Kingston, July 4 -- Surrounded by ghettos, Victoria Road in downtown Kingston isn't the place one should be spotted in the evening.
Especially, if you are a foreigner, a journalist, with a camera slung over your shoulder, asking for the location of a boxing gym. Even after locating it, breaking the ice with a few burly, sweaty boxers is as difficult as sneaking into a stadium with a pack of cigarettes in the socks. Mention 'cricket' and the suspicions evaporate immediately.
"Thanks to the country's long history of violence, slavery and colonisation, Jamaicans have that natural instinct of aggression," said Kingsley Goodison, manager of the Stanley Couch Gym.
"Boxing and cricket go back a long way in Jamaican sports culture. A classical batsman is like a boxer, a delight to watch.
"In a way, cricket is an extension of the defensive instincts one uses in boxing," said Goodison, who is friends with Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding and has travelled with the West Indies team on the odd occasion as mentor to some players, one of them being former fast bowler Courtney Walsh.
"I told them about life's experiences, how to deal with the highs and lows, and gave them examples from the accounts of some boxers I have seen," said Goodison, who makes it a point to visit the gym every weekday even at the age of 68.
Trained by former national champion Richard Shrimpy Clarke, the gym has churned out a number of boxing stars.
Apart from producing two current national champions, Stanley Couch is also the place Sakima Mullings, WBC welterweight champion, first trained.
Michael McCallum, undoubtedly on the best Jamaican boxers till date and once the person trainer of Mike Tyson, also hails from this gym.
But the biggest distinction of Stanley Couch is that it's the only boxing gym in Jamaica that is completely financed with tax payers' money through the country's board. "The boxers don't have to pay for anything. The money's not enough but we try and make ends meet," said one of the caretakers of the gym.
Doing god's work
Sometimes Goodison has to pay out of his pocket but he doesn't mind.
"It's God's work I do here," he said, pointing to the boxers filing into the gym for training.
Goodison incidentally was also the manager of the Jamaican boxing team for the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.
"You know the English were deliberately badmouthing the facilities in Delhi. We thought it was perfect," he said.
The Indian boxers too made an impression on him. "I particularly liked Vijender Singh's style. He's fleet-footed and too damn quick," said Goodison.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.