The Southside Boxing Club: Delivering More than a Knockout Punch

In the heart of Pittsburgh, a small gym with a big impact is making waves in the world of boxing. The Southside Boxing Club, co-founded by combat sports instructor Matt Leyshock and Pittsburgh city fire fighter Sammy “The Butcher” Suska, has rapidly become a prominent institution on the Pittsburgh boxing scene. Born out of Leyshock’s passion for the sport and Suska’s dedication to his city, the two men had a desire to provide a safe and supportive environment for aspiring boxers.

Suska, a certified personal trainer with over 15,000 hours of personal training expertise, has spent thousands of hours in boxing gyms and sparred well over 1,000 rounds. He is also a veteran of over 40 fights including eight professional bouts and 35 amateur bouts. Suska has sparred with some of the best fighters in the area and the consensus best in the world – such as Roy Jones, Jr. and Steve Cunningham, among others. Suska is also a two-time Western PA Golden Glove Champion, wining the light heavyweight sub-novice in 2006 and open middleweight in 2009.

Having been in the game since the mid-90s, Leyshock has trained with basically anybody who’s anybody in the greater Pittsburgh area. A former promoter, mixed martial artist and boxer with a 15-year wrestling background, along with 8 years of submission wrestling, he has something for everyone. Leyshock has trained multiple professional athletes in both mixed martial arts and professional boxing such as current bellator star Cody Law, undefeated professional Gregg Rudolph, internet celebrity Ed Latimore, and numerous others. Matt has a unique position in the sport with not only his superior understanding of the technical aspect, but also the business side coming from his promoter background with over thirty professional fights promoted regionally.

Suska and Leyshock’s club has quickly gained recognition for its dedication to developing fighters from various age groups and skill levels and has become a safe haven for individuals seeking more than just physical training. With a unique origin story and a commitment to inclusivity and mentorship, The Southside Boxing Club transcends traditional boxing establishments.

The journey began in 2012 when Leyshock started training people at Armstrong Park on 12th Street. Initially, it was a lighthearted endeavor, marked by a joking hashtag on Instagram: #thesouthsideboxingclub. He would spend his mornings training people for a modest fee at the park, with clients shuffling in and out over several hours. Little did he know that this casual start would pave the way for something much greater.

One of the individuals Leyshock trained at the park was Nikki Kemp, who eventually became the coordinator for The Southside Boxing Club as it grew. She now runs the daily operations and handles the majority of day-to-day responsibilities. Leyshock jokes that the business is “more her gym than mine,” recognizing Nikki’s immense contributions to its success.

Leyshock’s personal life is also intertwined with the development of the gym. It was at the park where he met his wife, forming a bond that supported his dedication to his passion. While working at a few of the free local gyms and training at the park, Leyshock also managed a logistics company that owned a several trucks and vans. He opened a garage for vehicle maintenance, but circumstances would soon change not only that space but his life.

In 2017, one of the free gyms Leyshock worked at closed, leaving him with clients who had nowhere to go. Winter had set in, rendering the park an impractical option. In a stroke of ingenuity, Leyshock decided to use part of the garage just to hold pads for people. He soon built a small hole-in-the-wall ring so clients had more space to train. He had transformed the maintenance garage into a makeshift gym.

He divided the space, dedicating one side to brakes and oil changes and the other side to boxing, creating a truly unique atmosphere in which to train. Eventually the gym started taking over the space and little by little, it was more gym than garage. Leyshock decided to let go of the logistics business, sell all of the equipment, and fully commit to making The Southside Boxing Club what it is today.

Leyshock’s unconventional approach to promotion also played a significant role in shaping the gym’s identity. In the beginning, he deliberately told people “No” when they expressed interest in joining, creating an air of exclusivity. This strategy allowed him to curate a client base that aligned with his vision and values. The absence of signage and no listed address also added an element of mystery to the gym in its early days. Because of these unconventional tactics, The Southside Boxing Club has grown from two clients to hundreds over the years.

Leyshock takes pride in the diverse clientele, which encompasses individuals from various financial backgrounds, religions, genders, and ages. Leyshock’s dedication to creating an inclusive space has attracted clients who might not have found a home elsewhere. He acknowledges that combat sports can have the reputation of attracting “creeps,” but at The Southside Boxing Club, that’s never been a problem due to the culture he and his staff has cultivated. “We don’t have to shout from the rooftops that we don’t allow inappropriate behavior; it’s just simply not tolerated. It’s not part of our culture.” Because of this, the gym has garnered a large female customer base, providing a safe and encouraging environment while holding true to the definition of a traditional boxing club. What began as a social club has transformed into a full-fledged gym, fostering a sense of community.
One aspect of Leyshock’s work that holds particular significance is his involvement with youth outreach. He works closely with Allegheny County Parole, and when the organization has a young person that expresses interest in the sport, they send them to Leyshock. “We don’t turn anyone away that wants to turn their life around.” Leyshock often becomes a strong male role model for them, acting as much as a mentor as a coach.

While some kids make it in the sport, others face challenges along the way. Leyshock notes, “The question becomes, which pull is stronger?” Leyshock recognizes the importance of guiding these kids, regardless of the outcome – providing them with structure, discipline, and support.

“We also get the quiet kids, the ones who are having issues with being bullied. So, it’s both sides we see.” For these children, building confidence, determination, and resolve is key. “So many people have the impression with combat sports that it teaches kids to solve problems through violence. That’s really not the case. Learning control of your body and your emotions gives anyone – not just kids – the self-assurance to know they can handle themselves in any situation. It’s about discipline and understanding when and when not to use their physical strength. It gives them goals and accomplishing goals builds confidence in and out of the ring.”

The impact of Leyshock’s mentorship is exemplified through Zack Woznichak, one of the young men he trained and who now works as a trainer at the gym himself. Woznichak attended college at IUP, playing football there and graduating in 2017 with a degree in exercise science. During his time at IUP, however, he fell in with the wrong crowd and made negative choices leading to run-ins with the law.

Woznichak recalls, “I was at the lowest point of my life. I was stagnant. I lost my drive, lost my job, my livelihood, I lost everything. I didn’t really have a reason to leave the house – much less work out.” With little other options, he decided to rely on the personal trainer certification he earned in college to try to earn a living. It was through this that he met one of Leyshock’s clients, Morgan, who encouraged him to try out the gym. The decision to join her for a session there would change his life.

The Southside Boxing Club still uses the traditional “fight-in” method, in which – on your first day, before they teach you anything – they put you in gear and match you to someone with comparable skill level and throw you in the ring. Woznichak fought-in on the first day with an MMA fighter and fought 3 tough rounds, which he describes as “the best day of my life up to that point”. The grueling experience ignited a spark within Woznichak, rekindling his drive and determination to overcome his struggles.

The Southside Boxing Club has given Woznichak a goal to work towards when he thought all his goals were done. “Because of Matt and what we’ve accomplished, what I’ve worked towards and all the awards and accolades, there are years’ worth of positive things I’ve been doing to get my life on track. I live and breathe Southside Boxing. Before joining, all I could say was ‘I’m sitting at home, I have no job, I have nothing to do.’ Now I have 2 jobs, a client list, and goals.” Woznichak spends much of his time at the club coaching underprivileged youth, inspiring them to live a life of honor and integrity, encouraging them to not make the same mistakes he once did. And after training for just one year, he won the Pennsylvania State Boxing Tournament at 160 pounds. This level of accomplishment is almost unheard of for someone with no prior experience in the sport and shines a light on his resolve to change his life.

Beyond the gym’s walls, Leyshock’s and Suska’s dedication to the sport and their community has led to collaborations with other notable figures. Woznichak recently starred in a commercial for Project 1 Nutrition (cover story and member of The Southside Boxing Club Gregg Rudolph’s company) alongside Kurt Angle, a legendary professional wrestler and Olympic gold medalist. The experience held deep personal meaning for Woznichak, as he has kept a signed picture of Angle from his youth hanging in his childhood bedroom for years. The photo reads, “To Zack, best wishes always. – Kurt Angle.” This full-circle moment underscored the progress Woznichak had made, despite his setbacks.

Reflecting on his approach to boxing and training, Leyshock emphasizes that it has always been an integral part of his life. It’s not just a hobby or a passing interest—it’s a lifelong passion that he shares with others. “It’s just something I’ve always done. Something I will always do.” For many of his clients, the sport is the same for them: “These are the people that don’t fight for social media validation or even the money. That’s how much they love it. It’s their passion.”

Through his gym, Leyshock has created a space where individuals can channel their energy, find their purpose, and challenge themselves both physically and mentally. The Southside Boxing Club stands as a testament to the power of purpose, a kind of purpose that can transform lives. Through its commitment to fostering discipline, skill development, and community spirit, the club has become a breeding ground for champions. Aspiring boxers, regardless of their skill level, can find a welcoming and supportive environment at the Southside Boxing Club. With its impressive track record of producing accomplished fighters, the club continues to inspire individuals to reach their full potential both in and outside the ring.

From humble beginnings at a park to a thriving gym that transcends the boundaries of conventional boxing establishments, the club has become its own community that supports and uplifts its members. Through his dedication and mentorship, Leyshock has touched the lives of numerous individuals, providing them with the tools and inspiration to overcome adversity and pursue their dreams.

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