South Boston is a hard working part of Boston with 80+ years of history and tradition in boxing, so it was only appropriate that YORK Athletics shoot its latest brand campaign at Peter Welch’s Gym (PWG). An old-school independent boxing gym with a gritty, no-nonsense vibe, from the boxing ring to the memorabilia that lines the walls to the real fighters that teach there, PWG is legit. And then there’s Peter Welch himself, with the history and experience to back it all up.
Welch grew up in the Old Colony projects of Southie and learned to box when he was young. He had his first fight at 9 years old at the McDonough gym (aka “Muni”), now the Pal Gym/Walsh Community Center, during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Boxing show (a Southie rite-of-passage to this day). He sparred Tom Flaherty, another lifelong Southie resident who is now a Boston Firefighter, and was hooked. Welch loved boxing immediately and went on to win the Southern New England Golden Gloves at age 17, turning pro in his 20’s with a professional record of 5-0.
Welch began coaching and training fighters of all ages, and in 2007, opened Peter Welch’s Boxing Gym (formally known as the F-15 Training Center). A converted warehouse space, the gym serves as a training center for amateur and professional fighters of boxing and mixed martial artists, also hosting fight nights, and showcasing some of the area's best fighters. Welch also developed boxing fitness classes, encouraging a wider audience to experience the health benefits of fighter conditioning and strength training workouts.
Welch credits boxing with giving his life purpose, empowering him and giving him a sense of community. He cites his mentors as being pivotal to who he is today, teaching him technique and discipline and generally being fixtures in his life. PWG and its programs are his way of giving back and trying to maintain that same sense of community.
The world of boxing has created some interesting intersections for Welch. For example, pro fighter Tommy Connors, known for a record-setting KO (3 seconds) at the Boston Garden (now the TD Garden), is a regular fixture at PWG. Welch trained Dana White, president of the UFC, and after talking boxing with Martin Scorsese, he landed a cameo in The Departed. Welch trained former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and sparred with three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture. Anthony Bourdain filmed part of a South Boston segment of “No Reservations” at PWG. UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor trained at PWG when he was in Boston and Boston-based band the DropKick Murphys filmed their video “The Boys Are Back” in one of the PWG rings. All of which Welch is often too humble to mention.
But Welch does talk about dues. He’s paid them to get where he is today and sees a lot of value in hard work and earning what you have. We talked to him about the privilege of learning the art of boxing, coming up in South Boston, and the importance of giving back in this week’s Out of Step journal post…
YORK: What was it like growing up in South Boston?
PW: I appreciate and respect where I come from and the people who mentored me. Since the beginning of time, there have been fellowships of people. In Southie, we help people in our neighborhood or across town. When I think of old school Southie or Dorchester, I think of those things that used to make up the neighborhood. Everybody going to church, getting the paper, and going for coffee. I think about the power and strength of community. We had nothing but we had each other. Things have changed, but the essence is still there. That sense of community makes Southie something special and a hidden gem. We were fighting for our families and our community. We had to fight. It's just the way it was. It made us tight and fight for what we believed in. Tough times make a tight community and there’s strength in that unity.
YORK: The interior of PWG is like walking into a boxing history museum. Vintage boxing memorabilia, pages from old fight magazines and a mural painted by Boston artist Mark Grundig featuring some of your favorite fighters. Why is the history of boxing an important part of PWG?
PW: I am passionate about boxing history and try to preserve it, both for the sport and for the community. The mural goes back, way back, to the beginning. Jack Dempsey, Joe Lewis, Harry Greb, Benny Leonard, Archie Moore, Alexis Arguello, both Sugar Ray's-- Sugar Ray Leonard and Robinson. Ezzard Charles, Rocky Marciano, Marvin Hagler--the list goes on. And there are some guys on the mural that aren't too well-known that are some of my favorites as well.
I want people to gain an understanding, a sense when they walk through the door of what it felt like to walk into a boxing gym back in the day. Unless you were there, hearing the stories, people can sometimes have a lack of appreciation for what they're doing. For me, boxing fitness becoming more mainstream and available is a good and a bad thing. When things get saturated you lose appreciation for them. A lot of these big franchises don’t even have experienced boxers teaching classes—some are just personal trainers with no boxing expertise. They’re not teaching boxing -- that’s not what they’re selling. They’re selling the idea of a fitness workout. And people don’t understand the difference.
Learning the art of boxing used to be a privilege that was earned. You paid your dues. You can't pay money vs. paying your dues. You have to do the work. Just like I would tell a person coming in, you can pay for lessons, you can pay for class, you can pay for a membership, but you can't pay your dues with money. You have to do the work.
YORK: You cite mentors like Danny Long, Bobby Gries, Mikey Larkin, Tommy Connors, and Eddie Kelly as being pivotal to who you are today, encouraging you to redirect that fighting energy into sport versus the street and teaching you the technical side of boxing.
PW: Mikey Larkin, Tommy Connors and Eddie Kelly all ran the amateur program at the McDonough gym (aka “Muni”). They were all former boxers and the gym was a fixture in the community.
Danny Long was my first trainer. He was from Southie, an amateur and professional fighter who was a middleweight contender. A family guy who ended up being a Boston cop. He came up through the New England ranks as an amateur and professional. He was almost retired from boxing when he started working with kids coming up in the boxing community. He was working with a fighter that I ended up beating in the Gloves and that’s when he started training me.
Long introduced me to the finer points of boxing and taught me a more New England style. He taught me the technical side of boxing and tried to hammer home that there is technique; it’s not just a brawl. He took the time to teach me. We would train up at Silver Street and we would go to Brigham's after. He’d buy me a raspberry-lime rickey and we’d just talk about boxing.
When Danny went into the police academy, he introduced me to Bobby Gries, who trained Danny when he was a professional fighter. Bobby was at Somerville Boxing Club, so I started training there. Gries trained me in the amateurs and when I turned pro.
YORK: Because of the support your mentors and your community gave you, you now give a lot back to your community, including training kids ages 8-15. What valuable lessons did you learn from your mentors that you hope to impart/give back to kids today?
PW: Learning to box teaches kids so much. It teaches them how to communicate. It empowers them, giving them the tools to protect themselves, their family and friends. There’s a real sense of security there. It gives kids a sense of community and teaches them to be humble and give back.
The process and the discipline it takes to learn boxing technique is going to develop the mind and the body and determine the type of fighter they become.
It’s also about being a fixture in the community, giving these kids a consistent place to go. No matter what tournaments are coming up, the push is not to get them out there and competing, it's just to have a place that they can show up and go to, whether they’re fighting or just training.
YORK: You’ve said that training to be a fighter teaches a lot of useful life lessons.
PW: You can teach a guy how to block and slip and duck and get acclimated and conditioned, to take shots and be more durable. And if he's emotionally stable, you can teach him to be a champion. But if a guy is out of control and set off very easily, as athletically gifted as he is, he will end up losing because he'll never know how to use his mind. To listen and learn and be humble. That's kind of like a metaphor for not only boxing, but life. If you're out of control, life is going to get the best of you.
Gennady Golovkin --Triple G-- is a perfect example. Humble in his interviews and the way he presents himself. Another example is [Sergey] Kovalev, very humble -- not a big mouth. Unlike Adrien Broner---he runs his mouth and gets knocked out. There's no humility in what he does and how he presents himself.
Some of the most dangerous guys on the planet-- Arguello, Triple G, Kovalev-- are the most humble. Danger isn't always detectable. Dangerous guys don't present themselves as dangerous. If they did, they couldn't maintain that dangerous quality. It's mostly disguised in a cloak of security and comfort. Kill them with kindness.
YORK: What do you attribute to the increase in popularity of UFC versus boxing?
PW: The culture of boxing isn't what it used to be. Boxing has put a bad taste in people's mouths for so long with poor match ups, building a fighter up, giving him bums to fight until he's got 20 fights and then letting him fight for a world title. Don't get me wrong -- there are some legitimate fighters out there, but the sport of boxing has done nothing but let the fans down during my lifetime.
UFC is new and exciting. The matchups are competitive and even, increasing the chances of having a great fight. It’s challenging when fighters can use a lot of different fighting styles.
YORK: UFC fighter Conor McGregor trained at PWG when he was in Boston. He’s obviously killing it right now. What was your impression of him when you met him?
PW: Conor McGregor is a stud athlete. He gets it done, and what he does is for pay-per-view. That's not who he is. That guy in the media isn't the same guy that I had conversations with. It's a promotional thing and he's acting to a degree, trying to draw in more pay-per-view buys and he’s accomplishing that. He has the intelligence to draw people in and make more money. He negotiated his price because of that – he’s a smart guy.
YORK: What do you think about McGregor’s upcoming super fight with Floyd Mayweather?
PW: It’s an interesting idea. It’s been done once before in 2010 when Randy Couture fought James Toney. Toney got taken down --got submitted-- and never got back up. But those were MMA rules. Although Toney was as high caliber a fighter as Mayweather, at that level, it wasn’t his sport. It was Couture’s sport.
The matchup with McGregor and Mayweather is under boxing rules. And if you look at McGregor in comparison to Mayweather, he’s an amateur going up against a World class legendary professional whose defense is impeccable. As far as fighters go, if I put them in the street, I would take McGregor all day. If they were in the Octagon, I would take McGregor all day, every day. But they're in a boxing ring under boxing rules and McGregor just doesn't have a fraction of the capacity that Mayweather does.
The only chance McGregor has is if he catches Mayweather early with some power. But is he going to catch him? Mayweather is arguably the best defensive fighter of all time. McGregor could kick him, but that's not part of the rules. He could catch him with a big bomb punch and just overwhelm him and rush him, but Mayweather has been hurt and has great recuperative abilities. If McGregor comes out and gets frustrated and kicks Mayweather in the head and knocks him out, we could see a second fight.
There's so much money being made. The way they do super fights like this, it seems traditionally one guy wins, calls for a rematch if it's close, and if the other guy wins, then you have a third fight.
YORK: You have met a lot of interesting people over the years. You met Martin Scorsese and landed a part in ‘The Departed.’ ‘No Reservations’ host Anthony Bourdain filmed a South Boston segment and featured PWG. You trained former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar (shown above) and sparred with three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture. The Dropkick Murphy’s filmed their video “The Boys Are Back” in one of your rings. And 8 episodes of ‘The Fighter,’ a reality boxing show, were filmed at PWG with Dana White. Not bad for a kid from the projects.
PW: Boxing is a bridge. No matter where I went, boxing was always my way to communicate. Boxing is a conversation that bridges gaps. It’s introduced me to a world that I would never have known otherwise. I’ve trained guys that were fighting for the world title. I trained Broke Lesnar and Randy Couture’s team. I was teaching what I was taught. Boxing was my connection to guys with World Class athletic ability.
Take Martin Scorsese. We talked for half an hour about boxing and that landed me a small part in 'The Departed'. That would have never happened if we didn't talk about the fight game. We just hit it off in that sense.
That’s how a kid from Old Colony projects in Southie ends up in a situation like that. Not that it was a life changing experience -- it's more that you don't get those opportunities unless there's a link or a bond. None of that would have happened without boxing. Without that little kid being taken to the gym, being taught how to throw a jab and really loving it.
Thanks to Peter Welch for sharing photos from his personal collection.
Photo of kids fighting in the ring during the annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day Boxing Show courtesy of Joseph Kelly Photography.
Peter Welch's Gym interior shots courtesy of Leonard Greco.
local artist @mark_grundig