The life and fights of Zachary Wohlman, Kid Yamaka

Photos and Words by Scott Leon
This story originally appeared in ISSUE 1. Click here to buy the print edition

I first met Zachary Wohlman When I was 20 years old. I was angry, violent and couldn’t keep my hands to myself. I would get into street fights like people change their shoes. It was a problem. I would go to school and pick a fight with the biggest kid I could, or teacher, or cop, whoever…There was a lot of violence in my house so that was the only way I knew to express myself. I had already spent time in institutions for the type of lifestyle I was living. Boot camps, Juvie, and eventually LA county jail.

People would always say to me “Hey why don’t you go to a boxing gym or something. Channel that energy into something positive” blah blah blah. Same shit people always say to a fucked up kid.

I had a friend tell me about Zachary so I approached him about going to Wild Card, Freddie Roach's boxing club in Hollywood. It is a very intimidating place to go to. Even now that I’ve been going there for years and know everyone I still get nervous every time I walk in there.

I met Zachary there one Monday. I thought he was a complete douchebag. He was good looking and he could definitely fight better than I could. Immediately, I was like “fuck this guy”. I don’t think he liked me very much either. But I kept seeing him everyday after that. Eventually going on trips together to Vegas to fight as amateurs. We became close and have remained good friends since.

We’ve been through a lot together over the years. I’ve also have photographed his career since his pro debut. I’ve been to every one of his pro fights except for one. The one I didn’t make it to was because I was being a fuck up in my own life at the time.

Zachary is one of my best friends and the toughest guy I know….

ANIMALS: How and why did you become interested in boxing
I was fighting a lot as a kid so I got sent away to a military school that was on the border of US and Mexico. When I got there I was super nervous about getting beat up and I didn't want anybody fucking with me so I lied and said I was a boxer from Los Angeles.

They said. "Great, we have a boxing team!" and I said "Oh shit." They threw me in there and I couldn't fight for shit but I wasn't bad. I was aggressive and I didn't mind getting punched in the face and I didn't mind hitting someone in the face and that was kind of where I got started.

ANIMALS: What influence did boxing have on your teenage life?
The gym was a safe, healthy environment for me growing up.  As a teenager I stayed in a ton of trouble.  I liked drugs, not so much grass but uppers and downers and whatever was in your parent's medicine cabinet when they are at work, hahaha.  I got into it with my dad and he did some really heavy drugs so he showed me some really heavy drugs.  He and I did some crime things together.  For me drugs weren'tpart of a lifestyle, they were the lifestyle.  When you're running around in the valley doing coke and shitty tweaker stuff, it's like this: you're doing drugs and so you're robbing people and you're fucked up on drugs and so you're robbing people again so you can get more drugs so you can stay fucked up. It's just a downward-spiraling bummer. Whenever I went into a boxing gym I wasn't hanging out on the street or hanging out with stupid people so I wasn't in trouble. A boxing gym is kind of all love and they don't support a shitty lifestyle. A shitty lifestyle doesn't go hand in hand with boxing, though it seems to come with the territory with boxers and the gym is a place to get away from that. So: in the gym, out of trouble; out of the gym, in trouble.

ANIMALS: When did you stop fucking around and become serious about your career? When did you think, "I am gonna be a boxer."

ANIMALS: Hahahaha
I competed when I was in a teenager. When I was 19 I got into a fight and got arrested for it.  It wasn't the biggest thing in the world but I decided that with all the trouble I had been into, the family history, the drugs and the crime and so forth that I wanted to make a big change. I was able to get into what would be a halfway house and when I got there I had nothing else I knew how to do that was a skill except box. One of the counselors there and the person who was in charge of me knew Freddie Roach and said, "If you can clean up your act for 30 days I'll take you to meet him and he can take a look at you." From that point on I took it very seriously and my interest was to turn pro and that's what Freddie and I did.

ANIMALS: That was when you were 23, how was your pro debut?
It was on December 1st 2012 and it was amazing. I remember being in the restaurant before driving to Club Nokia downtown where I fought and I was eating my meal and I didn't know if I was eating my last meal or the meal before my wedding... It was crazy because I was 23 and started boxing when I was 14 so I waited nearly 10 years for this moment. For 10 years I had dreamt about it, gone over in my head what it was going to be like and how it would feel. Was I gonna win? Would get knocked out? Could I even do this? The boxing ring is the ultimate truth-teller and the bell rang and I was ready and I kicked ass.

ANIMALS: Yeah you did. And you had Freddie Roach there.
Yeah! I had Freddie in the corner, I had Eric, I had Paulie, I had my managers and everyone there to support me who watched and helped me along the way, who watched me clean up my act and get it together. They say the only thing better than winning your pro debut is a world title, so...We will see what's next.

ANIMALS: You got a lot of attention when you turned pro. Everybody wanted to use you for photos, editorials, lookbooks etc. How has that affected your career?
All the attention has been great and also it has been humbling. A lot of exposure is a good thing, I am a white Jewish kid and I don't come from much. I don't think I realized at the time the effect all this "media attention" was really having on me; I wanted to be a cool guy and live a Hollywood lifestyle and of course that comes with alcohol and girls and drugs. It has a way of rearing its ugly head at the worst moments and for me that ugly head has come up in fights. You don't want to be thinking when you're trying to outbox a guy, "I wish I hadn't been on drugs." It's a shitty place to be.

I think handling that kind of exposure better comes with experience. Now when I do it, I do it and it's done. I don't take it any further than that.  I do a photo shoot, I do some press and I take it with a grain of salt. I understand I am being used; whether it's for a cool story or someone just wants to help me out, don't take it so much to heart. I not a rock star and I still have to work another job to make a living.

ANIMALS: Have you had bumps in the road since turning pro either in your career or in your life?
I certainly have had bumps in the road turning pro.  There was a time when I was undefeated, but you are only undefeated until you're not anymore and then you have to move forward with that.  Life has bumps in the road and everyone takes losses, but unfortunately mine go on an official BoxRec Record. 85% of my career is all wins but I will always get looked at for the losses I have taken while the wins that I have get overlooked. That's okay,  you have to realize that and keep it moving. Also, I am getting hit in the face for a living. I have those thoughts, "Is this what I want to do anymore? Do I want to be in these training camps and working hard and staying focused and not fucking around?" It's very easy to be comfortable and work a 9-5, work a bar job, train people, whatever it is. Do I really want to reach for the sky or reach as far as I can and really see what I'm worth? It is nerve wracking. And also I put myself out there to be exposed.  Like let's say people read this magazine article and go, "Fuck that guy".  Sometimes that is hard to hear.  Sometimes people don't want to hear feedback on themselves.

As far as bumps in the road, that's life. Whether you're a pro boxer or a mechanic you're going to have good and bad years and good and bad hard times. You have to be a worker amongst workers. Yeah, I make my living fighting. I'm not Floyd Maywhether saying I'm invincible. I have taken harder losses in life than I have in the ring but life goes on and I do the best that I can.

ANIMALS: What do you love most about boxing?
Oh man that's a loaded question. Well, I want to say all the history and the way it makes me feel but I think at the end of the day I just love to fight. I love that for so many years there have been others that just love to fight. It is an art form; you can be a little guy and whoop some big guy's ass. It's an art to make someone miss and pay for it.  At the same time, I love that some brawler can go and beat a beautiful boxer.  You hope that the boxer has the technique to win but at the end of the day in boxing it's Will vs. Skill.  I love that it's entertainment put on in a "Final Fight Night" format; I love entertainment and I love a crowd.  Maybe there is some masochist shit, I want to feel a little bit of pain and I want to hurt someone...

ANIMALS: Who are your biggest influences in boxing?
Everyone from Freddie Roach to Eric Brown; my team: Scotty, Julian, Taylor; everyone close to me who has helped me along the way. Then there are some of the greats like Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran, Gatti, Mickey Ward. I just watched all these guys do incredible shit and have incredible fights. Of course my family. And also me, seeing what I am worth as a man, win lose or draw.

ANIMALS: After you're career is over, have you thought of what you want to get into?
Yeah, I am 26 and I won't be able to fight forever. I'm looking at working in boxing when I'm done and having a voice for boxing. I know so much of the history and I have a little different perspective than a lot of the guys. I'm also able to vocalize some of the feelings that go into a fight.  Like, I am terrified going into a fight, which boxers don't like to admit.  If you're going into a ring to fight a guy with two hands, it's fucking scary. So I would love to contribute to boxing like that in some way.

ANIMALS: Have you ever lost a fight?
Yeah I've lost. I started realizing I might be on my way to a loss when started reminding myself push comes to shove this is a pro fight and on that night I couldn't even pass a drug test.

I was so ashamed of myself, embarrassed. All the people who had sacrificed and supported me. I kinda wished the guy would beat me to death. But life goes on and wounds heal for the most part, it still hurts but time helps.

ANIMALS: Have you ever been afraid in the ring?
Ha, I'm always a little scared. Keeps me fast and sharp. It's a good thing.

ANIMALS:  What is the rule with sex and fighting?
No fucking 10 days before a fight. I think at the end of the day your giving up one thing for another. Keeps you in bed early and like Mickey says "women weaken legs."

ANIMALS:  What are some of your prefight rituals?
I burn candles, I pray, temple, church, rabbi, confession haha I don't care I'll take whoevers listening. I wear the same shirt always the night of the fight. And a home cooked meal from my friend