Musicians to Box for Charity

Jazz pianist Doc Watkins of San Antonio has announced he is trading his piano keys for a pair of boxing gloves. The musician, band leader and jazz club owner — who has never boxed before — will face off against the leader of a local Tejano-Blues band in a USA Boxing-sanctioned amateur event in October to raise funds to help musicians pay their medical bills.

Musicians have always struggled to pay for health care but the challenge was exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. Income for most musicians dried up, literally overnight, while medical bills did not let up. Watkins lost two friends to cancer and others contracted COVID, coming out of the hospital with huge bills. Thus was born the San Antonio Musicians Medical Aid Fund.

Previously, Watkins tried a live stream concert and a few other projects to raise funds, but he says, “it wasn’t making a dent. Somebody had to do something on a larger scale. I thought, ‘what could we do to sell $500 tickets?’ ”

When he finally shared his idea with his wife, she agreed: “You’re right, that would be pretty freakin’ epic.”

Why boxing?

“It’s almost a metaphor,” he says. “During the pandemic, we’re just getting hit and hit. My morale, the morale of the musical community was really suffering. We felt like we couldn’t catch a break and I had this inner urge to fight this. Boxing made the most sense.”

From there, things fell into place: outdoor space at the nonprofit Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, which is co-sponsoring the event; a boxing friend who connected him to the South Texas Amateur Boxing Association, which has sanctioned the fight; and 11 other people, who are rounding out the fight card, willing to enter the ring, most for the first time. They include two local bartenders, Chef Geronimo Lopez of Botika, a Navy Sailor, several business owners and fitness professionals. Two are women.

Watkins is not stepping lightly into the ring. He started training months ago. Hard. He wakes as early as 4:30 a.m. to head for the gym. He’s running, weight-lifting, and, of course, learning to box. Amateur boxing matches comprise three rounds of one minute each, and awards points based on the number of clean punches landed, rather than physical power.

“I always thought the hardest part of this would be the conditioning, getting in shape, the running and the workouts,” Watkins says. “That’s easy compared to the psychological aspect of it. You’re constantly being tested just beyond your limits. A good trainer is not going to let you stay in your comfort zone very long.”

The goal is to raise $100,000 after costs to launch the fund. Other cities have musician' medical funds, but this will be the first for San Antonio. The newly-formed, pending 501(c)3 has a board of directors and is developing guidelines and an application process.

Watkins isn’t scheduled to play music after his time in the ring, but won’t rule out getting up on stage for the after-party. After all, this boxer is a musician at his core.

The event will take place Oct. 22, with only 400 seats available, from $500 ringside to $100 further back. In addition to the six bouts, the evening will feature music and an auction.

Tickets can be purchased from the Tobin box office at tobincenter.org/box-office.