Long Beach United: The Gem of Retro Row

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Vintage Boxing poster by Teenie Harris

Consider the American boxing gym, an iconic but declining staple of the fitness industry which has been diluted by the marketability of recycled ideas like workout plans, diet pills, and gym memberships. The boxing gym sets itself apart from the industry, offering an up-front image and promising nothing more or less than what anyone is willing to invest. It is this nature of narrow but focused commitment that makes many boxing gyms something of a community fixture, like an old coffee shop or local park. In Long Beach, California, just off of Cherry Avenue on the Retro Row of 4th Street, sits one such fixture.

The Long Beach United Boxing Club provides the community with a healthy outlet for the stresses of city life, the development of a social and supporting network, and a wholesome establishment geared toward the improvement of the self. Places like this don’t come from nothing, they aren’t started on a whim, and they don’t become a seamless staple to the niche that is 4th Street overnight. Long Beach United began, like many things in the Los Angeles area, across the country.

The Boston of the 1960s and 70s was a microcosm of anarchy, full of communities galvanized by their shared familiarity with violence and the criminal element. The air was thick with aggression and it was common for children to be attacked by their peers on their way to and from school. In such a place, is it any wonder that boxing became a community staple? Long Beach United’s co-owner and founder Doug MacKinnon came from such a community.

Unlike many of his peers, MacKinnon’s father Douglas Sr. refused to have his son trained in contemporary boxing. Not without good reason, as Mackinnon explains, “My dad’s parents were Irish immigrants, and in their generation the people who hung around boxing gyms were these mobster characters, and bringing your kid there would expose them to that criminal element.” MacKinnon survived, avoiding fights with his strong appearance and affable personality, biding his time until he could step away.

 

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Long Beach United

At 18, Doug took that step, leaving Boston for the warmer climes of Long Beach, California. What MacKinnon found however, was that between the pleasant beaches and sunkissed sidewalks, there was a brand of mayhem and violence he had yet to see. The Punk Rock scene of the 1980s was a sweltering ocean of drugs, violence and studded leather, and one glance at a mosh pit in Fender’s Ballroom told MacKinnon “You know what? I gotta learn to defend myself if I’m gonna live in California”. After finding a boxing gym at the late age of 18 years old, MacKinnon began practicing contemporary boxing and discovered a staggering talent. Staggering because after a single year of formal training, he won his first tournament against seasoned contemporaries, attributing his success to his “heavy hands.” 

Following his time in Long Beach he trekked across the country again and settled in Miami for a little over a decade, working as a personal trainer. Then, his close friend Erik Sandin approached him with an idea.Doug had now spent the majority of his life in and out of boxing gyms, so why not create his own? Sandin, who had been MacKinnon’s friend for years and who he knew through their experience as drummers in the Long Beach punk scene, urged him to use his experience as a personal trainer to open a boxing club. His well-connected clientele and penchant for details helped him open The Long Beach United Boxing Club in January 2013, adding to the burgeoning Retro Row. 

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Long Beach United

In the 30+ years he has spent in and out of Long Beach, MacKinnon has developed a familiarity with more disciplines than traditional boxing. He is a blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu and has studied Muay Thai with the former Cambodian national champion Oumry Ban. It is Ban who Doug credits his as the main inspiration for his teaching style. 

Mackinnon has always emphasized a desire to protect Long Beach’s roots, it’s values, and the things that made Long Beach a haven for alternative lifestyles and artistic pursuits. Acceptance and conviction are the cornerstones of LB United, so there is no uniform standard that every patron must adheres to. Rather, the model is that whatever someone needs, the club will provide if possible. Do you want to work out the stresses of tedious day at the office? LB United has a boxing class for beginners. Are you interested in learning the fundamentals of jiu-jitsu and muay thai? Classes are offered by respected instructors. Do you want your child to be safe walking to and from school? LB United provides classes for the youth in two different age groups.

The focus isn’t just safety, but fostering a strong community. Mackinnon notes, “When you create a social environment where kids are breaking their sedentary lifestyle and interacting with healthy adults and children their own age, the gym doesn’t just profit, the community does too.”Long Beach United’s emphasis on community is a through-line for everything they do.  But “community” does not simply mean the few blocks around the gym. Community is the people, and the values they wish to pass on. Long Beach is a patchwork of cultures and clashing time periods, a living aftermath after a collision of life and idealism. Long Beach United is an extension of that collision, but focused on a positive goal of self improvement and hard work.


Article by Kai King-Blow. Read his previous article on how surfing became a worldwide phenomenon.