As 24-year-old boxer Zachary Wohlman beats his opponent in a unanimous decision after four rounds, spectators jump out of their seats and rush the ring. Amid flashbulbs and congratulatory handshakes, Wohlman, aka "Kid Yamaka," smiles ear to ear and triumphantly raises his adversary's hand. His proud father, David, beams in his son's corner.
On this July night, Florentine Gardens, a former Hollywood supper club that entertained such movie stars as Rudolph Valentino, is hosting its first boxing match. It's appropriate that Wohlman is the main event. The Los Angeles native, who made his professional debut in December, looks and dresses like a vintage fighter, with brown hair shaved on the sides and slicked back on top, high cheekbones and crooked nose.
But with black tattoos covering his torso and chest, he also looks tough. And he is. Undefeated professionally, he has a rough past.
"I don't have the best background," he says at dinner in Los Feliz a week before the fight. "I was constantly frustrated. I was always in and out of trouble, fights in school, screwing around with drugs. ..."
In the press, Wohlman's "story" has focused on the redemption of a kid who conquered his demons after coming from a broken home. He understands why people are interested, but he's tired of the constant rehashing. "It's my story, so people want to know it. But I'm over it. It's been written already. The last thing I want is the sob story, and you hear it in boxing all the time."
At dinner, none of Wohlman's tattoos, which he playfully refers to as his "midlife crisis," is visible. There's a Star of David hanging from his neck; he wears a black sweater, jeans and dress shoes. Unfailingly polite, he's also a strategic boxer: He will tease you with a good-natured glint in his eyes if he catches you off-guard.
He nibbles, but mostly avoids, the complimentary bread on the table, opting instead for a Caesar salad, steak and shrimp. At 5 feet 8 inches, he weighs 157 pounds; he must shed approximately 10 pounds in the next week to qualify as a welterweight.
A boxer's diet can be extreme. At times, Wohlman is not even allowed to drink water. (He chews ice to satisfy his thirst.) On the morning of his official weigh-in, he will shadowbox wearing plastics for two hours. Ultimately, once he's made the weight, fluids will be administered intravenously.
Wohlman first entered legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in 2008. He remembers thinking, " 'Oh my God, someone's going to kill me here. I'm dead.' When I walked in, someone was beating the fuck out of someone."
When he expressed his desire to be a professional boxer to a gym employee, the response was a dismissive, "Don't get your dreams mixed up with reality."
But in the four years since, Wohlman has sparred with world-class boxers, won the 2009 Los Angeles Golden Gloves tournament and, last winter, turned pro.
He holds the unique position of having been the first amateur taken on by Roach (who co-trains Wohlman with trainer Eric Brown).
While Wohlman is appreciative, he prefers to focus on what he hasn't accomplished yet. "It feels good, knock on wood," he says. "I'm proud of that, but let's do something like win a world title and then say I'm the first amateur he's had, you know?"Up next: how his popularity has risen