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Baltimore mayor proposes using boxing to curb street violence. Here's how one gym owner thinks it could work.

Marvin McDowell, president and founder of UMAR Boxing and Youth Development Center, talks about his idea of young men boxing in the ring as a means of reducing street violence. (Kevin Richardson, Baltimore Sun video)

Marvin McDowell is a fan of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s idea to have Baltimore residents solve their differences with boxing rather than firearms.

In fact, the owner of West Baltimore’s UMAR Boxing says he thought of it first.

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On Sunday, Young proposed a rather unorthodox solution to the increase in Baltimore’s violence: Let those who would look to kill one another face off in a boxing ring instead.

“If they want to really settle them, we can have them down at the Civic Center [now Royal Farms Arena], put a boxing ring up, let them go and box it out, those kind of things,” Young said at a rally against gun violence.

Young’s spokesman Lester Davis said Monday that “Baltimore has a rich boxing history” and “a number of people every year pick up the sport,” making it a solution worthy of discussion.

And McDowell thinks so too — so much so that he showed a Baltimore Sun reporter a text message Monday in which a friend claimed Young simply made McDowell’s idea go “viral.”

It’s a solution some in the community see as a bandage placed on top of more systemic issues that contribute to Baltimore’s historic violence levels. The city has surpassed 300 homicides for four straight years, and over 120 people have been killed so far this year.

But McDowell pitches it as a sport that focuses on cultivating discipline and respect through training.

“It gets the kids or the people to understand their will, how far they can go, what they can take,” the longtime boxing trainer said.

McDowell can envision how such a program would work. He would register two contestants with some palpable level of beef with USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic boxing.

Then the two would be under the tutelage of boxing trainers at different gyms as they train.

On the day of the fight, the two would sign a waiver of sorts, essentially putting on paper that the beef would end with the fight, regardless of the outcome.

The proposal begets as many questions as it answers, on logistics, safety and buy-in from the target audience. When asked about McDowell’s proposal, Young’s spokesman said, “I think it’d be worth further study.”

Munir Bahar, formerly with the anti-violence group 300 Men March who now runs youth martial arts programs, called Young’s proposal “a smack in the face” to those in Baltimore’s boxing and karate industries. He said there have been previous proposals to integrate the sports with community outreach that have been ignored.

“Now it’s like, all of a sudden, it’s a novel idea coming from Jack Young,” Bahar said.

It's just going to get some guys angry. We know that anger is going to spill outside of that boxing ring.


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Bahar doesn’t see boxing as a viable solution to street violence “without any type of supportive, therapeutic intervention” tied to it.

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“We’re talking about traumatized people in a war zone,” he said. “It’s just going to get some guys angry. We know that anger is going to spill outside of that boxing ring.”

Jay Allen, a 20-year-old boxer who was training at McDowell’s gym Monday, said he also doubted the idea would work, calling it “not realistic.”

He admitted to having a hot temper, and were he scheduled to fight someone he has an issue with, he said it’d be difficult to simply walk away if he saw his opponent on the street.

“I’m not going to wait until I go into a boxing ring,” he said.

But to McDowell, those who dismiss the concept aren’t aware of the sense of purpose boxing has provided to some of the young adults he’s trained, many of whom came from rough upbringings.

“I know it works, and I’ve been doing this 27 years, man, and I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of kids,” McDowell said. Boxers often develop valuable relationships with their coaches and trainers, as well, he said.

“They confide in us. They tell us all their deep dark secrets and everything because we know when they’re hungry, when they’re scared.

“I’m saying, with all of the dynamics in their life, we’ve been there.”

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