Mathew Silver

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Tracksuits were once symbolic of laziness and comfort, an athlete’s pre-game or off-day leisurewear. Recently, they’ve been elevated into haute couture, though I suspect only with an ironic undertone. But Michael Kozlowski, a Bushwick-based boxing coach, wears trackies with the same pride that a Wall Streeter might take in their business attire. Becoming a champion inside the ring, according to Kozlowski, starts in the closet.

“People take you from how you look. If you look like piece of shit, nobody wants to talk to you,” he said, in a recent interview outside of Green Fitness Studio, where the 58-year-old operates his boxing gym. “If you dress nice, they want to see, ‘Who is this person?’”

Kozlowski has trained an impressive roster of pugilists. Among his former acolytes are boxing champion-cum-rabbi Yuri Foreman, American champion Jill Emery, and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell, among others. Kozlowski teaches a “Russian-American” technique, which combines Soviet science-based methods with the American talent-centric approach to training. His club is called Win or Die, which hints at Kozlowski’s severe approach to training. 

“Because I have no middle,” he said, his Russian accent largely intact. In boxing and life, Kozlowski takes no half measures.

According to a staff member at his gym, Kozlowski will only take on students if they’re aspiring to be world champions. Nothing less. There’s a philosophy informing everything from his hairstyle to the color of his shoes. Similarly, he encourages his students to iron their shirts and shorts before training. Wrinkles are unacceptable. 

“You come to my workout, you have to respect yourself,” said Kozlowski. “It’s called manners.”

Kozlowski’s aesthetic is equal parts tradition, advertising, and parenting. He pays homage to his native Russia, where coordinating is “a sign of respect,” by matching the color of his t-shirt, pants, and shoes. By cutting his hair into a mullet – business in the front, party in the back – Kozlowski tries to differentiate himself from other coaches, because, in boxing, trainers are often expected to be cleanly clipped. And he styles his three-year-old son, Victor, exactly the same – including his hairstyle. 

Coach Mike in his self-designed apparel. 

“I teach him how to be a champion. It’s education,” said Kozlowski. “This outfit helps him to feel proud of himself.” 

When they’re walking around Bushwick, Kozlowski and Victor are difficult to ignore. That’s a good thing, according to Kozlowski, who understands the value of self-promotion. His t-shirts and more than 20 pairs of his pants read “Boxing Coach Mike.” In fact, it was Kozlowski’s conspicuous, marketing-savvy outfits that attracted one of his most decorated students, more than a decade ago. 

It was 2007. Kozlowski was in a Starbucks, wearing a pair of sweats that said “Boxing Coach Mike,” when a young British chap approached him and asked, “Are you a boxing coach?” The teenager was the aforementioned Campbell, then a virtually unknown fighter from small-town England. Five years later, with Kozlowski as his technical coach, Campbell won an Olympic gold in London. 

“I told myself, ‘I have to be known. Promote myself,’” he said, referring to his clothing and flowing mane of blonde hair. 

Kozlowski was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1961. As a youth, he dreamt of becoming a great boxer, but those aspirations dissipated after he lost in the quarterfinals of the Kazakhstan National Championships in 1983. Kozlowski was hospitalized after receiving a nasty cut above his right eye, and, before long, he decided to shift his focus to coaching. After building champions in Russia and Israel, Kozlowski moved to America, in 1999, with a lofty goal.

“I came to America to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I’m working for that, all my life.”

You can find coach Mike at Green Fitness Studio, 232 Varet St, Brooklyn.

All photos by Mathew Silver for Bushwick Daily.

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