Members of Vintage Boxing often use boxing for personal growth or as a release. (Filip De Mott photos)
Vintage Boxing isn’t pulling any punches in its efforts to improve the city’s boxing scene.
The Scott’s Addition-based gym is preparing the final round of The River City Invitational, its new sparring tournament. Launched in June, the three-round event aims to establish Richmond as a serious boxing hub and to prove that a boxing operation can be well run.
Contests serve as a backbone for boxers trying to turn professional as they allow them the victories needed to rank up. However, founder Eric Ash said it’s often the case that boxers waste weekends traveling for out-of-state competitions that don’t happen, limiting their career’s progress.
“You show up for a fight and your opponent wouldn’t show up,” he recounted. “I wanted to take it into our hands, where we do all the matchups and, in that way, we have some kind of control.”
Eric Ash is the founder of Vintage Boxing.
The tournament also comes with the added benefit of furthering Vintage’s image, attracting both pro and amateur fighters. It parallels a time of expansion for the gym.
Just over a decade ago, the business began with a Facebook post from Ash, offering old-school boxing sessions to anyone interested.
Once a professional boxer himself, he took a reprieve from the sport upon entering married life and instead became an entrepreneur in the used car industry. But a later divorce and a coincidental meetup with his college coach made him consider the prospect of returning to his roots.
“During that time, he was saying, ‘Man, you got to get back,’” Ash recalled of a conversation with his old coach. “You got to help out the community.”
His Facebook post that followed resulted in a 30-person response, with participation growing from there. As it did, Ash was prompted to keep moving training locations, transferring from a gym in Mechanicsville to a garage near his workplace.
A few years later, the business had attracted 100 members and Ash relocated to 1202 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. The gym officially formalized into a business around 2018, operating on a for-profit basis.
Since taking over the front of the building, Vintage has acquired the location’s two back rooms and has used the space to increase amenities offered to members.
The invitational’s first tournament took place at the Richmond Raceway on June 11, drawing an audience of around 500 from across the state. A second round followed in July, attended by 700 people. The final round is set to take place on Aug. 20.
Regular pre-sale tickets are priced at $20, $10 for children and $35 for the V.I.P. A Ringside Table ticket, which gives six entrants the closest seating, costs $600.
Proceeds from the tournament are going towards Matthew Smiles, a suicide prevention organization founded by a family who had lost their teen child in that manner. As Vintage Boxing members, the family shared their story with Ash and inspired the idea for a fundraiser.
Ash said Josiyah Giles, in blue shorts, has the potential to be a world champion.
“It really pulled some strings for me because I have a 13-year-old daughter,” he said.
June and July’s rounds have already raised $3,400, out of a goal of $5,000, which Ash is confident he’ll reach.
In his view, the community is what spurs Vintage’s success, framing the gym’s fundamental purpose as helping people. Although members come to learn boxing, one-on-one training sessions provide a space in which they can vent their frustrations.
“You become almost a counselor to help people through their day,” Ash said. “They need this place. And that’s the best feeling.”
Expanding on that theme, Vintage Boxing may soon be rebranded to Vintage Richmond. The name change would serve to broaden the gym’s focus beyond boxing, as it works to grow into a wellness center for its members.
Besides the boxing rink, the gym also provides The Recovery Room, a reference to the rehabilitation services offered, such as a cryotherapy chamber and infrared sauna.
The newest addition to The Recovery Room is a hyperbaric chamber. The appliance creates an environment of 100 percent oxygen, providing health benefits to those who use it.
The gym recently acquired a medical-grade hyperbaric oxygen chamber, Ash said, a technology that subjects a person to a pure oxygen environment for health benefits and healing.
To make room for such services, Vintage is in the preliminary stages of leasing out another nearby location in the Scott’s Addition area. Once acquired, the space will center on the business’s rehab offerings.
Once ready, The Recovery Room will offer IV treatments, supplements and stretching sessions for injuries, Ash said.
Vintage sells around 300 T-shirts a month. Designs are printed by Action T-Shirts, while a tattoo artist designed the gym’s main logo.
Oftentimes, boxing gyms work off government grants to teach the activity to at-risk youth populations. As a for-profit, Vintage does not receive grants, Ash said, but its membership fees allow it to work with those who are truly committed to the sport or want to give it a go later in life.
“I know how hard it is for people walking to the door,” Ash said. “I like to applaud everyone that comes in here.”
Revenue also comes from the merchandise Vintage offers, from attire to boxing gear. The gym sells close to 300 T-shirts a month, Ash said, shipping internationally from time to time.
Since participating fighters are required to wear safety apparel such as hand wraps or headgear, Vintage offers its own customized gear, ready for sale. It’s an opportunity that Ash sees many boxing gyms ignore.
Vintage currently has eight coaches on staff, part of a 15-employee crew including front desk workers, social media and marketing staff and a general manager.
Ash said the gym has around 400 members. According to its website, both the adult and youth memberships cost $165 a month, with a $35 sign-up fee. Another program is the “Intro to Boxing,” priced at $140 for one month.
As its name implies, Vintage Boxing focuses on an old-school form of the sport. In Ash’s view, the newer practices that have emerged lean more towards making boxing look cool, instead of letting the fighter discover their own style over time.
Only a few old-school boxing gyms exist in Richmond, Ash said, naming non-profits like the Powell Police Athletic League. On the flipside is the Title Boxing Club, a franchise offering a cardio, no-contact version of the sport.
Josiyah Giles, right, has been training at Vintage Boxing since he was 15. At 20, he is about to turn professional.
Vintage actively works with professional boxers. One member Ash trained was Juisseppe Cusumano, a boxer who has competed on a Showtime program featuring Jake Paul and other prominent fighters.
Of note today is Josiyah Giles, a 20-year-old one fight away from becoming professional. He’s been training with Ash since age 15 and is a regular at The River City Invitational. When not training, he’s working at Vintage as a coach.
“He’s going to be a world champion,” Ash said with a tone of certainty.
While The River City Invitational concludes this Saturday with its final round, the tournament has convinced Ash to continue organizing such events, though not on a month-to-month basis. He predicts the next one to be in early November, potentially followed by one in March.
Filip is the 2022 BizSense Summer Reporter. He’s a graduate of JMU. Reach him at [email protected] and 757-749-4880.
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Amazing coach and person. Doing great things and changing lives for a lot of kids.
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