The Simmons Team Gym doesn’t look like much on the outside, just a space in a strip mall across from the Food Lion in Angier. But Chris Simmons is producing some of the best young boxers in the country.
This year he has four kids, all of them from Angier, competing in the National Silver Gloves tournament in Independence, Mo. The tournament is scheduled to begin Jan. 31.
Two of those fighters are his own sons. Chris Simmons Jr. is 14 years old and finally competing in Nationals at Silver Gloves after years of tough breaks. He started training when he was just 5 years old because he was being bullied at school. He started competing when he was 8. Six years and over 140 bouts later, he’s now ranked No. 3 in the nation in the Junior Division by USA Boxing. He’s won multiple national competitions and even won an international championship. He’s also become an internet sensation, accumulating nearly 77,000 followers on Instagram.
His little brother Norman isn’t any slouch either. Last year he won it at all at Silver Gloves, and this year he’s the favorite again. He’s currently ranked No.1 by both Silver Gloves and USA Boxing. At 95 pounds, he’s bigger than a lot of 12-year-olds. But don’t let that fool you.
“He’s this big silly kid,” Chris Sr. said. “You wouldn’t think he’s tough at all by looking at him, I mean he’s really a kid. But he just shocks you when he’s in the ring. He’s tough and very aggressive. His style of boxing is very appealing to spectators. He’ll always put on a show and give fans a fight to remember.”
For years, Chris Sr. took his kids all the way to a gym in Cary to train. It’s about an hour-long trip both ways. And dues for training were costing the family about $200 a month. When the gym closed about a year and a half ago, Chris Sr. decided to take matters into his own hands. He bought training equipment from the gym in Cary and started his own in Angier. Now, he’s got roughly 40 kids coming to him for training. And he keeps gym dues much more affordable at $25 per month.
“We realize that not everyone can afford to spend $60-125 for training,” Simmons said. “Our goal is to be as inclusive as we possibly can. We’ve got kids from all kinds of different backgrounds.”
Girls can fight, too
The Simmons Team gym has already been a huge success for the other kids. Kimberly Bornios, 10, is the first female to represent North Carolina in the Silver Gloves Nationals. She regularly spars with the boys at the gym, including Norman. Chris Sr. likes her chances to do well in the national tournament.
“She is so tough,” Simmons said. “She does everything I tell her to, exactly how I tell her to do it. I think she has an awesome opportunity to win the whole thing.”
Her older brother Michael, 13, is also competing at nationals. He’s a two-time Silver Gloves state champion.
“Michael has gotten really good by sparring against some great competiton,” Simmons said. “I think he’s got a shot to do really well too.”
Simmons has come a long way from his sparring days at his local gym in Fayetteville, where he learned under Anthony Bradley, a former Army boxing champ who eventually coached in the Athens Olympics in 2004. Simmons spent five days a week for four years training with him.
“It was awesome,” Simmons said of his experience with Bradley. “I had the opportunity to not only develop a relationship with him inside the ring, but outside as well. I soaked up everything I could learn from.”
But Simmons never actually got to compete in an official fight. He didn’t get to travel much, and whenever he went somewhere, there wasn’t anyone in his weight class.
“I sparred with some people you wouldn’t believe though,” Simmons said. “Heavyweight world champions. It’s disappointing I never got the chance, but I’ve made so many great connections.”
He never had much interest in coaching, until he had two kids. Now, he’s one of the few people in the world with a 1-star AIBA coaching certification. The course can only be taken by people nominated by their National Federation, so to even attempt the test is an honor. To pass is even higher distinction. The course took one week, and the test took hours, with questions on all kinds of rules, ranging from the distances between chairs and the corners to the weight of gloves.
“It was the hardest test I ever took in my life,” Simmons said. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.”
The certification allows him to coach in major international competitions, including the Olympics. Simmons thinks it’s a real possibility that both of his sons could one day represent their country and earn the gold. But he says it won’t happen until the Olympics starts using head gear.
“It’s not safe,” Simmons said. “It’s not worth it to go in there without head gear. I wouldn’t want my kids to put themselves in that kind of danger... I think that in a few years we’ll see it change, certainly by the time Norman is old enough.”
All over the world
Until then, they’re happy with the life of being young superstars. The kids are homeschooled, so the family constantly travels to big cities, not only across the country, but the globe. They’ve been to Dubai, Canada, the Bahamas — pretty much anywhere you could want to go. And wherever they go, they make sure they’re still training. This week, they’ll fly out to Denver and spar at a gym. Then they’ll fly to Las Vegas and spar for a day, go to a professional fight, and then spar at two gyms.
They make sure to enjoy their trips too, though. Whether it’s driving six hours to go see Niagara Falls or marvelling at the luxurious lifestyle in Dubai, Simmons sees travelling as an opportunity for enrichment.
“We always try to do something to embrace the local cultures wherever we go,” Simmons said. “We’ll go to museums or concerts, we always try to make it a learning experience. They’re very well cultured kids.”