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Retired boxers reunite in Kalamazoo

Portrait of Ford in a boxing stance, wearing a black shirt with an illustration in white, of a pair of boxing gloves below the words "Night Train"
Jodi Miesen
Lionell Ford poses at the boxers' reunion, Saturday September 10 in Kalamazoo

The boxers once trained at a famed gym in Kalamazoo. Its history is the subject of a recent documentary, screened last weekend at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

Kalamazoo was the destination last weekend for retired boxers from around the country. They gathered to watch a documentary about the former Kalamazoo Boxing Academy downtown.

“Forgotten Fighters” showcases the glory days of the KBA. It catered to both amateurs and pros in the 70’s. It attracted well-known boxers such as Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks, and Floyd Mayweather Sr. The screening took place at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, which ironically, stands where the gym once stood.

Retired amateur boxer Lionell Ford said you could tell the documentary was well-received by the applause.

“And I could tell by the tears that was shed by some of the people that was sitting in their seats watching the documentary”, he added.

After the screening, boxers gathered nearby outside of Lawrence Productions, the production company that partnered with late filmmaker Dacia Bridges on "Forgotten Fighters." Bridges had a personal connection to the gym: She was the granddaughter of Eddie Bridges, a well-known amateur trainer there. Her dad, uncles, and many family friends were all boxers at the KBA. Dacia passed away before the documentary was completed. Lawrence Productions finished the documentary for her.

Dacia’s dad, retired boxer Danny Bridges, was one of many former fighters who came to the reunion. He and his colleagues reminisced about about the old days over barbecue. They exchanged stories, caught up on each other’s lives and remembered the boxers who have died since their time at the KBA. They also read correspondence from those who couldn’t make it to the reunion.

Ford, who still lives in the area, helped organize the reunion. He said it was a huge success, with fighters coming from as far away as Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. Others came from closer by.

“We had many from throughout the state of Michigan, Detroit, Muskegon and all around the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area," he said.

Former amateur boxer Tim Fennessee said he drove all the way from Texas.

“Just to fellowship with brothers that I haven’t seen in a long time, it really is a blessing. And I don’t want to miss that for the world”, said Fennessee.

Many of the boxers who attended were seeing their colleagues for the first time since their sparring days 50 years ago.