By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
As Warriors Gym is still unfinished and not officially open for business, this rule is relaxed a bit. Three weeks before the Stern excursion, a novice Tough Man competitor and an American Airlines pilot spar at half steam in the pro ring, but they deferentially work around the squared circle's legitimate occupant, former Olympic heavyweight Ismael Kone, who shadowboxes his way around the ring, throwing jabs at an invisible opponent while head-faking this would-be adversary's counterpunches.
The place is practically empty, save Robinson, Caicedo, the gym rat (every gym has one; this one is named Chris), a bunch of workmen laying down floorboards, two rubber mannequin torsos stuck on steel poles and anchored into the floor, and Andre "Stone" Purlett, a 27-year-old, mild-mannered professional who looks more like an off-duty model than a sweet scientist. He stands ringside in his blue Gap shorts, perfectly pressed yellow Polo shirt, black sandals, and yellow Nike hat, watching Kone with a sharp, knowing eye.
Caicedo enters the ring wearing focus mitts -- round, padded gloves that resemble oversize catcher's mitts. Taking the hint, the two scrubs clear out. As Caicedo puts Kone to work, even an untrained observer can see that Kone is a badass. His six-foot, two-inch frame gracefully carries his 225 pounds of muscle, a washboard stomach, and some angry tattoos. His professional record is eight wins, one loss, seven knockouts; in the 1996 Olympics, he lost in the semifinals.
"Slip three, hit three," Caicedo calls out to Kone. "Slip three, hit three! You've got a bug on the brain. You're slipping three, hitting two." Kone punches three in a row. "Harder!" The trainer is riding his fighter, even though every punch Kone has thrown could have killed a full-grown pit bull.
"Come on. Fight! Fuck the defense. Fuck the bullshit. Fight!" Kone responds and one-twos Caicedo into a corner while sounds of leather on leather elevate above the nail guns and band saws. At ringside Purlett smiles. Kone is to be one of his sparring partners in the near future, perhaps when the gym is finished. After all, this gym was constructed, more or less, for Purlett. He's going to be one of the gym's banner names, its marquee fighter. He's the one around whom the local boxing community will rally. Some pundits have already begun to mention Purlett as a contender for a heavyweight title.
Purlett left the borough of Brooklyn and the gritty Gleason's Gym on Front Street three years ago to come to South Florida and train full-time for the heavyweight championship. To train just up the road from where great champions of yesteryear used to get in shape, among them Sugar Ramos, Mantequilla Napoles, Luis Rodriguez, and the greatest of all, Muhammad Ali. To train with Robinson and Caicedo.
Right now Shannon Briggs's comeback bid is Warriors' ticket to the Howard Stern show, but make no mistake: This is the gym that Andre built.
For years Warriors Gym was a dormant, neglected building in a Hollywood strip mall at 4151 N. State Rd. 7. All the buildings in the area are owned by various members of the Seminole Indian tribe. The gym's owner, tribal councilman David Cypress, shuns the limelight: He won't even talk to New Times, much less Howard Stern. He doesn't have a cell phone or even a home phone. Have a question for him? Give it to Chris the gym rat, and he'll pass it along.
But this much is known: Cypress grew up tough. For most of the 20th Century, the Seminole Nation was impoverished, its members often tormented people. In his terse written responses to questions from New Times, Cypress says he endured harassment from local white kids growing up; he turned to the tribe as his security blanket.
As he grew up, the Seminole Nation grew in power. Its members acquired land throughout South Florida and became prominent in the cattle industry. Then the casinos started popping up. Like other Indian-run casinos across the country, the Seminole facilities began hosting professional boxing matches. About six years ago, Cypress saw Andre Purlett fight at one of the local Seminole casinos and came away impressed by the boxer's speed and power.
Boxing had always been a hobby for Cypress, as both participant and fan. But he saw in Andre his chance actually to have a piece of a pro fighter, to manage Purlett from a Caribbean Games gold-medal winner to potential heavyweight champion of the world. He teamed up with Purlett in 1996 and convinced him to move to South Florida from New York City two years later.
Cypress's first order of business was to encourage Purlett to pack on the pounds. Purses for heavyweight fighters far surpass those of any other division. So Purlett got in the gym and bulked up from a solid 190-pound cruiserweight to a fast, fit 220-pound heavyweight.
Initially Purlett trained at the Tiger Tail Gym on Stirling Road in Hollywood, owned by famed trainer Angelo Dundee. But he soon found the place wanting. Purlett says he showed up religiously every morning. Yet sometimes no one would show up to open the gym. While he waited he worked out in the parking lot, shadowboxing to his own reflection in his car window and running for miles all over the area. But there was no one to push him or fine-tune his techniques.