Liz Parr Fights to Build an Old-School Boxing Club for Long Beach

Liz Parr. Photo by John Gilhooley

If you’re not specifically looking for Guv’nors Boxing Club in Long Beach, you’ll probably cruise right past it—which is exactly how owner Liz Parr likes it.

There’s no big sign out front or bright lights to draw attention, and the doorway leading up the stairs into the lobby could just as easily take you into an apartment complex, pawn shop, dispensary or any other type of business you’d expect to see on this slightly seedy stretch of Anaheim Street.

After holding the grand opening on Cinco de Mayo 2018, Guv’nors isn’t the kind of place you’d see in an advertisement while looking at gyms online. There are no sponsored Groupon listings or promoted Instagram posts of a model in full makeup hitting a heavy bag, and the vast majority of suburban soccer moms you’d see at a Saturday-morning cardio kickboxing class probably don’t even know this place exists. And once you’ve ascended to the lobby, the patches of paint missing from the walls and the dings in the wooden beadboard would probably weed out anyone who was looking for a “luxury” exercise experience. Friends, clients and visitors have asked Parr if she’s ever going to fix it up, but the former U.S. National champion isn’t interested in hosting a painting party now that she’s cleaned up the wood floors; added a front desk and some seating; and cleared out the trash, needles and condoms left over the years by squatters.

The South Gate native is simply looking to run the kind of old-school boxing gym she grew up in. Guv’nors is not looking to compete with cushy brands—even though Parr knows she could probably be bringing in more money by selling out. “I don’t advertise or anything, and I’m not trying to sell memberships to everyone who walks in the door,” she says as she finishes her morning ritual of drinking a huge cup of coffee before putting on a little makeup at the lobby’s desk. “The only people I want here are the ones who want to be here. Every gym you go into has that one guy or a couple of people who are jerks, but we don’t have that here. Everyone here is nice, and they’re all excited to come in here. I want to keep it that way.”

A view inside Guv’nors Boxing Club. Photo by John Gilhooley

Of course, just because the massive space isn’t painted a sleek gray and doesn’t contain a juice bar or even a cucumber-water dispenser doesn’t mean the training facilities aren’t world-class. Although the room that will one day be set up for her husband (strength and conditioning expert Yas Parr) and his clients is still used for storage, the two main sections of Guv’nors that are open and functional feature just about everything one could possibly want in a boxing gym.

With one gymnasium-sized room dedicated to serious amateur and professional boxers (complete with a full-scale ring) and the other filled with enough heavy bags and workout equipment to host classes of a couple of dozen beginners, Parr has enough space to conceivably run three or four separate training sessions at a time in the location that she believes was once a Masonic lodge based on paperwork she found. However, Parr is currently the only trainer at Guv’nors. “I’m just super-picky with that kind of thing because I don’t want just anyone coming in here, you know?” Parr says. “I’m just one of those people who would rather do it myself and make sure it’s up to my standards, but I know that once we get enough people, I’m going to need someone else, too.”

Although Parr acknowledges she may have to someday trust another person to teach classes and she begrudgingly accepted the help of friends in the handful of months it took her to convert the horror show of an abandoned location into a premier boxing facility, it’s actually her unwillingness to rely on others that brought Parr to boxing in the first place.

At 14, Parr—then Elizabeth Quevedo—fell in love with weightlifting after deciding that high-school team sports weren’t for her. The school’s weightlifting coach quickly noticed Parr’s significant strength for her size and convinced her to take it more seriously to prepare for some upcoming competitions. Unfortunately, it only took one mention from her second-oldest brother about Parr being the only girl on the team for her father to step in and forbid her from continuing to attend practices.

Shocked and angered by her dad’s denial, Parr offered him the ultimatum of finding her a sport where she could “hurt people” or suffering the wrath that only a 14-year-old girl can dish out. Parr’s father brought her to the boxing gym near where he worked in the City of Commerce. But by the time they got there, the spot where he regularly played handball was closing. “I was just walking around the boxing ring with the lights off, so it was already dark in there,” Parr recalls. “I was like, ‘Whoa! This is awesome. This is what I want to do.’ I didn’t know what I was about to get myself into, but that’s a good thing.”

On Aug. 19, 1999, Parr’s father put down a fake address in order to enroll his daughter in the free youth boxing program the gym offered to Commerce residents.

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Sparring. Photo by John Gilhooley

The first few years of Parr’s boxing career weren’t quite as easy as she thought they would be. Even though she was a bit of a tomboy with an attitude, she didn’t want anyone at school to know about her new hobby. By her senior year, though, her worlds were clashing far too much to keep them apart.

Parr, who admits to not being the best student, began to find it difficult to stay awake and alert in class every day after waking up early to run before school. Eventually, she made the decision to tell her teachers about her boxing schedule, as Parr knew she needed to graduate to continue training and avoid her parents’ disappointment.

But her boxing career was also struggling, as finding women willing to step into the ring with the 5-foot-9-inch, 145-pound teenager was no small task—nor was it easy to get any girls her own age to fight her. As soon as she hit the age of 17, Parr excitedly signed up as an adult.

As it so happens, one of the first matches on her road to the U.S. Nationals landed on the day after her senior prom. “My dad never let me go to dances, but I asked him if I could go to prom, and he said, ‘All right, but I want you home at 9,’” Parr recalls. “I was like, ‘Uhhh, it doesn’t work that way. I think it starts at 9.’ I told him it was in Long Beach, but he just said, ‘I want you home at 9.’ So my mom said to me, ‘Look, I’m going to put some sleeping pills in his food, but just don’t be home too late.’ I went, but I didn’t dance that much in case I was tired. As soon as it was over at midnight, everybody was going to these crazy after-parties, and I was like, ‘I gotta go.’”

Had Parr gone to an after-party, she may not have destroyed the thirtysomething woman she fought the next day, which put her on the path to her first U.S. Nationals appearance in 2002. Parr ended up across the ring from much more experienced women, and having only taken a few fights before the national tournament, she dropped the championship match by one point.

Training. Photo by John Gilhooley

Despite being furious with herself for only getting the silver in her first attempt, Parr understood what adjustments she needed to make and dominated the amateur circuit for the entirety of the mid-2000s.

Parr’s first international trip as part of the U.S. National Team is something she’ll never forget. “My first trip out of the country was to Russia with my South Gate hood ass, and it was the biggest culture shock I’ve ever had,” she says. “We had to meet in New York—and I’d never really been out on my own—and I lost my damn passport at the airport. I’m like, ‘That’s it; I’m going to miss my flight.’ But somebody found my passport, and they held the plane so I could be the last person on. Then we got to Russia, and it was as different as could be from sunny South Gate.”

From 2003 until 2007, Parr was the best female boxer in the country and among the top in the world. Four straight years as the top-ranked woman in her weight class, Parr became known on an international level for her power and ability to stop her competitors—something not often seen in amateur matches because of the use of head protection and shorter bout lengths. Although her entertaining style occasionally led to losing against some of the more point-based international boxers, there was rarely doubt as to who was actually doing more damage in each fight.

Photo by John Gilhooley

Though it’s likely Parr would have been a favorite to medal at the Olympics, women’s boxing divisions weren’t among the events in 2008. And Parr wasn’t about to spend the majority of her 20s on the amateur circuit, holding out for a spot on the 2012 Olympic roster.

Instead, Parr took a professional fight in Irvine on May 24, 2007, finishing off Danielle Christiansen with ease. The untelevised performance seemed like the perfect introductory chapter to Parr’s professional career, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Unhappy with her career prospects as a fighter and generally dissatisfied with where women’s boxing was as a whole, Parr opted to hang up her gloves in her prime.

“If you watch women’s boxing, MMA, judo or anything, we’re a lot more hardcore than most of the men,” Parr says. “But you still can’t name 10 women fighters, who they fight, or anything about them, really. I feel like it should be a lot more, and that’s the reason why I stopped fighting. I thought I’d be a millionaire by the time I got to the pros because Laila Ali, [Christy Martin] and Mia St. John were all out when I started. There was a little spark, but then it died out. I’m always afraid that’s what’s happening now.

“It sucks because women sacrifice a little bit more than men to do it because of having babies,” Parr continues. “Women will put off having a baby because you’ve dedicated so much time to it and you know you can only do it a few more years, whereas men can have babies any time they want. I saw how much [women] had to sacrifice and how little [they] got, and I said, ‘I’m done.’”

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Liz Parr at Guv’nors Boxing Club. Photo by John Gilhooley

As her fighting career came to an end, Parr knew she wanted to become a trainer to help the next generation accomplish goals even beyond what she did in the ring. After moving to Long Beach in 2012 and training at other gyms in the area for a handful of years, she knew it was time to open up Guv’nors. There, she’s putting an emphasis on building a big “scary” amateur team as well as continuing to grow her classes for both kids and adults. Though she’s already been discriminated against for being a female trainer in a relatively misogynistic sport, it’s not like a little adversity has ever stopped her before.

“This is all here because I knew when I grew up that I had to give it back,” Parr says, motioning to the gym around her. “You can’t ‘make’ somebody, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to commit themselves to something and get to travel and everything like I did. It was the best opportunity I’ve ever had as a young person, and I want to give that to someone else.”

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