At Gideon Boxing Gym, Coach Joe Mendez barks out instructions and his boxers sweat through the work.
“There’s a lot that goes into boxing that’s not just fighting,” Mendez said. “There’s the positive mindset that goes behind it. Not just for yourself, but for others.”
After boxing for more than a decade, when gyms closed due to COVID-19, Mendez decided to get on the other side of the ropes as a coach.
“It was always in my heart,” Mendez said. “Like a lot, like Matthew will tell you, I was his first coach when he came down to Shiloh Gym. You know, I had the keys to the gym at 12, 13. I’d open up the gym, I’d train myself and then the new guys that came in, I’d help train them and I’d coach those guys.”
That’s Matthew Rodriguez he’s talking about, a 19-year-old Arthur Hill grad who just won his first pro boxing match in Mexico.
“Started wrestling to keep us out of trouble but it wasn’t keeping us out of trouble,” Rodriguez said. “So, my dad’s like, ‘oh you guys gotta go to boxing.’ So, our punishment was, if we got in trouble then we can’t box.”
But if you try and find Rodriguez and Gideon Boxing Gym, you might just miss it. Until Mendez cleaned it up, the gym looked very different just over a year ago.
In a few months, he turned dusty walls, partially flooded rooms with no lights into a boxer’s shrine with enough bags for everyone, plus some.
“We wanna bring these kids up off the street, give them a goal, a purpose,” Mendez said. “You know, people without a purpose, they perish.”
One of the first people he gave a purpose to was Rodriguez.
“A lot of people I grew up with are dead or in prison,” Rodriguez said. “Chose the street route to take, you know. But it made me stay away from that.”
Boxing saved Rodriguez, and Mendez has hope it can help all of his boxers from the biggest to the smallest.
“I had two friends I went to high school with that went to prison for murder or for gun charges and that breaks my heart because there’s so much potential in just those two individuals,” Mendez said. “Imagine the rest of the city.”
He’s got even bigger plans than just this gym. He sees a community center for Saginaw in his future.
“I love Saginaw because I always hear people say, ‘oh I can’t wait to get out of here. I can’t wait to move away from Saginaw,’” Mendez said. "And ever since I was a youth, I remember telling people why would you move away from something that’s bad, why wouldn’t you stay and fix it? You know, stay long enough to see it change. Don’t leave because you don’t like what it is.”
Gideon Boxing Gym has about 60 members. Mendez is currently looking for bigger spaces to start his community center.
As for Rodriguez, he has his second fight at the end of the month.