Portland’s pugilists call The Grand home

Today the Vanguard stopped into Northeast Portland’s Grand Avenue Boxing Gym. Although the gym is no longer on Northeast Grand, and most simply refer to it as “The Grand.” A few blocks east of Madison High School, it’s tucked out of sight on Northeast Russell Street. You wouldn’t know it’s there unless you saw the wooden sign with a black spray painted arrow pointing the way toward boxing. The Grand definitely qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall boxing club. Its rundown façade belies the talent that is held within.

As I stepped inside The Grand there were people of all shapes, color and sizes. From 80-pound kids who are just learning the ropes, to a giant of a man at over 300 pounds with a wealth of fighting experience—the gym was buzzing. Also buzzing around was trainer George Gonzalez. Gonzalez was happy to sit down with the Vanguard for a few minutes to tell it like it is.

Gonzalez told us The Grand has been open “for years and years. Decades.” It seemed so long that he’d forgotten exactly when it opened. It’s at points like this when establishments become fixtures in a community.

“Fred Ryan runs the place. I’m just here training these kids, and if we weren’t open, then a lot of these kids would be out there partying and getting into trouble. That kind of stuff sidelines their career. The biggest problems with kids and fighters these days are ladies, and partying.” A straight shooter, he says that we can take it from him. Having fought frequently in his youth, he knows all about it.

I wanted to know a little bit about David Banks, a boxer from Portland who fought on season three of ESPN’s The Contender.

“David just walked in one day and wanted to box. He looked terrible, but he just kept coming in. Eventually he got really good, but like a lot of the guys that come in here and get really good, they end up partying too much and fall off.”

Banks did not win the show, and was eliminated in the first round.

Gonzalez could not stress enough how important it is for young boxers to stay focused. He calls over Alex Cazac, a tough looking local boxer with over 20 fights. Gonzalez said he should be going pro anytime now, as long as he gets his weight down.

“We’ve had guys come through here, get good, and then go to prison on murder charges,” noted Gonzalez, reemphasizing the need to keep your eye on the prize. Gonzalez said that these kinds of things are not always their fault, though. George told us a story that happened to him on a TriMet bus the other day.

“I’m sitting there, and a man gets on and says, ‘Excuse me do you have some change?’ I says, ‘No sir, I don’t have any.’ He says, ‘What the hell are you doing calling me sir for, I ain’t no damn cop.’”

We heard the round timer go off, and Gonzalez excused himself because he had to go watch two of his fighters spar.

Inside the ring I spotted Alex Cazac and undefeated Full Contact Fighting Federation heavyweight champion Nick Biron pawing at one another. All of a sudden Cazac lunged forward with a lead left hook, which was slipped by Biron. No small feat, considering Biron has a few inches and about 40 pounds on the 190-pound Cazac.

Cazac is able to make up for his lack of size with pit bull determination. He waded in with his hands up, guarding his face, absorbing the jabs from Biron on his gloves. Once he was in close he let out a volley of four or five left and right hooks—some get through—backing Biron up.

The boxers reset, and Biron was content to utilize the jab to keep Cazac at bay. Using head movement and footwork, Cazac came forward again with a lunging jab to the body, and stepped back briefly before going for another lunging lead left hook, which glanced off the headgear of Biron. The extra exertion required to get into the 6-foot-4-inch Biron’s range eventually sees Cazac start to fade. Biron had him against the ropes and winged a couple of thudding shots to the sides of Cazac, before backing off just enough to stay within range to pick his shots. The bell sounded, and Cazac was exhausted. Yet, considering the large size discrepancy, will no doubt hold his head high when walking around The Grand.

Also in the gym that day was Quincy “The Villain” Blanton. Blanton is a mountain of a man at 6 feet 2 inches and over 300 pounds. Blanton (4–1 amateur boxing) is also on a four fight win streak, avenging his lone loss in the process. I asked Blanton how he’s doing, and what brings him into The Grand.

“I had a fight on the third at the Waterfront, it fell through though. It’s OK—I got in some good sparring with [Biron] earlier, so I know that I’m ready.”

The Villain mentioned that he is a boxer as well as being a mixed martial artist.

“Yeah, mixed martial arts is hot right now, but boxing is coming back. The reason boxing isn’t popular in America is because the heavyweight boxing champ isn’t American. I’m trying to bring that belt back to America.”

I asked Blanton if he is the next George Foreman. He chuckles.

“I would be happy if I turn out to be half the boxer that he was. Although we do have a similar style.”