After long days of backbreaking work as a plumber, Dennis Porter sweats it out at the Alexandria Boxing Club in Alexandria, Va., training young fighters to become champions. Six nights a week, he analyzes and critiques their every move.
Dennis Porter takes a break in the ring at the Alexandria Boxing Club while his sparring partner catches his breath.
You're too slow! Too much pie!
He "calls it as it is... He's really a motivator in that way," says Dara Shen, 30, a light-heavyweight and the club's manager.
She says Porter's lack of sugarcoating and his brutal honesty are "one of the most important parts about this gym. He's literally laid so much of the groundwork."
Dara Shen and Dennis Porter. Photo: Anthony Trueheart/Circa
Gallery: Lessons in the ring
The boxing world takes notice
Porter's hardened, no-games approach to boxing and his commitment to shaping the skills and -- he hopes -- the careers of his fighters are unmistakable.
The athletes he's trained won seven national championships in 2014, earning ABC the World Boxing Council's Certificate of Excellence and the attention of several national boxing committees and dignitaries.
Trophy case at the Alexandria Boxing Club
'Be in front of me'
Humbly describing the accomplishments of his fighters and assistant coaches, Porter, 55, recalls the words he heard when he was a young assistant coach: "Don't ever be behind me, be in front of me."
He's embraced those words ever since, encouraging the coaches he trains to grow and stay a step ahead of him. And his efforts have paid off -- one of the fighters he trained, a then-15-year-old named Kay Koroma, went on to become Porter's right-hand man. Today, he's a U.S. Olympic Team boxing coach in Rio de Janeiro.
"I'm so proud of him, that he got in front me," Porter says with a smile.
Dennis Porter with some of the fighters, coaches and colleagues at ABC. Photo: Anthony Trueheart/Circa
'It hasn't hit me yet'
The Alexandria Boxing Club has produced many nationally ranked and highly decorated fighters. One of them, 19-year-old Shakur Stevenson, will be fighting in Rio on Sunday.
Born in Newark, N.J., Stevenson relocated to Northern Virginia and moved in with Koroma so he could train at ABC. It was a wise decision. Stevenson, a bantamweight, propelled himself through the national ranks all the way to the U.S. Olympic Team.
"It hasn't hit me yet, but I'm waiting for him to win the gold medal, and that's when it's going to hit me," Porter says with pride.
Gallery: ABC shots by Noah Willman (Noahwillman.com)
'What keeps me going is the kids'
Having both a fighter and a coach at the 2016 Olympics says a lot about what Porter has accomplished in Alexandria. Through all the accolades the boxing club and its fighters have received, Porter has stayed on as head coach.
"What keeps me going is the kids," he says. "Help keeping kids off the street, that's my goal."
He takes pride in his gym and his team, and his dedication to the Alexandria community is clear. Porter invites youngsters of all ages and sizes to train in his gym, and he regularly runs youth camps.
Gallery: Dennis Porter coaches young boxers
'Till I roll out'
With the help of Shen and coaches Koroma, Jeff Johnson and Ron Simms, ABC provides a safe and positive place not only for kids, but for everyone, including visitors.
Whether you're looking to bring home Olympic gold, trying to find direction in life or just hoping to get in shape, one fact remains: Dennis Porter will be at the Alexandria Boxing Club to welcome you.
"I don't know what the Lord's plan is, but I'm gonna be in this game till I roll out," he said.