Eric Ash is the head coach and owner of Richmond’s Vintage Boxing, a gym he opened about four years ago. He has a long history with boxing, starting as a teenager competing in amateur fights. After taking a long break from the sport due to personal conflicts, Eric returned to boxing as a coach, slowly building up from teaching small seminars and private lessons before starting his own gym. Eric’s love for boxing began watching matches with his grandfather as a kid and now he runs Vintage Boxing to pass on his knowledge and passion for the sport. We got some time with him to discuss it all.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Eric Ash and I own Vintage Boxing in Richmond, VA. I started boxing as a teenager and had several amateur fights. Then I went to the Virginia Military Institute and boxed for four years, three of which I was captain of the team. After college, I had even more amateur fights and got my pro license. I had a couple fights lined up but they never happened due to issues with managing boxing and not knowing how to run a business.
Photo by Kimberly Frost
Why did you get into boxing and what interested you about it?
My grandfather was a big fan of boxing and I always enjoyed watching matches with him. It was just intriguing to me. I loved it and it’s one of those sports that none of my friends were doing either — it just captured my attention. And it was one of those things where me, I was a wild ass kid, so I needed the structure and I also didn’t have a father figure at home that I looked up to so it was what I needed. I started training with a guy named Tom Brown. He was a local boxing coach that had a lot of respect from people all over the country. He taught me a lot and I listened to him every day. It just got ingrained in me. So when it came to coaching, it just came naturally after being trained by him for a few years and then leading workouts as captain of my college boxing team at VMI.
At first, I had no interest in coaching, I just wanted to fight. But being at the Virginia Military Institute and learning the ropes of coaching was a great experience. After college, I had a couple more fights and then got married young. My wife at the time didn’t like me training all the time so we constantly fought about it. I eventually took a break from boxing. It wasn’t until I ran into my old coach from college on a random Thanksgiving vacation in Florida that he convinced me to come back to coaching, which was about 10 years ago when I was 38.
How long was that gap, then, like 14 years?
Yeah, right around that. Yeah. Well, that time I still went to gyms everywhere, always bought my boxing gear and trained boxing, but I wasn’t competing anymore. I was just getting some sparring in here and there and just enjoying the experience of traveling with fighting. I met a bunch of people who ran gyms, and that’s the cool thing about boxing – you can take a pair of gloves with you on vacation, bring your workout gear and walk into a gym and get a decent workout in. Nine times out of ten, you’re welcomed by the community, especially if they know you’ve had a bunch of fights.
So you’re 38 and you’re thinking about coaching. Why did you make the move? What was the boxing environment like in Richmond? Did you have any opportunities to coach without opening your own place?
I had a few opportunities to teach some seminars here and there. Then I ended up teaching boxing at a place called United Front. It’s not around anymore, but I taught boxing and did private lessons there for about a year and a half. That led me to starting Vintage at the same gym I started at as a teenager. I put a Facebook ad out saying I had availability at 5am and 6am from Monday to Friday and that led to about 30 people wanting to work out with me. It was cool, but we quickly outgrew the location and ended up moving.
When did you open Vintage Boxing?
I opened this about four years ago now. And before that I had a small garage gym setup right off Roseneath in Scotts Addition. And that only lasted a year, we were kind of busting at the seams, we had over 100 people coming in and out there. And when we moved here, we had the front area and then there was a gym in the back here. The backroom was kind of like CrossFit-ish workouts. And they fizzled out of business and we were able to take over the back room. So and that’s and then over the that was three years ago now that we took over the back room and it was perfect timing because we couldn’t sustain anything more in the front area anymore. It was just going crazy in there.
What kind of people come and train? So the romanticised version is, it’s desperate people off the street and they’re trying to clean up their life but you are a mix between a regular gym and a boxing gym, right?
The platform is definitely boxing. People come in, want to learn new skill set, but the demographic is a wide range. We have people from 8 years old all the way to 80 years old training here that are members, full time members and they train with pro fighters, so they’re right next to somebody that is fighting professionally, and then you’ve got regular folks, just learning, learning right beside them and it’s a cool mix. The culture is really cool.
It’s not always about getting in the ring, it’s about getting a good workout too.
Yeah, that’s what we try to emphasize here. We don’t want people to get in the ring and get hit until they’ve learned all the necessary skills. So we have a tiered system: level one, level two, and level three. When you first start, you’re in level one and you learn all the fundamentals. After 30 classes, you can either stay in level one or move up to level two, where there’s slightly more contact and a faster pace. After another 30 classes in level two, you can choose to move up to level three and start sparring if you want to. But the idea is to make sure everyone has the skills and knowledge to protect themselves before they get in the ring. It just makes the whole experience more enjoyable that way.
So you do have a pipeline to be pro and you do train professionals.
Yeah, we definitely have a pipeline for professional fighters and we also train professionals at a high level. For example, we had a fighter who fought on Pay Per View for Showtime last summer in a heavyweight championship bout. It can be a challenge to cater to both the general population and specialized fighters, but it’s also an attraction for people to come in and train alongside high level athletes and learn from them. Even if someone has no desire to become a professional fighter or compete, they still have the opportunity to work out with them and learn from them. It’s a big deal.
What is your favorite part about coaching?
Helping. This is more of a wellness center than anything else. The mental health aspect has been huge. I didn’t realize when I started this that it could really change someone’s life like it changed mine. When you become a coach, you realize it’s not about that. It’s about changing people’s lives. We’ve had people lose over 100 pounds and we have videos and pictures of how it’s changed their life! We’ve had people come in here who were going through deep, dark struggles with depression and seeing them change and become a completely different person than when they walked through the door. That’s been the biggest enjoyment for me, knowing that we are making a difference in this community and helping people get through their issues and problems. That’s been the most enjoyable part for me.
That’s amazing. Do you have a particular success story? You mentioned the 15 year old kid who is now a coach.
Yeah, we have Josiyah Giles, who just turned pro. He fought last month and is fighting again in Tampa this month. He came to us when he was 15 years old, and both him and his mom were homeless, living out of their car. After a year of working with us and working out here, he got a job here.
Before that, he was working at a fast food restaurant and was told that’s all he’s qualified to do for the rest of his life. But he’s found his passion in life. His family is super supportive, and they know that he’s changed everything about his life since being here. Now he’s not only found his passion for boxing, but he has a career and a skill set that he can teach to others. This is something he can do for the rest of his life, if he chooses. It sets him up for success with the right mindset and the ability to tackle the day.
“Teach a man to fish” analogy, right?
Photo by Kimberly Frost
Who’s the best boxer of all time? Or better, who is your favorite boxer?
Marvin Hagler is my favorite. I tried to imitate him. He was someone I looked up to. Of course, I wasn’t anywhere near as good as him, but he was someone I liked to imitate for sure.
So it’s January 2023. What are you most looking forward to this year?
Just being able to help more people. That’s it. Every day we have new people signing up and joining the gym, and that really excites me. It’s great to have a secure business, but the thing that really gets me going is knowing that we can make a difference in someone’s life. I can see it after the first day, when the light bulb goes off and they’re just happy. That brings me joy. So if you’re interested, come by and check us out.
Photo by Kimberly Frost