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'Vicious Vegan' enters the ring

Unusual UA student chronicles new boxing ambition on YouTube

By: Alex Dalenberg

Issue date: 2/7/07 Section: Sports

 

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Michael Williams is an Arizona student who mixes up his workout routine by getting punched in the mouth - and he thinks you should, too.

 

Nearly 100 days since the 32-year-old junior majoring in psychology and political science began training for his first exhibition boxing match Feb. 17, Williams has become a true convert.

 

"I didn't do any sports in high school. I wasn't particularly macho," said Williams, who will be fighting against fellow first-time boxer Troy Beaman. "I do have a strong competitive spirit, and I bet anybody who gets good grades might consider boxing because they probably have that competitive spirit."

 

Williams isn't being modest. The 143-pound welterweight, who transferred from Wisconsin last fall, is decidedly un-macho. This boxer is soft-spoken and pale, and he can cite anecdotes from Henry David Thoreau in casual conversation.

 

If you think the sport is for meatheads, think again - Williams has been a vegan for 10 years, a fact he plays up in his series of "Vicious Vegan" YouTube documentaries that chronicle his training at Boxing Inc., 1240 N. Stone Ave.

 

"It's sort of 'local yokel thinks he can do his first fight' - the ups and downs of that," Williams said.

 

Junior Esmeralda Famutimi, his friend, camerawoman and "associate coach," was initially skeptical about the project, even though she had encouraged Williams to begin his boxing.

 

"I thought, 'Uh-oh, another YouTube addict. I know enough of those people already,'" she said.

 

Uh-oh indeed. In Williams' first episode, the Vicious Vegan catalogs his grocery list and shows off a pantry stocked with soy products to the strains of "Gonna Fly Now," the theme song to "Rocky."

 

Said Williams' personal trainer, Charles Caraway: "When I first met Michael, I thought, 'This guy doesn't want to box.' He's a little raily, you know what I'm saying."

 

A thin build and YouTube shenanigans aside, when this self-proclaimed "vegetarian nobody" stepped into the ring Saturday for sparring practice, his coach could see that he'd come a long way from the Internet wannabe of episode one.

 

"Michael's a strong kid, and he's got a lot of heart," Caraway said. "The first couple times he got in there he got his ass handed to him. But he kept coming back, and that means he likes it."

 

Now Williams packs a real punch, and the Vicious Vegan has learned a few tricks,as well.

 

"Today, he has a jab, and he's not as jumpy as when he used to be beginning," Caraway said. "He used to telegraph his total intent. You gotta be deceptive: 'Here we are, looking at each other dead in the eye, and I'm still going to hit you in the mouth.'"

 

Still, there is room for improvement.

 

Williams took a few body shots from his sparring partner and during a break ruminated on what he needs to do better.

 

"First round was a wake-up call, pointing out my mistakes. That's not surprising," he said before getting back into the ring, his "laboratory," for more "experiments."

 

"Relax, you gotta relax! Pump that jab!" Caraway yelled at his apprentice from ringside. Every now and then, he shared a few observations on Williams and on the sport of boxing.

 

"When he came in here, he didn't look like that. Look at his form and his posture. He's got balance. He's got his hands up," Caraway said. "He looks like he knows how to box."

 

For Caraway, who has been boxing since he was 7 years old, the sport isn't just about punching someone in the guts; for many people, it is a path to physical fitness.

 

At Boxing Inc., a customer never has to take a punch to enjoy the sport of boxing. Most of the members never even step into a ring.

 

Instead, the gym's 42 classes each week focus on the boxing regimen as a means to physical fitness.

 

"Many people want to try boxing to stay in shape. They're tired of the treadmill, they want something different," Caraway said. "There's no unwarranted contact. � It's not like we throw you into the ring like a piece of meat."

 

For Williams, the idea of something different was exactly what drew him to boxing. Involved in weight training for a year, his routines were starting to get old.

 

But the most important thing about his journey from a wiry guy who had never boxed to a viable contender was the idea of stepping up to a challenge.

 

Williams said he wants to continue his traning when he studies abroad in Montreal next semester.

 

"It takes confronting a lot of internal fears or struggles to (box). That's a great exercise," he said. "Think about going back to your school work and doing a few math problems. That's child's play. The paper isn't going to punch you."

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