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Articles of 2005

Boxing Hilary Swank at Gleason’s Gym

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In the spring of 2004, Bruce Silverglade, the proprietor of the fabled Gleason’s Gym, which sits like a pugilistic bastion under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, received several cryptic calls from a film company representative. The caller asked if the facility, which is the oldest active boxing gym in the United States, trained celebrities, and if so, could the still unnamed celebrity work there out of the glare of the spotlight? Silverglade explained that, from a boxing standpoint, Gleason’s was true to its roots. All 850 members—regardless of whether they are teenage delinquents looking for an alternative from the streets, white collar warriors, preliminary kids, top contenders or renowned world champions—are treated equally.

Each is required to pay a $70 monthly fee, and if they choose they can negotiate their own deal with the many trainers on the premises. Over the years such boxing luminaries as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Lennox Lewis and Arturo Gatti have called Gleason’s home. While preparing for Tyson some years back, Buster Mathis Jr. compared training at Gleason’s to fighting at Madison Square Garden.

Moreover, no shortage of Hollywood’s elite had trained there for film roles, including Robert DeNiro for “Raging Bull,” Wesley Snipes for “Streets of Gold,” John Leguizamo for “Undefeated,” Willem Dafoe for “Triumph of the Spirit,” Michelle Rodriguez for “Girlfight,” and Jennifer Lopez for “Money Train.” When Silverglade, who is perhaps the least star-struck person you’ll ever meet, was told that Academy Award winner Hilary Swank would be training there for the role of Maggie Fitzgerald in the Clint Eastwood-directed film “Million Dollar Baby,” he was as nonplussed as he usually is. The only thing he did a little bit differently was recommend that Hector Roca, who had worked with such championship caliber fighters as Gatti, Regilio Tuur and Iran Barkley, be her trainer.

“I thought that if all the negative Hollywood stereotypes applied to Hilary, which they didn’t, Hector would be the perfect trainer for her,” said Silverglade, who like Roca was familiar with the late F.X. O’Toole’s book “Rope Burns” on which the film is based, but did not know the author, whose real name was Jerry Boyd, personally. “People say I’m not star-struck, but Hector’s even less star-struck than me. When it comes to training boxers, Hector is all business. It’s either his way or the highway. I think the results speak for themselves.”

The eternally youthful 65-year-old Roca, who represented his native Panama as a bicyclist in the 1972 Pan American Games, had never even heard of Swank. And while he was aware of the Academy Awards, he had no idea what the term “Oscar” meant. When he met Swank and was told he had four and a half months to transform her into a real fighter, he treated her no differently than any of his other clients—whether they were  overweight businessmen or professional boxers of varying skill levels.

“She came here to work at the same time every day,” said Roca. “I don’t think she was ever late. She was determined to learn how to box. Never once did I hear ‘I’m tired’ or ‘that’s enough for today.’ I worked her hard for two and a half hours, sometimes three hours a day. Then she left here to go bulk up with a personal trainer. She was dedicated. What she learned in such a short time, takes some people years to learn.”

Realizing he was on a tight schedule, Roca had Swank working in the ring within two weeks. Her primary sparring partner was Maureen Shea, a 24-year-old senior English major at Iona College who was preparing for her second year of Golden Gloves competition.

“In the beginning I held back, of course I did,” said Shea, a veteran of eight amateur bouts, of which she won five. “But I knew how to work with her. If she hit me, I didn’t get mad and try to retaliate. I had nothing to prove to her, because she had nothing to prove to me. She was just another girl learning how to box. She made no big deal about her being an actress, and her humility rubbed off on everyone.”

Roca said there were occasions when movie executives would show up unannounced and were aghast to find Swank sparring without full facial gear. Roca assured them that she was more than holding her own, and if she was going to give a realistic portrayal of a woman boxer she’d have to train under realistic conditions.

“They were scared and kept saying her face was insured,” Roca said, “that I couldn’t get it banged up.” Roca insists that Swank’s immense natural athleticism enabled him to convert her from being an orthodox puncher to a southpaw in no time flat. “I just told them they had to trust me, that I knew what I was doing. After a while they realized that and were very pleased with the results.”

Swank’s husband, actor Chad Lowe, whom Shea described as being as down to earth as his wife, was a regular fixture in the gym, always offering immense support throughout the trials and tribulations of trying to master perhaps the most difficult and dangerous sport of all. Never once did he wince when she got hit, and he actually donned the gloves and went a few rounds with her on several occasions.

“Hilary hit him more than he hit her,” joked Roca. “That girl is a real athlete. You teach her something and she picks it up right away. The next day, it seems like she practiced it all night.”

Swank and Lowe developed such a close bond with Shea, they traveled to two of her fights in the 2004 Golden Gloves competition, even though both were in obscure outer borough arenas. Shea was not only thrilled to have them present, she was amazed at how easy they were able to blend in. “There are a lot of nice people in boxing, but you’re not going to find many nicer people than Hilary and Chad,” said Shea. “Training at Gleason’s you get used to working alongside world champions. It’s no big deal. The same happened with them. Within an hour of them being there, they were just two more people working and sweating.”

Swank told Silverglade she will return to the gym, once her intense promotional obligations culminate at this Sunday’s Academy Awards, where she is favored to win Best Actress honors. Silverglade believes she will be true to her word, because she genuinely seemed to enjoy her time there. One of his fondest memories is seeing her, an Academy Award winning actress, actually looking awestruck when introduced to Mike Tyson. Furthermore, says Silverglade, all of the publicity surrounding her training at Gleason’s has reaped dividends for him from financial, promotional, even emotional standpoints.

And Roca, a diehard dominoes player, who wouldn’t comment on his earnings, said that he’s now in more demand than ever. And he was in high demand long before he ever learned what an Oscar was. He’ll be in Las Vegas this weekend with some preliminary fighters, but hopes to get himself in front of a television set on Sunday to see his prized pupil win the most coveted award in her field. He will always cherish his contributions to her efforts as much as she will cherish the award itself. But, he insists, nothing will compare to the gratitude he feels toward her, not only for making him look so good, but for presenting him with a set of ivory dominoes shortly before she departed New York in mid-January for the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles. After being named Best Actress, she thanked “my trainers Hector Roca and Grant Roberts [her non-boxing trainer], who encouraged me to push myself beyond any imagination I ever had of myself.”

As much credit as Roca deserves, it is hard to downplay the role that Gleason’s itself played in the success of the film, even though the movie took place in Los Angeles. Since taking over the gym in 1985, Silverglade has resurrected it into a world-renowned industry unto itself. He did that by making everyone who walked through the door—from overweight bankers to underweight actors and actresses—realize that taking those three long steps into the ring is like taking a journey to the center of their soul.

Most importantly, Gleason’s offers a cultural and metaphorical link between the most divergent of eras. The gym’s legacy was spawned in 1937, when fight manager Robert Gagliardi needed a new training venue in the Bronx. Because of immense anti-Italian sentiment during that era, as well as an Irish proliferation of the sport, he named it after Bobby Gleason, a popular second-rate pug in his stable. After several moves, the gym landed at its current location in 1986.

Silverglades’ professionalism is a far cry from the Gleason’s of the late seventies, which was on West 30th Street in Manhattan. In those days an old wizened gym rat stood sentry at the door, collecting a dollar from every visitor. Armed with my very first press pass, I muttered “Press” as I cockily breezed passed him.

“Press your f-ing pants,” he snorted. “It’s still a dollar to get in.”

You can’t help but get the impression that even then and there, Hilary Swank, being the consummate professional that she is, would have fit right in.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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