THE PLEX GYM is located in the heart of Houston, Texas. Mixing cutting-edge ideas and philosophies with the type of coaching know-how that money just can’t buy, it has become a go-to location for not just boxers, but athletes of all types as its reputation continues to grow.
Veteran coach Ronnie Shields’s name stands out among the trainers based at the Plex. Shields has worked the corner of multiple top boxers over the years and has been inducted into several Halls of Fame. Shields worked with heavyweight legends Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield as well as defensive master Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. All three boxed using very different styles so there is little that would surprise Ronnie when it comes to working out tactics and strategies for world-championship-level bouts. He also worked with Cuban enigma Guillermo Rigondeaux, the talented southpaw who recently challenged Vasyl Lomachenko, and who was regarded as one of the greatest amateur boxers not just of his generation, but of all time.
While Shields brings the decades of high-level ring experience, it is the ambition and driving force of Danny Arnold that powers Plex. While respectful of the tried-and-tested traditions of the sport (sparring, endurance, skipping, repetition, etc.), Arnold has bought into the more scientific methods that are now spreading to high-achieving gyms all over the country. Things like nutrition, proper pre-fight preparation, rehabilitation are often overlooked or treated with suspicion by some old school coaches and Arnold believes that is detrimental to fighters wishing to perform at the peak of their abilities.
Veteran coach Creed Fountain also works out of the Plex. Creed has been in the game for forty-five years and believes a solid work ethic is the “secret” to his longevity. Creed and Ronnie Shields have worked on and off for thirty years and Fountain has influenced the careers of Edwin Rodriguez, Bryan Vera, the Charlos, and many more. Fountain believes that Houston is traditionally a fighting city and sooner or later a big name will emerge and top shows will return to excite local fans. And most likely that fighter will come from the Plex Performance facility.
Of all the boxers who have entered the Plex Gym, the two current standouts are without question the Charlo brothers. Shields has known the Charlos since they were children, so the bond between trainer and fighters is particularly strong.
Stylistically the brothers fight differently. Jermall has a ferocious jab (which is quickly becoming one of the most potent weapons in boxing), and prefers to stand inside the pocket and trade punches. Jermell, on the other hand, likes to slip, move, and box, which parallels the approach of Cuban southpaw Erislandy Lara, who also boxes out of the Plex. If Jermall is considered the bigger puncher (twenty knockouts in his twenty-six wins), then Jermell (30-0 with 15 KOs) is certainly catching up in terms of impressive finishes. Jermell’s last four fights have ended early, including the two most recently being his most impressive on paper. Charles Hatley was undefeated in twenty-two fights when he faced Jermell in April, 2017 and was dispatched in six rounds—Jermell was defending the WBC super-welterweight title he had claimed against John Jackson when the pair clashed previously for the vacant crown. Jermell then fought 18-0 Erickson Lubin last October and starched the red-hot prospect in one round.
Jermall Charlo, meanwhile, was campaigning at super-welterweight alongside his brother but has since moved up to middleweight. His first opponent at middleweight, Argentina’s Jorge Sebastian Heiland, was severely debilitated with a knee injury when they fought late last year and that added a farcical element to the bout as Heiland hobbled around with almost no mobility, determined to provide some level of resistance in the biggest opportunity of his career. Realistically Heiland should not have been near the ring but Charlo just did what was asked of him. Before this win Jermall posted the biggest victory of his career over Julian “J Rock” Williams in December, 2016. Williams talked a big game, but Charlo finished him spectacularly, throwing a stunning right uppercut as he slipped, then blocked consecutive Williams jabs—all done with his feet planted in the same position. It was a touch of class from Charlo.
Erislandy Lara also uses the Plex’s revolutionary training methods. Danny Arnold’s philosophy calls for working with high-profile athletes from other sports, and he also makes sure that everyone who wishes to join the program isn’t admitted. They are selective about which boxers they work with and the talented Lara certainly makes the cut. Escaping the onerous Cuban amateur system, like many of his exiled compatriots, Lara has had to do things the hard way. Now settled into the progressive surroundings of the Plex, Erislandy has a career-defining fight on the horizon when he faces unbeaten Jarrett Hurd on April 7 in Las Vegas. In his most recent outing, Lara outpointed undefeated prospect Terrell Gausha in an unexciting main event that made many question Lara’s ultra-defensive posture. Only losing to Paul Williams and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez—controversially in the eyes of some—shows the type of class that Lara brings to the table.
Training in the Plex Sports Performance Training and Physical Therapy unit
under the guidance of Ronnie Shields, and following the vision of Danny Arnold, Lara is just one of many boxers who will continue to thrive.