Cigar Aficionado

Rocky Road -- Our Man's Journey Into the World of Boxing

Volume One: The Beginning

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

That was the question Jimmy Fusaro had for me when I told him I was ready to box. I had worked out in a boxing gym before, his and one other, but I had never been serious. The first group of 10 lessons, taken two years ago, had cut a few pounds off my eternally overweight frame but didn't give me sound fundamentals. After a few lessons with Jimmy, my interest was burning for more. Now I was considering actually stepping into the ring with another combatant, strapping on the gloves and whacking someone else's brains out while trying to avoid him doing the same to me. In short, I was going to box. But first, Jimmy wanted to have the talk.

Jimmy is the owner and head trainer at X-Fit, a boxing gym located on West 27th Street in Manhattan, just a few blocks from the offices of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Previously, I had worked out with Jimmy for a story on boxing lessons. (Read it on page 56 of the April issue of Cigar Aficionado, on newsstands in two weeks.) I was impressed; from the boxing ring to the array of heavy and reaction bags spaced throughout the gym, this was a professional setup. And it was empty. X-Fit is strictly a one-on-one affair, so when you're there, you're there alone. This is instruction, not party time. I was there to work.

When I asked Jimmy what it would take to get me ready for the ring, he described a three-times-a-week regimen over a two-to-three month period. First, he wanted to get my fat ass in fighting shape. I had been doing a little running on a treadmill at home, but I was far from having the stamina to throw punches for any length of time, let alone to move my feet to get away from danger. Plus, I really didn't know how. That's where the rest of the lessons would come in.

Jimmy was serious. "Are you sure you want to do this?" That, it turns out, was the talk. "People will be watching you," he says. "You're going to get hit." Sometimes fight night comes and the fighter looks as if he or she wants to cry, he added.

He gives me pause, but I say yes. I'm going to fight in a white-collar bout, where amateurs who spend their days as brokers, dentists or even cigar writers act like boxers. Jimmy's going to get me in shape.

The message is on my answering machine when I get back to the office. "Bring your mouthpiece on Friday," he says. "That's when it all starts."


"Can't you just pay the guy to beat up the other guy for you?" It's my co-worker, Jack Bettridge, and he's questioning my decision to go ahead with the boxing. He has a point. The wife's not crazy about the idea, either, and most people can't understand why I'd want to get into a ring in the first place.

Boxing has always fascinated me. When I was about 11 years old, a friend and I went to his parents' gym. We tried a few of the weights, but I was taken with the heavy leather bag hanging in a corner. I pulled on the pair of red gloves and started swinging, harder and harder. My punches popped into the bag, and by the time I pulled off the gloves, my knuckles were bloody. I still have the small scars on my right hand. Rather than being turned off by the sight, I relished it. But I never had access to a bag on a regular basis, so the impulse faded.

It's back now, with a passion. When I get to X-Fit on Friday, Jimmy starts me off with descending sets of push-ups, crunches and squats. (Start with 10, work down to 9, 8…all the way to 1. Ugh. Tough.) Jimmy wraps my hands and helps me into my boxing gloves, and I get in front of the heavy bag for a warm-up. He puts in the mouthpiece.

I can barely breathe. I've never worn a full mouthpiece, and I feel like I'm underwater. It's a bitch. "That's why I'm having you wear this now," says Jimmy, coolly. "If I just put it in your mouth the day you start sparring, you'll freak. You have to get used to it."

I go to the heavy bag, for Jimmy's patented three-minute rounds. After a few of those, it's time for a surprise.

"Sit on the ring corner," he tells me. "Hands up. You run to the bag, give it ten punches, then run back and sit. Then you go again." Now this is all of a 20-foot run, but by the end of the first minute I'm starting to suck gas. (I knew I shouldn't have eaten pancakes the other day.) The sitting is more torture than rest, as my butt barely hits the canvas before Jimmy has me rise to charge the bag again. When my punches lose their pepper, he eggs me on to throw them harder and higher -- the higher the punch, the harder it works the shoulder.

I went into this thinking I had strong arms, but I'm woefully mistaken. By the end of each exercise, they feel like linguini. And that's when Jimmy calls for more push-ups. Bastard.

We get into the ring. It's an invigorating experience, stepping between the ropes and looking out at the gym, but I've no time to admire the view. I have to try some footwork. I dance on my toes for three rounds (yeah, that's nine minutes) worth of calf-burning work. "I never realized boxers were on their toes so much," I grunt. Jimmy gives one of his "yeahs," then reminds me to keep my feet wide apart (to maximize my balance) and to keep my heels from hitting the ground.

A word on my calves -- they ain't much. Like a caramel apple held in one's hand, I'm big up top but thin down below. My legs look as if they should have messages tied to them. Jimmy promises some type of change, but I'm not optimistic. If years of soccer couldn't build up these calves, I'm not sure he can. Perhaps implants.

My workout ends with 100 crunches. Tight abs are vital to a boxer, and mine haven't been tight since, well, since I began working at Cigar Aficionado at the tender age of 27. While I've never had washboard abs, my gut was pretty flat back then. Today, instead of a six-pack, I've got a case. That's not an asset.

By the end of the workout, I'm a tapestry of sweat. The following day I'm in true pain. "If you're going to quit, you're going to quit now," says Jimmy. I'm in, but I'm hoping to see some improvement soon. It's not easy work.

Photos by Mike Marsh

Follow senior editor David Savona's path to the ring here on Lessons at X-Fit are $70 per hour. To learn more about X-Fit, call 212-725-7991.

Volume Two: Getting Hit (or, Can Savona Handle a Real Punch Punch?)