TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Willie Taylor grew up with a love for boxing and for his community. He represented both as an Olympic trials competitor.
When his fighting days were over, he used the sport he loves to give others a fighting chance.
Taylor opened the Fighting Edge Gym in 2016. There’s no cost to train there but the rewards are priceless.
Many evenings you can find Taylor sparing in the ring or guiding new fighters in proper technique.
“It’s not even about boxing. It’s about life,” Taylor said, his voice rising above the sound of fists bouncing off punching bags. “That’s what this is all about, giving these young men and women vision, giving them hope and something to be proud of — here.”
“Here” is Titusville, Florida, the city where Taylor grew up and the place he’s spent most of his life trying to make better.
“Do you know the nickname of Titusville?” he asks. “It’s the miracle city. Not for no reason.”
Some would say The Fighting Edge Gym is living up to that nickname too.
Melvin Johnson, 19, is a gym regular.
“I feel like it saved me in a way,” Johnson said of Taylor’s gym. “It gave me discipline in life.”
Johnson first entered the gym three years ago. By his own admission he was overweight, unhealthy and wasting time. He says he wasn’t a troublemaker but he lacked direction.
“I’d say lost in a way. I didn’t have guidance,” Johnson remembered.
Today he’s quick, fit and competing in tournaments across the country.
Johnson worked hard to transform his body and his life, but he said he also had inspiration. “It was the kids before me. That’s what motivated me. Seeing those kids I was like, I want to be that guy.”
“They come here without direction and we give them direction, we give advice, fatherly advice,” Taylor said.
That fatherly advice comes partly from his own upbringing. Taylor’s dad introduced him to the sport.
“You know my dad was my coach, my trainer for a long time. My everything.”
To hear him tell it, his dad also inspired the gym.
“I realized the problems that we have in this town and so one day my father was like OK, what are you going to do about it? What can you do?” Taylor remembered. “And the only thing I know how to do is to fight. To keep fighting.”
Taylor decided to lead by example.
He’s organized groups to repair neighborhood homes, he coordinates back to school and Christmas giveaways.
He became vice president of the local NAACP chapter, he’s on the advisory board of the parks and rec. department, he’s a youth minister — and when he felt there wasn’t enough diversity in law enforcement, he quit his longtime job to become a Titusville police officer.
“I was like, hey, let’s do it. If you want to do it you have to be the change,” Taylor said.
Taylor was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by Titusville City Commissioner Jo Lynn Nelson.
“You know there are people in our town that we need to know about, that we can celebrate,” Nelson said in front of a packed council chamber. Nelson asked Taylor, who was on duty, to come to the podium before she surprised him with the news. A standing ovation followed.
Anyone can use the gym and on the night we were there, men and women of all ages were training.
The gym has been a place of transformation for more than just teens. Robert Brothers, 38, did 11 years in prison. He returned to Titusville and started working out at the gym. Today he’s a family man with certificates in personal training, sports nutrition and he’s a body-building specialist.
“I believe that if something like this was around when I was a kid I probably wouldn’t have went the way I went,” Brothers said. “It’s a very disciplined sport. You have to be disciplined. There are no shortcuts.”
Johnson agrees. He has his eyes on a championship. But Taylor has shown him there are other options too.
“I want to be here to make sure that some other kid has that foundation. I want to be how Willie was when I needed that person,” Johnson said.
Taylor, once again, leading by example.