SFC boxers part to make way for the gym's founding trainer Ben Bautista — they also give space to Bautista's hulking pit bull, Victory. The only female in the gym, Victory is stowed in a kennel atop a derelict treadmill and yawns at the cacophonous scene in front of her.

Bautista is a short, powerfully built man with enough tattoos to inspire a Ray Bradbury short story. He founded SFC in 1999 and has moved it between basements, garages, warehouses, and, now, a proper gym. Mayfield has long been his star pupil. The boxer has periodically left to fight under trainers with championship resumes, but he has always returned to Bautista. And it will be Bautista guiding Mayfield into the most important bout of his life — a shot at the vacant North American Boxing Organization junior welterweight belt.

The trainer eyeballs a hand-scrawled message above the ring, the canvas of which is held together by a 5-yard strip of duct tape: They all gots to go! Bautista explains: "Anyone in the way of my fighters, they gonna get rolled."

The opponent in Mayfield's way is Patrick "El Elegante" Lopez. A two-time Venezuelan Olympian, he comes into the bout on the heels of consecutive losses. A third straight setback would likely usher the 33-year-old left-hander into a phase of his career boxers refer to as "the professional opponent."

But that's his problem. El Elegante gots to go.

Fighters continually seek nostrums and exercises for improving their bodies.


My job," Mayfield says softly, "is, literally, to break men's dreams. Boxing is something these guys have been doing since they're 12. Patrick Lopez! It's so irritating to think about one man for a whole month and a half. It's like if you know you're going to have a fight after school, even if you can beat the guy, there's a weird feeling you get before a fight. But it's not just for an hour until after school. It's for the whole month and a half."

Mayfield is in an introspective mood, aided by an hour of inactivity in a frenetic lifestyle that sees him up at dawn to run along Ocean Beach, and training until after sunset. But he's still working out, even while prone. Mayfield is swathed in heated pads attached to the FormoStar Encore Infrared Body Wrap machine. The device resembles a 1950s radio and glows a theatrical neon purple. A glossy brochure claims it will stimulate blood flow and burn up to 1,400 calories an hour via the wonders of infrared heat. It will also combat cellulite and aid menstrual cramps. Mayfield heard about it on E! News.

Several days later, the boxer is huffing and puffing with a faraway look in his eyes. It's understandable — he's at an altitude of 22,000 feet. A mask akin to one Tom Cruise wore in Top Gun is affixed to a cooler-sized "hypoxygen" machine, which simulates the thin air of mountainous elevations and, ostensibly, spurs the body to more efficiently process oxygen. Mayfield's head is spinning, but his feet are firmly planted on the ground at Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC), in a squat San Carlos office park. The establishment is the latest iteration in the strange career of Victor Conte, the man who boosted Barry Bonds and other athletes to dizzying heights of another sort via copious amounts of performance-enhancing drugs.

"I believe in second chances," explains Mayfield. The photos of hundreds of athletes gaze down upon him from the walls; Conte has made no effort to remove those who were blackballed from their sports or even incarcerated following drug scandals. "Victor says he's turned his life around." Mayfield insists the supplements he takes are "100 percent legit" — and he's far from the only boxer knocking them back. More famous fighters like Mosley, Andre Ward, Nonito Donaire, and Andre Berto are also clients. In fact, says Conte's notably muscular daughter, Victoria, SNAC diagnosed Berto with an iron deficiency, which had fatigued him. "We predict a big bounce-back in his next fight," she says. Last month, Berto scored a knockout win — in a bout Victor Conte attended personally.

It's a role-reversal for a boxer to be on the up-and-up and his nutritionist to be an ex-con. But Mayfield is an unorthodox fighter.

"Everything about you matters. Everything about you is important. Everything about you is key to everything about you." These are not the words of Bautista, who employs the term "motherfucker" with Miles Davis regularity. Yoga instructor Mary Jarvis has known Mayfield since he was a teenager slipping her free wheat grass at a local juice bar. Now he and two dozen others perspire in a darkened room heated to a balmy 105 degrees. Mayfield stands out — and not just because he's the only black man in the building or, perhaps, large swaths of the Marina. While bikinis and Speedos are the de facto uniform, he is outfitted in heavy sweats and a Unabomber-like hoodie concealing a rubber bodysuit. Mayfield has several weeks to drop 15 pounds and make weight at 140.

Thrice-weekly yoga keeps Mayfield limber, but Jarvis says it can do more. She claims it stimulates his endocrine system and allows him to "slow down time" like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. He will also throw "a wiser punch," whatever that means.

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Cassandra Flipper
Cassandra Flipper

A well-written story about an unusally focussed and disciplined young man who has courage, principles and dignity.

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