The Arena sets high standards, even higher goals

(l to r) Coach Basheer Abdullah and head boxing coach Joe Vargas watch the action

During a recent sparring session at The Arena gym in Point Loma, San Diego, Calif. we see coach Basheer Abdullah (left) and head boxing coach Joe Vargas (center) intently watching their charges as they go through their paces.

It’s now been six and a half years since The Arena, a 16,000+ square foot facility opened their doors at 3350 Sports Arena Boulevard in Point Loma, San Diego, Calif. Devoid of the usual, thin-skinned, big-dog, loud-talking, boasts of someone like the Donald (Trump), The Arena and their staff are low-key and let their performance do the talking. The Arena becomes our first gym to be placed on the list of Top 10 boxing gyms in San Diego.

When grilled about their flourishing business, Mike Liera, their exuberant general manager, went on like a proud papa: “Right now we have a 1,000 members, the most of any gym. In five years we’ll have an additional 2,000. How is this possible? The Arena is now on pace to have one of the top, if not the top boxing program in the U. S. With the five other disciplines, we have truly become an all combat gym for people interested in learning how to fight and of course win. You want elbow room, we’ve got it. By March, we’ll have expanded our facility from it’s present 16,000 square foot and add an additional 10,000 square foot to become an all encompassing, hard core, athletic conditioning facility. In the building across the way, we’re adding a dry sauna, cold bath, massage rooms and acupuncture.

“We now train fighters in six combat-disciplines: Boxing, MMA, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Muay Thai and Wrestling, plus we take care of their strength and conditioning needs with coach Andy Schnadig. Our trainers, with all their credentials, are in such high demand, we now have 170 classes which begin daily at 6 a.m. and end at 9 p.m., seven days a week. Our dossier of former in-house champions reads like a who’s who with such notables as K. J. Noons, Joe Duarte, Cris Cyborg, ex cetera, ex cetera.”

Coaching has always been the top priority of gyms as far as holding on to their clientele. The Arena trainers all have high-level competitive backgrounds, with more than a few still actively competing. Teaching the many classes, they have people like the legendary grappler Baret “the Finisher” Yoshida, Muay Thai legend Kru Mark who has been training and coaching for 56+ years, pro MMA fighter Jesse Taylor and head boxing coach Joe Vargas with his five assistants, MMA and Muay Thai team coaches Albert Martinez and Vince Salvador and Johnny Billingslea, a Jiu Jitsu competitor and coach.

These are just some of the people responsible for taking a trainee through to the highest level. The record of The Arena fighters in local and national competitions has always been extremely high – an aggregate of 90% winners. And now, since early January of this year, they have put a special emphasis on improving their boxing program by going out and hiring some of the best trainers in the sport.

Liera: “We’ve taken it on ourselves to create a one stop shop. It’s like being an auto garage that is equally proficient at fixing and improving the performance of every known auto on the planet.”

Boxing coaches now on staff:

Head Boxing Coach Joe Vargas has been in the sport for 30 years. As a top amateur, he soon discovered his passion for teaching. At present, he’s working with thirteen hard-nosed professionals and the same number of promising amateurs. He was recently selected the head coach of the local USA Amateur Boxing LBC 44 Travel Team which will be competing in the Bi-National Tournament, U.S. versus Mexico on November 6, 7 and 8 in Tijuana.

The Arena’s head boxing coach, Joe Vargas: “Boxing has been evolving in my family since the early 50's. I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon.” My great uncle Gaspar Ortega was one of the greatest welterweights of his era.

(top, right) “My great uncle, Hall of Famer, Gaspar “El Indio” Ortega (131-39-6, 69 KOs) was one of the greatest welterweights of his era,” said Joe Vargas, The Arena’s head boxing coach. “Since Boxing has been evolving in my family since the early 50’s, I doubt if you’ll ever see any waning of interest anytime soon.” (top, left) As a teenager Vargas had an opportunity to meet and also box a great many talented fighters from Tijuana, like future star Erik Morales (pictured here). (bottom) Joe Vargas extended an invite to Old School Boxing and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

Joe Vargasworking the corner collage

When it comes to working a corner, as we see Coach Vargas doing above with his younger brother Alejandro Vargas (l) and dear friend Jose Toribio (r), nobody is better. He relays the best strategy and settles down an excitable boxer.

Second in command is the newly hired, 52 year-old Basheer Abdullah, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, who first served as an assistant and then head coach of two USA Olympic Boxing teams. He knows firsthand the difference between fighting for dollars and slugging it out for a medal. He’s worked with such notables as: Deontay Wilder, Jermain Taylor, Errol Spence, Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell, Dominic Breazeale, Rau’shee Warren, Jamel Herring, Demetrius Andrade, Fernando Vargas, Antonio Tarver, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Vanes Martirosyan, Gary Russell Jr. and Clarissa Shields.

Rounding out the coaching rotation, you have coach/boxer Ernesto Martinez, Raul Meza, Juan Herrera, Al Gamez and Andy Schnadig. Makes you wonder how long before they’ll be asking Freddie Roach to join the team?

Four time USA Olympic Boxing Coach Basheer Abdullah (far right) has worked with many of the sports top athletes. The former head coach of the 2012 USA Olympic team teaches class at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Photo shows members of the 2004 Team USA boxing team led by head coach Basheer Abdullah at the far right. Among the members of this team you had such notables as Gold Medalist Andre Ward and Bronze Medalist Andre Dirrell.

With there only being one female boxer representing the USA Boxing Team in the super middleweight division (165 pounds), coach Basheer Abdullah and Coach

With there only being one slot open for a female boxer to represent the United States in the Middleweight Division at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, which of the following will it be? Coach Basheer Abdullah, who helped train Clarissa Shields of Detroit, MI (bottom, right), the 2012 Gold Medalist, also trains Raquel Miller (bottom, left) who now resides in San Diego. Also planning to go to Brazil is Danyelle Wolf of San Diego. She trains at The Arena with Joe Vargas. And, before anyone gets over-confident, you still have five additional ladies ready to do battle at the Olympic Trials, October 26 thru October 31 at the Cook Convention Center, Memphis, Tenn.

Even with the addition of a second boxing ring and more coaches, the boxing classes have to run like clockwork. When a member of the Pro ranks prefers to keep their workout private, arrangements are made and additional space has been provided. The pro boxers who now train at The Arena include: Ulises Sierra, Chris Martin, Adrian Vargas, Alejandro Vargas, Keishaun Hill, Rogeligo Ruvalcaba, Jorge De Alba, Jose Toribio, Felipe Ugalde, Smokin’ Joe Perez, Carlos Lozano, Ernesto Martinez and Christian Bojorquez.

Along with the Olympic Trials qualifiers, Danyelle Wolfe and Raquel Miller, they also have a large group of up and coming prospects like: Anthony Franco, David Prado, Ulises Bastidas, Jason Meza and Ernesto Martinez Jr. 

Success stories don’t always hinge on one’s fighting skills. For Ivan Lemus, who started working out at the same time as his close friend Ernesto El Mayimbe Solano, went from 210 pounds down to 158 pounds and Solano went from 320 to 185 lbs. It all came about when the two gents started paying more attention to the man in the mirror and saw these photos of themselves with their main squeeze. With boxing being one the best methods to lose weight, they both decided to take up the sport. And now, when Solano and Lemus run into old acquaintances, they often hear, “Wow, I hardly recognize you.”

(top photo, left) Ernesto El Mayimbe Solano (r) poses for a photo with his long time friend Luissito El M Zamora (l). (photo, right) Shows Ivan Lemus back when he was struggling with the calories.

(left photo) Ernesto El Mayimbe Solano (r) poses for a photo with his long time friend Luissito El M Zamora (l). (right photo) Shows Ivan Lemus back when he was struggling with his up and down weight issues. (below) The same Ernesto Solano (l) and Ivan Lemus (r) pose for a photo after a recent workout at The Arena gym.

biggest weight losers

This concludes our first over-view of a gym which easily passes muster to be ranked in the Top 10 Boxing Gyms within San Diego County. Either for or against this project, your comments, suggestions will be deeply appreciated.

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