The 3,800-square foot warehouse in Woburn, Massachusetts, is known simply as “The Way.”
No coincidence, since the proprietor who lives out his passion as a personal trainer under its roof, Brandon Montella, has found a way, in his own unique way.
From a turbulent childhood in North Anson, Maine, to four years of meritorious service in the United States Marine Corps, to the mixed emotions of staying ahead in the professional rat race, to intense personal tragedy, Montella, 36, has endured what most would consider a lifetime’s worth of challenges.
Yet he perseveres, finding strength and clarity in a life devoted to helping others. And he stays sharp, counter-intuitive as it may seem to the uninitiated, by letting other people punch him in the face.
“On a personal level it helped me so much. I had a lot of fear, maybe a little lack of confidence, due to some of the abuse in my past,” Montella said. “Boxing helped me so much with that. It made me a more complete person. I’m a better husband, a better businessman, a better man since I started fighting.”
A late bloomer who didn’t fully immerse himself in the fight game until his 30s, Montella (4-0, 3 KOs) will put his undefeated credentials on the line against Tollison Lewis (2-1, 1 KO) at “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains” on Saturday, September 10 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine, the venerable boxing venue that in 1965, when it was known as “St. Domenic’s Hall,” played host to the infamous Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston II world heavyweight title rematch. (Yes, the same boxing bout that spawned rumors of the “phantom punch,” and produced the most iconic image in the history of sports photography.)
Montella was born in Massachusetts but spent much of his childhood in the Western foothills of Maine, where he graduated from Carrabec High School. He describes those formative years as “a tough time, a little bit of a struggle,” and says fighting was both a means of both self-defense and a way of compensating for that lack of self-esteem.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world now,” Montella said. “It helped shape who I am. I tell everybody the Marine Corps started the process of my becoming a man, and boxing helped finish it.”
He spent four years in the service before receiving an honorable discharge. Along the way he met his wife, Tonya, and settled into the comfortable habit of seeking significance through work.
Fatefully, and admittedly on a lark, he accepted a military buddy’s challenge to enter a Toughman contest. It was the amateur, brawling, distant cousin of boxing that Eric “Butterbean” Esch made famous.
“I was a 240-pound meathead. Three one-minute rounds; that seemed like it was right up my alley,” Montella said.
In the process, Montella discovered that getting back in shape, setting goals and chasing intangible successes that were larger than wins and losses suited him, too.
“That was a turning point for me. Corporate America, I just wasn’t into it,” Montella said. “I couldn’t lie to people and take advantage of them. I couldn’t deal with it morally. I had to turn my back on that. The Marine Corps taught me a different code. I cashed in my 401(k), moved to Massachusetts, became a personal trainer.”
Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. He had to sell Tonya, whom he describes as “the major breadwinner in the house,” on the merits of such a change. She already had politely proclaimed Maine a great vacation spot but not a place she cared to settle down, for professional reasons.
In 2008, work took Tonya to Boston.
“It was when the Celtics were getting ready to win the championship. She got caught up in the atmosphere and came home and told me, ‘I would move to Boston.’ I said OK,” Montella recalled with a laugh. “I didn’t let her take that back.”
Montella started his gym in a 10-feet-by-10-feet basement of a townhouse. He took up amateur boxing, in part, to set an example for his clients.
“I decided I couldn’t train athletes if I’m not doing the (stuff). I want to wear the boots before the suits, you know?” Montella said. “Six months later I was the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in New England. It blew my mind. I found a place that was home.”
He won 14 of his 21 amateur fights, including a novice heavyweight championship in Golden Gloves.
Montella’s trainees have watched him conquer adversity in the prize ring and fight through tragedy in his personal life. Tonya and Brandon’s first child was stillborn on Christmas 2015.
Boxing, and the wilderness in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain that holds so many contradictory memories for Montella, are part of his healing process.
“I’m here in Maine now getting ready, diving off 40-foot cliffs, doing hill sprints up 100-foot sand dunes, training like a savage,” Montella said. “We used to go up there to drink. All the crazy stuff I did as a kid, now I use it to make myself the best I can be.
“I preach it all the time at my gym: See the world as your training facility. What someone else sees as a cliff, I see as place to work on my focus and mental control. Where they see nothing but trees and open space, I see as a place to go and meditate. In my 30s, I don’t need drugs or alcohol now to be open with my emotions. Boxing has given me the strength to be who I always wanted to be.”
The opening bell on September 10 is set for 7 p.m. The current docket for “NEF 25: Heroes and Villains” includes three professional boxing matches, five pro mixed martial arts bouts and six amateur MMA scraps. Tickets start at $25 and are available at www.TheColisee.com or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.
For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com. In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”