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Meet the Chicago Bartenders Who Became Real Boxers

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Bartender Boxing

And it’s all thanks to Tequila Cazadores, who sponsored bartenders from Chicago and New York to train for months, travel to Mexico for some training, then face off in the ring in an epic tournament.

The job of a bartender is a tough one, what with the all-night shifts of lugging kegs and shaking drinks, not to mention catering to the occasionally difficult clientele. It’s a physically and mentally demanding occupation that can make maintaining healthy eating and fitness habits difficult.

To help them out, Cazadores Tequila teamed up with the Bartender Boxing Organization to host a three-month intensive training regimen for bar professionals from across the country. The program was punctuated with a visit to Guadalajara, Mexico, near to the home of Tequila Cazadores in Arandas, the Highlands of Jalisco, and culminated in a sanctioned amateur bout.

The Chicago team trained under champion amateur boxer Lalo Beas at Oakley Fight Club, the city’s premier boxing gym. They began their training with miles of running and intense cardio workouts, then graduated to sparring with their teammates and local amateurs.

The program was a physical and emotional challenge unlike anything these bartenders had experienced before. Here are some sights and sounds from the past three months.

 

Name: Andy Gould
Age: 24
Weight Class: Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at Scofflaw, a new cocktail bar in Logan Square 

What made you want to get in the ring?

I grew up in a town where fighting was a big deal: Brockton, Massachusetts. That's where Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler are from. I grew up in the street, rough and tumble, but never actually got to get inside of a ring. It's been a dream. Work and life catches up with you. I saw the opportunity, and I'm stoked because it's what I've wanted to do forever.

What’s it like getting punched in the face?

It is a very humbling experience. I was sparring with our trainer, Lalo, the other day. I can get punched in the face all day long. No big deal. But he has these little fucking diggers, body shots, that will rock your world. They don't even hurt, they just suck the life out of you. Little buttons and you're like whoof. That was a humbling thing for me. He knows exactly where to go. I'm like, “Teach me that.” That's what I want to know, that little button punch. Just deflates you.

 

Name: Elizabeth Mickiewicz
Age: 31
Weight Class: Light Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at EZ Inn, a refined dive bar in Ukrainian Village

Do the skills you're learning here help at work?

Yeah. I've had to break up a fight before. So now, since I’m a little more physically fit, and not drinking behind the bar, my wits are about me and I'm able to see more, not just desensitize myself [to what might be happening in the bar].

Describe the camaraderie that developed among the bartenders as you went through training. How do you look at them now compared to when you started?

I actually knew all but about two people before this started, which is pretty cool. My relationships have strengthened with the people that I didn't know as well. I had to fight the girl I'm closest to in the program. I worked for her for years but then we had to fight each other.

 

Name: Jef Tate
Age: 32
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight (ed. note: He lost about 30 lbs!)
Gig: Bartender at Moneygun, a beautiful cocktail bar near the West Side

What do you enjoy the most about boxing training?

It's demanding every second that you're in the ring. There's no letdown. [In] football, the play is over, you walk back to the huddle, get a chance to regroup. There's no such thing in boxing.

What do your friends and family think about this?

It's great. The girls love it. They're like, damn, you got skinny on us. I definitely get comments at work for sure. And it feels good. Honestly.

 

Name: Julieta Campos
Age: 27
Weight Class: Featherweight
Gig: Bartender at The Whistler, a bar/music venue in Logan Square

What was your diet like prior to starting the boxing program?

Ooh, I was eating everything. I was eating the oysters, the shrimp, the burgers, the fries, the poutine, the foie. I love food and I think as an industry individual, you're in the know of the newest restaurants and the best plate in Chicago, so you tend to overindulge a little bit. And now I've saved a lot of money by not going out. I've been having steel-cut oats and salad; a lot of quinoa has been involved. But I’m eating actual meals, which is really nice.

What was your first thought when you put the gloves on?

Let's fuck some shit up. It felt good. I'm not afraid to throw a punch. It's new and it's strange. But it's enticing.

 

Training in Mexico

Bartenders from New York and Chicago headed down to Guadalajara, Mexico, to train with world-renowned boxer Juan José Montes. They threw punches at the gym, and then went to a tasting at the Tequila Cazadores distillery.

 

Name: Thomas Sannito
Age: 28
Weight Class: Middleweight
Gig: Bartender at Presidio, a funky cocktail bar in Wicker Park

What won’t you ever forget about this program?

Man, the first day. The first practice I went in and five minutes into it, I was throwing up. That's going to stick in my head. It was a reminder that I wasn't where I thought I was at physically. It was a reminder of where I was taking my personal health. I couldn't run or jog for five minutes before needing to take a break or vomiting. That was a stark wake-up call.

How did your boxing training help you become a better bartender?

I've been more relaxed and less on edge when I come into work. I'm so much more at ease that I'm more hospitable to my guests, more ready just to talk and listen. I'm a much better bartender now.

 

Name: Whitney Morrow
Age: 30
Weight Class: Light Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at Drumbar, a rooftop whiskey bar overlooking Lake Michigan

Is there any part of the program that you were scared of?

Getting hit. As much as we're sparring and throwing punches at a bag, I don't know if any of us are really ready for what it feels like to get socked in the nose. Our coaches aren't really hitting us when we're sparring. I think we're in for a bit of an awakening [when we really fight].

What is the biggest thing you've learned about yourself during the program?

I've learned that for a long time [I believed] that in order to have the most energy you needed rest. I've found that getting up in the morning and forcing myself to start a day a lot earlier, even when I do work into the wee hours of the morning, I have more energy than I would if I was just lying around trying to rest up.

 

Name: Scott LoBianco
Age: 32
Weight Class: Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at Broken Shaker, a popular bar in the Freehand Hotel

How is preparing for a long shift similar to getting in the ring?

It's all mental. If you're prepared for anything going wrong during a shift no matter what you've practiced for [ that] definitely transfers over to boxing. No matter how much we prepare before we step into the ring, there's also another guy preparing the exact same way if not harder.

When did you realize you were succeeding in the program?

[Toward the end of the program] we were doing a circuit workout on endurance and it was one of the easier workouts I've done. It's exactly what we did on the first day we showed up to the gym. At the end of the day, we were laughing about it, saying how we couldn't do this [workout] before and how we were looking for any excuse to give up before.

 

Name: Alexis Brown
Age: 28
Weight Class: Featherweight
Gig: Cofounder of Serving Life Behind Bars and Causing a Stir, bartender education organizations that promote equality in the industry

Describe how your boxing training helped you become a better bartender.

I think my mobility has improved. From standing all day I have back pains and things, but now that I'm incorporating moving around and stretching myself I feel much better standing behind the bar for 12 hours. Some of the stretches I do in boxing I add in when I'm stepping off line to stretch out. I tell my coworkers, “Hey, you better make sure you're stretching. I know you're in service so you need to stretch your arms out a little bit.”

What have you learned about yourself?

The sky's the limit. Whatever I put my mind to, I can do it. Not only in fitness, but in every aspect of life. The hospitality industry isn't as diverse as I'd like to see it, and my organization empowers and educates the underserved and underrepresented in the business. That's what I try to instill in them: I know we're outnumbered sometimes, but it doesn't matter. Show up to your shifts, be present, and push yourself and put yourself out there and don't be intimidated. Don't be scared.  

 

The Final Bouts

On November 19 at Stage 48 in Manhattan, boxers from Chicago were paired up with fighters from New York. New Yorkers won three of the four matches, but in the final match of the night, Thomas Sannito brought home a win for Chicago. To watch the full fights, go here or here.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length

Photography by Eric Ryan Anderson and Sara Lewkowicz