By Calvin Suh
Photos by Calvin Suh, Meghan Wonder, and Laura Baker
It is a Thursday night near closing time, but the doors are still open at the Tarzana Boxing gym. Located on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, the facility has all the markings of
a traditional boxing gym. Three large windows line the sidewalk and display a full-sized boxing ring, treadmills, and a large portrait of Muhammad Ali. This is a definite haven and training grounds for the sweet science, until one notices the gym’s sign outdoors: Boxing – Kickboxing – Jiu Jitsu – MMA. Clearly, there’s more going on here than just boxing.
Founded by enthusiasts of the fight game, Lawrence and Barbara Forsey operate Tarzana Boxing with a genuine interest and passion for its members. The walls are lined with photographs of members, both former and present, and a few of them even include the owners with celebrity fighters, signed with well wishes to the gym.
“We’ve been here seven years,” Barbara says about the gym. “My husband, this was his idea” going on to explain how her husband Lawrence’s enthusiasm for boxing drove them to build the gym, and how anyone is welcome, especially aspiring MMA fighters.
“The community is great and you know what? It’s a family. A real family. They come from all over,” she says about the membership.
Barbara is particularly proud of housing a real team of MMA fighters, which she attributes to the efforts of the gym’s instructors, Thor Skanke and Jon Levy.
Between the two, Jon and Thor have a combined eleven professional fights. Their partnership goes back to 2009, when Jon started teaching at the gym. Thor was already a fundamental part of Tarzana Boxing, and although it didn’t take much for them to combine forces, the ice was broken as it would in any proper fight gym – in the ring.
“I was here. He came in and started teaching. We just hit it off. Sparred against each other a couple times. There’s always that feeling out process of ‘who’s this kid coming into my gym?’ We beat the crap out of each other and then we became really good friends.
“My first trainer was James Toney,” explains Jon. “He taught me how to have that mentality. That fighter mindset.” After becoming an instructor at Tarzana Boxing, meeting Thor, and becoming a part of Team Danger, Jon felt the urge to fight competitively.
Between both men’s respective classes and their own fight careers launching, the duo’s curriculum for a fight team started to gel.
Thor designed the team with a specific focus on wrestling, noting “I really feel like a lot of kids lack real wrestling. If you didn’t go to a high school that offered it, and you’re not in a college, there’s nowhwere to get it, really. MMA schools are getting better with it now, but really, most you’re seeing is jiu jitsu and Muay Thai guys. And most guys in MMA, they don’t even throw a proper crossface in the cage.”
With that said, Jon’s expertise in striking compliments Thor’s focus on the ground work. Much, if not all, of Team Danger’s training regimen and style was based on these two mens’ experience and techniques.
“[Jon’s] a great striker, but he’s a really patient guy. He’s got lots of love for them. Great coach, man. Very inventive with his strength and conditioning, and stuff like that,” notes Thor.
Inside the ring, Thor and Jon leads a small group through drills. As Thor demonstrates a few double underhook techniques, Jon hangs by the ropes quietly adding a few striking tips off the clinch. The round timer chimes for a break. Training proceeds with an atmosphere of ease and familiarity, but Team Danger puts in the work.
The enthusiasm is mirrored by the instructors, as they mix punches with verbal jabs. Taking notice of the U of MMA staff that enters the gym, Thor nudges one of the trainees to flex for the cameras. The group laughs, but as the ring timer continues to chime in and out; the group does not stop training. Thor and Jon waste no time as they rotate mitts and instruct techniques.
Barbara accompanies the staff for a few more rounds, explaining the history of the gym and the story of Team Danger: “We had a guy here [Michael Rosner] when I opened. He had the heart of a fighter,” she explains, “he would be here eight to ten hours everyday.”
“We all called him ‘Danger.’ That’s his gloves up there,” she points at a pair of gloves hanging by a framed photograph. “He passed away about three years ago in a car accident. Thor and he were very close.” As a homage, the team was named after the same spirited and determined man.
As the training session comes to a close, Thor wastes no time introducing the core group: Kevin Gonzales, Josh Luviano, and Joseph Febles, childhood friends and fellow trainees. Although no one in Team Danger claims leadership, they look up to Jon and Thor for instruction.
“We’re all friends. We get together and spar. It’s like, ‘hey bro, have you seen this technique?’ I try to share everything I learn with Jon,” explains Thor.
And in the spirit of their friend Danger, the instructors draw inspiration from the man, and promote hard work and discipline.
“We’re always here to train them, because we want to make that name look good. That’s his best friend,” Jon adds.
To date, two team members Joey Febles and Kevin Gonzalez, have fought for the U. Febles, taking his fight on a very short notice, won his debut at the U’s ‘Salute to Service’ event, on September 11, 2011, against a very game and scrappy Audey Ortiz. More recently, Gonzalez fought at ‘Second to None’ on October 21 of this year, going the distance against Eric Rios of Systems 8 Fight Club. Between them and teammate Josh Luviano, the trio of amateur fighters accrued a 4-4 record since August 2010, when Gonzalez made his debut.
More recently, amateur fighters Hansel Aquino (Xtreme Couture / Defiant Muay Thai) and Dean Bo Moskowitz (House of Champions / Aziz MMA) have become affiliate teammates, working out on occasion and bringing their own unique contributions to the table.
“I know Hansel and Dean are gonna make a big splash in this industry. They’re both gifted. They’re very easy to coach, so it makes it a lot easier on me. These are the kind of people I like to train with,” says Thor.
Both Aquino and Moskowitz were scheduled to compete at the U’s ‘Second to None’ event in October with Gonzalez. Although Aquino was forced to withdraw due to injury, Moskowitz worked his way to an explosive first-round submission win.
Training these young men is an effort Thor describes as a learning experience for both the instructors and trainees. “We make each other better,” Thor explains, “Whatever they do in life, I just want them to do their best.”
Team Danger is a project that evolves and expands through osmosis, compiling different techniques and skills over time. Without high school wrestling or any formal training, Thor learned much of his techniques from moving around different camps, building confidence in his abilities through sparring as many different fighters as possible.
Similarly, Jon Levy was also a freestyle fighter who learned much of his skills from different fighters over time. He especially attributes his passion for fighting to his peer. “I didn’t have any amateur fights. Thor [basically] turned me into a monster,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t be fighting if it wasn’t for [him].”
“I feel like we have more of a brotherhood. I build my training partners and they build me up,” Thor explains, “I think you can call me “Coach Thor’ only when I’m fat and retired. I don’t think I’m in any position to be a mentor, or a coach, or whatever. That takes time.”
That said, whatever coaching Thor does, he does seriously, and he’s very particular with the training company that he keeps.
“These kids are very serious. They’re not just trying to get a fight so they can tell a girl at the bar that they’re a fighter. They’re serious,” he says. “They really love this sport as much as I do and they’re really looking at turning this into a career. Those are the kind of kids I’m interested in.”
Indeed, Team Danger feeds off each others’ energy, working hard for their techniques, but sharing it freely with their team. “It’s gym hustling. We need sparring? We’ll get it. We need wrestling? We’ll get it,” says Thor.
As a name, Team Danger represents the memory of a single man. As a group, they also represent several common characteristics – unity, cooperation, mutual support, and a shared competitive drive to be and make better. They’re ready to jump in the fray and scrap at a moment’s notice, knowing that a victory for one of them is a victory for all of them.
Team Danger trains out of Tarzana Boxing, which is located at 19626 Ventura Boulevard, Tarzana, CA 91356. For more information, check out www.TarzanaBoxing.com or call (818) 345-2694.