Gym of the Month: Sweet Science Boxing & MMA

By Jorge Abarca
Photos by U of MMA staff 

You won’t usually come across a family that punches and kicks you daily, and yet still consider them to have your best interests in mind. That is, until you come down to Sweet Science Boxing & MMA in Hawthorne, California.

Founded in 2009 by current head instructor Darnell Walker and Jimmy Smith (fighter / coach / color commentator for Bellator Fighting Championships), Sweet Science is a close-knit, community-tied gym that embraces boxing, MMA, fitness and even nutritional education as an all-encompassing training regimen.

“Me and my boy, we had a nickname – we were The Fixers. No matter where and what gym you came from, if you had bad habits, we could fix and we could repair you,” explains head instructor Darnell Walker. “So how I would describe the gym? It is a home away from home. A place of repair.”

Coach Darnell Walker runs his team through cardio drills. (Photo by U of MMA staff)

Sitting in at one of the gym’s work out sessions, it is immediately obvious that everyone takes their training seriously. The students range from experienced fighters who clearly have fight aspirations in mind to newcomers of all age, some even as young as 10 years old. Occasionally, Coach Darnell jumps in their line to get a rep in. Pushing 40, Walker’s physique would put many 25 year olds to shame. There is nobody too good to do the work here. When a student expresses concern that he can’t do the exercise, Walker forces him to try, and when the student nails it without a problem, Walker says “Don’t ever believe you can’t.”

While predominately known for his boxing training expertise, Darnell started off training in jiu-jitsu, which he claims led him to acknowledge other aspects of fighting. “I knew that the game was going to evolve; I knew I needed to get my boxing right. I went into Broadway Boxing, and within the first two months, I was sparring with champions.” Among those champions, according to Walker, were notables like Lamon Brewster, and James ‘Lights Out’ Toney.

Darnell had trained at a few other boxing and fight gyms, but wasn’t ever at peace with the overall attitudes prevailing there. “No one was helping out there. No one was giving attention. People that were in the gym did not want to train as hard as others. So when people came here they noticed the environment was different. No one was being a bully. You know you go to some gyms, you go in the first day and you have people looking at you like ‘I’ll knock you out’ and you’re like ‘bro, I’m here just to learn and get to know the team.’

Both Jimmy and Darnell bounced from gym to gym, starting off at Broadway Boxing. “At Broadway Boxing, we started taking over space. That’s what the gym wants to do, is grow, so I bring in mixed martial artists to a boxing environment.” That didn’t sit well with many of the coaches and staff there, and eventually Jimmy and Darnell were asked to leave the gym. Departing from that gym, they headed to LA Boxing next, bringing along a few loyal students from Broadway, where they would eventually break off and form Sweet Science Boxing & MMA together.

For Sweet Science, training also includes studying matches and nutritional discussion.

Aside from amateur prospects, like David Sands and Danielle Mack, who both are scheduled to compete at the U’s Champions of Tomorrow! on May 20th, the next biggest thing that the gym produces is educated, healthy eaters. Part of the workout routine is announcing to the class what you’ve had for lunch that day, and setting a weight loss goal for the end of each week.

“We have been taught to eat wrong since day one. You have to reprogram the minds” says Darnell. “There is no education in our community. If you look at our communities, we have fast food everywhere. I’ve heard from my students, some of their families are like ‘You’re letting Darnell get you skinny!’ because the muffin top is cool right?”

Darnell is studying to achieve a degree in nutrition, and just from listening to him, you can tell his passion to make a difference in his student’s diet is genuine. “You can eat good food, and it doesn’t have to be trash. People have to see other people change.”

A few words with the students there and one can see how driven to succeed the coaching staff has made them.  Manuel, an amateur boxer who hopes to crack open the 125lb division, aspires to one day become a champion. “The coaches here provide great motivation. Darnell is a great motivator.  They really want us to succeed. Here, they give you the time and dedication. He told me one day, ‘you want to be world champ? You want the WBC belt? Then think about it’ and I’ve been thinking about it every day. I want that, it’s my dream. That’s going to be my goal.”

Boxers and MMA fighters training the same drills.

Manuel and the other boxing students have even embraced MMA training drills into their routine. Elliot, an amateur boxer aiming for the light heavyweight division, can see the benefits of this unique training style. “It’s the cardio. They do things that we boxers don’t do. So when we’re ready for that 4, 6, 10, 12 round fight, it’s like we’re walking through them, because the workout we get, we get an extra work out on top of boxing.”

Heavyweight fighter David Sands, who is undefeated in his University of MMA experience, can attest to the community and family feel of the gym. “Here, we’re going to push each other because everybody is trying to get better, or trying to get in shape, or trying to achieve a goal. It might not be fighting. It might just be able to defend themselves. We’ve had people come in saying ‘I want to get into skinny jeans.’ And they’ve gotten into those jeans, and we haven’t seen them since.”

Sweet Science MMA is a unique blend of the old and the new. The coaches have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the students are driven to succeed. “If you’re looking for a team unit and a family unit, then you’ve come to the right place.”

Sweet Science Boxing & MMA is located at 12958 Hawthorne Boulevard in Hawthorne, CA. For more information, visit or call (310) 679-0221.


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