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Boxing makes genteel comeback in New York

December 1, 2005

By Richard Satran

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The tap-tap of a jump rope hitting the
floorboards and the thud of boxing glove on punching bag echoed
through the mahogany-walled New York Athletic Club.

In the ring, John “Pecos Kid” Oden, a money manager at
Bernstein Investments, was sparring with Chris Angle, an
investment adviser.

Boxing, once the sport of neighborhood toughs, has
increasingly come to reside at places like the exclusive New
York Athletic Club, where middle-aged executives work out to
stay fit.

Elsewhere, boxing has been in decline for years, with
Muhammad Ali’s boxing-related health struggles and Mike Tyson’s
bizarre behavior becoming symbols of the sport’s problems.
Medical studies have shown that professional boxers suffer high
rates of brain, eye and rib injuries.

But in white-collar boxing, participants wear headgear,
fights are closely supervised and the emphasis is on fitness
and training.

Owner Bruce Silverglades said at his Gleason’s Gym some
two-thirds of the 1,000 or so boxers there are “white-collar
boxers,” many of them financial traders and brokers. Gleason’s
has never had a serious injury, he said.

“Wall Street types are attracted to it because it’s a great
physical workout and because it’s a mental workout as well,” he
said.

NO PLANS TO COMPETE

Many boxers at Gleason’s have no intention of boxing
competitively, he added.

Silverglades said the growth in white-collar boxing
contrasts with a decline in the sport overall.

The annual New York Golden Gloves amateur boxing
championship, which had more than 2,000 boxers two decades ago,
is down to just about 500, he said.

Boxing was once a way for street-wise, working-class boys
to make money. But the closing of many arenas used for
professional matches means “there just isn’t a lot of work for
fighters these days,” Silverglades said.

And, he added a bit sadly, the street unfortunately offers
plenty of other ways for those young men to make money now.

Meanwhile, boxing has gained a following among desk-bound
executives interested in extreme sports and challenging fitness
programs.

“If all sports are a form of mock combat, boxing is the
ultimate sport,” said Oden.

“It’s always the first thing my clients ask about,” he
said. “Hedge fund managers, in particular, eat it up.”

WOMEN TOO

Boxing also has gotten a boost as more women have taken it
up, even after last year’s Academy Award-winning “Million
Dollar Baby” vividly illustrated the sport’s tragic dangers.

But the movie’s star, Hilary Swank, was an enthusiastic
trainee and boxer who passed through New York’s white-collar
gyms as she prepared for the film. Oden, who sparred with her,
said she “was rushing me and rushing me and finally,
instinctively, I just hauled off and hit her in the face.”

A puffy-nosed Swank is pictured in Oden’s new book, “White
Collar Boxing,” in a photograph taken after that fight. The
book’s cover shows Oden standing victoriously over a boxer he
knocked out in a fight in London.

But despite the warrior images in his book, Oden says the
sport is safe. At the London’s Real Fight Club, which
emphasizes its genteel form of upper-crust fisticuffs, the
house rule is: “Come from the city, not from the street.”

Its second rule is “Fight for love, not for money.”

At Gleason’s, most boxing matches are “no decision,”
meaning neither boxer is declared the winner, Silverglades
said. That was a rule instituted at the dawn of white-collar
boxing some 16 years ago, he said, to protect the towering but
easily bruised self-images of affluent boxers.

“Those big egos need to be massaged,” he said. “Sometimes
if a guy lost, he was so devastated, he’d never even come back.
So we did away with decisions.”

At the New York Athletic Club, Oden and Angle meet
regularly for a few rounds, warming up before their all-out
sparring starts.

“Hands up, John. Hands up,” yelled Athletic Club trainer
Emory Borhi, a compact and muscular boxing veteran of Golden
Gloves completion, as the fight picks up intensity.

Oden, a tall, graying man, puts both gloves up and steps
backward as jug-eared Angle moves straight at him.

“Get out of the corner John,” snapped Borhi. “You don’t
belong there! Use that jab. You’ve got the long reach.”

At the end of a strenuous five-round match, Angle and Oden
both claim to have dominated. Regardless of the so-called draw,
both sweat-covered men declare it was a solid workout.

“It’s a sport for anyone, regardless of age or gender, and
a great way to stay in shape,” said Oden. “But like anything in
life, you have to prepare for it or you will pay.”

Added trainer Ricky Young: “If you’re not prepared, you get
killed.”


Source: reuters