At the Sir Boxing Club, a brownstone near Arcade Street and Case Avenue on St. Paul's East Side, Cerresso Fort has spent the last 10 years sharing the lessons he learned within the ropes of a boxing ring. Discipline. Fitness. Confidence.
Owner of a 18-4-1 record as a pro boxer following four years fighting as an amateur, Fort seeks to give structure to the lives of those who crave it, defense for those who seek it and a sense of belonging to those who are searching.
Eye On St. Paul sat down with the 37-year-old father of three girls near the ring at his club to ask what drew him to the "sweet science" — and what he hopes to pass on to others.
This interview was edited for length.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: The city of St. Paul.
Q: Where did you go to high school?
A: Harding [class of 2004].
Q: Why boxing?
A: I just found it fun. Went into the gym, me and a couple buddies, and we were doing these workouts that the coach had us doing. And I would be getting it, and then I would mess up. I'd be going, boom! Then all of a sudden, I'd mess up again. I learned that it takes time to perfect this craft. And that was a thrill. I found that fun.
Q: It was more than being in the ring?
A: Correct. ... I knew I already had it in my heart. I was born in Chicago, up until the age of 10, and I got in some scuffles. Not one. Not two. Not three [laughs]. And my thing was always I would do push-ups, I would do sit-ups, try to prepare myself. But you know what? I never knew that boxing was going to be my calling.
Then I got pulled out. My grades weren't right. My grandma, she took [boxing] away from me. She knew I liked boxing. But I was fortunate. I was able to get right back into the sport and pick up kind of where I left off.
For some kids, you've got to find some kind of way of channeling their energy. But you can't slack off of school.
Q: What was behind opening your own gym?
A: Element was the first gym, me and Dalton [Outlaw]. After my sixth pro fight, we were sitting in his car — I remember it like yesterday. He said, "We should open up a gym." And I said, "Let's do it." We sold both our vehicles. We bought the equipment and figured out the name. He said, "What should we call it? Elite or Element?" I said, "Let's go with Element." Elite seemed like kind of being cocky. Let's make our work make our noise for us.
Fast forward, and we ended up cutting ties. He had his vision for certain things, I had my vision for certain things. I think both of us are two guys that are, what's the word for it? ... Alpha males.
Q: When did you open Sir Boxing?
A: I opened in 2014.
Q: How many people are boxing out of here?
A: I got about 15 boxers that actually compete. I've got about 25 that just train. And then I've got the kids' program.
Q: How many kids?
A: About 12 to 15 kids, depending on the day.
Q: What are the ages?
A: Six to 17.
Q: What's the benefit of having a 6-year-old start boxing?
A: I think it's good for the mind, if they're not getting hit. The brain's not meant to be getting hit. But most things got a positive and a negative, right? Motor skills, your hand-eye coordination. Your ability to think quick. I think it helps with discipline. Confidence. Boxing to me relates to life in many ways.
Q: What was your goal in opening this gym?
A: Saving lives. There are so many here: youth, adults. Looking. We all try to help each other. It's more than learning to fight in a ring, right? We want to stay fit, be healthy. There are just so many different layers. I train a lot of different women [to defend themselves].
Q: Who's drawn to boxing?
A: It's a wide range of people. And it's evolved. YouTube videos. UFC. [It used to be] the kid who was coming out of the neighborhood who wanted to make something of their life. I mean, if you look at every good fighter from different eras, they came from poverty.
Q: What was your least favorite part of boxing?
A: Getting hit. Nobody likes getting hit, right? As a trainer, I try to teach my fighters. We work on defense. We work on offense. A lot of that comes from within that fighter. Everybody's different. You can teach everyone the basics. But at the end of the day, they're all going to have their own abilities.
Q: Do any of your daughters want to box?
A: They box. They train. But they want to do gymnastics, play basketball. I don't really want them to [box]. If they came to me and said, "I really want to box," when their time comes, I'm going to support them 110 percent. But I want them trying everything.
Q: There's a fight card Saturday. Where?
A: At the High School for Recording Arts on University Avenue. We have nine boxers from the club boxing.
Q: When does that start?
A: 1 p.m.
Q: What do you want people to say about Cerresso Fort?
A: He did what he did to try to save lives.