” click on the red tab highlights and you will get a quick last five seconds of the Cunningham face first down ko from left hook—he was also down two times hard in the first round.

  5. MIKE SCHMIDT 06:16pm, 04/18/2012

    Ah Carlos Jr.—good—yes it was and you are absolutely correct—great people, great boxing country—we shall do it again my friend perhaps next time with one of our fighters si si.

  6. carlos 05:54pm, 04/18/2012

    great memories of a great country they say boxing is a dying sport they have not been in Panama in the gymnasium Corundun boxing is alive and kicking and people in Panama they not just follow their local fighters but the good fighters all over the world they love Lemeiux for Montreal and know the latest about every interesting fighter, great time and great food in Panama

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 04:41pm, 04/18/2012

    Mike Schmidt-Thanx….Adam just came up on my radar….I can see he’s been on your screen for a while.

  8. mike schmidt 10:27am, 04/18/2012

    Adam Trupish won with a huge huge knockout last night against Cunningham. Big puncher from either hand and a tough tough kid—big amateur background and a tough out for anybody because he is tough and comes to fight—no nonsense. Word is that he is line for Trout and will give him all he can handle—that is my humble opinion for the moment.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 09:45am, 04/18/2012

    Mike Schmidt-How about a quick scouting report on Adam Trupish when you get the time.

  10. mike schmidt 03:40am, 04/18/2012

    Thanks to all. Duran of course is a real people type of guy and yes, would have loved to have seen an immediate rematch for Buchanan alas of course it did not happen

  11. mikecasey 05:46am, 04/17/2012

    Another vivid and nicely atmospheric piece, Schmidty. Roberto came over here to the UK a little while back and young and old boxers alike were lining up to meet him. His charisma remains incredible.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 05:43am, 04/17/2012

    Mike Schmidt: Thanx for taking us to the Gimnasio…..it’s a scary looking joint….but even more intimidating is 118 lb Chemito and those 50 lb dumbbells! God Bless Panama….but I’ll always believe that Duran jump started his unbelievable career by fouling the great Ken Buchanan…...of course I’d never say that in Panama City….I’m not that foolhardy!

  13. Norm Marcus 03:47am, 04/17/2012

    Mike: Great story on the fight game in Panama. Your prose made me feel I was walking the streets with you. I could almost feel the heat and humidity.
    I really enjoyed it!

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