TERRE HAUTE —
When I walked in Sweatbox Gym through the alley door Wednesday, I wondered if a time machine had taken me back to the 1950s, the glory days of boxing.
It’s an old building and the inside walls desperately need a paint job. Stairs that go downstairs to the actual gym are steep and lack handrails for the first few steps. I could look down and see weightlifting equipment that reminded me of the ISU Arena “dungeon” in the late 1970s, along with some heavy bags, a stationary bike and a fairly modern treadmill.
A large American flag is displayed on the far wall near the boxing ring.
Once in the basement, I realized it was still 2011 because rap music blared in the background as I spotted my column subject — heavyweight pro boxer James Porter — in the ring.
Porter, 38, owns Sweatbox Gym. He was trading practice punches with 2011 Golden Gloves super-heavyweight state champion Ryan Jewett, perhaps Terre Haute’s top young amateur boxer, as both worked up a sweat on this hot, humid evening.
“We like to sweat down here,” Porter mentioned after he finished sparring. “We figure the hotter it is, the more calories you are going to burn.”
I think I lost five pounds from sitting around and asking questions for an hour, so I can only imagine how many calories a sparring session would burn. I eventually asked Porter if there was any air conditioning, probably my dumbest question of the night.
“If you hit the bag real hard, your handspeed will generate some wind,” he replied with a chuckle. “That’s about as much air conditioning as you’re going to get here.”
Before our interview started, I noticed Porter’s punches looked like they hurt. Yet the boxrec.com website lists his record as 5-15-2, meaning we probably won’t be seeing him on HBO anytime soon.
To be fair, Porter insists he won a fight in 2003 that doesn’t show up on his record. So he should be credited with six victories in a career that started June 19, 2001, with a four-round, unanimous-decision loss to Chris Galliher in Indianapolis.
In his early days as a pro, Porter hoped he would become good enough to be a world heavyweight champion. He also wanted to accumulate enough ring experience so he could teach boxing to youths someday, which he is doing now. His first goal was to log 20 bouts, which he has done.
But he never really caught any breaks along the way.
For example, Porter has fought in his hometown of Terre Haute only once — Feb. 15, 2003, when he knocked out Chevis Kellum in the first round inside the Zorah Shrine Temple.
“It was fun fighting in front of all my friends and family,” Porter reflected. “It’s a shame I haven’t gotten to do it more often.”
Porter said Franklin Lawrence of Indianapolis was his toughest opponent. They fought twice — Jan. 28, 2006 (a six-round unanimous decision for Lawrence) and Jan. 27, 2007 (an eight-round unanimous decision for Lawrence) — both inside Indianapolis’ Pepsi Coliseum. Their second clash was for the then-vacant NABC Great Lakes heavyweight title.
“[Promoters] asked me to fight him again because the first time was a really good fight,” Porter emphasized.
Asked about the highlight of his career, Porter said it was beating Obed Sullivan in a six-round split decision Jan. 20, 2007, inside the Ohio Expo Center in Sullivan’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Sullivan, a former world champion, entered with a 41-8-2 record.
Traveling to an opponent’s hometown is not rare for Porter. He admits that he’s known in some boxing circles as “an opponent,” meaning promoters like to put him in against up-and-coming boxers to build up their records.
But Porter does consider himself to be “an opponent.”
“No matter if I win or I lose, I forget about it and I continue on,” he stressed. “I try to be successful the next time. . . It really doesn’t matter if they call me an ‘opponent’ because I personally come there to win and do my best.”
Many of Porter’s foes entered their bouts with impressive records — such as 10-0, 12-0-1, 7-0, 15-0, 41-8-2, 11-1, 11-4-2, 12-0, 6-0 and 9-2 to mention a few.
Although he’d prefer to fight in Terre Haute, Porter does not mind hearing the reactions of hostile crowds when his name gets announced in an opponent’s hometown.
“I get booed a lot,” he acknowledged. “The louder, the better. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. Almost every time, I get booed. But by the end of the contest, everyone’s cheering for me because I can be game and I can take shots. I can make it real competitive, even when I don’t win.”
Porter described how he convinced Indianapolis promoter Fred Berns to let him fight for the first time without any amateur background in 2001.
“A guy working for Fred said, ‘Let me see your stance.’ So I showed him my stance,” Porter recalled.
“Then he gave me some tickets and said if I sell these tickets, I can come fight. Basically, he gave me $300 to $400 worth of tickets and I sold them to my friends and family. Then they came and watched me fight and that’s how I got paid.”
Porter hammered his point home by telling me: “It would be like you writing sports stories and selling the paper yourself.”
Nope, that wouldn’t be fun.
But Porter did what he had to do to go pro because the alternative could have been much, much worse.
“When I was younger, I hustled,” he pointed out. “I was in the streets. Some things came about in my life that made me see this wasn’t how I wanted to go.
“At one point in time in my life, I looked at my friend and said, ‘Hey man, this might be my last summer alive.’ “
Porter then explained one of the activities he was involved in during his pre-boxing days.
“It’s on record,” he said in a serious tone. “I sold drugs when I was young. I was arrested for it in 1996. I spent seven years on probation and I spent a year on house arrest.”
Porter revealed the drug was crack cocaine. He also admitted that he frequently carried guns, engaged in street fights and “played with fire,” but he hopes the disadvantaged Terre Haute youths of today can learn from his mistakes and find legal sources of income.
Such as pro boxing, for example.
Porter said that while on house arrest, he became “extremely overweight” and realized he needed to make changes in his life.
“I started exercising at first,” he mentioned. “At the time, I was also a boxing fan. I remember watching George Foreman when he won the heavyweight title . . . so I figured, why not take a stab at it?”
Porter occasionally sparred with Terre Haute’s Terry Ray, a former world cruiserweight champion, in the early 2000s. That was his first experience with serious boxing-related pain.
“He really hit me hard one day,” Porter noted.
Porter opened Sweatbox Gym after helping Bill Davis train boxers at the Terre Haute Boxing Center in the early 2000s.
“If people want to work out here, we charge ’em $3 a day,” he said. “That’s just to come in and hit the bag and mess around.”
If you want serious one-on-one personal training, talk to Porter about costs.
Porter said his wife Wende continues to support his career and business. In fact, Porter doesn’t have his own trainer, so she will often work his corner to give him water between rounds.
“I hire someone [in that city] for cuts.” he added.
Another long-distance trip awaits Porter, who’s scheduled to meet Chris Koval (24-7 with 18 knockouts) in a four-round bout Aug. 13 at Struthers, Ohio. They already fought once early in Porter’s career — Aug. 8, 2003, at Akron, Ohio — with Koval posting a third-round technical knockout.
“I got cut on the eye,” Porter recalled. “If you look at the list of my fights, you’ll see that I’ve never been knocked out. My losses were from cuts or the referees stopping the fights. I’ve only been knocked down two times.”
Porter insists he still feels good physically and has no plans of retiring soon. Like Rocky Balboa running along the streets of Philadelphia in the original movie, Porter keeps in shape by jogging outside, often along Terre Haute railroad tracks, through Deming Park or on Woodrow Wilson Middle School’s track.
“When somebody knocks me straight out a few times, I guess I’ll know I can’t fight no more,” Porter assessed, “when I can’t take shots.”
But Porter — a 1992 graduate of Terre Haute North High School, where he played tackle on the football team and wrestled — isn’t at that stage yet.
Just ask Jewett, a solid 235-pounder whom Porter has helped for almost five years.
“James has taught me basically everything,” Jewett explained. “He taught me my footspeed, my handspeed . . . everything I know about boxing.
“You wouldn’t think he’s got fast hands, but he’ll surprise the heck out of you. Handspeed-wise, he fights like he’s a welterweight. But he packs the same punch as a heavyweight. He’s got a lot of speed and power. That’s a deadly combination.”
Porter offered two reasons for why he wants to keeps boxing as long as possible — money and the competitive challenge. His paychecks usually range from $1,000 to $2,500, but the value of his adrenaline rushes at pro cards is immeasurable.
“Hearing the cheering and booing, that’s like a drug to me,” he emphasized. “I try to be extremely entertaining.
“I’ve not made a whole lot of money from boxing. But what I have done … if I were still in the streets, I would have to do a crime to make the same amounts. Now, if I need something, I can get on the phone and I can get me a fight.”
David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.
TERRE HAUTE —
When I walked in Sweatbox Gym through the alley door Wednesday, I wondered if a time machine had taken me back to the 1950s, the glory days of boxing.
- Hughes News & Views
Hughes, News & Views: Odds in favor of Richard Sherman being mentioned here
I’ve explained my post-2011 NFL allegiances before, but allow me to summarize them one more time for any new readers to this column.
I eased into liking the Indianapolis Colts as my favorite team in the late 1980s. Like plenty of other Wabash Valley sports fans, I became Colts-obsessed when Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and others turned them into an elite franchise in 1999 and the early 2000s.
When the Colts beat Da Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4, 2007, I yelled as loud as anyone in Terre Haute.
Hughes, News & Views: The ’78-79 Sycamores rediscover timeless bond
The 1978-79 Indiana State men’s basketball team that posted a 33-1 record and battled Michigan State for the coveted NCAA championship almost 35 years ago isn’t likely to play any more full-court games together, not even just for fun.
Hughes, News & Views: Shaw preparing for 20th season as Rose-Hulman coach
When Rose-Hulman men’s basketball coach Jim Shaw gets introduced to the Hulman Center crowd before Sunday afternoon’s exhibition game against Indiana State, think of the old saying “time flies when you’re having fun.”
Hughes, News & Views: Friends remember Jim Bogle
When I covered the semifinal round of the IHSAA boys tennis sectional at Terre Haute North last week, it seemed like there was an empty seat in the bleachers.
In reality, I noticed few — if any — empty seats because plenty of spectators wanted to watch the host Patriots battle No. 14-ranked Terre Haute South for the right to advance to the next day’s sectional championship match.
In the end, junior Nathan Bogle pulled out a dramatic three-set victory at No. 1 singles to help South edge its crosstown rivals 3-2 on its way to capturing the sectional title.
Yet there was something missing.
The person who would have been in that empty seat I imagined, Nathan’s father Jim Bogle, had been battling cancer for close to two years and could not attend the sectional.
Sadly, cancer claimed his life Thursday morning. He was 52.
Hughes, News & Views: Doug Shouse going into ASU Hall of Honor
One thing you can say about members of Terre Haute’s Shouse family: They never have had a problem with running and jumping.
At least not until knee problems hit.
An outstanding athlete since the days I played pick-up basketball games with him and his brothers in the Terre Haute Boys Club and Indiana State University Arena gyms in the mid to late 1970s, a young Doug Shouse knew how to turn heads with his dunks and athletic fast-break moves against college guys and mediocre players like me.
Hughes, News & Views: Oden picks Miami Heat for site of comeback
At 7 feet tall, former Terre Haute resident Greg Oden stands out in almost any crowd.
So to persuade the increasingly healthy Oden to play during the 2013-14 NBA season — for the first time since Dec. 5, 2009 — a team needed to offer something unique to stand out.
Like, say, a chance at a ring.
Enter the Miami Heat, who have won the last two NBA championships behind the “Big Three” of four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Hughes, News & Views: Gladiator Games are back Saturday
When I talk to my old weightlifting buddies around the country on the phone, through texts or on Facebook, we frequently reminisce about “the good ol’ days.”
Imagine that — guys over 50 living in the past.
Anyway, I recently discussed with Jim McCarty — who now lives in Daytona Beach, Fla. — about a “Terre Haute’s Strongest Man” contest he organized in the mid-1980s inside the National Guard Armory on Maple Avenue.
Hughes, News & Views: Lure of big payoffs fuels columnist's fantasy football addiction
Gather around, my friends. I think I may need an intervention.
After winning the championship game of our Tribune-Star newsroom free fantasy football league in 2003 — the first time I ever participated in the popular hobby — I became hooked on dominating as many leagues as possible.
Hughes, News & Views: Terre Haute ‘hacker' accomplishes Mark’s Par Three first
It’s no secret that Mark’s Par Three is not the most difficult golf course in Vigo County.
But it’s enjoyable for beginners and golfers of modest skill levels and it doesn’t lack for activity during warm-weather months.
Open since 1964, it’s had its fair share of players test their skills, probably several better than 43-year-old Brian Brown of Terre Haute.
Hughes, News & Views: Pacers, 500, NFL on mind of curious columnist
One previous time, I believe, my annual May questions column ran one day late into June.
Can you forgive me for this being the second time?
With apologies out of the way, below are questions that have been taking up valuable space in my head lately.
Some are serious, some not so much. Most are sports-related, but don’t blame me if a few are not. After all, newspaper sportswriters don’t eat, sleep and breathe sports 24/7 (contrary to what my Lisa might tell you).
Here we go:
• How funny will the reaction of the national media be when the Indiana Pacers knock off the unbeatable Miami Heat tonight and Monday to take the series and head to an NBA Finals showdown with the San Antonio Spurs? Hint: Several ESPN “experts” will need to change their underwear next week.
Hughes, News & Views: Terre Haute runner sets up race to help Boston
Having competed in the Boston Marathon once before in 2003, 35-year-old Majel Wells of Terre Haute thought she should give it another try in 2013.
“My goal was just to finish and enjoy Boston,” she reflected this week. “I had an injury [runner’s knee] beforehand, so I wasn’t too worried about beating my time from 2003 [4 hours, 10.20 seconds].
“But nobody cares about what your time is at Boston anyway.”
From what I’ve heard over the years, she’s right. Unless you’re a super-serious runner, the Boston Marathon has been more about taking in the atmosphere and having fun than placing in the top 50, although Wells was pleased that she beat her previous time by finishing in 3:55.19 on April 15.
Obviously, her race time wasn’t the most vivid memory that Wells took away from her 2013 Boston experience.
Hughes, News & Views: Former South players to play in Saylor benefit game
I had my first phone conversation with Mike Saylor since mid-February on Thursday and he sounded good.
The former Terre Haute South High School boys basketball coach, who’s been battling cancer this year, has been traveling back and forth to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for chemotherapy treatments.
Recent South swimmers Roach, Bray heading to DI nationals
I’m sure most of you with office jobs can relate.
When work gets busy, sometimes it’s easy to skim over our emails. After all, how many times do we need to read the same nonsense from alleged Nigerians wanting to make us rich if we’ll send them several thousand dollars first?
So after having three consecutive days off, that almost happened to me when I returned to work Tuesday. Then I realized that the message from Jeff Thompson, Terre Haute South High School’s boys and girls swimming coach, contained significant news.
NCAA Division III basketball tournament returns to Rose-Hulman
The last time Rose-Hulman served as host for the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, its game was played inside an old World War II airplane hangar.
You “old-timers” should know the building I’m talking about and the matchup wasn’t really that long ago — March 6, 1997, to be exact.
DAVID HUGHES: Childhood friends use faith, sports to get them through
When I learned in February 2009 that a rare form of appendix cancer would devastate my life and cause me to miss work for several months, Mike Saylor was among the first to offer assistance.
Book review: Thumbs up for ‘Trophies and Tears’
Now might be too late for giving Christmas presents, but the book “Trophies and Tears: The Story of Evansville and the Aces” is a fascinating read for longtime Indiana basketball fans, particularly those older than 40.
Written by award-winning Kyle Keiderling of Henderson, Nev., and released in hardcover format in mid-December, the 480-page “Trophies and Tears” documents the rich tradition of the University of Evansville men’s basketball program through recent interviews and research of old yearbooks and newspaper/scrapbook clippings.
The book contains many cheery moments — behind-the-scenes details of all five NCAA College Division (now known as Division II) championships won in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s by the Purple Aces and their legendary coach Arad McCutchan — although some of those moments don’t seem so cheery from an Indiana State perspective when the Sycamores found themselves on the losing end of scores.
Hughes, News & Views: Wishing for Colts-Broncos playoff matchup from Santa
There’s plenty of tragedy in the world to bring us down if we let it, so let’s have a light-hearted column today — my annual Christmas gift requests for Santa Claus.
I already know one of my gift wishes is becoming less likely to happen. That would be for the Indianapolis Colts to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC playoffs.
Colts' loyalty tested by Manning, Broncos
We’re approaching the halfway point of the NFL season and so far it’s been surprisingly enjoyable.
I wasn’t sure how I would handle following two favorite teams — 1a.) the Indianapolis Colts and 1b.) Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — but the new arrangement hasn’t caused me any loyalty conflicts yet.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Sorting out the sports air waves
My name isn’t attached to them, but I’m the one who usually puts together the “Sports on the air” television/radio listings that appear daily on this newspaper’s Scoreboard Page.
Hughes, News & Views: North junior ready to go racing
When we last visited 16-year-old Rachel Gutish, she was finishing sixth in the Women’s Enduro X race in the nationally televised Summer X Games at Los Angeles.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Yelovich still striking the ball long on LDA Tour
In June 2011, I wrote a feature story about former Indiana State basketball center Mick Yelovich making a name for himself as a golfer on the Long Drivers Association (LDA) Tour.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Colts? Broncos? Maybe there’s more than enough room for both
I’ve got a longtime buddy who I’m fairly sure rarely, if ever, reads this column.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Point of Jones’ return
Since May 14, Indiana high school basketball fans have wondered why Jim Jones would want to come out of retirement at 74.
HUGHES, NEWS & VIEWS: Questions abound for Indy 500, Manning, baseball sectional
Phones are ringing less frequently in the Tribune-Star sports department this week.
Hughes, News & Views: Hutson getting ready for final stretch toward Olympic Trials
If Kylie Hutson were a cross-country runner, she’d be approaching the final stretch of her biggest race in about three weeks.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Rose basketball alumni offer advice to current team
Bryan Egli and Joe Puthoff, both Rose-Hulman basketball starters I covered in the late 1990s, took their degrees from the prestigious engineering institute and found successful careers in the Indianapolis area.
Egli, also a former West Vigo High School multi-sport standout, lives in Carmel and works for Thieneman Construction in Westfield. Puthoff lives in Indy and works for Rolls Royce Aircraft Engines.
DAVID HUGHES: Super Bowl odds getting stranger and stranger
Today’s annual “Super Bowl odds column” feels special to me because I’ve been a diehard NFL fan since 1967 and next Sunday will be the first time the big game takes place in our great state of Indiana.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Coach’s book a chance to remember North Vermillion state champs
Almost 10 years ago, February 2002 to be exact, the New England Patriots upset the high-powered St. Louis Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the Winter Olympics entertained spectators in Salt Lake City and Terre Haute South High School’s girls basketball team started its tournament run toward a Class 4A state title.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Plenty of sports-related gifts for columnist's wish list
Last week, I was all set to beg Santa Claus to give the Indianapolis Colts a certificate good for one NFL regular-season victory.
Then the 2011 Colts decided to play like the 2009 Colts and clobber the Tennessee Titans on Sunday for their first win of the season. So that present won’t be necessary.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: WTHI defends decision not to show Colts
When your favorite NFL team is threatening to finish 0-16, you have to figure a few fans will jump off the bandwagon.
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