Justin Fortune on Opening Up a Boxing Gym in the Middle of a Pandemic and the Future of Fights

Manny Pacquiao’s long-time strength & conditioning coach and owner of Hollywood’s Fortune Gym talks to us about opening the doors to his new boxing gym just weeks before the lockdown, and the future of the sport.

LEO: You opened your new gym and a few months later you got shut down due to COVID rules. That must have been a nightmare. 

JUSTIN: As a gym owner we have lost between $300,000 to $400,000 from the forced government shutdowns. I personally know of five boxing gyms in the Los Angeles area that have called it quits during this time. It’s one hell of a battle as we still have to pay full rent, utilities, payroll, etc. However, gyms are not alone in this – all small businesses have been so badly damaged by these forced closures that many will not survive. It is horrible to see these people with their dreams smashed through absolutely no fault of their own. 

We have now been closed longer than this location has been open. As with any small business the first few months, in some cases, years, you are trying to recoup your original investment. So this has been hard on us financially to say the least. However, we survived the 2008 financial collapse when we opened up the original location, I survived stage four cancer, and now we will survive COVID.

What safety measures have you had to put into effect in order to re-open? What were some of the setbacks?

We were open in a limited capacity for a few weeks in July before they shut down indoor operations yet again. My wife Tamara, who is also my business partner, and I scrambled to come up with a way to keep the gym “somewhat open” within the legal guidelines we were dealt. 

In one week, we turned our private rooftop parking lot into a roughly 2000sq foot outdoor private gym. We have 5 heavy bags. We bring all the equipment outdoors every day and back inside when we close. We have AstroTurf, push/pull sleds, resistance bands, weights, etc. It is a completely open, fresh-air, fully functional outdoor gym. 

We have one group class out there daily and my wife and I each train eight people a day, 16 clients per day, for six days a week just to keep the gym open for when we can legally reopen. Recently, we started an all-girls Sunday boxing class, taught by females, that we cap at 24 max. For the first two weeks, we have been maxed out with a waiting list. So people are wanting to get back into training as long as it is done safely.

The gym was also in the middle of the action at the first major BLM protest in LA. What was that like? 

We were in the thick of the protests. I spent 30 years of my life to build what I have now, so I sure as fuck was not going to lay down and let anyone take it from me. I don’t want to go into too many public details, but the gym was protected and we did not suffer any damage.

How has the pandemic affected you as a personal trainer to fighting giants like Manny Pacquiao? Are all fight events on hold?

From my understanding, it is not likely Manny will fight in 2020. The more likely event is the first quarter of 2021 but again there is still a small possibility it could happen before the end of the year. 

Top Rank and Matchroom Promotions are doing fights all within “the bubble”— same concept as other professional sports. There have also been a few other smaller fight cards put on all throughout the US with a more limited capacity. I just had [Golden Gloves Champion] Eric Priest fight outdoors on a card in Kansas City with a small audience in attendance.

Are training camps shut down too?

Both Freddie [Roach] and I have multiple fighters still in camp. This is very tough on them as well so we need to keep our fighters active, training, and mentally prepared. It’s better to stay ready than to have to get ready.

What do you foresee for the gym and for the sport of boxing in general for the next year or so?

I am hoping the final quarter of 2020 we will see significant improvements in November and December, however at this stage I am not confident that will happen. 

Fights without a live audience are rough. A fighter feeds off his fans and the audience to pull himself up off the canvas. In regards to the gym, this has been a tough grind physically, mentally, and financially, all while trying to raise two three-year-old toddlers on our own—neither of us has family in LA. We have to keep fighting.