I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with long time Canadian boxing coach, Gord Apolloni.
Apolloni has been instrumental in teaching the sweet science to people for decades. A prolific boxer and one of the best Canadian boxers to ever put on a pair of gloves, his ability to coach and train has seen him take his talents and the abilities of athletes all over the world.
The GM’s Perspective: What does boxing mean to you?
Gord Apolloni: Well, to me it means a lot more than just boxing. It’s more of an art. It’s more of a skill set. I never thought that I would need physics when I went to university in any aspect of sport, but it evolves around physics wholly. It’s something that I cherish. Boxing has not only developed me, but it develops kids. It brings them out of their shell.
And I’ve seen it. Kids go from having a poor report card to having all A’s because they didn’t want to give up boxing. All around, it’s been a great thing for individuals.
GMs: That’s awesome. And for those unaware, who are you in the boxing world?
GA: I’ve done a lot of things in boxing. I started off as a club coach, and then I went into getting my coaching apprenticeship with Adrian Teodorescu in Toronto for a year and a half. Adrian is formerly from Romania and he brought all of his skills from there over to here. He was the provincial coach. He coached Lennox Lewis in his last years of amateur boxing. And from that, I became a provincial level coach. And then I went on to finish my apprenticeship in being an international coach. I was one of the youngest to have achieved the whole level five. I was 29 years old.
Going forward, I’ve gotten the highest levels that our international boxing Federation allows, which is just called the three-star. I’ve also reinvented the technical manuals for boxing in Canada. So if you look at any of those manuals, it’ll have my name in there.
I also developed a skill progression program for boxing because the government was going to pull funding if we didn’t have a skill development program. So, I put that together for them and there we are. And then, on top of that, I’ve got a whole whack of athletes that are like my own children and that’s how I treat them as well.
GMs: Correct me if I’m wrong, Top Glove has been in Sudbury since 1990 and you as the head coach. You must have had some amazing experiences and seen some pretty awesome things throughout that time and throughout your career. What are some highlights you can share? And what is Top Glove, for people that don’t know?
GA: Top Glove Boxing Academy is an actual school. That’s why it’s called an Academy. We not only just do boxing in there, we bring in nutritionists, we bring in a sports psychologist, we bring in a physiologist, we have a strength and conditioning coach. It all encompasses the holistic approach to the athletes.
We had two people that went to the 1996 games, Casey Patton and Phil Boudreault. Mike Stuart is still the last male boxer to win a gold medal and a world championship for Canada. The last male boxer in 1992, so that’s not good. That’s not good. But it’s still good for us because that’s the feather in our cap.
We actually had the national training center here in Sudbury.
GA: It was located in Azilda, and it was the former Rayside High School. I went to the city of Sudbury and said, “Listen, guys, this is what we need to prosper in boxing.” And they just shushed me off. One counselor came up to me and said, “Gord, there’s a guy named Magilla Binn. He’s the economic development officer at the city of Rayside-Balfour. Well, talk to him.” So, I went in there and I told him what I wanted, and his eyes became like this big, it was phenomenal.
I said to him, “Let’s go for a ride.” So, we went over to the school and we went upstairs. He said, “This is the area that we’d be working with me.” I said, “We?” Where am I going to get the money? I was doing all the renovations. “Don’t worry.” He was Mr. Proposal Guy and he wrote a budget proposal. We got $1.5 million worth of funding. Phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal. And we stayed there for 10 years and that’s when it became the greater city of Sudbury.
It was great because we had the most successful tournaments and training camps there. We had several iconic events like the first ever international women’s competition and it’s in Canada. It was held here at the national training center in Azilda. That was a landmark there.
Then one of the feathers in my cap, I was inducted into this Sudbury sports hall of fame three years ago.
GMs: Congratulations. You said the last medal was in 1992 for Canada. Now you have MMA, and you don’t see a lot of boxing on TV anymore. I remember when I was growing up, Holyfield, Tyson, Lennox Lewis, there was something on all the time. And is it just because the times have changed or has maybe interest waned? What do you think is the cause of this?
GA: I think it’s just that there’s a lot of fighting going on, even now during COVID, so it’s just that the marketing, the promotion of it, is a lot different. I’m not sure why. But as far as it being up, I don’t know. It’s still there. I’ve got several boxers now in my own gym that want to turn pro and there’s decent money there to be had if you’re alright. You know?
GMs: You touched on it at the beginning, about how boxing shapes young people, can you get into that a little more because it’s not just about sports, right? It’s getting them prepared for life after sports.
GA: Muhammad Ali actually has a really good quote, he says, “you don’t lose the fight the evening of the fight. You lose it months in advance because you haven’t done the work.” What I say is that when you go into that ring, you get paid. You don’t literally get paid, but you get paid by your performance. And depending on your performance was also dependent on the work that you’ve done outside of the ring.
With the athletes we do a lot of planning, a lot of goal setting. So it runs parallel with life as well. When we do those, it sets them up for success. And I even got them doing journals. Every day what happens in the gym, they write it in their journal. And then they review it at night, it’s like visualization, and then they review it the next day, maybe two or three times the next day. It’s a constant thing. And this is not going to go away.
I’ve got a girl. Her name is Amber Konikow who no longer boxes, but she runs ultramarathons now. And she’s a nurse. I don’t know where she gets all the time to go and train, but Amber won a bronze medal at the world championships. And what got her there was our structure. It was all about the journaling, our communication between her and I. There has to be constant communication or I’m just going to guess as to how she feels on that training session or whatever.
Boxing has taught a lot of people a lot of things. I had a kid who, and I want us to mention his name, his name is Justin Bedam. His mom came up to me and said, “Gord, Justin’s marks are going down. What do you think we should do? Should I pull him out?” I said, “No.” I said, “I’ll talk to him.” And I said, “We’re going to say you got to bring your marks up or it’s the end of the road.” Boom. From failing to A pluses. Incredible, incredible. And now he’s got his Master’s in sports psych and he’s working for a company that makes knee braces.
GMs: Awesome. Great story. If anyone’s interested in contacting you or learning more about boxing, your school, or how to get involved, how would they do that, Gord?
GA: They can go to TopGlove.ca or they can just give me a call. I’m pretty well ready to take calls anytime. (705) 561-7215