Kid Yamaka: All Class
“My nose has been broken three times. My tooth has gone through my lip. My jaw was wired shut for two months. I’ve had 38 stitches in my head. I’ve had broken ribs. The top of my ear is plastic. I mean… Shit happens in boxing.”
For a face that’s taken as many beatings as Zachary Wohlman’s (A.K.A. Kid Yamaka) has, the boxer can still go nine rounds with a photographer. He stands 5 feet 8 inches tall, but if I had to guess I wouldn’t say he’s a dime over 5’6". He has a quiet disposition and is light on his feet, so when he saunters towards me with his hands in his pockets, he seems more like an off-duty cat burglar than a champion boxer. He has a famously furrowed brow that leaves his eyebrows raised in a constant state of question, which makes it seem like he’s constantly wondering what the fuck I am talking about. It’s intimidating to say the least, and I was stumbling over my words during my interview with the fighter at Milk Los Angeles.
Three days prior to our interview, Wohlman was busy mashing a man’s face with his fists for Hollywood Fight Night. The fight marked his fourth consecutive win by unanimous decision. But if Wohlman’s excited about it, you can’t tell. He keeps it hidden under a thin veneer of humble confidence. He speaks more about his gratitude for the people and experiences that have brought him to this point than he does about the win itself.
“I have an incredible fan base in Los Angeles. I try to never take them for granted. Los Angeles has gone above and beyond for me and I want to give them something to root for. I can’t imagine trying to fight all these fights without having that support. I mean how could you take on that many opponents over and over again without having people behind you?
It’s not to say that boxing hasn’t ever been jading. I’ve fallen in and out of love with it since I’ve gone pro. It’s not the same as when I started. It’s how I pay my bills now, you know? It’s a business before it’s a sport. It’s not the same as when I was a kid riding the bus to the gym with my backpack on. You know, I’d be going to the gym every day just trying to get good enough to become pro. I’d be on that bus looking out the window and seen these big, gorgeous houses thinking to myself ‘One day I’m gonna get into one of those houses.’ Now that I’ve gone pro and some of those dreams I had have slowly snuck they’re way into my reality, I have to think more about the things I have to do to maintain those dreams. And it’s… umm… sorry, I just kinda forgot what I was saying. I started day dreaming about those houses again.”
Holding onto those dreams and listening to his fans chant his name inside the arena is the kind of fantastic pressure that helps transform Wohlman into a diamond. But with any athlete, this same pressure to perform and not let down the people that have supported you can be a lot to carry around, especially when you lose.
“Losing sucks. The fight I lost, I won’t make any excuses for. I choose not to make any excuses for it anymore. I grew out of that because the bottom line is that I lost. I was taking it seriously. I wasn’t acting like a fighter. Outside of the gym I was partying and fucking around. I wasn’t living up to my name.”
Wohlman eyes glaze over as he starts to look past me, back into the memory of the fight.
“To go back to the dressing room after the fight with this guy who’s on my team and who’s like a big brother to me and to just have him sit there in tears with me ‘cause he knew what I was feeling. Then seeing the rest of my team standing in the room – these guys who up to that point my team had never even seen me lose a round – and seeing the expressions on all their faces. Then I still had to do what I do after every fight and go back out into the arena and into the ring. And as I walked through the crowd towards the ring, all those fans and all those people who had came to support me were putting their hand on my shoulder as I walked past and just asking me, ‘Are you okay?’…”
Wohlman’s eyes start to fill up with tears and his voice chokes as he continues.
“It hurts me to think about it now. I felt so disappointed. I lost because I was fucking around and doing drugs. And to have all those people who had come out to see me fight asking me if I was okay and worrying about me fucking killed me. I promised myself that I would never lose like that again. I can lose… but to lose like that and to let the people that support me down like that killed me.”
Wohlman’s motto is “All Class," something he takes very seriously since his loss. He doesn’t fall into the hype building shit talk like many fighters do. When watching him fight, you are reminded of the boxing greats, the boxers who let their showmanship come out in their movement and their style, who leave their issues in the ring, and who give the crowd a show by being the best, not by being the loudest.
“I feel like you never stop learning in boxing. At least I’ll never stop learning in boxing. It’s what I love. It’s what I am interested in. It took me out of the life I had and help me become something. I’m proud of that and grateful for it, so of course I want to just keep building on it. That I can promise.”
Photos By: Haley Brinkerhoff