Mack Lewis became a Baltimore legend and a boxing icon by changing the lives of young men from his eastside gym. In an old two story building on the corner of Eager and Broadway Lewis used boxing as the vehicle to turn neighborhood chumps into world champions while managing their careers as a confidant and a mentor for nearly 50 years. Lewis died at the age of 92 in 2010.
However, the legacy of training and mentoring is a distant memory that is trying to be awakened by an assortment of youth interested in re-igniting the Mack Lewis legend on East Bond Street.
Shawn and Phillip Robinson have moved their family’s storied youth boxing program to the historic facility as they continue to train for the upcoming Sugar Bert National Tournament. Team G-Up Nation, as they are known, now has moved to their program to the new Mack Lewis gym hoping their success will be a catalyst to a renaissance in and out of the ring.
“We’re looking to bring life back to Mack Lewis Gym,” said Shawn Robinson, the head coach of G-Up Nation. “The challenge is to return to the days where we develop more contenders on the local scene.”
Mack Lewis Gym was once the hub for training Baltimore’s premiere boxers and produced two world champions. Through five decades the gym’s founder used his building as a sanctuary to develop athletes into productive citizens who could survive the perilous conditions in the neighborhood. His finest moments came as the old building on Eager and Broadway was on the verge of falling apart.
In 1994 Vincent Pettway became its first titlist when he won the IBF Light Middleweight Championship with a knockout of Gianfranco Rosi after training for 21 years under Lewis’ watch. Seven years later Hasim Rahman knocked out Lennox Lewis which gave him the heavyweight title and Lewis gym its second world champion.
G-Up Nation is a rising power in national amateur boxing circles and is arguably the top local program. Shawn’s four children – Ibrahim, Muhammad, Musa, and daughter Candice Carter are currently state and regional champions. The team assembled in 2012 has been consistently successful in Maryland’s Silver and Golden Gloves competition. Each of the younger Robinsons has been a state championship belt and qualified for the Sugar Bert Nationals in Kissimmee, Florida November 18-21 in Kissimmee, Florida.
Despite their inexperience success has been swift for Team G-Up Nation. Ibrahim, 15, won the Maryland Silver Gloves championship and was a national semifinalist in 2014. Muhammad, 13, won Maryland Golden Gloves titles in 2013 and 2015. Musa, 11, won his first Silver Gloves title at nine years old in his first bout and has been ranked as high as fifth nationally in his weight class. Candice, 17, is currently ranked second in the nation also.
This family barnstormed through west side gyms once they relocated from York, Pennsylvania in 2006. However, their foray into combat sports began as participants in the Stick and Move martial arts afterschool program under the guidance of Antoine Dorm.
G-Up Nation has also benefitted from tutelage at Upton Boxing under coaches Mack Ellison and Calvin Ford. They also trained at UMAR Boxing under coach Marvin McDowell on North Avenue. Dorm and McDowell are the example the Robinsons plan to use for transforming of Mack Lewis Gym into more than just a boxing recreation center.
They want to re-establish the gym as anchor of the community. If answers to grant proposals they have submitted are favorable by next fall an afterschool program will provide children mentorship, guidance, tutoring, computer literacy, and a safe place to congregate daily.
“It’s about more than just boxing,” said Phillip Robinson. “This is part of the Mack Lewis legacy.”