A young boy waited on the steps of an old white church building on the corner of 10th and Fillmore streets. The owners, five-time world boxing champion Michael Carbajal and his girlfriend Laura Hall, walk down the street toward the building, now Carbajal’s Ninth Street Gym.
Hall, who runs the Laura Hall A-S-P-I-R-E Foundation in Litchfield Park, greeted the boy as Carbajal unlocked and opened the door, revealing a red boxing ring in the center. Hall and the boy entered the gym and Carbajal proceeded to wrap the boy’s hands in athletic tape. After a few minutes, six more people entered the gym and the group began their training as many in this gym had for the past 15 years.
However, Carbajal’s legal issues could force the gym to close, and if so, it is unclear what community outlet these youths in the Garfield Historic District will have left.
Carbajal, a Phoenix native, opened his gym in 1993 to give his community something productive, he said. He met Hall in 2006, and because of her passion to empower youth, she helped him run the gym.
“There’s no line in background, race, religion, skin, size. Once you walk up those stairs, we’re all equal, and we all work together and there’s none of that conflict,” Hall said. “There are a lot more lessons to be learned here rather than throwing a right hook and a left jab.”
Because of his financial problems with his brother and former trainer, Danny Carbajal, the boxer urges his members to learn how to manage their earnings as boxers. Danny was in charge of finances while Michael was earning money boxing because he was focused and concentrated only on his sport, Michael said.
“He stole everything I have from me,” he said.
Danny was recently released from a 54-month prison term for theft and fraud involving his ex-wife’s money.
David Derickson, Michael’s attorney, said in 2007 the Carbajal brothers were in a lawsuit over who had rights over a plot of residential property, which does not include the gym, on Fillmore Street. The settlement ended with Michael retaining the property. Michael received the property at the beginning of this year.
Derickson said they found that after the lawsuit Danny sold the gym along with a number of other properties to the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides activities for youth. The group filed a lawsuit against Michael and Derickson and Michael filed a counterclaim.
Danny sold the gym under presumption that he had property rights through his corporation, which was administratively dissolved in 2001, Derickson said. However, because Michael started his own Carbajal Ninth Street Gym corporation in 2007, Derickson said Michael has rights to the land and property.
“He (Danny) had no right to it because 10 years has passed,” Derickson said. “The corporation Michael owns it in has been running for at least four years, and Danny hasn’t done anything to maintain ownership for the old corporation … He has no right to sell it.”
Thomas Harper, a director at the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation and attorney in the case, was contacted and declined to comment. He did mention via email that the boxing team at the foundation is going to lose its current facility in the near future.
Right now both sides are still going through documents necessary for each side to present its case to the judge, Derickson said. No trial date has been set.
“Learn everything about your financial situation,” Michael Carbajal said. “I’m telling you it can come from your own family. It happened to me. That’s what I tell these guys.”
Carbajal said a problem he encounters with the younger generation is their lack of dedication and ideas of attaining fame easily.
“They go, ‘Oh I want to be famous or I want to make a lot of money!’ and I say don’t do it because of those two things,” Carbajal said. “You got to do it because you love it. You got to like the combat of it, the competitiveness of it.”
The lessons Carbajal and Hall talk about center around Carbajal’s experiences from his professional boxing career and his legal struggles with his brother. She said the gym space provides a sense of belonging for youth.
Carbajal learned how to box from his father when he was 5 years old. He had his first match when he was 14 years old. Carbajal continued to fight and rose from an amateur fighter to professional. He won the silver medal at the 1987 Pan American Games and another silver medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
He won the International Boxing Federation Light Flyweight world championship in 1990. In the nine years that followed, Carbajal would lose and win back his champion title. Carbajal lost his champion title to Jacob Matlala from South Africa in 1997, and didn’t fight again until 1999 when he challenged the World Boxing Organization Junior Flyweight world champion Jorge Arce.
“I said ‘I can’t go out like that. I got to go out world champion. I want to be world champion, retire world champion,’” Carbajal said.
He won, and retired as a five-time world champion in 1999. In 2006 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Carbajal’s mentality of never giving up has helped him throughout his career. Now as a trainer he said he helps those who come to him by giving them the desire, mentality and conditioning he needed to be a world champion.
Carbajal said one of his goals with the gym is to develop more world champions. He has been training amateur fighters since 1993, starting in his backyard.
It costs $40 to train at the gym per month and an additional $55 a year to be a part of USA Boxing Arizona. Carbajal said members come and go depending on their finances, but they usually come back.
“I got to keep the gym running so I got to charge,” Carbajal said. “That’s when I get hurt — when they can’t afford it and I can’t do anything about it.”
It’s important for kids to find something they enjoy doing, Hall said. She’s been successful in life, she said, because of the drive and determination she had with sports.
“You still have to be disciplined, you still have to be persistent, you still have to have a willingness, you have to believe in yourself, you have to have self-motivation,” Hall said. “You can’t rely on someone else. Those lessons carry through all areas of your life.”
Despite the litigation, Carbajal continues to run the gym to give kids an outlet away from crime, just as boxing gave him an opportunity.
“It helped me out a lot because when I was growing up everybody was getting involved with drugs, gangs, all of that stuff,” Carbajal said. “That’s why mainly I did the gym there. There’s still a little bit of it but it’s not quite as bad.”
Carbajal’s Ninth Street Boxing Gym is a resource for those in the community, Hall said. She and Carbajal try to help any families in need multiple times a year, from donating household appliances to directing students to scholarship opportunities.
Carbajal said he hopes after the case with his brother is over that he and Hall can begin after-school programs. What matters now, Hall said, is that the gym is open so the youth can have positive mentors and be in a safe environment.
“I think it’s important to realize the children are not ‘our future.’ They are our ‘right now.’ It’s imperative we address their needs now,” Hall said. “They are our responsibility right now and we have a responsibility to educate and guide them.”
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