Step inside the door of LA Boxing and the feel isn't what you might imagine. It's bright and airy, a cheerful-looking gym. All of the machines and padding are painted in reds, whites and blues.
The new place on U.S. 19 offers workouts based on boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. It's the first Pinellas location for the chain, which also operates in Orlando and Miami.
"We've been open three weeks, and this is the first of many locations we're planning for the Tampa Bay area. We're not coming in with one and run," said Pete Guzman, partner and general manager. "LA Boxing is celebrating 20 years as a gym right now, and this is the 76th one to open."
Besides classes, the gym has cardio equipment, free weights, strength building machines and personal trainers. Of course there's a boxing ring and a bag cage with dozens of 150-pound punching bags.
"As society becomes more sedentary and people grow older, they have to seek out something to get into great shape," said Guzman, 41. "The LA Boxing Workout burns between 800 and 1,000 calories, and a trainer takes you through it every time. You get muscular development, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, you learn something new and have fun."
Proper punching and kicking techniques are taught along with basic fighting techniques, with an emphasis on mind, body and emotional well-being.
Guzman knows all three are important.
A New Yorker, he had been to Tarpon Springs several times visiting his wife's family in her hometown. Then he lost his business and the family lost their home.
"We went through what a lot of America has been going through," said Guzman. "About a year ago, our family down here took us in. We started from zero, but I'm ready to rock and roll. With the business model from LA Boxing and the discipline I've learned from martial arts, we won't fail."
Guzman believes LA Boxing will continue to grow. In New York, he says, he helped one martial arts business go from eight to 50 gyms.
After he was introduced to his business partner, Scott Wafer, who owns an LA Boxing gym in New York, Guzman became enamored with the business model and Wafer's business expertise.
"I watched that business for about a year and thought, 'This is it,' " said Guzman.
The gym has several different membership packages with costs ranging from $44 to $84 a month, the latter of which includes unlimited classes and full use of all of the gym's equipment.
A gym to get in shape
Guzman is dedicated to the techniques taught at LA Boxing. The workout includes three-minute rounds with a one-minute break and incorporates music, jumping rope, boxing gloves, the heavy bag and lots of positive reinforcement.
"There is nobody in better condition than a mixed martial artist," said Guzman. "People have the ability to do the workout of authentic boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial artists without the lumps and bruises. The sparring and contact is not necessarily a part of most people's workout, but for those who want to take it to that level, the facility is set up for it and we will offer that too."
Norine Troupe, the business' assistant general manager, starting working on fitness in gyms about 14 years ago, seven of those in martial arts. Now she teaches boxing and kickboxing as a personal trainer and instructor.
"Personally, there is no good excuse (for not getting fit)," said Troupe. "Everybody has a reason: I hurt my knee, my back, World War whatever, I can't get out of bed, I have no time, too much work, my husband this, my daughter that, I can't sleep. Everybody has to start somewhere."
Helping children feel self-confident will be the crux of a bullying prevention program that Guzman intends to have running within the next six weeks.
Phillip Jacobs, LA Boxing's director of franchise development, said successful franchise owners are people who have fitness-oriented lifestyles.
"They love the fitness environment, the sweating, the testosterone, people setting and achieving goals," he said. "It becomes a labor of love."
One other thing: This is the first year the Olympics will feature female boxing. Jacobs believes that women everywhere will have a light bulb go on and realize they can get in shape by taking these classes.
Guzman is in Clearwater to help make that happen.
"Even though LA Boxing is a huge franchise, we are a local gym," said Guzman. "We plan to have local charity events and want very much to be a part of this community."
Correspondent Theodora Aggeles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org