Sade's satin voice slips from the stereo speakers while men of muscle, their brows dripping with sweat, punch 150-pound bags with all their might.
The music occasionally fades, bowing to the noise, the animal grunts from the men, the tapping of jump ropes and feet upon the floor, the "bam! bam! bam!" of gloves hitting a bag. It is 2 p.m., time for the men who vie to be champions to work out at the boxing gym at 1475 Kenilworth Ave. NE.
Once a greasy car garage, the main room at M-PAC (Monumental Productions Athletic Club) is now a sea of turquoise carpeting with three heavy bags suspended from the ceiling and three smaller speed bags hanging along one wall. Sunlight spills into the room through three large windows to mix with fluorescent light and settle on the shoulders of these hard-working men who ignore it, each one too busy searching for his own spotlight.
On another level a couple of steps lower is their stage, a 15-foot boxing ring, wrapped in red, white and blue ropes, its white skin glistening, the red "Monumental Productions" logo in the center.
This place is so clean the sweat smells sweet.
"Most gyms are dinky, stinky . . . " said Mike Harrison, one of the gym managers. "Our philosophy is if the environment is decent . . . it won't be business as usual, no spitting on the floors, no cursing . . . . "
"We're looking to produce some world and Olympic champions," said Dirul Pasha, who with Amin Muslim owns the gym and produces boxing shows.
"We opened the gym so we could have greater supervision over the youths we work with," he said.
While the gym includes a room filled with chrome and leather Universal exercise equipment and offers aerobics classes three times a week, it is the boxing program that has attracted the determined young men. On most days, 10 professional boxers and 40 amateurs use the club, which opened about a month ago.
A recent scene exemplifies a typical day: Ricky Royal, a young boxer in white shorts, jumps rope in front of a mirrored wall. James (Ducky) Johnson, his hands wrapped, shadowboxes nearby, emitting a "whish! whish! whish!" each time he punches the air.
Some of these men come to M-PAC because of trainer Ken (Captain) Stribling, a man whom people say can watch a guy shadowbox just 10 minutes then tell you how long he's been fighting, what his strengths are and how to correct his weaknesses.
Stribling, 63, is called Captain because he was once a correctional officer with the rank of senior captain, working at Lorton, where he ran a boxing program for more than 20 years. He has worked with local fighters since 1948, four years before he ended his own career as a middleweight.
Stribling saunters around the gym sporting a red and white M-PAC cap, a pink towel drapped across one shoulder where he could snatch it quickly to catch the sweat of some young boxer.
The youthful contenders can expect Captain to greet them with questions like the one he asked boxer Larry Pringle that day: "Did you run this morning, man?"
Assisted by trainer Leslie (Mac Man) Pyles, Stribling offers advice and encouragement, wraps and unwraps hands, holds knees while boxers do sit-ups and prays for victories.
"We try to build character, too," said Stribling, a gray-haired man with black-rimmed glasses and a perpetual smile. "We tell them to just be patient. But if they don't want to work hard there's nothing we can do for them."
"The two primary things a trainer does is to teach and motivate," offered Mac Man, a former amateur boxer who was trained by Stribling 19 years ago. "You have to be a psychologist, because each fighter is different."
"My career was ended abruptly because I broke my hand," he explained later. "I never got to see how far I could go. I guess I'm trying to find a kid who can be an extension of myself . . . a kid who can do what I didn't do."
On this day Stribling is holding one of the knees of Floyd Favors while the fighter rushes through a rigorous routine of sit-ups. Favors, 22, a professional fighter for nearly a year, has a 6-0 record and was three-time world champion as an amateur.
Dressed in black Spandex pants and a yellow T-shirt, Favors prepares for a bout in Atlantic City, N.J.
"I'd like to win the world title in the junior weight division and be able to accumulate enough money to go back to school to become a computer technician," Favors said. "A lot of fighters want to be a Sugar Ray Leonard, but a person of that sort only comes along once in a blue moon.
"If I hit the Lotto, I'd quit," he said. "I guess I'm just fighting to keep things paid up."
As for the gym, Pringle, 28, said, "It's like a home. You have a certain quality of people here who look out for you, not just as a fighter but as a human being. That makes you put out extra effort."
Later, Favors and Pringle spar in the ring. Captain crouches on the sideline in Favors' corner, peeping between the ropes at the fighter. Mac Man works with Pringle, but each trainer offers advice to both fighters.
"Use your left hand, too!" Captain hollers to Pringle. "Keep it up there! That's your protection!"
"Move that head!" Mac Man instructs.
"Keep those elbows in!" shouts Captain.
The buzzer sounds. The fighters return to their corners. The trainers whisper advice. The young men cock their heads to listen, understanding that every bit of advice is the piece of a dream.