It’s a Thursday evening at Polk Street Gym in San Francisco as Bomani “Warrior” Parker works his way around the punching bag, delivering blow after blow with punishing force. Around him are beginning boxers of all ages and professions; lawyers, dentists, college students, and teachers momentarily halt their warm up session before their training begins to watch Parker’s form. At age 44, the 6’3”, 250-pound heavyweight boxer from Richmond has been away from the ring for over a decade and is looking to make a comeback.
Parker trains at Polk Street Gym every Monday through Thursday for three hours and at the Richmond Police Activities League Center on the weekends. For the first hour, Parker practices his form on the punching bag, throwing a combination of jabs, hooks, and haymakers. He moves on to practice four rounds on the speed bag and then continues his training by flipping over an industrial tractor tire 12 times in a row.
Almost two-thirds of the walls at Polk Street Gym are covered with fight posters; from Muhammad Ali going head to head with Joe Frasier, to Oscar De La Hoya facing off against Shane Mosley. Parker’s poster with boxer Terry Davis hangs on the center wall in between Evander Holyfield and Manny Pacquiao.
Parker began boxing professionally in 1988 and retired in 1997 after 21 career fights. His honors include a Golden Gloves Championship and boxing for the US Olympic team. When asked why he wants to return to the ring after being away for years, Parker smiled broadly before answering. “First and foremost, I’m a warrior,” said Parker. “My God-given talent is boxing, so I plan to keep doing so until I’m 50 years old.”
Parker was born in Ohio and grew up in Richmond and Oakland, where he says that he would get into fights with some of the kids in the Oakland Boys and Girls Club. The middle child in a family of six, Parker says he was the first to pursue boxing professionally along with two brothers who shared his love of the sport.
“When I was growing up in Richmond, it seemed like there was always someone ready to try you,” said Parker. “In many cases I ended up fighting with the kids older than me because of my size.”
When Parker was 14, he relocated briefly to Vallejo where he met Coach Bob Wadell at West Vallejo Boxing. Wadell noticed Parker was a southpaw—or left-handed—with a natural talent for boxing and encouraged him to pursue the sport. Parker says he used to look up to professional boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Muhammad Ali.
At the behest of Wadell, Parker continued training and eventually won honors as a National Golden Gloves Champion in 1986, weighing in as a middleweight at 165 pounds. After a number of amateur boxing matches, he was asked to be a member of the American Olympic boxing team in 1988. Parker is currently still the only American boxer to hold the record for the most defeats against Russia, with a total of six wins, plus the most defeats against Cuba, with a total of four wins. In 1988, Parker fought the championship bout against fellow American boxer Alfred Cole in the Olympic trials. He lost the Olympic fight that year in Seoul to Andrew Maynard, but still came home with a silver medal.
He later moved on to win the World Boxing Council Light Heavy Weight Continental Americas title and currently holds a 14-6-1 record.
But in 1997, Parker said, he got into trouble using drugs and ended up serving 13 years in prison for possession of controlled substances. “Prison was a blessing in disguise,” said Parker. “It gave me a chance to clear my head and I continued to stay in shape.”
After being released in 2010, Parker returned to Richmond where he befriended his neighbor Daryl Henline. When he told Henline about his boxing career, Henline offered to help him out by setting up a fundraiser to get his boxing license, which costs around $1,500 and will allow Parker to enter professional matches again.
“The fundraiser for Bomani will be on July 13 in the gallery at Bridge Artspace in Richmond,” said Henline. “We hope to entice a number of Bomani’s friends and colleagues from the boxing world to come out a support him in his quest for a second shot at the ring. I’m looking forward to the event as Bomani seems to be a pretty earnest guy who is truly trying to make good on his second chance.”
At the gym, Parker works tirelessly, letting his fists do the talking as he pummels the punching bag. Beads of sweat fly off his brow and forearms and onto the floor. Parker’s eyes remain focused on the task at hand as his body moves with confidence of a veteran boxer. As hardcore hip-hop music plays in the background, and old boxing matches are shown on the flat screen television in corner of the room, Parker does a set of push ups then goes back to the speed bag and begins pumping more air into it.
After an hour-long workout, he stops to catch his breath, standing shirtless in brown cargo shorts and black boots. At 44, his body is still covered in solid muscle mass right down to his calves. Despite his size, Parker’s voice is calm and his demeanor is not that of a bully, but instead more laid back.
“It feels good to be training like this again,” said Parker. “Coming back into the gym to train brings back so many memories, it feels second nature to me.”
Parker examines his hardened knuckles, which betray his years of experience and training. He says that he’s learned from his early career on how to condition himself to be just as effective in the last rounds of a match as he is in the beginning and to never underestimate an opponent. “The difference in my fight ability now is that I’m a technician and put more thought into how I strike and when to hit my opponent,” said Parker. “I can pinpoint punches, take my time, and go the distance.”
“When I was younger I was egotistical and didn’t train as hard as I should have once I became pro,” said Parker. “By the time you reach 40 years old, you should have life figured out by now. You’ve had time to make mistakes and learn what works for you.”