78 years and 134 world champions
Gleason’s Boxing Gym, Professional Training for the White Collar Worker
“Now, whoever has courage, and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.” – Virgil, as painted on the wall at Gleason’s Boxing Gym.
Walk down the cobblestones of Washington Street in DUMBO, towards the Manhattan Bridge. When you get to the bookstore across from the coffee shop, hang a left and keep walking. Once you pass the designer clothing store and the interior design store, but before you get to the West Elm packed with trendy furniture, head right through the door with a white “77” marked on it and go upstairs. Open this door and you’ll be hit by the warmth of sweat, the smell of an old basement. Reverberating off the cement walls comes the rhythmic tap tap of speed bags, the swaying of rows of chains hooked on steel beams, the creek of old treadmills and stationary bikes covered in duct tape. In the center are four islands of blue, elevated mats surrounded by red, blue and black ropes, fighters and trainers dancing in their center. Along the walls is a parade of white signs lettered with WBO, IBF, IBA, GBU, IFBA. All champions. This is Gleason’s Boxing Gym.
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“We’ve had 134 world champions. Muhammad Ali has trained here. Jake LaMotta, Mike Tyson,” says Bruce Silverglade, 30-year owner of the gym and prominent member of the amateur community, past chairman of the National Junior Olympic Committee. The gym currently trains five world champions, and while at one point “100 percent of the members were boxers, now 75 percent are business men and women from the tristate area.”
Looking around the room, the mix is obvious and natural. In 1974, the gym moved from its original location in the Bronx to DUMBO, and its members changed along with the Brooklyn neighborhood. In the ring outside Bruce’s office, Yuri Foreman, the WBA super welterweight champion from 2009 to 2010, sparred with another boxer in headgear while a blonde female boxer recorded the fight on her phone and another man incorporated the edge of the ring in a leg workout. Bruce was right. Everyone at the gym is nice and relaxed, a juxtaposition of the mentality inside and outside of the ring. It’s by his own design. While Bruce has 78 certified trainers, which he keeps on as independent contractors so he can more easily dismiss them. If they aren’t personable enough to stand at the intersection of a tough sport and its fast-changing clientele, they’re gone.
Why would doctors, attorneys or school teachers come to Gleason’s, a gym legendary for churning out champions, rather than their neighborhood YMCA? “They come because they know that boxers are in excellent physical and mental condition,” says Bruce. “Some of the 75 percent [that are white collar] get hooked, they get the bug. They compete and are still working for a living as a doctor or an attorney.” Bruce even hosts so-called “white-collar boxing” competitions for the relatively untrained members.
Bruce is on the front end of the sport in NYC because he knows what traditions to preserve, and which to toss. The Olympics first allowed women to box in 2012, even while Gleason’s was training women, including Keisher “Fire” McLeod, now a current WIBA world champion. McLeod, only years after picking up the sport, now teaches boxing at Gleason’s. Bruce brags that he has a five-year-old member and disabled war veterans, who come as much to watch as to fight, just as much as his world champions. At a gym that exclusively trains for a sport on the other side of its golden era, news and media cameras still show up “every hour”, because Bruce pulls people in, because he knows the value of the conditioning that comes from baser instincts and smart strategy, rather than on endless rows of ellipticals, treadmills and yoga pants.