Welcome to Bert Wells' Community

By: Missy Fitzwater

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of USA Boxing.

Community is where you are from. It is where you are accepted. Community is home. It is the primary attribute that shapes and molds a person.  Bert Wells was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his two brothers and sisters. This is where he went to school, and the neighborhood he played in. It is also where he accepted a dare from a childhood friend who was headed to the Lauderhill Parks and  Rec Center. Bert recalls asking his friend where he was going, and his friend replied, “To boxing.” “You can’t fight,” taunted Wells, and the retort from his buddy, “You wanna bet?” And with these few words, the line in the sand was drawn.


The two hustled to the boxing gym and the sparring commenced. “Needless to say, he beat my butt,” Wells chuckled. From that point on, Wells returned to the gym everyday. His competitive spirit drove him to the gym to hopefully avenge his “title”. He fell in love with the sport. What he didn’t realize at the time was that he had unknowingly found his community.


This seemingly childhood dare, would shape Bert’s life in unfathomable ways. Boxing would give this young man some of the expected benefit’s: discipline, respect, and responsibility. But it would also, bless his life in ways he couldn’t imagine at the time.


Wells continued to train and find mentoring and guidance from trainers and coaches like Chico Rivas. Rivas introduced Bert to some of the greatest trainers and influencers in Wells life. People like Angelo Dundee, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mr. Paul Murphy, to name just a few. These people had an immense impact on the young Wells life; his community expanded and strengthened.


Paul Murphy, a community activist, welcomed Wells into his gym and modeled the true spirit of community to him. “If I needed shoes or equipment, Mr. Murphy would take me to get them, this support had an enormous impact on me.” With Murphy’s continued support Wells would amass Golden Gloves State Championships, Sunshine State Games Championships, and become a National Jr. Olympics Champion. He was ranked number 5 at 130 lbs. between the years of 1982-1986.


“The various tournaments that I competed in…PAL, Golden Gloves, state, regional, and national tournaments, and even the smokers helped me become a better-rounded fighter; witnessing the different styles of boxing and training techniques and methods. This all groomed me, without me knowing it, for the future.”


As Wells amateur career wound down, he found himself pursuing a career in corporate America. He eventually landed a managerial position in finance at Verizon Wireless and continued this for 24 years, until he received a call from his old friend and mentor, Paul Murphy, who was now a city councilman, “Bert, I need you to come back to the gym and start training the kids.” Wells was reluctant to become a trainer, but Murphy persuaded him to come to the gym and start working out for himself. He acquiesced, and the kids gravitated to him, and before he knew it he was training them. It would seem that Murphy and boxing were about to change the course of Well’s life once again.


Bert threw his heart and soul into training the youth in his community with the same standard that his mentor Paul Murphy had demonstrated with him. Eventually professional boxers would seek out his training services as well, and Wells found himself in the midst of a new phase in his life.


Bert and his community were about to experience one of those surprising blessings that boxing held for him. One afternoon a woman wandered into the boxing gym during a coaches clinic. The pretty woman caught Wells, eye and he asked if he could help her. She replied that she was trying to find someone to adopt a pup. “What kind of dog is it?” He inquired. Her reply, “A boxer.” With a twinkle in his eye, Bert said, “Miss, you’re in a boxing gym full of about 200 boxing coaches. I am sure we can find someone here to adopt a boxer!” And just like that, Bert met his future wife.


Bert found a partner in Lisa, not only in his home life, but also in his community. She was unfamiliar with boxing when the two met, but she would come to share the same passion for all of the positives that the sport has to offer young men and women. Eventually, when Paul Murphy passed away, the two took over the gym, and in an act of respect and honor, the gym was named The Paul Murphy Boxing Gym.


Lisa and Bert run the gym together, each taking on different aspects of responsibility; he is the head coach, and she runs the office. They face many of the same challenges that gyms across the country experience. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the monumental challenge lies in funding. Initially the plan for the The Paul Murphy Boxing Gym was to be a profit gym, one that charges a monthly fee to train at. But the Wells quickly discovered that this endeavor would not be viable. Most amateur boxers come from challenging personal situations and  simply don’t have disposable funds to pay for a gym membership; and they do not make any money from fighting.


Bert sought out other options to fund his gym. This is when an integral part of Wells philosophy of community and boxing began to take shape; the concept of partnership. “You have to have some sort of academic component, and educational component, to offer your amateur athletes. This allows you to qualify for grants and scholarships.” The partnerships that Wells has fostered allows him to continue to offer the life-changing opportunities of boxing to his community.


Another challenge that the Wells’ experienced was developing an amateur boxer.  Amateur boxers need the experience of competition to advance their skills. One resource to obtain that experience is the local boxing competition show; the smokers. Initially, these are the necessary bouts that a boxer needs to get ring experience, but often a boxer will meet the same opponent, time and time again, at the local smokers. The next level is to travel to tournaments, which imposes financial challenges, as well the fact that most tournaments at the time were only available to the much more experienced open level boxer.


Wells decided to offer a local tournament option that was available to both novice and open boxers. His tournament quickly grew to include anywhere from 200-600 boxers. Bert's community was expanding once again.


Following the 2012 Olympic Games, Wells received a letter from the director of USA Boxing, John Brown. The letter was a call to action to the coaches and gyms across the country to find ways to produce boxers who would reach the top of podiums in future International competitions. When a call for action is given in Bert Wells’ community, he responds. Bert and Lisa began to brainstorm. They surmised that the challenges they experienced at a local level, were the same challenges that gyms were having across the country.


They began to author multi-level plan that was based on the local tournament that they had offered to the boxers in their state. They envisioned the tournament on a much larger scale that would span the country. It would be an enormous undertaking, but they were happy to rise to the challenge; thus, Sugar Bert Boxing Promotions, LLC was created.


The promotion company immediately began to work on the Sugar Bert Boxing Title Belt National Championship. The tournament would include a series of qualifying tournaments across the nation, and culminating with one national tournament. The cities that the tournament takes place are strategically chosen to be accessible to as many boxers as possible in the area. This is an important factor for teams that have limited resources for travel.


Another vital component to the SBBTBNC series, was that it would be inclusive to all age, experience, and gender divisions of amateur boxing. Again, Wells carefully took into consideration the call to action; boxers need ring experience, they need to face a variety of opponents to develop their skills. There are multiple levels a boxer needs to fight through to become a part of the roughly 3% of boxers who are skilled enough to be competitive at a national level, and further, the 1% who process the skills to be competitive at an international level. Bert’s hopes for his tournament were that a gym could bring an entire team from the youngest, least experienced boxers, to the most experienced elite boxers, and that they could all begin to gain valuable skills that could carry them to their next level.


Bert and Lisa were determined to produce the most polished product possible. They wanted the tournament to not only be a vehicle to gain invaluable skill and experience, but also an event, filled with all of the excitement and hype of a professional type atmosphere. Their boxers would be treated to the best awards, an exciting atmosphere that includes music, announcements, and another element that few amateur boxers experience; media exposure.


Amateur boxing has important stories to tell. Inspiring stories of struggle and the sheer determination it takes to rise above those struggles. Bert would love to see these stories told on television, “Amateur boxing is a reality show in itself. With so many channels available, boxing should be somewhere, telling the stories of the boxers and the gyms.”


Wells recalls the excitement of watching boxing on the three major networks growing up, “It was amateur boxing, we saw Sugar Ray Leonard before he went pro. There was coverage of Olympic Boxing, and every Saturday morning, right after cartoons, you could watch amateur boxing. Amateur boxing needs to get a little shine!”


“A little shine” would enable possibly the most impactful component of the multi-level plan to fall into place…the partnerships. Wells detects the glaring disadvantage that amateur boxing has compared to other amateur sports. “It is apparent when you walk into amateur lacrosse, soccer, basketball, football and baseball gyms; you see the signs of sponsorship from major companies. It is apparent at the middle school level and even more so at the high school level.”

Amateur boxing has yet to attract this level of attention from sponsors. Bert understands the impact that this attention would have on the sport and it is his mission to attract partnerships with major companies to shine a light on boxing and elevate it to the same level as other amateur sports.


The inaugural Sugar Bert Boxing Tournament was in 2016, in Branson, MO. Since that initial tournament, Wells has continued to strive to make the tournament an important component in the development of amateur boxing. Recently, he introduced a ranking system that keeps track of boxers that have participated in the tournament, and that allows the top ranked athletes to receive stipends to cover the cost of travel and other expenses involved in participating. He continues to push amateur boxing into the media and reach out to companies to forge partnerships that will bring attention to amateur boxing.

 

The tournament continues to grow in scope and popularity since the initial tournament in Branson MO. Bert, Lisa, and the Sugar Bert Promotions staff are constantly challenging themselves to provide an outstanding experience for amateur boxers. Boxing legends and icons such as Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, and Pernell Whitaker, as well as current stars, Alicia Baumgarder, Shakur Stevenson, and Al Cole have all taken notice of the tournament and lend their support. They can often be found in attendance watching bouts and offering words of encouragement and advice to participating boxers.

 


The 2018 National Championships will be held in Kissimmee FL-Disney World on Nov. 16-18. If a boxer hasn’t already secured a spot at the Championships, never fear, there is one more opportunity to qualify at the Columbus Georgia Convention Center, on September 8th and 9th. Registration packets and all of the necessary information for the tournament can be found at

https://www.sugarbertboxing.com/events


The stage has already been set for the 2019 series. Venues have been secured in Montgomery, AL, Virginia Beach, VA, Punta Gorda, FL, Columbus, GA, and Kissimmee, FL. Negotiations are also underway to add events in the states of California and Texas.


The SBBTBNC has created an excited buzz among our nation’s amateur boxers. This is evident in their social media accounts as they anticipate attending one of the qualifying events, and ask “who else is going to be there?” The tournament is quickly becoming a rite of passage event for today’s novice and open boxers.


With a simple childhood dare, Bert Wells found his community; the place he felt safe and welcomed, the place he would find his family, the place that housed his heart and soul. With a simple childhood dare, the community of amateur boxing found one of its fiercest warriors, someone who would champion its causes, a visionary with the heart to grow the sport. With a simple childhood dare, a perfect partnership was formed and with that partnership, the community of amateur boxing was nurtured, strengthened and expanded.