An Interview with Eric Kelly, owner of South BoX

171 Lincoln Avenue

Eric Kelly’s story takes place all over the world. As a four-time National Amateur Boxing Champion, two-time Daily News Golden Glove champion, and alternate of the U.S. National Olympic team, Kelly’s pedigree is unquestionable. Born in Titusville, Florida and trained in Bed-Stuy, he’s writing the current chapter of his life in Mott Haven. As the owner of South BoX, Kelly brings a signature style to the ring that has garnered the attention of press and caused videos of his training sessions to go viral on social media. Speaking with Kelly recently, what’s clear is that underneath the accolades he’s earned and the energy he brings to the gym is a true passion for excellence in every form.

You spent your career both as a boxer and trainer in gyms all over the world. What was the motivation for creating your own?

It’s a culmination of me being a fighter for 30 years now, or more. As a fighter, you’re always thinking about what’s next. Next fight, next training session. And if you’ve made a name for yourself as a fighter, a big part of that is knowing you’ve got a story to tell. You’ve got a brand.

Opening the gym gives me the chance to do what Bed-Stuy Boxing Center did for me when I was a kid; if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. It’s where I learned how to box, it kept me out of the streets, I built my confidence, I honed my skills, and was able to go on to become a champion. Me being able to now provide that kind of a place for this community is a blessing.

Did you have a connection to the South Bronx before you opened the gym up?

I didn’t have a connection, per se, but I had a history. Coming up, I boxed all over the borough. Webster PAL, Fort Apache, John’s Gym, Roberto Clemente Center, so I’ve always known what The Bronx was about in the world of boxing culture and in terms of breeding pugilists. The Bronx has an incredible history when it comes to boxing and if I’m going to do what I’m doing in New York, my only choices are really The Bronx or Brooklyn. Don’t get wrong; Manhattan does its thing, Queens does its thing, but this is where it’s at. A few blocks away from the gym is where Iran “The Blade” Barkley grew up— middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight champion of the world.

With a figure like Iran Barkley coming from this same neighborhood, I mean come on. Anything else would just be uncivilized.

The vibe and energy here is just right?

Absolutely. And the neighborhood loves it. The neighborhood loves it. And I love it.

“Opening the gym gives me the chance to do what Bed-Stuy Boxing Center did for me when I was a kid; if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. Me being able to now provide that kind of a place for this community is a blessing.”

That’s definitely been apparent. In this current location and the former location a few blocks away, you’d always have such a range of people there: teenagers, adults, people who grew up here, people who’d just moved a week ago.

All walks of life. Every walk of life and demographic feels welcome under our roof. We check our egos at the door. We’ve got local kids, we’ve got construction workers, we’ve got a few celebrities, aspiring young boxers, and white collar workers. The community as a whole opened their arms to me and I appreciate it so much for that.

When I first opened South BoX, I reached out to the local Explorers program at the 40th precinct and started an initiative to have all the kids in the Explorers come train at the gym for free. I called it Pizza Box, because we looped in a local pizzeria and would do a training session and then order in some pizza. Had to pause that, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, but I still keep in touch with a lot of the kids and can’t wait to get them back in here when the restrictions on occupancy let up.

Some people might find boxing a little bit intimidating as part of their approach to health and wellness; what do you think boxing offers the average person?

Boxing is something that, honestly, people from every walk of life should try. It’s physical conditioning. It’s therapy. You’re honing your skills and then next thing you know, after you start training on the bag, you might want to spar. You’ll get confident and want to test yourself out, see what your made of. A lot of folks I train end up wanting to try out competing; mind you, they’re not out there aiming for a career in boxing but they feel confident enough to get out there.

You know, there’s a difference between confidence and competence. Competence is me teaching you how to throw a jab. Confidence is you actually throwing the jab.

I teach confidence.

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