- Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York is arguably the world’s most famous boxing gym, having trained everyone from Muhammad Ali to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
- Anyone can train at Gleason’s Gym — most of the members today are regular New Yorkers learning how to box
- Gleason’s is one of New York City’s “last true melting pots,” according to owner Bruce Silverglade
To call Gleason’s Gym in New York City a “mecca” of boxing is an understatement.
Nearly every major boxer over the last half-century either learned how to box at Gleason’s or trained there in advance of one fight or another. Legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, and Mike Tyson — along with current boxing star Floyd Mayweather Jr. — have all trained at Gleason’s.
Since the gym opened in 1937, Gleason’s has helped 134 world champions reach their peak. In 2016, the gym moved a few blocks from its long-time home at 77 Front Street in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighbourhood to a new location.
We visited recently to see if it’s still full of the sweat and grime that has long marked the gym as a true New York landmark.
Gleason's Gym is located at 130 Water Street in Brooklyn's trendy DUMBO neighbourhood. The gym first moved to the neighbourhood in 1985. It was a ghost town at the time.
Gleason's may be in a new building with fresh coats of its signature red paint, but it has retained its gritty vibe. 'Boxing is a sport of the underclass, a sport of the underdog,' according to owner Bruce Silverglade.
Head into the back and you'll find Silverglade's office. He has helped run the business since 1983. The original owner was Peter Robert Gagliardi, an Italian boxer who wanted to open a gym in an Irish section of the Bronx.
As Silverglade tells it, Gagliardi called the gym Gleason's so as not to upset the Irish residents. When the gym became successful, Gagliardi legally changed his name to Bobby Gleason. The walls of Silverglade's office are filled with history about the gym.
One of the gym's first big successes was Jake La Motta, a Bronx-bred middle-weight champion whose life was turned into the movie 'Raging Bull' starring Robert De Niro. The movie was filmed at the gym.
Silverglade took sole ownership of the gym in 1994. He says the hallmark of the gym since its founding is that it is a place of 'equality.' 'It's one of the last melting pots in existence in New York. I have Palestinians training with Israelis, blacks and whites, cops and robbers, Wall Streeters and kids with no money, men and women,' said Silverglade. 'You name a type and its opposite and they are here. And everybody gets along.'
Outside of Silverglade's office is a row of treadmills and ellipticals. Conditioning, according to Silverglade, is more important than ability when it comes to winning boxing matches.
People are training everywhere in the gym, even at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Here, two people train on 'double-end bags,' which help improve rhythm, timing, and accuracy.
The thing that differentiates Gleason's from other gyms, according to Silverglade, is the sense of 'camaraderie' and 'community.' Everyone gets to know each other, train together, and offer pointers, from world champions to newbies.
Today, the gym sports six female champions: Alicia Ashley, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher 'Fire' McLeod, and Melissa St. Vil. Gleason's used to be men-only, but Silverglade fought in the '80s to open the gym up to women.
The gym has 92 trainers. Some, like Alicia Ashley, were former world champions. Hector Roca has trained 19 world champions, including two-weight world champion Arturo Gatti. Roca is 'the best they get,' according to Silverglade.
The Water Street location is actually Gleason's fourth location. It was originally in the Bronx, before moving next to Madison Square Garden in 1974. It was famous even in the early days. Here, jazz pioneer Miles Davis trains at the original Gleason's.
Muhammad Ali famously trained at Gleason's at both the Bronx and Manhattan locations. Silverglade said the boxer, who he got to know at the end of his career, was a 'gentleman' and a 'jokester.' Ali made a point to say hello to every person in the gym when he came to train.
Gleason's is all about boxing. There's no music playing in the gym. Just the slap of fist against bag and the occasional bell ringing to signal the end of a round.
There is always sparring going on in one of the gym's five rings. Gleason's has about 1200 members, but only around 400 are amateur or professional boxers. In boxing's heyday, the gym was only amateurs and professionals.
Despite the constant fighting in the ring, Silverglade says the atmosphere at the gym is 'relaxed.' Because the $99 membership fee is month-to-month with no contract, everyone at the gym 'really wants to be there,' he said.
Trainers and boxers are always checking in on the sparring matches to offer advice. Silverglade said it is the same when professional boxers are in the gym. Mike Tyson, he said, would often offer tips to amateurs and recreational fighters.
Everyone, says Silverglade, pays their $99-per-month dues, from world champions to businessmen. The only exception is the gym's 'Give a Kid a Dream' program, which offers at-risk youth the opportunity to train in the gym for free.
'Everybody is equal here,' said Silverglade. 'If Mike Tyson was in this gym and he wanted to hit a heavy bag that you were using, he's got to wait until you're done. He paid $99 just like you.'
Even celebrities don't get special treatment. Numerous actors and actresses have trained at the gym for films, including Hillary Swank, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lopez. The 'biggest divas you can think of' are humble and respectful in the gym, he said.
When Silverglade moved Gleason's from its longtime Front Street location, he made sure to bring all of the gym's boxing memorabilia with him.
Seriously, there isn't a wall in the gym that isn't filled with photos, posters, or autographs of famous boxers or moments in boxing history.
Muhammad Ali is standing over boxers to provide motivation while they jump-rope, a signature workout to improve conditioning.
The gym has a section for free weights, but it isn't used much. Boxers need to have a long, lean body to fight, Roca told Business Insider. Weights make boxers too bulky.
Gleason's may have moved to a new building, but it's still a no-frills place. This bench cushion was falling apart from use, but that's the charm.
The gym hosts 18 amateur fights every year plus events, often for charity, that cater to the gym's Wall Street clientele, which today make up nearly half of the membership.
Karyn Toffolo, a wellness coach and aspiring amateur fighter, trains at Gleason's three times a week.
A lot of the trainers have been around for decades. Lennox Blackmoore, a Guyanese former professional boxer, has been training boxers at Gleason's since 1986. He said he has trained 8 world champions.
One of the keys to Gleason's success, according to Silverglade, is that while everyone gets an individualized program, trainers train amateurs and professionals the same way they train regular people.
The speed bags in back are always getting hit. Silverglade says the point of training is to turn boxing actions, like punching, moving, or dodging into reflexes. That takes repetition.
There are plenty of heavy bags to use. While it differs for every individual, Silverglade said that it would take most people about six months of hard training to be able to fight in amateur boxing matches. Occasionally, they run special programs for 'white collar' boxing matches that get people up to speed in 12 weeks.
If you get thirsty or need a snack, there's a snack bar in back. But don't expect any fancy smoothies.
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