By KEITH McMILLAN
Willie Taylor remembers his days as ”The Heat,” the nickname he went by during his late-1980s and early ’90s boxing career. He also remembers when the heat of the spotlight got to him.
Taylor fought as many as 25 top-10 contenders, including some big-name fighters like Buddy McGirt, Frankie Warren and William Joppy. At the height of his career, he made $80,000 for a single fight and admitted that he lost his focus.
Today, Taylor is as focused as ever, working for Arlington County as a boxing coach — not to develop great boxers, but to develop great human beings. A Woodbridge resident himself, he trains boxers from Woodbridge and Dale City, among other places, and realizes that the title ‘coach’ involves more than just physical instruction.
”After my first year or so as a coach, I finally saw the light,” Taylor, 42, recalls. ”What did it was I had this kid, when he came to me he was locked up … I saw what it did for him. He ended up going to college [and majoring in an art-related field]. I saw I could really make a difference. I said ‘bump this being a coach, I can really make a difference for life.”’
Taylor’s own life got off to a difficult start in Brooklyn, N.Y. His mother was killed when he was young, and he says his father wasn’t around much. He says he wrestled, became a kickboxing champion and spent some time in the U.S. Marine Corps, but he made his biggest mark as a professional boxer.
Taylor lost his first five professional fights before he came to Falls Church to work with a trainer named Jim Jones. Taylor says he became so dedicated that he actually slept in the gym for six months.
”That’s when I was at the top of my game,” he said.
Taylor says his fight with McGirt was supposed to be a warm-up as McGirt worked his way back toward the championship. Instead, Taylor ”gave him fits,” but eventually lost a 10-round decision.
As the money rolled in and his name recognition grew, Taylor says more friends and girlfriends began spending their time with him.
”I didn’t keep the same intensity,” he recalled. ”I was still a good fighter, but I wasn’t the same.”
He doesn’t look back on his career with regrets, but he does wonder what could have been.
”Sometimes … I don’t think I pushed myself as hard as I could have,” said Taylor, who retired after a loss to Joppy in 1994. ”I could have been a much better fighter.”
He won’t let the same thing happen to his coaching career, nor the young fighters he trains.
”There’s nothing that I haven’t seen,” he said. ”I put that on my fighters.”
But Taylor didn’t plan to become a coach, he just began helping fighters where he was training.
”A young lady said to me ‘you should become a coach,’ he said. ”I’d never really thought about it until she said that.”
But even in his first few years as a paid employee of Arlington County, he says he was focused on developing championship boxers.
”Arlington County wanted more than just boxing,” Taylor said. ”They more care about what’s good for the kids. They want them to get good educations and make good decisions about life.”
Now, says Taylor, he doesn’t steer anyone into a career in boxing. He simply likes to hear that his boxers have careers, and he beams when he talks about a former pupil going to college.
Theodore Hohney looks like he means business. After 30 years in the Marines, he should.
The nickname ”Top” — which is what an E-9 Mastery Gunnery Sergeant is referred to in the Marines — stuck with him in civilian life, one he dedicates to family, fitness and fighters. Hohney, 55, now runs a center that maintains more than 150 Prince William County school buses.
After a 20-fight amateur career that ended in Okinawa, Japan in 1972, Hohney left boxing until 1993, when he helped some soldiers preparing for an Army vs. Marines boxing challenge. With the help of John Dupont, Hohney’s boss at a Marine gym, he started a boxing team. By 1994, Hohney was training the Virginia Golden Gloves novice team champions.
After living in California for a short time, Hohney returned to training boxers while working at Arlington’s Henderson Hall.
”Henderson Hall didn’t have any real facilities,” Hohney recalls. ”It was a welcome sight when Willie Taylor asked me to come up and help him.”
The boxing room at the Barcroft Fitness and Recreation Center, where Taylor and Hohney train, is bright, clean and filled with new punching bags. There’s even a full-size ring good enough to be used as the site for an amateur Golden Gloves tournament this past March.
While both Taylor and Hohney enjoy being in Arlington, they each hope to bring boxing closer to their Woodbridge homes.
With the help of Steve Brace, Taylor’s boss at his daytime job with McLean Electric, Taylor hopes to be able to promote fights in the next year or so. He says he’d like to hold them in Woodbridge or Manassas.
Hohney says he’s actively looking to open a gym in the county.
”I’ve looked at and made phone calls about six different vacant buildings on the Route 1 corridor and Dale Boulevard,” he says. ”I’m telling you, the prices are astronomical.”
Though his gym could be a site for training amateurs and hosting fights, Hohney is in it for the same reasons as Taylor is.
”You can get a lot of kids off the street and grow them,” Hohney says. ”Some of them will never even spar. But at least while they’re here, they’re here.”
Though both Taylor and Hohney train amateurs and appreciate the chess-match aspect of working in a professional boxer’s corner, they each dedicate themselves to giving back to the community.
If their dreams come true, the Prince William County community could benefit from Hohney’s gym and Taylor’s matches.