Spidey’s House: Boxing lessons teach more than just how to work out
Dwayne “DJ” Holman Jr. describes himself as a “true Montclairian.”
The 34-year-old professional boxer grew up in Montclair, attending Watchung School and Buzz Aldrin Middle School (known at the time as Mt. Hebron) and graduating from Montclair High School in 2006.
And when he began to train clients one-on-one in boxing, finding a gym space to use only made sense in one place — Montclair.
Holman began boxing when he was 5 years old, but with no boxing gym in town, he traveled to practice in Passaic. At each fight, the announcer would call out his name and say he was fighting for Passaic, which always rubbed him the wrong way.
“I'm from Montclair, and I represent Montclair,” Holman said. “Now as a professional fighter myself, I take pride in that. When they announce my name in the ring and they’re saying where I'm fighting from, I'm fighting from Montclair, New Jersey.”
But Holman, also a wrestler since he was young, hadn’t planned to train people privately.
He had worked at the Starbucks on Church Street since high school and was satisfied with his benefits and wage. But store neighbors and customers kept bugging him, asking over and over why he didn’t consider training people.
Holman has been fighting in amateur and professional matches as an adult. In March, he won the International Sport Karate Association North American World Champion belt. If he wins his next fight, likely to take place in February, he’ll receive an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract.
One day, a man came up to Holman, said he’d heard he was a professional fighter and that he was thinking about training people. He asked what Holman’s going rate was; Holman did not have an answer. As he stood there, trying to come up with a response, the man offered to pay $600 up front, for training twice a week. Holman agreed.
With no gym of his own, he relied on the client’s apartment gym. As the training got underway, other people began to notice.
“Two clients turned into three, three to four, and it just kept growing,” he said.
Holman began to help Mike Smith, owner of AHF Performance Training in Montclair, run a gym at 33 Greenwood Ave. Smith had collaborated with other trainers before, but none seemed to stick around like Holman. Smith invited Holman to be his partner.
Now it was up to Holman to rebrand, advertise and keep the gym running. He named it Spidey’s House, a nod to his love of Spiderman — he has a full leg sleeve tattoo of the character — but also to his late uncle and godfather, Kerry Rivera.
Rivera, a firefighter with the Paterson Fire Department, was Holman’s first boxing coach, introducing him to the world of fighting. He was a die-hard Spiderman fan, which led to Holman’s fascination, and went by the nickname Spider. Rivera died in 2017 in a mountain biking accident.
When it opened in 2021, the gym offered only private training sessions, a result of being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the gym also began to offer group classes — kickboxing, cardio kickboxing, boxing, cardio boxing, strength and conditioning, and self defense.
The classes at Spidey’s House are different from boxing classes at other gyms because clients are learning from a real fighter, Holman said. When you come to Spidey’s House, you’re not learning from “regular Joe Schmo,” he said. As a professional fighter, Holman knows what moves are effective, not just what will give your arm a workout.
And while the classes are a good workout, they also teach clients about self-defense.
“We live in a crazy world nowadays, and sometimes you have to be prepared for anything,” he said. “I want people to come and get in shape, but I also want people to know that, God forbid if something happens, you will have this in your back pocket to say all right, this is gonna get me home at night.”
Learning martial arts also teaches people about confidence and awareness, Holman said. For young people, the lessons of martial arts can help them to not get bullied, he said.
“Part of it is to build the cardio and build the conditioning aspect and strength and muscles and all that, but then the other part of it is to help you out with self-confidence,” he said. “It also teaches you how to coexist with other people and be friendly and just be a sportsman.”
Holman said he’s “been blessed” to have good clients at Spidey’s House, people who understand when he needs to reschedule a training session.
But that rarely happens, as he sticks to a tight schedule.
While Holman could spend all his time working at Spidey’s House, that isn’t financially possible at this point, he said. So by day, he is a special education teacher’s aide at Spectrum Academy 360.
But before and after the school day, he is training clients, teaching group classes and squeezing in time to do his own workouts.
“I wouldn't be able to balance anything without family and my fiancee,” Holman said. “She's amazing. She helps me keep the schedule in order. She helps me keep clients in order.”
And he also finds time to spend with his two sons, 12 and 4 years old. Luckily, his older son is a gym rat and has been going with him to the gym since before he could walk, Holman said. And his younger son just goes along with whatever the older son is doing.
“So if my older son is like, we're going to the gym with Dad, he's like, all right, we’re going to the gym with Dad,” Holman said.
Despite all his jobs — maintaining a gym, training private clients, working as a teacher, training for his next fight — Holman does take some time to breathe. On Saturdays, he doesn’t go into the gym and does not have to go to his teaching job. That’s his day off, his day for spending time with his family in Montclair.