With pupil gone, Gray vows return to youth boxing

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Leroy Gray is a character.

In the boxing world, his vocation of choice, Gray is far from the sole source of entertainment.

By now, it’s an accepted part of the pugilistic world. The more outlandish, the better. One glance at the multi-country sideshow that took place with Floyd Mayweather and boxing neophyte Conor McGregor drives that point home. The fight could well be a farce. However, at the end of the day, don’t anticipate any issue with either man receiving 100 percent of their promised paychecks.

The interest will be there. Tickets will be sold and the pay-per-view buys will reflect a curious populace that simply can’t turn away.

But back to Gray. He’s a local-level embodiment of what makes boxing fun. The proprietor of Gray’s Hardcore Boxing Gym in Wilson, Gray is no stranger to running rigorous training camps for his fighters in preparation for upcoming bouts. Yet give him a orator’s forum, and there’s more to just holding a bag or barking instructions to the likes of Richard “Tiger Lee” Hall as he gives the speed bag a piece of his mind — or fist.

Whether it’s his penchant for slyly name dropping “North Carolina” when referencing in-state cities, or decreeing that a future opponent will receive “a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee” in the second round, Gray aptly passes the showmanship test.

But recently, Gray was blind sided.

As the trainer for Wilson fighter Austin “Babyface Assassin” Bryant dating back to his days as a 10-year-old amateur, the duo made the jump to the professional ranks together. Bryant started his career 4-1 with four knockouts, most recently losing a narrow majority decision to Hafiz Montgomery for the vacant World Boxing Foundation North American Regional Title.

Then, Gray received a shock to his system. A story in the July 1 edition of The Wilson Times reported that Bryant, a Hunt High product, had decided to move to Philadelphia to advance his career.

Indeed, it was news to Gray, who had no advanced knowledge of Bryant’s plans to leave town.

He assured in a recent phone interview that he wasn’t upset. But I didn’t buy it. The veteran of the fight game was legitimately hurt, a nasty gash above the eye that requires a cutman to earn his keep.

“I’m not saying he’s not appreciative,” Gray said of Bryant. “But you have to always respect where you came from. I’m not saying nothing too much about Philadelphia or what he’s going to do. I don’t even know what he’s going to do.”

When Bryant initially signed with Top Catz Boxing, the company founded by his stepfather, Tony Meeks, Gray and Bryant actually separated for a brief period before reuniting under the company’s banner prior to Bryant’s fight against Akeen Brown. But this turn of events is more permanent. Gray has no intention of moving to Philadelphia, much less giving up on the local fighters that are already under his wing.

“I don’t take nothing away from Wilson, North Carolina or nothing,” Gray said. “If you’re going to beat somebody, you can be in Black Creek and beat somebody! I’ve seen it happen with different people I know around here that just didn’t leave and go to the big leagues because they didn’t want to leave from around here.”

Gray did disagree with Bryant’s previous assessment that he had gone as far as he could in North Carolina.

“When you start talking like that, you haven’t gained no experience,” Gray cautioned. “You haven’t even had 14 or 15 fights. You haven’t did all you can do in North Carolina. North Carolina is a great place to box. It’s all in what you make out of North Carolina. If I’m sitting here training and going out to New York, Washington D.C., Vegas, anywhere else and fight — I’ve been there. I’ve got my mileage. I know how to train people and carry on. All you can do in North Carolina? No. You can be proud of North Carolina if you want to do that and really put up for North Carolina and be that type of man.”

Added Gray: “I’m reading all of this and looking at it. It just doesn’t seem for real.”

Yet it’s not all a tale of woe for Gray. He also announced that he would be reinstating his amateur program to give younger area fighters a chance to hone their skills in the ring.

“There’s a lot of youth that want to box too,” Gray said. “Then they see things of that nature in the newspaper — boxing looking good. But there’s more to it, and I want all of them to know. Even to get to where Austin was and carrying on, he had to train, and train hard to come through the amateur rankings. You’ve got to get out here and run these grounds like he did and train hard. And listen and hang in there to be that type of amateur. I would like to start another amateur team.

Gray had nothing but positive sentiments for the Meeks family.

“They’re some of the greatest people you’d ever want to have as friends and people,” he said. “Whatever decision is made or whatever, I don’t hold nothing. But I want everybody to know Leroy Gray of Gray’s Hardcore is still the man that he’s always been. He’s still out here to help the youth and anybody that wants to box. Any type of situation, I can be called on.

Back to the drawing board for the next prospect.

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT