I walked into the Charlotte Boxing Academy off Remount Road six months ago and heard grunts and terse advice, jump ropes click against the floor, mitts and bags get smacked and the electric buzz of a shrill timer.
I was writing a story about the regional Golden Gloves tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., and three amateurs from the gym - Mike Basaldua, Kendra Macon and Hasan Young - who had the best chance to advance.
One visit probably would have been enough, but I went back a second time, and a third.
Almost all my friends talk about football and basketball, and most talk about baseball and golf. Boxing comes up when I bring it up. When I stop, so does the conversation.
I've seen the damage the sport can do - to brain stems, speech patterns and body parts.
I've also seen what it can provide - confidence and purpose, being part of something, camaraderie, conditioning and laughs.
Although I don't write about the sport nearly as often as I do football and basketball, I've made as many friends in boxing as in any of them. I'll see boxers, amateur and professional, from the old days, and even though I'm not a hugger, we hug. They start telling stories and soon, instead of talking with their hands, they're jabbing and throwing hooks with them. I'm their connection to the good old days. I never thought about his until now, but they might be mine.
Before computers, boxing records were written with chalk. One Charlotte bantamweight had a record of 13-13. Then he went to the other side of the world and cold-cocked a top fighter. When he returned, said his manager, the bantamweight's record was 27-13.
"I can't write that," I told him.
"It was a really big victory," the manager said.
Athletes usually turn professional after excelling as an amateur. A resume is required. In boxing, you don't need one. Without a name, you won't make money. You might be paid by the round (to reduce the likelihood you'll quit). So you get a real job such as laying tile.
When you put down the tile, you probably think about boxing. When you box, you don't think about laying tile.
I stood outside Charlotte's Ultimate Gym one summer afternoon and heard a train whistle. It was the Norfolk Southern. Later, another train would go by on another set of tracks.
I asked the owner which side of the tracks we were on.
"The wrong side," he said.