When the bell rings Thursday night and Brandon Berry makes his way back to his corner, his closet ally, trainer Skeet Wyman, will be there waiting for him.
They are an unlikely pair: a one-armed lobsterman training a professional boxer from rural Maine.
But it’s a perfect match for Berry and Wyman. The hardworking boxer is fighting not only for a name in the game but for his family, the family business and his hometown. He is joined by a man who not only brings knowledge and hard work, but a positive attitude that defies the odds, after his own promising boxing career was cut short.
Berry, 25, of West Forks, will face off against Jesus Cintron Thursday night at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H. The light welterweight bout, Berry’s third professional fight, is part of the 12th annual Fight to Educate. The six-fight card, which raises money for disadvantaged and at-risk children, usually draws thousands of spectators.
Like all boxer-trainer relationships, the one between Berry and Wyman is a sacred bond, built on trust, honesty and respect. But it goes deeper — deep enough for Berry to make the 252-mile round trip from West Forks to Wyman’s gym in Stockton Springs three times a week to train.
The relationship began in 2006 at the Northern New England Golden Gloves tournament in Burlington, Vt.
From the start, Berry said, “I knew he was going to be a friend in the boxing world.”
Wyman, 49, whose given name is Kenneth, inherited his love of boxing from his father, Kenneth Sr., who boxed in the Air Force.
“I was just a young kid and started watching boxing with my dad,” Wyman said. “I just fell in love with the sport.”
Wyman found an ad for a boxing gym in Belfast run by former boxer Bruce Copson and started training.
“It was my intention to become a professional fighter,” Wyman said.
Skeet was an 83-pound 14-year-old when he first stepped into the ring, determined to make a career of it. By the time he was 19, he had a 22-2 amateur record and was on his way.
On Oct. 15, 1983, everything changed.
Wyman was scheduled for a rematch with Joe LaRue in Laconia, N.H., who he’d beaten the first time around. To take his mind off the upcoming fight, Wyman headed into the woods with some friends to do some hunting.
“We sat down around 11:30 a.m. for a rest and as we got up to leave, my shotgun discharged, taking my right hand,” Wyman said.
“And that was the end of my boxing career for me as a boxer.”
Something like that can make a person bitter. But not Wyman. When he woke up three days after the accident, “I was very excited to be alive.”
“I thought I was done, for sure, when everything went down,” he said. “But I never got away from boxing. I thought about it continuously.”
He began working with some of the young boxers that his trainer, Copson, was working with and in 1985, met Mel Peabody, a Lawrence, Mass., trainer known widely in New England boxing circles.
Peabody is now the cut man in Berry’s corner — the guy who keeps the boxer physically fit during the fight.
Wyman and his son, Travis, then 14, sat down to watch Oscar De La Hoya fight Fernando Vargas in September 2002. The power the skinny De La Hoya showed when he beat the more muscular Vargas motivated Travis to start training.
After a couple of months watching his son put in the work, Wyman built a gym above the garage. He began training Travis in the same ring where he trained 30 years earlier. Copson had given it to him two weeks before he died.
In 2006, less than four years after watching the De La Hoya-Vargas fight, Travis Wyman, 17, won a Golden Gloves title in Vermont. It was not only a proud moment as a father for Wyman, and a chance to be back among the boxing community, it was also a new opportunity.
Over the years, Wyman’s stature in the boxing community has grown.
“There’s a lot of really bad people in this sport and Skeet is one of the best I’ve ever come across,” said Ed Farris, the owner and trainer at Claremont Boxing Club in Claremont, N.H. Among Farris’ boxer is Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade, who respresented the United States in the 2008 Olympics. “He gives this sport hope.
“What Skeet does in rural Maine is amazing. He has a population of about 3,000 people to train. Compare that to the places his fighters fight in like Boston and New York City who have millions of possible contenders. If Skeet trained in Boston or New York City he would be in the Hall of Fame.”
It was at that Vermont tournament that Berry introduced himself to Wyman.
Wyman knew Berry’s family, but not from boxing. Tagging along with his father as a boy, Wyman would travel to West Forks to go fly-fishing. Berry’s General Store was the place in northern Somerset County to pick up essentials for a weekend trip.
“I’ll never forget it,” Wyman said. “Cliff (Berry’s grandfather) would always give us a chocolate bar and a piece of sharp cheese each time we went up there fishing.”
Things have a way of coming full circle. Berry hopes to eventually win enough money as a boxer to save the store, which has taken a hit from the tough economy of the past six or seven years.
The boxing club
The outside of Wyman’s Boxing Club, on a dead-end street, looks more like the commercial fisherman’s warehouse that it is than a training ground for boxers.
Lobster traps and boats surround the building. If not for the small Wyman’s Boxing Club sign above the door, there would be no indication that the lobsterman who owns the building teaches and tests fighters there.
Inside are more lobster traps, bait nets and the distinct smell of dead fish. On the second floor, the overpowering smell is not fish, but sweat. The echo of feet dancing on a plywood floor is interrupted by a buzzer and Wyman’s bark.
“I never guessed when we started this gym we would have made it this far,” Wyman said.
Some 120 boxers have trained at Wyman’s Boxing Club. Sixteen of them, including Travis, have won titles in regional Golden Gloves tournaments, fighting against many of the New England’s top amateurs.
Training boxers is a hobby and a family affair for Wyman. Travis got the ball rolling and Skeet’s wife, Keirsten, helps with the planning. A night at the fights is a family trip.
A commercial lobsterman by trade, Wyman’s training time is all volunteer. None of the boxers at his club pays for training, including Berry.
Berry developed his love for boxing watching his older brother Gordon, who trained at Gamache Boxing Club in Lewiston. Wanting to be like his brother, Berry started training, too.
In 2008, Berry committed to train with Wyman at the Stockton Springs gym. Berry proved himself on the amateur circuit over the next six years before turning pro last winter.
It’s a 252-mile round-trip from Berry’s home in West Forks to the boxing club in Stockton Springs, a northern Waldo county town near where the Penobscot River empties into the Atlantic. Berry makes the five-hour trip about three days a week.
Sometimes a friend drives him, because he’s so wiped out from training. Friend Shaun Bell, home on leave from the Navy, was with him in July when Berry suffered rib contusions at the hands of sparring partner Trayson Owens, a 23-year-old mixed martial arts fighter.
Bell took him to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, because it was on the way home.
Berry said the 15 hours on the road a week for about six hours of training is worth it.
His relationship with Wyman is much more than fighter and trainer.
“Our relationship is like family,” Berry said.
When Berry isn’t training at Wyman’s, he’s in his own gym in the former service garage at his family’s general store. He built his own gym, complete with a ring, with the help of the West Forks community.
A trainer and his fighter
The fact Wyman is missing much of his right arm has never limited the quality of the training.
Wyman doesn’t allow himself any limitations either.
“Honestly, I don’t even notice it anymore,” Berry said. “I have never had to speed up or slow down for him. I’m always trying to catch up.”
Wyman sees the fact that he can only box one-handed as an advantage.
“Brandon didn’t have a jab when he started training with me,” Wyman said. “All I have is a jab.”
It didn’t take long for Wyman to see that Brandon “The Cannon” Berry could be a successful fighter.
“I knew within a year that he was the one,” Wyman said.
Berry finished runnerup in the New England Golden Gloves finals in February. In January, Berry defeated Julio Perez in a unanimous decision at Boston’s TD Garden.
Berry won his first professional boxing debut in May, defeating Bill Jones of Berwick at Skowhegan Area High School.
The hours in the gym, the hours on the road, the hours together, have all led up to the moment Thursday, when the pair walk into the Manchester ring together.
“We are as close as a trainer and fighter can be,” Wyman said. “It is much more than boxing. I’ve never been this close to someone other than my son.
“It’s neat with this sport, boxing,” Wyman said. “I have never been involved with baseball or basketball so I don’t really know how they go.
“But in the boxing game when you become friends, you become friends for life,” he said. “And allies for life.”
Michael G. Seamans — 861-9260