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Over-the-Rhine Boxing Gym Is Training Ground For Olympians, Hopefuls & Regular Kids Alike

Ann Thompson
Cincinnati Boxing Olympians take up an entire wall at Cincinnati Golden Gloves in OTR.

Just past four o'clock each day, the Over-the-Rhine Boxing Center comes alive with kids. Toddlers tag along with parents who are working out. Elementary, middle and high school kids come to get instruction, find friendship and compete. The lessons they learn go beyond the ring.

Three-time Olympian Rau'shee Warren is at the Boxing Center preparing for his next professional fight. He remembers when he first came to Buddy LaRosa's boxing gym. He was five and living in the crime-riddled English Woods. "It was like a new playground for me," he says. "My eyes got big. My eyebrows went up. So I'm like, 'I want to fight him, and him and him!' "

The coaches who befriended and trained him helped Warren make the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams. He's the only boxer to ever make three Olympic teams.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
At age 34, Warren now fights professionally. His next fight is Aug. 14 in Carson, California, on Showtime.
Olympian Rau'shee Warren told WVXU's Ann Thompson how a Buddy LaRosa gym in Millvale was his second home.

Eyes are on another Cincinnati boxer for this Olympics. Featherweight Duke Ragan is scheduled to fight Saturday night at 11:36 p.m. eastern. Ragan was largely trained by his dad, but recently spent a lot of time with Cincinnati Golden Gloves and Head Coach Mike Stafford.

"He's so happy that he was on the Olympic team," says Stafford. "Anytime that you turn pro then you say, 'We'll give up the pros to be on the Olympic team.' " (Rule changes have allowed professional boxers to fight at the Olympics.)

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Fifth Grader Scion Mulholland says some day he would like to own a boxing gym. His trainers say he could easily go professional if he stays with boxing.

Stafford is excited about Ragan's chances at the Olympics. He also has his eyes on another up-and-comer: 10-year-old Scion Mulholland, who returned with gold from the Junior Olympics this month.

Cincinnati Golden Gloves, largely supported by the LaRosa family of the LaRosa's pizza chain, is run by Christina LaRosa. She drove a van to Texas to take three boys to the Junior Olympics. "My personal mission as the executive director is to help empower these kids and help them have successful lives," she says.

According to LaRosa, 30% of kids at the gym will probably end up with successful boxing careers. She's trying to keep the other 70% from falling through the cracks.

"Nine out of 10 kids in our gym either have been diagnosed with behavioral issues or they're dealing with socio-economic challenges, and you can see the kids change," she says.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Cincinnati Golden Gloves operates out of the OTR Boxing Center, a building it's trying to buy from the City of Cincinnati.

Eighty-percent of boxers are from the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

What Is The LaRosa Connection?

LaRosa, an attorney, who moved back to Cincinnati to represent the pizzeria chain, wanted to become involved in her grandfather's boxing organization. She jokingly says Buddy has only recognized her the last two years as the executive director of Cincinnati Golden Gloves after she proved herself.

Buddy has always been a boxing fan. His father was a boxer in Cincinnati in the 1930s. After Buddy got his restaurants going and his sons could run them, he devoted more time to boxing. He trained two-time World Champion Aaron Pryors and pro boxer Tommy Ayers and then opened gyms throughout the city.

In 2014 he was in the Over-the-Rhine gym when WVXU did this story.

On a daily basis, the kids at the center see nationally known professionals. Three-time World Champion Devon Alexanderwas in Cincinnati this week training for a fight, walking backwards on a treadmill while jabbing with a trainer. His home base is in St. Louis. Standing beside him was nationally known cut-man Levi Smith. As coach, it's Smith's job to stop the bleeding so fighters can continue in the boxing ring.

He explains his technique this way. "It's like a glue almost. Sometimes I can squeeze it together so that cut stays closed long enough after the fight and the doctor can stitch it up." Smith has worked on professionals and amateurs alike.

Cincinnati Olympic Boxers:

  • 1948-Wallace "Bud" Smith
  • 1972-Raymond Russell
  • 1980-Tony Tubbs (U.S. boycotted the Olympics)
  • 1992-Tim Austin and Larry Donald
  • 2000-Ricardo Williams Jr. and Dante Craig
  • 2004-Ron Siler Jr. and Rau'shee Warren
  • 2008-Rau'shee Warren
  • 2012-Rau-shee Warren
  • 2021-Duke Ragan
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
A coach works with one of the kids at the OTR Boxing Center.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.