NM combat sports gyms persist against COVID-19 lockdown

Ray Zamora was nearly forced to close the Warrior Boxing Club after 19 years due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Manuel Romero / NM News Port

As New Mexico observes the one year anniversary of the statewide lockdown that began in mid-March 2020, many local businesses are looking to rebound, including those in the boxing and combat sports industry.

The pandemic socked New Mexico’s boxing industry hard as events were cancelled and local gyms were forced to impose COVID safety regulations.

Cat Sigala, owner of Kicking Cat Sigala’s gym at 5400 Sevilla Ave, said the lockdown was very difficult on her business as well as her students.

“Of course in the beginning it was devastating,” Sigala said. “We were right in the middle of so many things going on and to have all of that ripped away from us…the kids who had their goals set in place…to be shut down and not knowing what was going to transpire, it took a lot out of us.”

Sigala said she resorted to teaching her classes online – a change she found difficult to navigate.  

KCS Photo:
Cat Sigala demonstrates martial arts techniques to her students at Kicking Cat Sigala’s gym. (Photo by Cat Sigala).

“We weren’t that familiar with Zoom calls in the beginning so we were doing the best we could,” Sigala said.  “We were trying to bring classes to kids who were used to physical fitness throughout the week (and) record different types (of tasks) and just reach out to the students that way so they could keep progressing.”

As was the case with so many in-person activities, all local combat sporting events were either cancelled or postponed over the last year. The last local boxing event sanctioned by the New Mexico Athletic Commission (NMAC) took place on March 7, 2020.

While there are currently no events scheduled for 2021, Ray Samora, former president of New Mexico’s USA Boxing chapter and owner of Warrior Boxing Club at 1201 San Mateo Blvd, said the shutdown did not allow his boxers the necessary training to compete on a high level.

“A lot of these guys didn’t get the work that they needed because we’ve been closed for eight months,” Zamora said.  “It’s sad because we usually compete in our hometown.”

Zamora said that he was set to hold a boxing event the week of the shutdown and that he was not only required to reduce his business operations but cancel all the events he would have normally held.

“Usually by now I would have thrown two shows for the year,” Zamora said.  “The day that they closed everything down, I had an event scheduled. So that event that got cancelled because of COVID cost me an amazing amount of money.”

Zamora said that the shutdown nearly forced him to abandon the gym he has owned for nearly two decades.

New Mexico counties are allowed to operate their business under certain restrictions based on their color tear. (Photo by New Mexican Department of Health)

“It almost bankrupted me,” Zamora said. “We’ve been open for 19 years and we almost closed.  The rent was still due, bills were still due and we didn’t have any students. I had 90 students before COVID. (Now) I have 20.”

Zamora also said that the New Mexico chapter of USA Boxing had done a good job of providing support to local gyms.

“(Current chapter president Steve Garcia) did a really good job of trying to keep the gyms going, informed and open. Now that we (are opening), he actually put forth money to open us in terms of registration, insurance and things like that.”

New Mexico combat sports gyms have been fighting to survive the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo by Warrior Boxing Club)

Now as the state observes the one year anniversary of the shutdown, New Mexico has been making progress to reduce the restrictions placed on local businesses.  As of March 8th, all but one New Mexico county are allowed to operate in a limited capacity as defined by the New Mexico Department of Health’s color tier system.  

While she is happy that the state is trending in the right direction, Cat Sigala is cautious about making plans to ramp up her gym’s operations.

“I’m super excited but I’m still waiting to hear the official word because anything could happen,” Sigala said. “We want to keep everybody healthy and keep moving at a good pace. I’m just waiting for instruction and whatever they tell us we’re gonna fall in line with.”

Ray Zamora said he disapproved of the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic over the last year. He is also awaiting updates on current policies.  

Zamora also said he is very fortunate that he was able to keep his gym open when other gyms and local businesses were not able to do so.    

“There’s a lot of people that are worse off than me,” Zamora said. “I was blessed to have savings and be prepared but there’s a lot of places that are never gonna reopen again.”

Manuel Romero is a reporter for New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @mannyboy92phx.