NEWTON â€” The heyday of boxing might have been the late â€™80s and early â€™90s, but as a form of fitness, its popularity is holding strong.
â€œYou would be surprised how many phone calls I still get for boxing,â€ said Andy Suitela, owner of Suitela Fight Club. â€œEven though itâ€™s maybe not as popular to watch anymoreâ€¦ people still want to learn it.â€
Mixed martial arts has seemingly taken the spotlight as the leading fight sport, but boxing is still among the most popular forms of combat taught at Suitelaâ€™s gym. Itâ€™s an excellent workout that strengthens muscles and sharpens minds, testing oneâ€™s reflexes, stability and stamina.
â€œBoxing is like the meat and potatoes,â€ he said. â€œYou learn how to block, you learn how to evade, you learn how to punch in straight lines, fast, with accuracy, with a great deal of power.â€
Suitela, 50, has run his club out of Newton for 20 years, offering courses in boxing, kickboxing, MMA, karate and jiu jitsu. He started in martial arts at age five, training and his dadâ€™s karate school at George Vanier Elementary.
â€œI remember I wanted to quit when I was 11. He said, â€˜Thatâ€™s fine, but youâ€™re grounded until youâ€™re 18,â€™â€ Suitela recalled with a laugh. â€œThat was motivation to continue training.â€
Suitela trained under his dadâ€™s watch for 22 years, entering his first tournament at five and retiring from in-ring competition at 27 â€“ arguably before his prime, but as he put it, â€œSometimes the preparation for the fight can be more brutal than the fight itself.â€
Around that time, Surrey had seen an influx of â€œMcDojos,â€ martial arts schools that overcharge without properly teaching forms of combat. Wanting to create a legitimate club to share his knowledge, Suitela opened his own fight club in 1995.
â€œMy goal was to create a club that I didnâ€™t train at,â€ he said. â€œI wanted to have a ring, the proper equipment, the right coaching, and I wanted to give the instruction that I didnâ€™t receive myself. I received good instruction from my dad and other instructors, but it came sporadically.â€
Suitela has seen interest in different martial arts fluctuate over the years. The rise of UFC has led to an increased interest in muay thai and jiu jitsu, but he admits itâ€™s not for everyone.
â€œPeople are jumping on the MMA bandwagon, but they donâ€™t know sometimes who they are themselves,â€ he said. â€œSometimes, a person comes in for jiu jitsu, and then they see what the boxers do and think, I might want to do that too.
â€œThereâ€™s a martial art for everybody. Anybody can do it regardless of gender, age, physical fitness.â€
Suitelaâ€™s classes are filled with the usual 18-to-36 male MMA fans, but also single moms, doctors and corrections officers looking for recreation or to learn self-defence.
â€œIf youâ€™re going to be in law enforcement, at some point, youâ€™re going to be training hand-to-hand combat,â€ said Suitela. â€œMany police officers go an entire career without pulling their weapon, but they do get into altercations and they do have to get people down.â€
Likewise, Suitela offers courses for kids to learn martial arts â€“ and he assures parents their children wonâ€™t become more violent as a result, noting he teaches respect, discipline and conflict resolution.
â€œDiplomacy first until someone lays hands on you. You can talk your way out of just about any situation without throwing a kick or a punch.â€
And donâ€™t think combat sports are only for fighting or self-defence. Suitela said athletes from a wide range of sports â€“ hockey, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, rugby and ringette, to name a few â€“ use fighting as exercise to build core strength, agility and endurance in their respective fields.
â€œIn an hour, if you give 100 per cent, youâ€™re going to burn about 600 to 900 calories,â€ he said. â€œWe define and tone muscles â€“ we make you faster and stronger.â€
Suitela has trained many fighters over the years, but he recognizes that, to most of the people who walk through the front door, his club isnâ€™t just a place to learn how to throw hands. Whether training for bouts or for exercise, itâ€™s an exciting alternative to the weightlifting and cardio routines of other gyms.
â€œMost people come here for recreational reasons only,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re looking for something that is unique and different.â€