Punching up: Decatur Boxing Club is a local gym that’s a local gemXavier Biggs (right) does some pad work with Andre Brown II at Decatur Boxing Club. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA – Xavier Biggs’ new life in Atlanta began with a deal in 2002.
Hard times and a divorce left him searching for a fresh start.
“I was homeless after operating one of the biggest boxing gyms in the southeast,” Biggs explained.
Some folks in the area knew of his boxing accomplishments, though. He was a pro boxer in the 1970s and in the 1980s he trained his younger brother, Tyrell Biggs, who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics before turning pro, launching a career that included a match against Mike Tyson.
A new boxing gym approached Biggs in 2002 and asked if he would run their program. He struck a deal: he ran it in exchange for housing.
Two years later, one of Biggs’ former clients asked him to open a boxing gym in Decatur. Tucked down New Street, he fell in love with the building and said yes. And so, Decatur Boxing Club came to life in 2004.
Making deals is still the way Biggs does business. He trains one of his boxers in exchange for healthy food and homemade meals once a week for his pros.
Biggs has always known boxing. Growing up in Philadelphia, boxing was just “how I was raised,” he said.
“Philly’s a fight town,” Biggs continued. “My father used to box – that’s why he moved to Philly. [My brother and I have] been boxing all our lives. My father put a boxing bag in the basement when we were toddlers.”
“We’re going to Biggs”
Emma Douglas brought her oldest son to Decatur Boxing Club eight years ago when he was 14 years old.
Immediately, she fell in love. A Philadelphia native herself, Biggs’ gym was a Philly gym – “the type of gym you don’t find in Atlanta.”
It has its own soul, Douglas said.
Almost every inch of the gym is covered with boxing posters duct taped to the walls. There’s always jazz music playing loudly over the speakers, a nod to the training practices of Sugar Ray Robinson.
The walls are adorned with signatures of big names who’ve trained with Biggs, like Usher and Kevin Hart. There’s a huge pot of food for the guys to eat while they’re training. Biggs takes time to carefully lace up the gloves of his boxers.
Douglas’ oldest trained with Biggs for a number of years, before moving on to play football. But soon after he stopped, her youngest wanted to don boxing gloves.
So, of course, she knew where she was taking him.
“I was one of those great resigners during the pandemic,” Douglas said. “I quit my job, and this was one of my first stops. I came in and asked Xavier, ‘What do you need help with to get through the pandemic?’”
In April, Douglas will celebrate three years as the business manager of Decatur Boxing Club.
And Biggs is celebrating her time with him there, too.
“My sister always told me nothing happens by chance, and Emma came at the perfect time,” Biggs said. “She came in as an administrator, and she held things together for me during the pandemic.”
Nonprofit efforts help youth, retired boxers with future
Since then, Douglas has helped start and manage the gym’s 501c3 nonprofit arm: The Tyrell Biggs Gold Medal Project.
Part of the nonprofit efforts go to funding youth scholarships. Each scholarship is need-based, and priority is given to referrals from social workers or therapists of neurodivergent youth.
“We see at least one scholarship application daily, and we’re only able to help a handful of the applications we receive,” Douglas said. “Twenty-five percent of our youth are on some kind of scholarship.”
The other part of the nonprofit is focused on helping former professional boxers who have symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the same condition that affects many football players.
“Many former professional boxers from the 80s and 90s are suffering the consequences of the sport,” Douglas said. “And there’s nothing in place like there is with the NFL, which has pension plans for all their players.”
Biggs personally knows several retired boxers who battle with CTE-like symptoms. One of them is world champ and boxing legend Rocky Lockridge, who spent the last years of his life homeless and battling a drug addiction. He passed away due to complications from a stroke.
“It’s just heartbreaking because a lot of boxers wound up like that. And people would just call them ‘punchy’ or ‘punch drunk,’” Biggs said. “Boxers are some of the greatest athletes out there, but they just don’t have the pension plan, they don’t have medical insurance, no financial education, and it’s a shame.”
One that hits closer to home for Biggs is his younger brother, Tyrell.
Tyrell toured the country for almost 15 years. His decorated boxing career includes fighting Tyson, his biggest professional match, and his title as the first and only U.S. Super Heavyweight Gold Medal Olympian.
“How can you not win a gold medal when you shake hands with President Ronald Reagan before the Olympics, and he tells you, ‘I know you can do it,’” Tyrell Biggs said.
Tyrell joked that his unchallenged Olympic title brought him back to reality.
“I’m becoming an old guy,” Tyrell laughed. “The 2024 Olympics will be 40 years.”
Tyrell’s last fight was in 1998. Just like several other professional boxers from the 80s and 90s, he started to show symptoms of CTE.
“[Xavier has] brought his brother Tyrell Biggs to Decatur for a second comeback at life…two months ago, he arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson in a wheelchair and is now walking,” Douglas said.
So far, the Tyrell Biggs Gold Medal Project has helped its namesake, Tyrell, and Riddick Bowe get physical therapy for their presumed CTE. Plus, it’s gotten Tyrell back around boxing.
Boxing and Tyrell are inseparable. It’s his childhood, his career, and a large part of his identity.
“When I retired, I just wanted to take a break and not have to worry about training,” Tyrell said. “After a while, I still got the itch.
“My brother having a gym enables me to be able to get back in the gym and get around fighters,” Tyrell added. “It’s kind of like a relief, [it] takes my anxiety away. And it brings back a lot of pleasant memories.”
To learn more about Decatur Boxing Club, or to donate to The Tyrell Biggs Gold Medal Project, visit: https://biggsboxing.com/.
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