In the moments before Gorilla entered the boxing ring, he paces the floor, terrified for his future.
A four-months-old Achilles’ tendon injury is hurting, much more so than he is letting on to anyone outside his inner circle.
“I was going in there blind,” said Aaron “Gorilla” Green, a gentle giant inside a hulking 6-4, 275-pound frame. “I didn’t want to show it, but … I didn’t know what to expect.”
But Green, an up-and-coming boxer in Minnesota at age 31, has become accustomed to chaos. He takes a deep breath and heads toward the spotlighted entryway, knowing this is just another exacting leg in the journey — one impassioned man’s struggle to make his mark in an industry that routinely chews up and spits out its eager participants.
At Hinckley’s Grand Casino Friday Night Fights this past weekend, one professional boxer was significantly battered in a lopsided fight, taken simply for the money. Another was led away by police; with a warrant for his arrest, the promotion posters gave officers the only lead they needed. Like most fighters in this stage of their careers, Green’s body is hurting. He’s tired. The Golden Valley resident toils through a second full-time job — working security overnights — to make ends meet.
Physical, financial and emotional aches are steppingstones to the glory many dream about, but few have the dedication, talent and toughness to realize.
After another victory, his squinty-eyed smile returns in full force as Green — now 12-0 with 10 knockouts as a professional — practically bounces around his designated locker room. In one of the most dangerous, difficult and unrewarding sports, nothing is for granted, even for the smartest athletes.
For Green, it makes it all the more worthwhile.
One February night in 1990, a young Green was planted on the living room couch in his family’s Hinsdale, Ill., home, unable to believe Mike Tyson, his boyhood idol, could lose. Tyson did lose that night — in a memorable bout against Buster Douglas — but it only further drew Green to the sport’s excitement. Boxing became an obsession, but stayed just that with most of Green’s free time taken up by basketball, the sport he would play in college as a scholarship athlete.
Seventeen years later, Green was 25 and a recent college graduate, working as a personal trainer at a local gym. A pair of fighters who occasionally trained there rekindled the boxing flame, and after talking to them, Green started taking a weekly hourlong beginner class. The more he did it, the more he loved it. Outside the ring, he was understated and soft-spoken. Inside the ropes, he got to be a different person.
Eventually, organized fighting made sense. Green’s wife, Frances, a former Division I golfer, understands competitive desire, so they never had an official conversation about his transitioning career. It just began.
Green’s first two amateur matches were held at Uppercut Boxing Gym in northeast Minneapolis, where he now trains. In the second, Green knocked out his opponent in only three rounds. Afterward, Lisa Bauch — Uppercut founder/owner and now a member of his team — approached Green’s trainer at the time, demanding to know just how many fights his pupil really had.
After grilling Green and his trainer, Bauch’s anger turned to astonishment. Was it possible he’d only had one previous fight?
“And if that’s the case, we need to get him here,” she said.
At 11 p.m. on a typical Thursday night, Green is behind the front desk of the DoubleTree hotel in St. Louis Park, glancing down at a clipboard full of notes.