While combat sports have grown in popularity in recent years with the rise of mixed martial arts and a new wave of interest in boxing, many Savannah residents are unaware of the host city’s rich fighting traditions.
Although no longer at the forefront of Savannah’s sports mindset, many citizens remember a time when the city was a thriving hub for boxing, and some strive to recover this status.
While the early 2000s was a golden age for boxing in Savannah, the roots of this period start much earlier.
Mike Jarrell, Sr., the founder of the former Jarrell’s Boxing Gym, recalls his early amateur boxing years in Georgia.
At that time, many of the all-time great boxers were in their formative years, and Mr. Jarrell may have crossed paths with some of them, including Evander Holyfield.
According to the family, he fought the eventual heavyweight champion, an Atlanta native, twice as an amateur. Although he lost both fights, the family is proud to say that, in an unexpected twist, he gave the legend a standing eight count in one of the fights.
Mike Jarrell, Sr., who remembers hosting outdoor amateur boxing events in what he calls “The Tent” in his youth, wanted to bring a new level of boxing to Savannah.
The family opened Jarrell’s Boxing Gym and the sport took off. With a strong stable of local fighters and some regular visits from some of the best boxers in the world, the Jarrells began promoting shows that reached national television, including ESPN.
“We had a location by the river that was big enough to hold events and at the time we had just about every show sold out. It was a pretty awesome place to watch a fight because it was small enough to hear and see everything that was going on in the ring,” explained Mike Jarrell, Jr. “For a lot of fighters, getting experience in combat is the hardest thing, so having shows locally almost one a month was a huge plus for us.”
The gymnasium was located in the heart of historic downtown on Fahm Street. Where it once stood has been replaced by an upscale hotel. But just a few decades ago, it was a bustling center for boxing in the Deep South.
Al Seager, a veteran out of the gym, remembers the golden age of the gym.
“We had two rings going and stayed open from early morning until late evening. It was a really cool site to come to every night and see fights and training. It was a happening place, man.
Mike Jarrell, Jr. remembers the success of his father’s vision in the early 2000s.
“Paul Williams and Nate Campbell, both undisputed champions, came to train with us in our gym. Both of them also had a number of fights for us when we were hosting shows.
For boxing fans, these two names are synonymous with boxing royalty. Nate Campbell held three of the four major boxing belts while Paul Williams held one.
These two fighters, however, weren’t the only fighters to achieve boxing success in the city.
A few local Savannah fighters have achieved international recognition, including the previously mentioned Al Seager as well as Norman Jones.
Both fighters under the guidance of a respected trainer, Jimmy Chumley, have become internationally ranked. Al Seager won an IBA world title and compiled 28 professional victories. Norman Jones, also the winner of 28 professional fights, fought for a world title against the famous future light heavyweight champion, Montel Griffin.
Norman does not mince his words, becoming a pro boxer was not easy. He started his professional career after winning a local tough guy contest and few would have guessed that he would have made it so far in the sport.
His head trainer was a no-nonsense boxing veteran who believed in forging his fighters the hard way in the gym.
“He used to say, ‘you’re going to get good or quit,'” Norman recalls. The training was intense, sometimes brutal, but all with the aim of making his fighters unbreakable. The fight was tough and the fighters learned never to give up in the heat of the moment.
“In over a decade of training, I’ve never seen my coach stop training, no matter how hard it was for us,” Norman continued.
Asked about his proudest accomplishment in boxing, Norman replied, “At one point I was ranked number six in the country and 12th in the world. It’s something I can definitely look back on. It was pretty good.
That being said, for Norman, many of the best memories of his career are not based on personal accomplishments, but rather on personal relationships.
“Getting to know people. Fighting guys and then getting to know them, getting to know them. That kind of stuff was great,” he explains.
In this way, purists think boxing is beautiful, but make no mistake, the tough sport takes its toll on many fighters with as many fights as Norman.
His career ended before a match that was to take place in New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden, when the damage to his eyes was deemed too severe to compete. He explained that his only regret is his wish to have competed with more great fighters of his generation.
Although he was done fighting, his love of the fighting community carried over into his life after boxing. Today, he is still active in the martial arts community.
He explained, “I started coaching because I care about people. I like trying to give people their best.
Often he can be found at the local boxing and MMA club, Savannah Combat Club, imparting his knowledge to the next generation of fighters.
Since Jarrell’s Boxing Gym ended, boxing’s popularity has waned slightly, but a few community members are fighting hard to keep the sport alive in Savannah.
The Savannah Combat Club, owned by former UFC fighter and professional boxer Stephen Bass, continues the city’s fighting tradition.
After a successful career in combat sports at the highest level, Bass wanted to create a place that could support a competitive combat team in all major combat sports and provide safe yet realistic training for all members of the community. .
He states that the gym’s mission is to provide “strength through martial arts and physical fitness”.
“I want to help make fighters who are good in the ring as well as good people.”
The gym is often involved in community outreach programs and charities. He says learning to box can teach discipline, build people’s confidence and create a sense of community.
These are all things he felt when he started his career training at Jarrell’s Gym and eventually fought and trained in various parts of North America.
While he started boxing at an early age, Bass didn’t start training full-time until his mid-twenties.
“I watched an early UFC broadcast with people I worked with. I told my boss I could do this and he laughed at me. A few years later, I called after my first fight in the UFC, and he already knew why I was calling,” he explains with a laugh.
Although he spent the majority of his career fighting in mixed martial arts, before quitting competition he wanted to return to his roots and box professionally. By the end of his combat sports career, Bass had competed in 14 professional MMA bouts and six professional boxing bouts.
He now uses this experience and knowledge to lead a combat team that competes throughout the Southeastern United States.
Its goal is to help fighters currently competing achieve their dream of succeeding in combat sports.
“The goal is to eventually launch shows, again, in town. Bringing it to a place where local athletes can compete regularly without traveling and where people can see boxing often, I think, will go a long way in making it popular again,” Bass explained.
As Savannah’s importance as a key player in the boxing world has waned, it is hoped that a new era of popularity will set in and a new wave of local fighters will reach the top levels of the boxing world. boxing, once again.