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A Peek Inside Justin Fortune’s Old-School LA Boxing Gym

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Stepping foot inside the Justin Fortune Boxing Gym is like taking a giant step back in time. Located in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles and situated across the street from Fairfax High, the gym could easily be confused for old-style gyms like Stillman’s or Gleason’s in New York City, the Fifth Street Gym in Miami or the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles. Because it’s on the second floor, one must enter from the street level and then walk up a dozen or so steps, fit your way through a narrow hallway before meeting Tamara Frapasella, Justin’s wife.

When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., the place was somewhat busy, but not overly so. There is one ring, but a bevy of heavy bags, a speed bag, a treadmill, several jump ropes, a shower and a steam room. A handful of professional personal trainers were working with eager students as sweat poured off their faces, arms and legs.

Over the course of the next five hours, the gym, which is adorned with old-time fight posters and signed pictures of ring legends like Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, would be fairly bursting with energy.

A few hours in, one professional heavyweight was working with Fortune in the ring as he prepared for an upcoming bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not uncommon to see celebrities at the Fortune Boxing Gym. On this day, a longtime actor, Frank Grillo, was there going through his paces with steely determination.

Fortune, originally from Perth, Australia, has been involved in a multitude of professions, including nearly two decades as a heavyweight boxer. “I’m a chef by trade so I never thought that I’d end up here,” said Fortune, who has also owned a restaurant. “I was always interested in boxing. I was heavily involved in sport. They were all one-on-one sports. I wasn’t much for team sports. Boxing I always enjoyed because it’s the ultimate one-on-one combat. That’s why I liked it so much.” Fortune said he has always liked keeping active. “Then I was heavily into power lifting and from power lifting I switched to boxing. I’m an idiot,” he said.

Fortune, who is 54 years old, knew the fight game isn’t an easy way to make money and was smart enough to exit at the right time. “I set myself time and monetary goals,” he noted. “And once I met them, whichever came first, I was out. I stuck to it. That’s why I’m not punchy or broke. This sport sucks you in. It’s really tough to get out of. You always want that one last fight.”

Fortune began his professional boxing career in 1990 and ended it in 2009. Along the way, he carved out a 15-9-2 record with nine knockouts. Fortune’s biggest fight came against future three-time world heavyweight titleholder and a two-time lineal champion Lennox Lewis in July 1995 in Dublin, Ireland, that concluded with a fourth-round stoppage. “Lennox is a very underrated fighter,” said Fortune, who had 20 wins in 24 amateur fights in Australia that included participating in the Commonwealth Games. “At that stage, in my mind, it didn’t matter. I only had 14 fights, but I would have gotten into the ring with anybody. I didn’t care.” Fortune said that he wanted the fight to continue. “I got screwed. I wouldn’t have won the fight, but in England, the judge is the referee,” he said. “I had only 14 fights, and I got hit with an uppercut, and that was it. The referee stopped it. It would have gone a lot longer.”

Fortune opened his initial gym not too far away on Sunset Boulevard in 2008 and was in business until December 2019 when it was demolished. “This is what I originally wanted,” Fortune said of the current site, reminiscent of the gyms in the 1940s and 1950s. “This style of gym. The wooden floors. The posters. The pictures. The old-time look.” Fortune’s clients range from Academy Award-winning actors to musicians and every day folks. “My clients are a good bunch of people,” he said. “They respect the place and they like coming here. It’s their gym.” Fortune also noted that 65 percent of the people who populate the gym are women.

Frapasella, a former actress and film producer, does all the behind-the-scene work at the gym, but also finds time to be a personal trainer for primarily women and some men. “I think it took us a lot of years to build that,” she said of the welcoming vibe that is clearly present. “We have every nationality you can think of. Everyone is fighting for whatever their reason, but we all get along. We built a family in here and at the end of the day, we’re a family.” Frapasella said the atmosphere and appearance are intentional. “This place is spotless,” she pointed out. “I do have a staff that helps me. I don’t do it all by myself. You want something that’s clean and is welcoming.”

Philadelphia-based heavyweight Joey Dawejko was there preparing for a fight with undefeated Frank Sanchez on March 7 at Barclays Center that will be televised on FOX. “My opponent is a prospect and 14-0,” said Dawejko, who is 20-7-4 with 11 knockouts and nicknamed “The Tank.” Dawejko is hoping to pull off a major upset against Sanchez, who has 11 knockouts. “This is a big opportunity for me because it jumpstarts this year, not only for more to come,” he said. “I’ve gotta get this win and we go from there. Bigger and better things.”

Jose Navarro is a retired World Boxing Council Continental Americas super flyweight champion and Olympian who capped his pro career 27-6 with 12 knockouts. Navarro is currently a personal trainer who works with roughly 50 clients. “It’s the same sport, but you’re on the outside,” he said. “It’s been different. Being in there you get to make your own choices. You see things from a different angle. I actually enjoy this a lot more because you’re teaching what you learned your entire career. So now you’re looking at it from a much different perspective.” Navarro said he likes working at the Fortune Gym. “It’s something you never stop learning,” he said. “You learn something every day. That’s why it’s called the sweet science.”

Joe La Russo is a onetime professional photographer whose specialty was shooting jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. La Russo has been taking boxing lessons for nearly two decades. “I just started coming here the first of the year. I was at another gym for 13 years,” said La Russo, who comes to the Fortune Gym three times a week. “I started when I was 66 years old. In April, I’ll be 80. I just got a nice vibe. I knew people. I knew trainers. I’m dropping down in weight, so I’m on a new program. I feel great.” La Russo said he has always been fascinated with the manly art. “Boxing is all around,” he said. “When I was 16 growing up in Brooklyn, I wanted to go into the Golden Gloves, but my mother wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “So, 50 years later I’m at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood with Freddie Roach. But I came here for a change of pace. Different energy. Different vibe. It’s what keeps me young.”

Originally from South Africa, Vuyo Noyce, spent years in the fashion industry and is married and a mother of two. Noyce has been coming to the Fortune Gym for about four years and pays a visit two or three days a week for about two hours. “I like the environment here. It’s super laid back,” Noyce offered. “It’s not pretentious. I think the trainers are good and Justin’s fantastic. It’s like going to a friend’s house.”

Kylie Fulmer is an Australian and the World Boxing Federation Women’s Intercontinental super bantamweight champion who lives in Los Angeles and also calls the Fortune Gym home. “I spent five years out in Las Vegas, so I was training at TMT, the Floyd Mayweather Gym and Floyd Sr. was my coach for 14 months. Then I went over to [trainer] Dewey Cooper and I’ve been with him for three years,” said Fulmer, who has pieced together a perfect 7-0 record with six knockouts. “The goal this year is to stay active and fight as much as we can. I decided to come out here for a few weeks and had a chat with Justin and I had to make the decision to move over here.”

Fulmer said the decision to stay was fairly easy. “Justin being Australian, you know I’ve got a home away from home and a family,” she said. When asked why she selected the Fortune Gym, Fulmer said that it would help her reach her goals and that she feels comfortable here. “I just really need to focus on the fundamentals of boxing and make those corrections I feel are going to take me to the next level to get these world class fights,” she said.

Frankie Lopez is a 24-year-old cruiserweight, but will drop down in weight to super middleweight. Lopez can be found at the Fortune Gym because he’s also a personal trainer. That day he left for several hours because he had a few clients at UCLA. “I like to be around what I do because I like to incorporate everything with the patients, with my clients, but also patients in the ring to allow myself to better myself and my craft,” explained Lopez, who began as a kickboxer and owns a 12-1-1 mark with nine knockouts. “I used to be trained by Virgil Hill. He’s a five-time world champion and a Hall of Famer, a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics and his wife [Carla] as well. She’s a four-time Olympian and they trained me for the longest time. But then I went on Google and this gym popped up out of nowhere. So, I came back the next day and I fell in love with it. They welcome you with open arms.”

What takes place in a boxing gym is serious business because if one doesn’t train properly there are consequences. What Fortune and Frapasella have constructed and designed at their gym is in some way atypical. “I make sure everybody’s good,” said Frapasella. “I’m like the gym mom. I want to make sure you have someone to talk to. You want to have a good experience.”

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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