When Wilky Campfort welcomed an 18-year-old Victor Ruiz into his Florida-based youth boxing program, he saw a timid teenager. Two years later, he sees a confident and determined young man.
“Victor had no friends, confidence or self-esteem, and was scared to talk to anybody,” says Campfort, who trains out of the Bulldog Boxing and Fitness Gym that he has owned and operated for two years with his wife, Christina. “But I’ve watched him grow over the past two years, competing in boxing, teaching other kids in our classes and helping to run the gym.
“He’s 20 now and entering the Air Force. He can do anything he wants in life.”
Campfort’s compassion for youth belies the struggles of a man raised fatherless in Haiti by his mother and grandmother. He transitioned to America when he was 14, living for two years with his father in Delaware, but it was hardly an ideal situation.
“There are bad childhood memories I don’t like talking about,” Campfort says. “Delaware with my father was hell. I had no one else to look up.”
Campfort found a safe haven through boxing, having been lured into the sport by watching Mike Tyson fights. He’s since grown into a world-class fighter, one who will get his first title opportunity November 28 against 154-pound champ Jermall Charlo (22-0, 17 KOs) in Dallas (NBC, 3 p.m. ET/noon PT).
But even as he eyes a promising future, his difficult childhood never drifts far from the front of his mind.
That explains why Campfort (21-1, 12 KOs) is so invested—as much emotionally as financially—in the Bulldog Boxing and Fitness Gym. It’s not just where he goes to train, but a place where he can serve as a positive male influence for youths who could use one.
Youths like Victor Ruiz.
“Victor’s like a lot of neighborhood kids—about 10 a day—whose parents can’t afford memberships,” says Campfort, whose facility located between the Florida cities of Tampa and Brandon welcomes kids ranging in age from 7 to 19. “They see me as a role model. They ask advice, [and we] sit down and talk—not just about boxing, but about life.
“Our regular fitness membership for $50 a month is not just for boxing but people trying to lose weight and stay in shape. We provide equipment and train the kids for free. We’re doing it to help the community and to hopefully change lives.”
“ The kids from my gym see me as a role model. They ask advice, [and we] sit down and talk—not just about boxing, but about life. ” Wilky Campfort
Given he’s very much in the thick of a successful professional career, it would be easy for Campfort to be just a part-time presence in his gym. Easy, perhaps, but to the 31-year-old Campfort, not acceptable.
“On those days I don’t feel like coming to the gym, if I don’t go, I’m letting the kids down,” he says. “They all have my personal telephone number. They can call me with any questions. I’m always there for them.”
And, in a way, his wife says the youngsters are always there for him, too.
“Wilky’s intense when a fight’s coming up and goes stir crazy just sitting around,” says Christina, who has been married to Campfort for three of the 11 years they have been together. “So in addition to his training, the kids keep him occupied.
“He’s so patient with them. Not having his dad around, that’s part of his drive. It excites me to see what he’ll be like with our children when we decide to have them.”
Of course, being in the thick of a successful professional boxing career, there are times when his training has to take precedence over that of the adolescents who frequent his gym. And with the biggest fight of his career no deck, this is one such time.
“When I have fights coming up, I have kids coming in Monday through Friday until about 6 p.m., and I [have] my personal workouts from about 6:30 to whenever,” Campfort says. “But with this fight, I stopped training the kids about a week and a half ago.
“I enjoy working with them, and they know that I love them, but at the same time, they know and understand when it’s time for me to go to work.”
When that work is over, though—win, lose or draw—Campfort will return to his gym. There he will be greeted by a cadre of young supporters, the majority of whom are eager not only to learn how to properly deliver a left hook, but to receive the kind of life guidance that was was lacking in Campfort’s youth.
“Many of them had no respect or discipline at first,” says Campfort, who requires gym attendees to follow a strict set of rules, such as no cursing and no saggy pants. “To see them change, grow, become more responsible and better people—not just in boxing, but in life—that’s very satisfying. They’re my little family.”