Celebrating Gleason’s greatness – 131 world champions!
Gleason’s Gym is the oldest active boxing gym the length and breadth of the United States and it spans, embodies and embraces the essence greatness of the Sport.
Established in 1937, by ex-bantamweight Peter Gagliardi, who changed his name to Bobby Gleason, its first world champion was Phil Terranova, then Jake La Motta. So far, it has produced 131 world champions… and counting!
It’s famous punch-line comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, because its second owner Ira Becker was a keen student of the Classics as well as being a US national college champion. So apt, as it reads: “Now whoever has the courage and a strong collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.”
Gleason’s was originally located in the Bronx from 1937-74, then it moved to Manhattan from 1974-85. Back then, at its Eighth Avenue and 30th Street Address, it was just a stone’s throw from Madison Square Garden, so it was a magnet for those who were going to fight at the Garden, when matches were made with the grace, commitment and bond of a handshake. From 1985 until now its address is: 130 Water Street Brooklyn. It’s survived the crest of the wave good times as well as the ebb and flow of the hard times. It’s STILL HERE, having weathered and withstood the test of time. As Gary Cooper once said:Tough times don’t last. Tough people do!“
Owner of Gleasons Bruce Silverglade recognized his true vocation of boxing, which he loves and as such devotes himself body and soul to its heartbeat and its strong pulse. He said:I was working and making a living at Sears and Roebuck Company, which at that time was the largest corporation in the World. I joined right from college. I was in management and running one of the stores, but I realized that I hated it. I hated the corporate world and hated what I was doing.
“My father, who’d always been involved in boxing, suggested I go into the amateurs and volunteer and a hobby as I did. I became the President of amateur boxing in New York. One day I was having coffee in Gleason’s Gym with the owner Ira Becker and he just casually mentioned he was looking for a partner. And I said…don’t look any further! Next day I went back to Sears and Roebuck, resigned and with my profit sharing bought fifty percent of the company. In 1991 Ira passed away and I purchased his shares from his family.“
Other famous gyms notably Stillman’s have closed and gone, but Gleason’s has gone from strength to strength, distinguished by its world class trainers and superb boxers and loyalty. But which boxer out of them all in Bruce’s opinion was most dedicated to the craft and relished the peppery grind of exacting training? He unequivocally answers: “It’s a very easy question to answer. It’s Roberto Duran. He was an outstanding athlete in his heyday. He was all business all the time and he constantly sparred with every fighter who was in the gym and these were all wars!
“We train professionals and world champions here, we have beginning amateur fighters and top notch amateurs. Today a little more than half of my membership are businessmen and businesswomen. They realize they can get the benefit of boxing training and are right next to the world champions.
“When Mike Tyson was training here and someone came in, Mike would talk to them, show them how to throw a punch, answer their questions, take a photo with them and sign an autograph. That’s what boxers are. If you wanted to go to Yankee Stadium and take a picture with pro ball players, you’d get arrested before you could get near them. And if you got near them, they would demand an awful lot of money for a signature or picture. If you go into a boxing gym, whether it’s Gleason’s or any other, you can train next to a world champion, talk to them, take their picture and they will be happy to acknowledge you and that you’re in the gym, trying to do what they do best.
“Muhammad Ali would be in Gleason’s Gym and he would make a point of going around, saying hello and talking to every single person…man, woman and child. And Mike Tyson is such a great person in a gym where he’s very relaxed and helpful. He`sa total gentleman, a great person and very friendly. That’s how boxing people are. Coming into the gym is a tremendous melting pot.
“When I look out of my window, you can’t tell the doctor from the fighter because they’re all sweating. Businessman come in from Wall Street. Some of them are making millions of dollars and they say hey this kid is great. I want to go to The Garden and see him fight. People have been coming here for over thirty-five years. It’s also a community center. It’s a family atmosphere.“
Hilary Swank who won an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby and Robert Di Niro who won an Oscar for Raging Bull trained at Gleason’s immersing themselves in workouts but also the culture and very being/fabric/lifestyle of boxing. Bruce explains their success this way:
“They trained not just to look good on camera. They wanted to get into the psyche of a fighter. So they went to dinner with us, they went to parties with us and took the subway with us. Robert wanted to have a boxing match, but his management team wouldn’t let him have a fight. He was good enough to have fought a four-round fight.
“Hilary Swank went to amateur shows with us and birthday parties. That’s why they won Academy Awards, because they were going further than the normal person.
“Many kids come in here, they look in the mirror and then it’s all talk. But the person who wants to be a champion, only they can make themselves a champion.“
Gleason’s has gone the distance with the Pandemic. Bruce says he’s got through it thanks to Chase Manhattan Bank from which he’s borrowed to help, but…”You have to work hard if you want to be successful. I did everything I could with the protocols, I maintained our ventilation properly, had communication with all my members and then I went a little further. I called the Government a little bit to get some relief.
“We were successful and I’m still here to talk about it.“