Gleasons Gym: The Office

14.10.08 - By Bernie McCoy - The gym is the boxer's office. It's the place where the boxer does most of the business, the difficult business of a difficult sport. Like most offices, the gym is where the boxer spends the vast majority of working time; hopefully, productive working time. But like every worker in every business, the time spent in a gym is only as productive as the boxer makes it.. From the gym the boxer departs on business trips to arenas and other sporting venues, where the hours of work in the boxer's office pays off, or it doesn't. For boxers, the corner office of the business of boxing in New York is a gym located on the northern end of the borough of Brooklyn, on, aptly named, Front Street, close by the East River and within sight of the canyons of lower New York City. It's one of those places that need only a single pronoun for instant identity: Gleasons

"I wish I could take it home." This is Mischa Merz, journalist, author, painter and amateur boxer from Melbourne, Australia, who, when I sat down with her last week, was coming near the end of a multi week sojourn in New York City. She was talking about transporting Gleasons Gym "down under." "I really didn't have a big desire to see many of the ' sights' in New York; for me it was all in Gleasons. In Australia, I'm fortunate if I get to spar with the same woman; here there's always a chance to step in the ring with someone different. I've popped into a couple of other gyms in New York, but, for me, there's only one gym in the city and that's Gleasons, it's Utopia." And while Sir Thomas More probably had a different type of society in mind, Merz's analogy to the fourteenth century tome is apt; she notes, " It (Gleasons) is a community, if you're serious about why you're there, you get accepted fairly quickly."

In the decade before the turn of the last century, there was a mercifully brief trend among eateries in New York; an attempt to recreate the style of diners that existed in the 1950s. The results were, at best, ludicrous; you can't turn back time when it comes to something as sacrosanct as a New York diner. The new diners were just; they were too clean, they were too shiny and not one possessed the "two over easy with home fries and sausage" smell that wafted through the original diners, four decades earlier. There are a number of boxing gyms in the New York area and for the most part they are, all too often, equivalent of those recreated diners; shiny equipment, spotless rings, and barely a foreign smell. The equipment and the rings in Gleasons have that well-used look, simply because they are well-used on an almost around-the-clock basis. As Mischa Merz puts it, "Gleasons is like a pot on the boil, there's always something going on." In other words, Gleasons, when it comes to what a boxing gym should be, "gets it." If you desire any further proof, you need only, upon walking into Gleasons, take a deep breath and realize that you're inhaling what F. X. Toole captured in his unmatched words: "that wonderful stink of boxing."

What's it like to climb up the stone steps to Gleasons for the first time? I asked Melissa Hernandez, the current WBAN Fighter of the Month and, not surprisingly, Hernandez had a quick answer, in fact she had multiple answers: "I remember three firsts: when I was still in the Gloves and I was used to training in small, cramped PAL gyms, I came to Gleasons and my first thought was, ' a real gym,' it was a wonderful change. I was a bit intimidated by it all, but I was glad to be here, it was a step forward for me as a fighter. The second time was when I was training for my professional debut (against Zhang Mao Mao in October 2005). I felt a little bit more comfortable that time around, but it wasn't until the third time, when I was training for my bout with Kelsey Jeffires (June 2006), which was a huge step up for me in my career, that I started to settle in. I was overwhelmed by the amazing amount of support I got from everyone in the gym. It was great and Gleasons has been my home since then." Hernandez, like Merz, frequently uses the term "community" when describing the prevailing "feel" of Gleasons. "Sure there are individual rivalries in here, we're in a sport where that's only natural. But no one should ever think they can come in here, to our house, from the outside, and start pushing around any of our fighters, because that's just asking for trouble. This is an amazing place."

Anna Ingman, undefeated WBC International light middleweight titleholder, trained at Gleasons prior to her US debut, a six round unanimous decision over Cimberly Harris at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia on October 3. And, if it's true that an accurate view is gained through the eyes of a stranger, then Ingman, newly arrived from Sweden, provides a good snapshot of Gleasons through words on her blog: "I have arrived in the true boxing mecca. This is an amazing place; the tough but very warm boxing gym on Front Street in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. I have been here not more than four days and I feel like a family member already." The common thread for Mischa Merz, Melissa Hernandez and Anna Ingman is the sense of togetherness, particularly for female fighters, that exists within the walls of Gleasons.

Even for "civilians" their first taste of Gleasons is a lasting memory, still recalled decades later. Listen to Jill Diamond, NABF Women's Division Chairperson, talking about her first trek down the hill toward Front Street: "The first time I entered Gleasons was in 1988. It was by the docks. It was cold, deserted and foreboding. I went there at the insistence of a friend who pushed her baby carriage from the F train and through the heavy doors, all for the opportunity to beat me up. That was twenty years ago and I was in top shape. When I perused the basic equipment and bored trainers, I figured I'd be out of there quickly, laughing my head off and wondering how to make up for lost exercise time. It was the toughest workout I ever had. Three minutes felt like three hours. No one coddled my yuppie behind and I would have rather hung from a rope than spend endless rounds jumping one. And then, when we got in the ring, my friend clipped me pretty good. It was fifteen years and fifteen pounds before I returned to Front Street. Between Gleasons and the New York Health and Racquet Club, viva la difference." While it sounds like the sense of community, at least between Diamond and her friend, was still a bit in the distance, today, when Diamond arrives at Gleasons she is treated with a sense of celebrity, beginning with the owner Bruce Silverglade, at the front desk and, continuing, with the fighters, male and female, who take a break to say hello. Ask her now and Jill Diamond will, likely, tell you about the specialness that is Gleasons. But, listening to her talk about her first trip to the gym two decades ago, one also gets the sense that, probably, Diamond had the "special" part down pat even then, despite getting "clipped" in the ring.

In reality, Gleasons is a special place whether you're a newly arrived female fighter from Sweden; an Australian woman who practices participatory journalism and does equally well turning a phrase or throwing a jab; or one of the best female boxers, in the sport, from the South Bronx. But at the risk of getting too squishy, it should be stated, unequivocally, that Gleasons is, first and foremost, a place where the business of boxing is conducted with professionalism, camaraderie, and intensity in equal measures. It's a place where the only judgment of someone coming through the door is whether or not they're serious about the business being conducted in this office, the business of boxing. If they're serious, they'll find an office in which they can get a lot of work done. If not, they should save themselves the trip up the stone steps from Front Street; there's a Starbucks on the next corner.

Article posted on 14.10.2008

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