Posts Tagged ‘Boxing

21
Mar
20

COVID-19 Morning

Does art flourish in a catastrophe?

Does fear and panic? That in the throat kind of hysteria that sees boxers pounded down to the ground, only to shake it off and dance across the canvas in a flurry of inwardly rhythmic feints and jabs to get through the round?

I’m not so sure.

And yet I feel awakened.

For two days now as I’ve squelched down panic I’ve felt a sense of joy.

I read it in the faces of people I’ve passed in the streets.

In the way the servers hand over packages at the market.

A determination. A grit. An adaptation in the now that creates something.

That claims the present as a prospector would a piece of a stream.

Here is where I stand those faces say. My domain. My six foot circle that enshrines me in hope and destiny.

27
Oct
19

Helen Joseph, the Iron Lady–getting ready to rumble

Helen Joseph, the Iron Lady–getting ready to rumble

Helen Joseph, Mendez Gym, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

First of all let me introduce myself, my name is Helen Joseph, “The Iron Lady,” the Princess of Africa, former IBF champion, former GBU champion, present WBF champion.”

So begins my interview with Helen Joseph, (17-3-2, 10 KOs), who will be facing former WBC champion Delfine Persoon (43-2-0, 18 KOs) on November 11, 2019 at the Versluys Dome in Ostende, Belgium, contesting for the WBA World Female Super Featherweight Title.

I’ve come to Joseph’s gym, Mendez Boxing located in the Flat Iron district of Manhattan to spend some time with her. A busy gym on a Saturday morning, the rhythms of jump ropes hitting the flooring, the “thud” of boxers’ gloves hitting pads, and the “thwack” of gloves on bodies are all in counterpoint to the ever present beat of music piping through the speakers.

The boxers at Mendez are young and old, professional, amateur, and novice, male and female and everything in between—all of whom are in constant movement: working out on heavy bags and double-end bags, working out in one or the other of Mendez’s two rings. Trainers standing poised on the aprons to offer encouragement, coaching, or shouting instructions, such as “bend your knees.”

Joseph, who is 30 years of age (to Persoon’s 34),  is well into her 10th round of jumping rope when I arrive, skipping with ease and constancy until the last thirty seconds of any given round when she speeds up to double or triple her time. In between rounds she shadowboxes.

Watching her work, it is plain to see that her body is indeed iron. The sinews of her muscles are defined and lean as she bounces lightly from foot to foot, her arms punching with ease, her hands flicking out to her own inner rhythm. Embracing her is like embracing a hardened living machine of efficiency and stamina and intention, all punctuated by the sweetness of her smile as she says hello. But make no mistake–she is iron, forged by a difficult childhood in her native Nigeria, the untimely death of her mother, the tough love of her grandmother and her early boxing coaches, all sustained by a fierce belief in herself, her faith in God, and her sense of destiny.

“I am not afraid of any girl,” she says, “because I know I work hard … and it would take a very long time to defeat me so easy.”

By now, we were speaking of Delfine Persoon.

“I don’t believe she’s going to beat Helen Joseph,” she says, “…this fight’s going to be a kind of surprise fight for people to really know who is Iron Lady, that name is not just [an] ordinary name, now I want to go to the ring to prove it more to the world that is all … so I am well ready and that fight is going to do a lot for my profile.”

Danny Nicholas & Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Maissa Smith

Joseph trains under the leadership of Dell Brown—with able assistance from Danny Nicholas who stands in for Brown whenever he is unavailable. Joining Nicholas after completing her warmup, Joseph prepares to enter the ring for 12 rounds of sparring with three different sparring partners—all men.

Under the watchful eye of Nicholas, Joseph spars her first three rounds with Duwaun White. A trainer himself, his game plan is to get Joseph to spin out from a come forward pressure fighter, mimicking what he knows about Delfine Persoon’s awkward style of boxing and wide punches. Throughout their three rounds, Nicholas peppers Joseph with instructions from the apron:

Duwaun White & Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

“Fire back with him. Break his rhythm, break his rhythm.”

“Step and move, step and move.”

“Move, move, move, Helen!”

“Too big, too big”

“Circle and punch, circle and keep punching, don’t let him back you up.”

Of her boxing style, White says, Joseph is “working on punching in the middle” between when a punch comes in and out, and “is one of the hardest hitting boxers I’ve ever met, especially for her size, she’s hit me harder than some grown men have hit me. Between her punching power, which is God given, … [her] tremendous heart, she is not going to quit, yeah,” he continued, “she has a lot of dog in her.”

Callan, who sparred with her for two rounds, came out exhausted saying, “I literally am afraid of her. I have so much respect for her abilities, and she’s got a winning left, man!.”

Her third sparring partner, Maurepaz Auguste, a former middleweight kickboxing champion echoes her two other partners, “She hits hard from side angles, and is relentless too, she just keeps coming.”

Most impressive is Joseph’s stamina in the 12th round, when she releases a barrage of multiple combinations from all angles and levels that overwhelms her opponent. Smiling afterwards, and breathing as if she’d just gone for a light jog, everyone around the apron is impressed and in awe of her abilities.

Danny Nicholas & Helen Joseph, Mendez Gym, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

In speaking more about her upcoming fight with Persoon, Joseph likes that she comes forward and comes to fight. “I love people who fight me. I love to fight people who came to knock me down. I don’t like to fight people who run away, who don’t want to feel what I have. I love her style, because her style is the best I love to fight with.”

When asked what her game plan is to defeat her, Joseph says, with a coy smile, “Her secret is in my heart so when I get to the ring, I will let the world know her mistakes, I know a lot about her, her pattern is the kind of pattern I love to fight. That will be a good fight for me.”

While Joseph speaks of her commitment to boxing, she’s also had a hard road in the sport. Known for her strong skills, work ethic, and heavy hands, she is often overlooked for fights by better known boxers who are looking for opponents to come into the ring to lose–a hard reality of the business side of the sport for male and female fighters who have not been able to crack the elite levels. Joseph, while working with her team to gain entry into more fighting opportunities, trains as if each day is the day before her next ring encounter. This means being fully prepared mentally and physically at all times so that she is ready to do battle no matter how many days, weeks, or months notice she has.

“I love this game so much,” she says with a smile, “and I am ready to fight every month, every week, I love boxing more than everything else apart from my God … I want to be the world’s best, that is my dream. I am not going to discourage my dream no matter how long it takes me to have a fight … And here I am today and I never gave up on my dream and I am fighting.”

Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

Thinking it through some more she says, “To be a boxer is not easy. Look at my friend Claressa [Shields], it’s not easy work to get to that point. When you see a boxer like that pray for them, appreciate them, because they have to work day and night.”

She feels no differently about her opponent, Delfine Persoon. She has worked hard and earned her place as a champion and has nothing but respect for those efforts, for all of the hard work to be in that place. But still, Joseph wants more. She not only wants championships and titles, but the acknowledgment of those efforts by offering up her commitment to the sport as an example for others to follow; to have others admire her skills and prowess in the ring as something to emulate or to have a fellow boxer say, “oh I love that move,” and then go to the gym the next day to try it out and make it part of their own repertoire of boxing tricks.

Joseph is always ready. Her dream a part of her daily being and aside from her deep faith in God, her sense of destiny in the sport is what keeps her going no matter whether she has a fight in her sights, or if she is working to keep herself in shape for calls that never come.

When she climbs in to the ring on November 11th, her belief in herself, her trust in her team, and her sense of her own place in boxing will see her to no doubt “surprise the world.”

18
Aug
18

Stamina

I’ve noticed it all summer long—small minute observations of not being on my game. Whether it’s slowing down in the ring as the rounds add up or the feeling that I’m going to run out of breath when I walk from home to my writing room or from my office at work towards the subway.

These are things I take for granted: having the pep and vigor to work hard through my 16 rounds of training at Gleason’s or walking at my fast pace wherever I go, in fact hating when I amble as some sort of flaw in the process of how I move through space

And yep, it’s been hot and humid, even at 6:15 in the morning. And as for Gleason’s – well it’s a boxing gym! Air conditioning is for the winter when cold air barrels through because there’s very little heat—and summer, well, the heat and mugginess is just part of the “allure,” not to mention a sure fired way to loosen up tight muscles.

In contemplating why my stamina is off, and why there have been times this summer when I’ve had to stop in the middle of running pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, sit for a while under one of the overhead fans with a wet towel on my head before picking it up again on the double-end bag or the speed bag, I’ve wondered if it’s just the heat, or something else.

Is it turning 64? Is it the process of the body inevitably slowing down even when one does the same thing repetitively? Is it mental? A sense of not being in the moment, my thoughts wandering off somewhere, stealing glances at CNN’s early morning news show as I shadow box around the ring—feeling my guts tighten and cringe at whatever the latest outrage is about children being separated from their parents or yet more cuts to things like food stamps and healthcare?

In thinking about stamina—that ability to work at something long and hard whether it’s something physical or mental or both for that matter—I’ve been thinking through the processes that gives one the feeling of invincibility as one works through the problem, whether it’s running five miles in a set amount of time, boxing a set number of rounds, or putting in the hours to write a book; efforts that require focus, attention, and a sense of being present with what one is trying to accomplish.

I’m hoping that my being “off” in the gym—is some combination of heat and mental focus, and in thinking it through even further I do have to own up to the fact that I’ve not been resting as I should and have been letting the day-to-day stuff we all live with “get” to me.

And so in trying to tease out stamina—I can see it as a “trifecta” of sorts: one part being in shape, one part being focused, and one part being present enough to let it all happen. And sure, it can be physical too—but the truth is, I just don’t buy, at least not yet, and so off I’ll go on Monday to work it out on the bag again.

08
Jun
18

A few things I know

Sometimes speaking in platitudes is a way of getting at the truth of things. One of them that I’ve been mulling over lately is about not cheating at solitaire. That might seem fairly straightforward—I mean really, how silly is that—but ultimately it is something we do all the time. That old game takes many guises, but mostly has to do with not leveling with oneself about what one is truly doing.

In the game of boxing, as in life, getting the fundamentals right, and building upon them through repetition—those 10,000 hours of repetition to gain mastery—is the best way I know of to approach the process. In life, that can be translated into owning up to who and what we are, including those pesky faults we carry along with us as so much extra baggage we inevitably pay for as if we’d checked it in for a long haul flight.

Having just come back from ten days in Paris with my daughter, I’ve reminded myself about what it means to travel light—aside from bypassing baggage claim, where I admit to having some of my epic hissy fits across a lifetime, traveling light can also mean getting to the heart of things. When it came to my luggage—actually only half filled—I got down to the basics of bringing along only what I truly loved, including I’ll add a pair of hand wraps, just in case, and even then, I could have pared further.

Finding a convenient Laundromat, meant an hour and a half foray into the life of an average Parisian without a washing machine in their apartment, which in and of itself was a fun excursion, but it also meant that the clothes I wore were ones I felt most comfortable in—plus the bonus of maybe a little capricious shopping for something that tickled my fancy with plenty of room left over.

Okay, I get it, the clothing analogy in a suitcase is not necessarily what I’m after when I talk about cheating at solitaire, but the point of it is, we do carry a load of crap about who and what we are, and what our relationships mean, that bogs us down and sometimes keeps us from getting to the essential meaning of our lives.

In a boxing context that can mean going through an awful lots of motions without getting back to the fundamentals that brought us there in the first place—or saw us to begin to develop the skills necessary for ring survival and mastery. The training is the thing in terms of stripping down because it is that mastery that brings us the room for artistry. And while my half empty suitcase may not be the exact analogy to drive home the point—those shoes I bought were pure poetry, and having the room for them has certainly brought a spring to my steps as I walk about my beloved Brooklyn.

 

29
Apr
18

When the spirit moves you

I’m off at the beach for a week on a writer’s retreat.

So far, I’ve managed a few timed writes, a lovely two and a half hour nap, lots of good eating, and some research on a fighter for a pal, but now comes the hard part. Sorting through the processes that make up what writing is all about and what it means.

When I box, it’s fairly simple. I either throw the dang jab with authority or not. It either sinks in properly or needs fine tuning–such as making certain that I’m throwing straight out from the shoulder to give it pop rather than trying to crash it through with my back leg raised and my full body way over-committed. But maybe that is the trick with writing. Use your nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs with precision–but play with the rules of intention to make the plot points move along the trajectory one needs.

What I’m realizing amongst the august gathering of extraordinary women that make up this group is I am in way over my head–as if I were at a master class of champion boxers sparring with feints and levels of punches galore not to mention the artistry of say an Alicia Ashley deftly dodging a bullet.

Perhaps someday it’ll all makes sense, but meanwhile, I’m writing on with what ever spirit I can gather to make it all work.

 

17
Feb
18

Sometimes what we need is the sublime

I watched the Heather “The Heat” Hardy versus Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton Bellator 194 “cage” fight last night. The bout was the first of their two-fight series–the second to be fought in the boxing ring at a date to be specified. Watching it, I was reminded that it always comes down to the work we put into things.

I’ve been seeing Heather three mornings a week at Gleason’s Gym since before the move to Water Street. We generally roll into the gym about the same time–between 6:30 and 7:00 AM, her to a roster of clients of varying skills and abilities she trains in the sweet science, and me to my work with trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  By 9:00 AM, Heather has usually started her own training and if she’s readying for a fight adds yet more hours for “camp” while still keeping up with her clients well into the evening, and her obligations to her daughter–not to mention selling tickets to her fights, giving interviews, meeting with sponsors and potential sponsors, and so on.

Given this is Heather’s profession–it is no wonder she puts in the time and effort, but given that her main profession has been as a boxer, those extra hours generally don’t amount to the kind of money that can guarantee her any sort of financial stability. Realizing that, Heather made the jump to MMA where women are treated more equitably when it comes to the purse at the end of a fight–not to mention a chance for exposure on television and a decent spot on the card so fans can actually see the contest. This in contrast to boxing where even though Heather sells tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, she’ll still end up the second fight on the card with no one in the stands.

I’ll leave it to the critics and trolls on Twitter to discuss whether the fight was really “boring” or not.

What I saw was the work.

Heather, at age 36, has trained with intensity and it showed. She used her newly gained grappling skills to effect and demonstrated how seriously she’s taking the switch over to the MMA world–no less seriously than Ana Julaton who also eschewed a boxing/kicking contest for the ground game and the perimeters of the cage.

More to the point, I was struck my Heather’s patience and acceptance of  what was coming at her as the fight played out. That spoke to a maturity in how she was approaching the fight–and gave truth to her insistence that she was working on adding “tools” to her arsenal of options in the cage.

Thinking about it later, it put in mind that we all need to take time with the things we are doing. That the fast pace of our American post-modern existence and its reliance on speed, the 24-hour rush of experience, and quick judgements that change from minute to minute, means that we lose out on the opportunity to be where we are when we are in it.

Aside from the will to win, the thing the best fighters bring to their bouts is the calm of being truly present. Surely that is a way towards finding our own moments of the sublime.

 

From the classic Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1949 at Carnegie Hall: Roy Eldridge (t); Tommy Turk (tb); Lester Young, Flip Phillips (ts); Charlie Parker (as); Hank Jones (p); Ray Brown (b); Buddy Rich (d). Recorded September 18, 1949 at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Original LP issue: Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 13 Clef MG Vol 13

 

 

03
Feb
18

Our daily truth

“We are meant to put an end to sexual assault.” Sterling Reithman from her statement to the court at Dr. Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

 

Each day seems to bring more and more to the fore of the truths women and girls live with day after day.

And yet to read it in print, on social media, or watch it all unfold in a myriad of visual images whether in news accounts, the meaning of the colors women wear to events, in video clips from the courtroom—it would seem as if this is the first time we ever knew about it. I liken it to Captain Renault’s line in Casablanca when ordering the closure of Rick’s Place: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling’s going on in here.”

 

 

My first encounter with the fact of life all women live with was when I was seven. There was hole in wall in the bedroom my brother and I shared. A plasterer came to our house to fix it early one morning. My mother went back to bed. My brother and I played in the living room, but after a while, I went into the bedroom to watch the plasterer work. The man was fairly short and stockily built with dark, slicked back hair that fell into his eyes and a swarthy complexion. I was standing there for some time when he turned around quite suddenly. In doing so, he whipped out his penis and started to jerk off. I stood stunned for some time before I could even consider reacting—when I did it was to run out of the room. I stood at the threshold of my mother’s tiny bedroom, but saw she was sleeping. I was loathe to wake her up and frankly frightened because she had admonished me to “let the man work in peace.” I was also not certain what I would even tell her, and so I remained frozen in inaction. Shortly thereafter the plasterer left.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 15, Detective Benson and a serial rapist

In the scheme of things, I guess I was lucky. He didn’t sexually assault me or physically molest me—so what was a mere “jerk off” complete with grunts and licking lips. Besides, assault and molestation are usually the provenance of trusted figures in young girls (and frankly young boys) lives: parents, step parents, family members, trusted friends, teachers, coaches, Boy Scout troop leaders, babysitters, priests, pastors and rabbis, doctors, and on and on. It’s usually only later that we become fair game to the sexual predators in the outside world who manipulate, cajole, blackmail and betray their positions of trust to get in our pants one way or another—and that’s only the people we know. Then there are the rapists who grab, molest, rape, abduct, torture, murder and everything in between.  It is so much a fact of our daily lives it is the fodder of our nightly doses of police procedurals on television–and yet we remain shocked and surprised.

My particular litany of woe that includes a myriad of events from childhood well into adulthood is inordinately important to me. Those experiences perpetrated on me by people close to me as well as strangers shaped my life and my choices, my sense of self and my being, and has informed my sense of safety across a lifetime. This latter is of particular import because it defines my womanness as much as anything else. Just as the choices I’ve made to overcome those experiences informs who I have become today.

The point is, yes, absolutely #MeToo, but this is also so much bigger—and we stand at a pivotal point in the conversation where victimization by male sexual aggression and the pass they seem to get from the dominate culture is perhaps, finally being called out for what it truly is: a crime. However, while there are and have been many laws on the books, if women are not believed, their victimizers will not be prosecuted. Nor will these experiences suddenly stop–because they will not. They are perpetrated daily in large ways and small ways and until the culture changes to understand the concept of “no,” this will continue unabated.

When I was researching for A History Of Women’s Boxing, I teased out an interesting phenomenon in the early 1900s. At that time it became acceptable for women to practice boxing and other martial sports. When figuring out the strands in popular culture that would allow this sea change, I discovered in some instances it was to allow women the opportunity to learn self-defense. So there we have it–a problem identified, and a means of resolving it by allowing a variance in the strict gender binary. Would it were so simple.

Ask yourselves this: How is it that a 12-year-old girl complaining about a doctor sticking his fingers into her vagina is not believed?

If our lives are informed by our choices, our lives are also informed by the experiences heaped upon us of which some we control and some we do not. Next time you see me in the gym working out a 7:00 AM, understand that while I am there for many positive reasons such as a love of boxing and a desire to remain fit, I am also there because ensuring I can defend myself is the only way I know of to make myself feel safe: protect yourself at all times.

 

10
Jan
17

Stamina

stamina

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I’ve been hitting Gleason’s Gym three days a week since the beginning of September.  The usual schedule has been to get to the gym before seven—two mornings a week, putting in around 16 rounds plus 100 sit-ups before the rush to get to the office. On Saturday mornings, I put in a longish workout to net out about 20 rounds of work plus sit-ups (150 this past Saturday), including sparring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore.  I also take time to stretch and get in a fair amount of schmoozing.

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Len and I having been sparring for a couple of years with some regularity, but bits of minor health issues on both sides have pushed us off the mark for the last couple of months.  We’ll certainly pick it up again, but the return to more consistent pad work, plus extra rounds on the heavy bag have given me new insights into the sweet science.

14212050_10208382068522073_5102702498388978962_nThe regular training is also a barometer on all the other aspects of health—mental and otherwise, and given that my weight’s been creeping up over the last six months (seeing the doctor on that one given that I eat and exercise about the same), it’s been interesting to measure its effect on the illusive construct of stamina.

What Len will say is stamina is a matter of mind—and there’s nothing like a hard workout at 7:00 AM to test the theory because, let’s face it, some mornings have just been awful, or have had bits of awful that flower as a chrysalis into “oh what a beautiful morning,” great.

This morning’s boxing was a case in point.  Having gotten up at 5:30—after a less than great sleep—I managed to find my way through my morning “ablutions.”  By 6:30 I was bundled against the 19 degree temperature, slowly making my way through Cadman Plaza to walk to Gleason’s, but not before stopping a minute to take a picture of the buildings and the small park set against the pre-dawn sky.

By the time I walked through the door of the gym, I was resolved to push through the tiredness I felt—but there was nothing doing, when it came to my first couple of rounds shadowing boxing.  In fact, we are talking, an “Oy, are you kidding me?” kind of creakiness as my knees crackled, my neck stiffened and barely turning from side to side, and with my supposed stamina nowhere to be found.  By the time round one with Len started, I could barely crank my arms to limply hit the pads—especially the right which earned me a cranky “wake-up, wake-up, straighten out your arm and turn your hip.”

I just nodded, wishing that I could find some pithy retort, other than to give it another go.

“Push it, push it, see.”

This from throwing the right with too much elbow sticking out from the inside.

“And turn your hip!”

“Yep, got it,” I replied, not really having got it, but figuring if I kept hitting it that way it would eventually find it’s mark.

Catching a glimpse of the clock between rounds, I did an inner groan at seeing it was only 7:35, but gamely turned to keep going at it.

By round three, it did start to make sense; it also brought me to an epiphany about stamina.  I was so busy trying to work through the task of throwing a straight right from the inside that I was starting to forget that I was tired and achy and less than enthused.  The previous workout I’d had, had been my best in weeks. I’d been peppy as I shadow-boxed for four rounds, and even peppier when Len and I went a full six rounds on the pads in the ring. Having it to ourselves meant that we really worked the corners and when it was done, I went on to the small water bag for four rounds, the doubled-ended bag for four rounds, and finished with four rounds on the speed bag before 150 sit-ups and a lot of stretching.

15107443_10208943471316792_3935173821081775570_nThe determinate in that case had been a decent night’s sleep—but for the workout at hand, something else was kicking in. Not exactly an extra gear so much as finding the space to just be. In other words, I was getting out of my own way and in doing so; tiredness, creaky bones and all of the other obstacles that had seemed fairly insurmountable began to peel away.

By the end of the fourth round I was ready to keep going—but having caught another glimpse at the clock I realized I didn’t have too much time left before I had to get going for work. Still, I remained in that moment, so to speak, as I practiced the straight right on the double-ended bag, and posed problems to myself from different angles and in different combinations from different sides.

And yes, my stamina was there. I could have kept going for many more rounds despite less than ideal sleep, and all of the other impediments that had felt like lead weights around my ankles.

I’ll be getting to the gym again tomorrow morning. With some luck, I’ll be able to pull the focus trick that’ll lead me to feeling bouncy and fit as I gyrate around the ring. And maybe if that happens enough times it’ll be more of a habit of mind than thinking that it’s only a manifestation of my physical condition—time will tell.

26
Nov
16

77 Front Street

77 Front Street

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Gleason’s Gym, 77 Front Street, Brooklyn, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

I first entered Gleason’s Gym at 77 Front Street in January 1997. It was a late morning, during the week, and I’d been working up the courage to cross the divide into a “real” boxing gym for some time.

Entering the second floor boxing emporium was like stepping into history. It fit every image of a boxing gym I’d ever had. It was somewhat dark, even with the light streaming through the wall of south-facing windows. It was cavernous and peopled inside and outside of the three rings with mostly men, but at least one women punching a heavy bag—who I later learned was Jo, wife of gym owner Bruce Silverglade.

The gym also had a smell to it of old sweat and new sweat, and steam heat and wringing wet gym clothes, that was in strong counterpoint to the almost antiseptic feel of every other gym I’d ever been in—health clubs really, which had been where I’d started my first rudimentary foray into the sweet science.

Standing in Gleason’s for the first time, taking in it all, with Bruce touring me around, I felt a mixture of awe and more awe and a dose of anxiety, watching real boxers spar and train, and finally a sense of triumph for having placed myself among the acolytes of a sport that had been contested since Homer had written about it in the 7th century BC.

It was then I came across the quote from Virgil that so lovingly adorns the wall at Gleason’s:

Now, whoever has courage, and a strong collected spirit to his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.

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What I realized on that morning, was that was going to be me. I was going to face my fear. Face a lifetime of not having understood that I could always have crossed the divide of a boxing gym to box—even though I was a girl, it just took doing it to make it happen.

Back when Gleason’s Gym first opened in 1937 in the South Bronx at 149th Street and Westchester Avenue, it was the largest gym in New York City—no mean feat given the popularly of the sport in a town that had been associated with boxing since it first crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England in the 1820s. There were many, many gyms packed into every corner of the City back then, but Gleason’s became synonymous with boxing in the 1940s and 1950s when such champions as Jake LaMotta, Phil Terranova, and Jimmy Carter, called the gym home. Visiting boxers such as Mohammad Ali continued to give Gleason’s even greater cachet when they came up to the Bronx to train ahead of important fights at boxing’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden. The occasional woman boxed there too—including Jackie Tonawanda who trained there shortly before the gym relocated to West 30th Street in 1974.

Gleason’s continued to maintain its legendary status at its new location for the next 11 years before getting the boot when the building they were in turned co-op and they moved out of Manhattan to 77 Front Street in Brooklyn in 1985. Back then, before DUMBO was even a name, the industrial area was a pretty scary place. Bruce said, at the time, anyone coming to the gym was told to “get off in Brooklyn Heights at Clark Street on the 2 or 3 train and walk down along Henry Street.” He told them to walk the long way around rather than risking the walk through Cadman Park from the High Street A and C station or the route from the F train at York and Jay Streets.

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Bruce Silverglade, owner, Gleason’s Gym, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

The new home while out of the way had everything a great boxing gym needed: space and lots of it, a new owner in Bruce Silverglade who having become a full-time partner with Ira Becker brought the enthusiasm needed to keep the sport going at a time when it was waning in the imagination of the public. Bruce also brought the foresight to commit to having women in the gym and at his insistence built a locker room for women and well as men so that women always felt welcome in the gym.

img_5623As place, however, Gleason’s has always meant more, at least to me. It’s the place where I came into my own physically. I learned to overcome fear not of the ordinary kind, but the fear of my own power. Of being able to release my full physical being onto a boxing bag, and eventually in the ring against a person. It’s also where I learned the generosity of boxers. Of the myriad of tips and tricks my fellow boxers offered, and of hearing the ubiquitous “hi ya’ champ,” from one person or another every time I walked through the gym.

Morning, noon, or night, weekdays or weekends, there’s always someone to offer encouragement–even as they may be breaking one’s “chops” so to speak. And if I happen to get something right in the ring, I’ll hear someone sing out about it.

These days, Gleason’s sports six female boxing champions: Alicia Ashley, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” McLeod, and Melissa St. Vil.  And if there’s one thing the gym has brought is a feeling of comfort for women from 6 to 60, and beyond.

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Gleason’s Gym trainers Lennox Blackmoore and Hector Roca, November 26, 2016. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

When I first stepped into Gleason’s I was 42. These days, at 62, having boxed at Gleason’s on and off for 20 years, I feel it’s my home. As home, however, it’s come to have many meanings: For one, it’s the place where I can feel truly ageless.

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It’s where I’ve penned my Girlboxing blog, and due to the true support and generosity of Bruce Silverglade, it’s where I wrote parts of my book, A History Of Women’s Boxing. More than anything, however, even more than boxing, Gleason’s Gym is where I came into my own as a writer.

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Today, November 26, 2016, marked the last full day of Gleason’s 31 year history at 77 Front Street.

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Come Monday, November 28th, the gym will begin its next incarnation around the corner at 130 Water Street. As Bruce put it, the gym in its fourth iteration is “starting a new chapter.”

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For those of us on the early Saturday morning crew who rattled around this morning, embracing each other and otherwise reminiscing, there was a feeling of camaraderie, awe, and for sure a twinge of sadness. Gleason’s is after all, our collective home, but as Heather Hardy said, “it’s exciting that we are all going over there. And this right here, it won’t be any different from today to Monday.”

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If place is location–then yeah, things will be different, but if place is a state of being then 77 Front Street, will live on for all of us that have called this iteration of Gleason’s Gym home. And sure the paint won’t be peeling in the new place, and it’ll be C-L-E-A-N clean, we all figure after a few weeks that special Gleason’s odor will start to permeate the space, and before we know it the paint will start to peel there too.

04
Jun
16

Thinking about The Greatest …

Thinking about The Greatest …           

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Mohammad Ali, 1970, Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh

When I was a girl growing up in the 1960’s I recall having peripheral knowledge of boxing—and certainly of the man who took the boxing world by storm when he became the Heavyweight Champion of the World followed in short order by his conversion to the Nation of Islam.

That man, Mohammad Ali, and his choice to not only become a Muslim, but a Black Muslim writ large in my consciousness. After all, 1964 was a watershed year in the long march for Civil Rights in the United States. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 coupled with his decision was in my eyes a strong statement in a world that continued to castigate people of color into subservient humiliation. I’ll add that as a ten-year-old girl, I lacked the sophistication to understand the nuanced interplay of sports, fame, politics, and personal conviction that rip-roared through the press on an almost daily basis after he made his decision public. I did, however, know greatness when I saw it and felt forever bound to the fortunes of this man who took a stand.

By the mid-1960s the United States was convulsed by revolution playing out as a nightly diet of riots, anti-war marches, and horrific images of war from far off Viet Nam. Muhammad Ali’s journey, which could have stopped with his personal decision to embrace the Nation of Islam did not, however, begin and end there. Rather, he embraced his fame and his place in the larger community to speak out about what mattered to him—including refusing the draft.

At a rally for fair housing in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 1967, a month before his formal refusal he said:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.

His refusal, and subsequent conviction cost him dearly. He lost the right to fight, was vilified in the press as a radical and though his conviction was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court—his years away from boxing cost him, even as he fought hard and with extraordinary courage and fortitude to reign supreme again.

No less a man than Nelson Mandela has felt inspired by Muhammad Ali’s actions. And for a young girl, growing up in a time of confusion and difficulty, his very presence, fortitude, and strength made me feel inspired.

My heart goes out to his family as they mourn him—just as I mourn his loss with the community of the world forever touched by his greatness.

Rest in Peace.

02
Nov
15

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

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Boxer Melissa St. Vill by the “wall” at Brooklyn’s world famous Gleason’s Gym. Photo credit: Malissa Smith

Melissa St. Vil is a boxer with plans.

Her first plan is to win the UBF World Female Super Featherweight title on November 12th at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, MD. With her 6-1-3 record, she’ll be fighting the more experienced Jennifer Salinas (17-3-0, 4-KOs), in her backyard, but that doesn’t seem to worry St. Vil. With just seven fights to her credit, she defeated Sarah Kuhn to win the International Women’s Boxing Federation (IWBF) World Welterweight title in August of 2013. And while St. Vil has only had two fights since them (in 2014), she feels confident that she has what it takes to win.

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The Royal Six boxers, Ronica Jeffrey (l) and Melissa St. Vil at the recent Breast Cancer event at Gleason’s Gym. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

As a member of The Royal Six, a group of New York based female boxing champions (Alicia Ashley, Ronica Jeffrey, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” Mcleod, and Alicia Napoleon), she is actively engaged in promoting the sport, raising money for charity and helping to put together an all female boxing card in the spring.

Winning world championships and promoting female boxing arent’s her only plans. She also wants to give back. To make a place of safety and sanctuary for girls and women to overcome violence and to find a place for themselves in the world. With her infectious laugh, it is hard to imagine that St. Vil would have ever known pain or violence–but she did. As with many of us the world over, it’s the fighting back to take possession of one’s own life that is the biggest challenge.

Melissa was kind enough to take time from her training with Leon “Cat” Taylor and Juan Guzman to speak with Girlboxing readers about her upcoming fight. We didn’t touch upon the dark stuff at all–just talked about boxing, moving on in life and her passion for the sport.

Here’s what she had to say:

01
Nov
15

Olympic Trials- The Finalists

Olympic Trials- The Finalists … with one to come

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Triumphant Flyweight Virginia Fuchs (l) and Middleweight Claressa Shields have won their respective finals at the 2015 Olympic Trials in Memphis, TN. They have earned the right to compete at the Continental Olympic Qualifier in 2016 as USA Boxing Olympians. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

Flyweight contender Virginia Fuchs had her night of relentless technical execution and determination that led to the 2-1 unseating of the 2012 bronze medalist Marlen Esparza.

Reigning Olympic gold medalist in the middleweight division Claressa Shields had her 3-0 night, fending off her challenger, Tika Hemingway, who’d loudly proclaimed that she’d take it from her. Shields had other plans and after outboxing Hemingway with an impressive performance, became the United States only two-time female boxing Olympian.

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Lighweight Jajaira Gonzales (l) lives to fight another day against Mikaela Mayer. The box-off is set for 4:00 PM on Sunday, November 1  at the Cook Convention Center South Hall in Memphis, TN. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

And lightweight upstart, 18-year-old Jajaira Gonzales, pushed the envelope in her win over Mikaela Mayer to make it one a piece. Today’s box-off will decide which of these two warriors will represent the United States in the Olympic qualifiers next year. Both fighters bring a lot to the contest. Mayer has strong technical abilities and with her longer reach can box tall, whereas Gonzalez brings aggression, pressure and fast hands that seem relentless. For all her youth, Gonzales has won impressive international titles readily matching Mayer’s competitive fire.

Stand ready to applaud them all!

Olympic Trials for Women’s Boxing Results
112 lbs: Virginia Fuchs, Kemah, Texas, dec Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas, 2-1

132 lbs: Jajaira Gonzalez, Glendora, Calif., dec Mikaela Mayer*, Los Angeles, Calif., 3-0

165 lbs: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich., dec Tika Hemingway, Brackenridge, Pa., 3-0

*This is Mikaela Mayer’s first loss. Championship box-off between Jajaira Gonzalez and Mikaela Mayer will take place at 4:00 PM on Sunday, November 1 at the Cook Convention Center South Hall.

31
Oct
15

Olympic Trials- The Challengers!

Olympic Trials- The Challengers!

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At 18, Jajaira Gonzalez (l) defeated veteran champion Tiara Brown, for a place in the 2015 Olympic Trials finals against reigning USA National lightweight boxing champion Mikaela Mayer. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

Each of them has endured a loss.

Each of them has fought through that loss and will meet the winner of that contest in the ring on Saturday night for a chance to come away as a prospective Olympian poised to compete on the world stage for the opportunity for a final berth at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Each battle for the right to fight in the finals was hard-fought and in some cases, fraught with history as veterans who have encountered each other before in the squared circle knew it was all down to what happens in four rounds of action.

 

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Reigning Olympic flyweight bronze medalist, Marlen Esparza (r), was redeemed last night when she defeated Christina Cruz. Esparza will face Ginny Fuchs in a rematch in the Olympic Trials final. Photo credit: USA Boxing

For the reigning Olympic flyweight bronze medalist, Marlen Esparza, it meant redemption and being on a track for what seemed inevitable at the beginning of the week before she was stopped cold by Virginia Fuchs. In defeating, Christina Cruz, a fighter’s fighter who fought a brilliant outsider’s game with angles and heart, Esparza is now pumped up to rewrite the script with Fuchs and come away with what must feel like her rightful place.

In the lightweight division, the 18-year-old, punches-in-bunches phenom, Jajaira Gonzalez, who’d fought Mikaela Mayer to a 2-1 split decision in their battle, came away victorious over 2014 World Championship bronze medalist, and three-time USA Boxing National Champion, Tiara Brown. Gonzalez, a Junior and Youth World Champion, used aggression and pressure to counter Brown’s veteran technical ring savvy in carving out the 3-0 decision.

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Tika Hemmingway (l) claimed victory over Raquel Miller in the middleweight division. Hemmingway will face reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields in the Olympic Trials final. Photo credit: USA Boxing

For former champion Tika Hemingway, contesting for a berth in the finals against reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, there was an inevitability to her win over Raquel Miller, even though the battle was closely contested with a lot of back and forth in momentum and opportunities to be exploited. No matter who fights Hemingway, there are always costs. She is hard-hitting and physical in the ring–and while she’s lost once to Shields in the Olympic Trials, she’ll fight just as hard tonight for a chance to win.

Win or lose, the 24 women who have come to Memphis to fight for a place at the Olympics are each momentous in their drive, determination and skills as boxers. It is no easy feat to compete at the level of Olympians, harder still for women, and, in my estimation, hardest for female boxers who not only must seek out opportunities for support during their four-year odyssey for a place on the team, but must also endure the slights and prejudices of a wider public that rarely support women in the ring. That it has come down to the three contests tonight is miraculous, but let us not forget all of the days and nights of training and competing in rinky-dink rings with barely enough money for car fare. That USA Boxing has developed a cadre of elite fighters it supports for this go around is fantastic, but there needs to be more. More excitement, more opportunity and much, much more respect.

Watching many of these young women compete at the National Women’s Golden Gloves in July, my heart was overwhelmed by the bravery and humbleness they exhibited both in the ring and out. As a body sport, boxing teaches humility and to step inside the ropes is to exhibit physical and mental strength that is honed through thousands of hours of hard, hard work.

So whatever happens tonight, who ever winds up our Olympians, do applaud all of the women who have fought and dreamed.  They deserve it.

30
Oct
15

Olympic Trials- Women’s Boxing Day 4 Challenger Results

Olympic Trials- Women’s Boxing Day 4 Challenger Results

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Flyweight Christina Cruz (l) with the win over Giavonna Camacho in the challenger battle, has earned a rematch against Marlen Esparza on Friday. Both will battle for a spot in the finals against Virginia Fuchs.

With the first group of Finalists set – Virginia Fuchs (112 lbs.), Mikaela Mayer (132 lbs.), and Claressa Shields (165 lbs.) – the first challenger bracket bouts were held last night in the double-elimination Olympic Trials Tournament. The winners fight again tonight for the right to box in the finals on Saturday night.

The first of the three contenders for Friday night action is Christina Cruz (112 lbs.). Cruz is 32 years of age and will have her second shot at doing battle with 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist Marlen Esparza whose stunning loss to Ginny Fuchs has put in her the challenger bracket.  Cruz lost to Esparza in the second round, but given how much she has amped up her game with her renewed focus, training and diet, she might well push through Esparza on Friday. Cruz handily defeated  Giovanna Camacho for the second time to gain the right to keep on challenging for a berth in the finals.

Jajaira Gonzalez (132 lbs.), the 18-year-old who pushed hard in her battle against Mikaela Mayer in the second round only to fall in defeat, used pressure and aggression to defeat Rianna Rios 3-0.  Gonzalez will face Tiara Brown, in what promises to be a terrific battle of wills between these two fighters, for the right to face Mayer in the finals.

Tika Hemingway (165 lbs.) narrowly defeated veteran Franchon Crews 2-1. Both fighters had competed in the Olympic Trials in 2012. Hemingway used aggression to finally muscle through to take the contest though Crews was able to gain the momentum throughout the bout. Hemingway will take on Raquel Miller in the challenger contest for the right to fight Claressa Shields in the final.

Olympic Trials for Women’s Boxing Results

112 lbs/challengers bracket: Christina Cruz, New York, N.Y., dec. Giovanna Camacho, Colorado Springs, Colo., 3-0

132 lbs/challengers bracket: Jajaira Gonzalez, Glendora, Calif., dec. Rianna Rios, Colorado Springs, Colo., 3-0

165 lbs/challengers bracket: Tika Hemingway, Brackenridge, Pa., dec. Franchon Crews, Baltimore, Md., 2-1

 

29
Oct
15

Olympic Trials- Women’s Boxing Round Three

Olympic Trials- Women’s Boxing Round Three

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Virginia Fuchs (l) with the huge upset win over Marlen Esparza to secure a spot in Saturday’s Olympic Trials Final. Esparza will have the chance to earn a challenger berth if she wins on Friday.

Talk about a big night! Flyweight boxer Virginia Fuchs, lightweight Mikaela Mayer, and middleweight Claressa Shields each clinched a berth in the upcoming Olympic Trials finals on Saturday night. All three have been undefeated in the tournament to date–earning them the right for a corner in the finals and two days off.

In the upset of the night, Virginia Fuchs defeated Olympic Bronze Medalist Marlen Esparza, 2-1 in a tough, tough battle.  This was their fourth meeting at the championship level–with Fuchs victorious for the first time. As quoted by USA Boxing, Fuchs said, “I stopped her from getting in her rhythm. I got my space and I used my jab. My jab was the key. It feels amazing. It feels so good because this is what I’ve been working for. For the past four years, this is what I’ve been working on. This is what I came here to accomplish.”

Mikaela Mayer came up a 3-0 winner in her fifth meeting against number two seeded Tiara Brown. Each boxer had two victories against her opponent coming into the match. As quoted by USA Boxing, Mayer said, “She was coming toward me and that allowed me to use my boxing skills which is what I’m good at. That 1-2-3 was landing every time.”

Claressa Shields pulled out a flawless technical performance to defeat veteran boxer, Raquel Miller. Shields said, ““She was really patient and backed up a lot of the fight. She came forward some but I landed the cleaner, harder shots. She landed a few right hands but I kept going forward, and kept landing jabs. I landed a lot of jabs.”

In this double elimination tournament, there will be two sets of Challenger bouts to chose the other finalist for Saturday night. The first set will be Thursday, with the winner in each weight category facing Esparza, Brown and Miller on Friday.

Olympic Trials for Women’s Boxing Results

112 lbs/challengers bracket: Giovanna Camacho, Colorado Springs, Colo., dec. Amanda Pavone, Burlington, Mass., 2-0
112 lbs/challengers bracket: Christina Cruz, New York, N.Y., dec. Alex Love, Colorado Springs, Colo., 2-0
112 lbs/winners bracket: Virginia Fuchs, Kemah, Texas dec. Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas, 2-1
132 lbs/challengers bracket: Rianna Rios, Colorado Springs, Colo., dec.  Samantha Kinchen, Lexington, Ky., 2-0 tiebreaker
132 lbs/challengers bracket: Jajaira Gonzalez won on medical walkover over Amelia Moore, Millersville, Md., W/O
132 lbs/winners bracket: Mikaela Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif., dec. Tiara Brown, Fort Myers, Fla., 3-0
165 lbs/challengers bracket: Franchon Crews, Baltimore, Md., dec. Naomi Graham, Colorado Springs, Colo., 3-0
165 lbs/challengers bracket: Tika Hemingway, Brackenridge, Pa., dec. Cierra Taylor, Rochester, N.Y., 3-0
165 lbs/winners bracket: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich., dec. Raquel Miller, San Diego, Calif., 3-0

Thursday’s Olympic Trials Bout Sheet
112 lbs/challengers bracket: Giovanna Camacho, Colorado Springs, Colo., vs. Christina Cruz, New York, N.Y.
132 lbs/challengers bracket: Rianna Rios, Colorado Springs, Colo., vs. Jajaira Gonzalez, Glendora, Calif.
165 lbs/challengers bracket: Franchon Crews, Baltimore, Md., vs. Tika Hemingway, Brackenridge, Pa.

 




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