A Conversation with Bruce Silverglade

BY Luca De Franco ON November 12, 2005
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Gleason’s Gym is the most famous boxing gym in the world. Founded in 1937 by Italian-American Roberto Galiardi (who changed his name in Bobby Gleason to better fit in an Irish neighborhood), over the years it has hosted 124 world champions, among them, sixteen heavyweight champions: Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Ellis, Joe Frazier, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Michael Spinks, Pinklon Thomas, Riddick Bowe, Ossie Ocasio, Tony Tucker, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, John Tate, Tony Tubbs and Mike Tyson. That’s why training at Gleason’s is a thrill for every fighter or boxing fan. But charm alone isn’t enough to keep the success of the gym intact: it is necessary to have first-class coaches, good relationships with the media and up-to-date business strategies. This is possible only if the owner is a shrewd businessman, like Bruce Silverglade.

I met Silverglade for the first time on August 1999, because a common friend called him saying that an Italian journalist would have liked to visit Gleason’s. Silverglade was very nice, answering to every question and introducing me to all his fighters. Since then, I kept going back to Gleason’s during my vacations to New York. I also kept in touch with him from Italy via email, and he sent me photos and information that I needed for my articles in Italian magazines. This proved me that he really understands the importance of the media and that his success is not casual.

He gave me further proof of his business ability during our last conversation, when he talked about the new strategies for making the success of his gym even bigger.

Mr. Silverglade, how many people train at Gleason’s?

Gleason’s has 920 members. The youngest is 7 years old, the oldest is 78. We have people of every country, sex, religion and race. The love for boxing transcends everything. All Gleason’s members want to train the same way as professional fighters. Most of them ask to train with the prizefighters. Women ask to spar with the men. We let them do it only if they have reached a good technical level; knowing how to avoid punches is very important for the safety of the fighters. Some Gleason’s members also want to experience the thrill of fighting in front of an audience. That’s why I created the white-collar boxing shows.

Tell us about that.

The name is due to the profession chosen by most of these guys: they are doctors, corporation executives, Wall Street brokers … the so-called white-collars of the business world. They spar for 3 rounds of 2 minutes each. It is a real fight. Since both competitors are well trained and wear big gloves (to better protect their hands and deliver less damage to their opponent), nobody gets kayoed. At the end of the fight, we give a trophy to each boxer. In white-collar boxing, everybody is a winner. Sometimes, I have to change the rules to guarantee the safety of the fighters. When a 78-year-old man challenged a 74 years old fellow, I reduced the length of the rounds to 30 seconds each. By the way, it was the best fight of that event. The white collar boxing program is a huge financial success. I send e-mails to the addresses in my computer and [we are] sold out every time. I don’t rent a facility, because the fights are held at my gym. The general public pays $15 to see the show. Gleason’s members pay $5. The registration fee for the fighters is $20. My idea has been copied in England and Spain.

Who are the most famous fighters training at Gleason’s right now?

Our recent world champions have been Vivian Harris (WBA lightweight), Zab Judah (IBF and WBO super lightweight), Wayne Braithwaite (WBC cruiserweight), Mauricio Martinez (WBO bantamweight) and Alicia Ashley (IWBF super bantamweight and featherweight). You can also find training at Gleason’s young lions like Chris Smith and Paul Malignaggi.

And the most famous trainer?

Hector Roca. He has been in the business for 48 years. His father, Luis Ortega, was a famous boxer in Panama. Hector’s brother, Antonio Amaya, was Panamanian featherweight champion and fought three times for the world title. Hector has trained many world champions, like Iran Barkley (WBC middleweight, IBF super middleweight and WBA light heavyweight), Regilio Tuur (WBO super featherweight), Arturo Gatti (IBF super featherweight and WBC super lightweight) and Don Diego Poeder (WBU cruiserweight).

What about the amateur fighters?

Our amateurs regularly win the Golden Gloves. I would like it if they won the Olympics too, but I consider it a hard task for this generation.

What do you mean?

That winning the Olympics requires years of hard work and sacrifices. The youngsters want to make it fast, but nothing worth a dime happens fast or easy. So, they choose to turn professionals and don’t make it [there] either. Unfortunately, the new generation of trainers thinks the same way: they push their students in the ring too soon. If you look at the fighters who win the Olympics, they all have hundreds of fights all over the world. This means that they have faced opponents with different styles (styles make fights). How can a guy with limited experience hope to beat them?

Why do so many kickboxers come to Gleason’s?

Because they want to improve their boxing skills. When they start the kickboxing program, they think about getting a KO with a spectacular kick. When they fight professionally, they find out that punches are more useful than kicks to KO an opponent. So they come to my gym. My trainer Devon Cormack is an accomplished kickboxer. He has won the world title in the bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight divisions. The proof of how much a boxing training is essential for a kickboxer is the record of the legendary Don Wilson: 71 wins, 5 losses and 2 draws. He won 47 times before the time limit, but scored only 6 KOs with his kicks.

Why do you choose to have a pro wrestling program?

Because it is very popular. As usual, I asked to the best teacher in New York to run it: Johnny Rodz. He is in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. He is very famous because he wrestled Hulk Hogan at the Madison Square Garden. Right now, he has about 70 students. They use a professional wrestling ring to train; boxers and kickboxers cannot use it.

Your gym is always in the media.

I consider the media extremely important for the success of Gleason’s Gym. That’s also part of the reason why we cooperate with movie productions. It is useful to keep the name of the gym in the news. Sometimes, this brings us unexpected opportunities. After we trained Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby, we got a book deal: we are in the process of creating a boxing workout book based on Gleason’s methods. Of course, the main reason for working with the studios is that they pay big money to use our experience. The fees for photo shooting and filming are on our website.

Who are the biggest movie stars who trained at Gleason’s?

We trained Robert DeNiro for Raging Bull, Wesley Snipes for Streets of Gold, Jennifer Lopez for Money Train, John Leguizamo for Undefeated, Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby and Craig Bierko for Cinderella Man. I’m sure that I forgot many other actors.

Cinderella Man made $61,000,000 at the U.S. box office. It was more than Hurricane ($50,000,000) and Ali ($58,000,000), but it has been considered a failure. What’s your opinion about the movie?

Cinderella Man is a great movie. A few factors hurt it. First of all, it didn’t get the greatest reviews by the newspapers. Also, it came shortly after Million Dollar Baby and two boxing movies in a row may be too much for the spectators. Besides, it was released at the same time with a couple of blockbusters. I think that in the long run Cinderella Man will bring a profit to the company that produced it; just wait for the incomes in theaters worldwide and the sales of the DVD.

What about the future of your gym?

I’m going international, by franchising Gleason’s name. I’m not just selling a brand. I try to be useful to the gyms who want to be a part of our organization. I can help them in selecting the trainers. I want to make sure that any gym using Gleason’s name has trainers who know their job. This is essential to keep up with our tradition and for the success of the new gym. There is a lot of competition around. If a client doesn’t find good trainers goes to another gym.

Given the success of aeroboxing and fitness in general, would you consider including those activities in your gym?

Many times, people come to me with new ideas. My answer to all of them is to go out, borrow the money and open their own gym (so they can have it anyway they want it). Gleason’s is my own gym, it reflects the way I am and it is strictly a ring sports gym.

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