University City

Best friends teach the sweet science

Krishna Wainwright started with a disclaimer: "When he first talked to me about it, I thought it was barbaric. I tried it. I didn't like it. I quit."

That was more than 30 years ago, and a lot has changed since his friend and fellow boxer, Tony Douglas, first persuaded him to climb over the ropes of an Army boxing ring in the 1980s.

Wainwright, now 49, went on to become a professional boxer, winning Golden Gloves and USA Boxing Championships and fighting on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" and in HBO pay-per-view events.

Douglas, now 50, fought and won the North Carolina championship in 1982 and competed in the 1984 Olympic trials.

Today, the best friends own the Academy of Boxing, which meets at various gyms in town and trains men, women and children in the art of surviving in the ring.

Their friendship began at Army basic training camp in 1980. It's continued through a shared love of boxing.

Douglas, who grew up in Charlotte, was drawn to the sport at an early age. Small in stature, he was picked on for his size, he said, and always was the last to be chosen for neighborhood games. After high school graduation, the Army even balked at accepting him because of his size.

"The Army sent me home for the weekend to gain weight so I could make weight to get into the Army," he said. "At 18 years old, I was weighing 103. That's dang tiny."

But size doesn't matter in boxing, and soon after landing in Fayetteville, Douglas was itching to join the boxing team on base. Wainwright wasn't so eager.

"I didn't really want to, but because he was my friend, I said I would give it a try," Wainwright said.

Wainwright's first fight was almost his last: a disaster, he said, in which he came out swinging wildly and erratically and eventually lost.

Douglas persuaded him to try again, with a new approach.

"He said, 'Come back. I've just got to teach you some things,'" Wainwright remembered. "It wasn't until I realized there was some real theory, technique and finesse to it that I became interested. Then I trained day after day after day...."

"... until nobody could touch him," Douglas said, grinning. "He was a killer."

Now, the pair train people of all sizes, genders and ages, but they take special interest in young teens, whose parents often bring them in saying they have been bullied.

The sport builds confidence in a short time, said Douglas.

"When you turn around and see in two, three weeks where you are now compared to where you were then, a light bulb goes off, and they feel so good about themselves," he said.

Now long retired from fighting inside the ring, the two still talk about the days when Douglas was more widely recognized as the "Minuteman" for the number of punches he could throw in a short period, and when Wainwright's shiny boxing robe was emblazed with the name "Thunder."

They never boxed against each other, but they've spent most of their adulthood together in the ring.

"We make a great team," said Wainwright.