Zeke Lopez has trained hundreds of young boxers from San Benito County, whether they were on the path to a professional career or just for fun.
But those days may be coming to an end as Lopez earlier this month was issued a notice of a 30-day order to vacate his gym at the corner of McCray and Gibbs streets in Hollister.
He’s been running Bulldog Boxing Gym at the same location for nearly 27 years but now he has until July 10 to vacate the premises.
The gym has been home to Manny Bueno, 21, for nearly three years after he was headed to a certain place in life. He found boxing to be extremely fascinating and has now turned it into something more than a passion for himself.
“Maybe one day you might see me on TV fighting pro, who knows?” Bueno said.
Bueno said the sport of boxing has helped him become a better person in all aspects of his life, including becoming a better student in college. He didn’t know how to handle the news of Bulldog’s eviction because it was nothing like he’d ever experienced.
“I was angry, confused on why they would try to do something like this,” he said. “It’s not why they’re doing it but it’s the reason on how they’re doing it. I just find it disrespectful.”
Lopez, who used to be a boxer himself, said he talked to the developer a couple of years ago when they were surveying the land for new construction.
Two weeks ago, he received a call from Hollister City Attorney Jason Epperson, who told him his reign at Bulldog Boxing Gym was over.
Lopez said that the city told him it needed the property to build a retention pond for more construction at the Hollister Farms Shopping Center, which includes Ross, TJ Maxx, Ulta, Famous Footwear, Panera, Dutch Bros and Denny’s.
Lopez said he reached out to Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez for some assistance, but Lopez was disappointed with the mayor’s response.
“[Velazquez] said there’s nothing I can do for you, they’re going to give you 30 days, that’s it,” Lopez said, “From there on he just couldn’t do anything for me. That’s why we’re leaving, I guess.”
Velazquez said the city doesn’t have the resources to help the gym or any buildings that they might be able to use. He mentioned to Lopez that an alternative for him is to go to the YMCA or to partner up with another boxing gym but he refused.
The mayor added that they tried to find a way around building the retention pond, but the state told them the water runoff would be too much and they needed a way to keep the water on site rather than pass everything through a storm drain.
“What the city has done for Zeke is, over the years, let him use that spot without charging anything until he couldn’t use it anymore,” Velazquez said. “Now, it’s come down to that point where those sheds need to come down.”
In the early 90s, Lopez started to take in youngsters from low-income families and at-risk youth at no charge for his training. He moved to his current location and under an agreement with the city he began operating Bulldog as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Lopez has been using the building rent-free and the city pays $200 a month to provide a portable toilet. The gym hosts around 50 boxers that range from ages 7-21, but training them for free can get expensive.
On May 7, the Community Foundation for San Benito County gave Lopez a $4,400 Covid-19 relief grant for purchasing equipment.
Lopez’s daughter, Mariah, created a GoFundMe campaign she calls “Bulldog Boxing”, which was started after the gym was given notice to move out. Abraham Gonzales of San Benito Barbers is having a raffle for his Small Business Fundraiser campaign where all the profits will go directly to Bulldog Boxing Gym.
Efren Gamino started going to the gym seven years ago as a way to help him get in shape for football. Instead, he chose boxing as his go-to sport and instantly fell in love with the environment.
“You could be having a bad day but as soon as I come in here, with the way everyone is with each other, it just lifts me up,” he said.
The 20-year old Hollister resident aspires to one day fight in the amateur ranks. He credits the gym for giving him the opportunity to get there and for boosting his confidence after losing 130 pounds.
Gamino couldn’t believe the news until he heard it first hand during a conference call with Velazquez.
“To me it just sounded like the mayor kept saying, ‘I understand but I don’t care,’” Gamino said.
He said if it weren’t for the gym he’d be sitting at home playing video games and gaining back the weight that he worked hard to shed. He’ll continue to train even if it means doing so out of a garage or outside.
“Whatever we can do,” he said. “We’re not going to stop training, I know that.”