MANNING - DeShaun Sinkler might be a novice light heavyweight boxer, but he's earning himself a name as a winner in the ring. The young Clarendon County native has two bouts under his belt. He won them both and a championship belt, too.
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"He started his boxing career right here at 180 about six months ago," Gabriel Blackwell said Monday afternoon as he watched Sinkler maneuver around the ring. "He's a talented boxer who trusts what I tell him and wants to learn and become better."
Blackwell is a deputy with Clarendon County Sheriff's Office and works at Manning Elementary School as a Resource Officer. After he gets off work, he heads to the gym he founded less than a year ago, 180 Boxing and Fitness, at 31 N. Brooks St. in Manning.
Why the name 180 Boxing and Fitness?
"There are 180 seconds in each round," Blackwell shared. "And it takes a 180-degree turn to turn your life around. That's what I want to see accomplished here. I want to motivate men and women to turn their lives around through exercise and boxing."
In the late 1980s, Russell Blackwell took his son to the gym with him one day so he could watch his father work out. That single visit made a lasting impression on the youngster.
"After one visit, I fell in love with it," Blackwell said. "Boxing isn't about fighting. It teaches discipline and dedication. It's a competitive sport where you can challenge yourself to become the best you can be."
While Russell Blackwell shared his love for the sport with his son, Gabriel Blackwell shares his love for the sport with Sinkler and everyone who attends 180 Boxing and Fitness.
Sinkler won his first bout in Charleston at the Hollywood Birthday Bash. He went three rounds and won by points, Blackwell said.
Last month, Sinkler attended the Showdown in the Pee Dee which was held in Darlington with boxers traveling from all over the Southeast to compete.
"DeShaun won in two rounds when the referee stopped the fight," Blackwell said. "There were lots of boxers there from established gyms, and he won after boxing for less than six months. He defeated a boxer who came from Florida to compete. This is just the beginning for DeShaun. He's going to win more bouts and belts."
At the back of 180 Boxing and Fitness, Blackwell has a regulation-sized boxing ring setup so his boxers can practice in the same arena where they compete.
"I've had it a couple of weeks," he said. "I drove down to Florida and picked it up. It really helps fighters get ready for competitions. They get a feel for the ring. The actual ring teaches them to cut a fighter off and how to press in on a fighter. It teaches them how to counter from the ropes and how to fight out in the middle of the ring. They need to master all of those things and more, and to actually practice in a ring will make them better fighters."
Blackwell doesn't train just male boxers. He has a talented 36-year-old female that he thinks will become a winner.
On April 13, Katrina Gibson and Blackwell will head to Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base Camp in North Carolina for her first fight. Before teaming up with Blackwell, Gibson worked for about a year with the late Roy Matthews, whom Blackwell described as a fantastic coach and trainer.
"She's going up against a Marine from Camp Lejeune," Blackwell said. "It's her first fight, and I know she's going to do well. It's all about conditioning, training, exercise, your diet and getting your mind focused on what you need to do."
Blackwell said seeing his trainees do well makes him feel really good.
"They're doing everything I ask them to do," he said. "They trust what I tell them, and that makes me feel good."
Blackwell also offers fitness training at 180 Boxing and Fitness. On Monday, he had a mother and her two daughters, two other women and a gentleman working their way through repetitive exercises, including punching, squats, pushups, working the ropes, tossing a medicine ball and then doing everything again and again.
"Repetition. It's all about repetition," Blackwell said. "It's also a lot of fun. I let them work out at their own pace and level. Seeing each other advance is a motivation all in itself."
Each Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., Master Ellison teaches Kung Fu at no charge.
"Those classes are beginning to catch on," Blackwell said. "It really surprises mothers when I tell them there is no charge for the class. I offer the classes to encourage youngsters to exercise and teach them the disciplines of martial arts, and Master Ellison is a great instructor."
When asked what the age levels were to attend the fitness classes, Blackwell laughed.
"I've had a 72-year-old take the classes," he said, smiling. "From age 5 to seniors, if they're willing to attend and work at their own levels, I'm willing to work with them, and we'll definitely have fun while we're doing it."
For more information on 180 Boxing and Fitness, drop by 31 N. Brooks St. between 4:30 and 9 p.m. or call (803) 460-8465.
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