The shops and restaurants in downtown San Mateo are usually bustling on the weekend.
Meanwhile, there is activity of a different sort one floor down at B Street Boxing.
While some in the basement gym are working out with hanging bags, and others are practicing their mixed-martial arts moves, Eddie Croft is sparring with Benjamin, a 12-year old aspiring boxer, who between rapid fire punches follows the continuous flow of instructions from his trainer.
A San Francisco native, Croft grew up in San Mateo’s Shoreview neighborhood. The 1987 graduate of Aragon High School had two goals as a youngster. He wanted to be a fighter, and he wanted to be famous.
At age 5, Croft began martial arts, earned a black belt in taekwondo at 11 and won his first amateur kickboxing bout at 18.
“Who can name a world championship kickboxer?” Croft said.
His change of fighting disciplines was rooted in part from that search for fame. It was also a result of a sparring visit by Johnny Nava, an ex-fighter from Pacifica, to Croft’s martial arts academy in 1987.
“He tore through everybody,” said Croft, who soon after made the decision to switch. “Boxing was the way to go for me.”
Nava became Croft’s coach, and in the spring of 1988 the skinny teenager entered a Golden Gloves competition, winning his first bout in the 119-pound novice division. He went on to win 1990 and 1991 Golden Gloves titles in the 125-pound weight class and was ranked as high as sixth in the nation as an amateur.
As a pro, Croft won his first 18 bouts, many nationally televised on ESPN, and in 1993 won the U.S. title, crowned the WBC Super-Bantam Weight Continental Champion.
Training for a world championship, Croft suffered an eye injury while sparring. He bravely fought, essentially with one eye, but the injury that lingers to present day prematurely ended his fighting career.
“I can almost see stuff unfold before it happens,” Croft said. “To be a good coach you need to articulate and explain to a fighter what will happen and why it will happen and what they need to do to capitalize on the situation.”