Coaches: Leyon Azubuike

How a knockout artist finds inner peace.
“Boxing can be a very zen workout,” says Leyon Azubuike.  Photography: @simonneedhamphotography

By Dimitri Ehrlich

There’s a saying in boxing: Train hard to fight easy. In fact, months of preparation go into the 36 minutes of action that comprise a professional 12-round fight. And while the physical training is grueling, ask any champion and they will tell you the same thing: The mental aspect is the toughest. Leyon Azubuike, a trainer to the stars who fought as a U.S. Nationals heavyweight competitor, knows that getting into fighting shape isn’t just a physical challenge. In a sport that involves making strategic split-second decisions while an opponent is literally trying to knock you unconscious, the ability to remain calm under pressure is more important than chiseled abs and rock-hard biceps (though it helps to have those, too).

Azubuike’s father was a boxer, so the sweet science has always been part of his life, but as a teen he was more passionate about basketball and football. He became a captain of the football team at Temple University, but his NFL dreams were cut short by a knee injury in his senior year. And so he turned to boxing, making it onto the U.S. national team.

After retiring as a competitive fighter, Azubuike became a personal trainer and entrepreneur, eventually opening his own gym, Gloveworx, with locations in LA and New York. He has trained Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt and NFL star Cam Newton, and last year he appeared on the Khloé Kardashian-hosted show, Revenge Body. The key to his success? The same mental toughness and problem-solving mentality that’s critical in the ring. “I think part of what made me successful was that I was able to pivot at that point rather than feel defeated,” he says. “There is always another way forward.”

Although to the uninitiated, boxing can seem like a matter of brute violence, at the sport’s highest level there is an intricacy that’s more like a game of chess—albeit extremely physical chess. One of the key qualities a successful boxer must have is the ability to deal with setbacks without being conquered mentally. This is, of course, a lesson that can also be applied outside the ring. “Life has many ups and downs,” says Azubuike. “Sometimes things that seem negative can actually prove to be a huge, positive turning point in your life. It’s easy to respond quickly, but it’s always better to let your emotions settle before coming to a decision.”

While boxing is now widely appreciated as a fun way to get in shape, there’s no avoiding the reality that as a sport, it is a deadly serious business, and boxing gyms can be intimidating places to step into. Despite his hulking presence, Azubuike is a gentle soul with a warm smile, and he’s found success by creating a workout that’s welcoming and accessible to all. “Sometimes people get intimidated by the sport,” he explains. “It’s a sport that involves a lot of discipline. The workout is very physical, it’s hard, but it’s fun. It’s also a very good mental workout as well. It relieves stress. It’ll take any bad energy you have and kind of leave you void of that—because after an hour of a boxing workout you don’t have the energy to be mad at anyone…. Boxing can be a very zen workout.”