Many of you know that I set out to do a 10 minute video on boxing at Gleason’s Gym about 10-12 years ago. The concept was JoAnne ringside talking about her experiences photographing boxing as a woman, in a man’s sport with a woman’s viewpoint, in at the time a male photographic oriented business.
Well that day turned into the beginning of a long film called In This Corner and it’s been an on-going project ever since. It’s out of pure passion and love for the sport (you also have to know, that I have a love hate relationship with boxing as there are many bad sides of boxing.) Every once in a while you’ll come across a few boxers who make it but the majority of these boxers never actually get from point A to point B. I had an opportunity to photograph the Terrance Crawford vs. Felix Diaz fight two weeks ago. I made a decision to give up my credentials for the the fight after driving thirteen hours to North Carolina to photograph one of the brightest young boxers by the name of Khalid, one of the protagonists in my film. We worked a 14 hour day and the last fight was supposed to go off at 10 PM but actually started at 12:30AM. We started at 10 in the morning, so by that time, we were seriously dragging ass and one of the corner workers – in Mr. so-and-so’s corner took objections to our photography position after shooting what 17 fights? I made a decision that if you have nothing else to do but give us a hard time after just trying to do our job, we’re leaving so we left. You know what happened? They got no national exposure because when the digital images were turned into Zuma Press there were no photos of their number one fighter so no publicity. Oh well… I guess that’s the way it goes….
I’d like to share a story. My son Dylan came home from school from 4th grade class with a unusual request. He asked that I get Muhammad Ali to call all the kids in his class. I told him that would not be easy. He said please, “I’d like you to do this.” I called my good friend Bert Sugar – “Mr. Boxing” and the “Bertster” tried to reach out to Ali, but was unable to connect. He said, “Joe on a conference call we will phone Howard Bingham” (Ali’s photographer.) I had met Howard a few times but we were not close friends. We spoke to Howard and he said he’d see what he could do. He asked me, what time and on what phone number?” I told him approximately 1:05 on Thursday afternoon & gave him the number. I figured there was a very slim chance of this happening. I was told the call went through the speakers and sure enough It was Muhammad Ali talking to all the kids in Dylan’s grade class.
There are very few people and this goes for Bert Sugar, Howard Bingham and Muhammad Ali that would extend themselves for a bunch of kids. I’m blessed knowing people like this. I might add, it is mainly due to people I’ve met through photography. Bert Sugar died on my birthday a few years ago, Muhammad Ali died this year and now Howard Bingham died December 15 this year. I casually mentioned this story to my friend Sam Garcia and he insisted I do a blog on Howard, which I was going to do anyway. He said you can tell your people from me, that Howard was one of the sweetest most self effacing people he had ever met. He always remembered everyones’ name, was a genuinely sweet individual, and one hell of a great photographer.
We’ll have a 10 count tonight for Howard. Attached you will find a short video I did in Cuba a few weeks ago at Kid Chocolate Gym. https://vimeo.com/193916645
In all my previous trips to Cuba, we never put boxing on our people-to-people trips or our humanitarian trips. On this VIP trip (Joe and JoAnne) Havana was seen up close and personal. I asked where the boxing gym was and they all said Kid Chocolate. Not wanting to be argumentative, I said, “Si!” Of course I know Kid Chocolate as Peter Quillin, a middle weight from Chicago. Well, there was another Kid Chocolate and that Kid Chocolate had a total of 152 fights and 136 wins. Kid Chocolate is now the name of the boxing gym in Old Havana. Of course, not doing my research properly, I showed up at the gym on a Sunday. I go to Gleason’s on Sundays all the time… well Kid Chocolate is not open on Sundays, so two security people who spoke a little English said to come back mañana. Sure enough we returned mañana and the security people, recognizing us from the day before, took us through the back door. I have to tell you, this was the smallest, darkest, and most cramped boxing gym I’ve ever been in- and I’ve been in a lot of gyms, some in bars and even in private homes. They didn’t have a ring! I spoke to the manager of the gym. We talked a little bit and I gifted him a few of my boxing photographs. We also met all of the boxers that were going to work out that day (all boxing in Cuba is amateur and amateur only- it wasn’t that way in the 20s, 30s and 40s, but it is that way now). My initial reaction was, ”Wow, this venue is impossible to make a good photograph in.” As one of my old friends would say, it was “o’dark 30.” JoAnne stuck her head in and said she’d sit outside. Well, we walked two miles to the gym and I wasn’t ready to walk two miles back so I said, “Let’s make a few frames.” I switched to black and white, went to jpeg fine and shot everything with a 24mm lens. I looked at a few of the images and they seemed to be acceptable. When I went out to get a breath of fresh air, JoAnne was meditating; I asked her if she would like to come back in and she did. Being the seasoned pro that JoAnne is, she made sure she knew exactly where I was shooting and made sure to stay out of my frame as I made sure to stay out of her frame. The two of us danced around this extremely small, extremely hot, extremelydark gym and guess what? The photos turned out to be just fine. Fast forward a week later (the first time we got to a computer) and I looked at JoAnne’s work and I have to tell you it was amazingly great.I loved her images, which shouldn’t surprise me. I’d like to share these images with you as well. There’s no doubt we are going to go back. As a matter of fact, I may look for an angel or two to see if we can go back and make a documentary on Cuban boxing. The number one trainer is Carlos Manuel Miranda La O and the associate trainer is Michell.
Please take some time to read this Wikapedia page on the real Kid Chocolate from the 1930s.
The first time I walked into Gleason’s was in 1975. That was the old Gleason’s in Manhattan. The new-old Gleason’s has been around for about three decades. It has the same ambiance as the old Gleason’s. Not only does it have the same red walls but also the same smell that permeates Gleason’s. I’ve taken several hundred people there and they absolutely love it – as they should. It’s not only a piece of history but it’s also living history and, as we all know, a little bit of sweat equity never hurt anybody. Bruce Silverglade is the the current owner and his father before him was the previous owner. The original Bobby Gleason’s wasn’t Bobby Gleason’s at all- it was Bob Gagliardi. The reason Bob changed his name to Bobby Gleason is that the fight game back in those days was predominantly Irish. Wow, I wonder what Donald Trump would say about that? The Irish were rapidly followed by the Italians, then African Americans, the Hispanics, oh my god- everybody! That’s why they call it a melting pot! Gleason’s remains the oldest boxing gym in the United States. Every time I leave Gleason’s, I feel younger, stronger, and that my focus is better. I absolutely love it. It’s like going home. The purpose of my visit was to interview Khalid Twaiti. We have been following Khalid for the last 12 years. Khalid is a brilliant young man who will be graduating LIU with a major in business and he’ll be having his first professional fight on December 10th. Khalid expects to have three championship belts in three different weight classes within the next four years; I genuinely believe he will attain his goal.
I also had a great surprise at Gleason’s. I met Bruce Silverglade’s son, David, and David is cut from the same cloth as his dad. Extremely bright, well read, well spoken, and a tough S.O.B. – and that’s a good thing! We had a great one-hour conversation. David opened my eyes to a few things- let’s call it a little bit more education. You know what? It’s all good.Last but not least, it was great to see some old friends (even though they like to beat up on me!)
To all the ships at sea, Gleason’s will be closing their doors in early December… not exactly! They’re moving to a new location just a few blocks away from the current location. I’m looking forward to photographing it before doors open. I understand Bruce got a great discount on some red paint; I can’t wait. A new era will be born at the new Gleason’s and it will be as great as those before it.
The main protagonist in my film “in this corner” is Harry Keitt. Harry is a former heavyweight boxer who now trains fighters. The fighter he is working with today is “Big Baby” Miller, who on Friday night was fighting for the WBO and ____ Heavyweight championship. We called our agent and requested two ringside credentials, one for Dylan and myself. The venue agreed (I told the promoter that if we couldn’t have two at ringside that I would not cover the fight. He assured me no problem). The day of the fight, we were informed that there would be only one ringside position and one auxiliary (which was supposed to be a great position.) We picked up our credentials at 6 o’clock. I made the executive decision to have Dylan shoot ringside and I would shoot from the auxiliary position. I believe the auxiliary poisiton was approximately 250 yards from the ring. You would think that Dylan got the best part of the deal until you realize that the only fight we HAD to cover didn’t start until after 12 o’clock midnight. Someone once asked what it was like to be a professional working photographer. I’ve heard ten photographers say the same thing, “Hurry up and wait!” And thats what you do you – hurry up and wait. Being up since 5 AM with no dinner and it being after midnight the next day which was Saturday morning, after seven hours of standing and no break, nor bathroom is not the easiest thing in the world. Well, the reality is Dylan kicked ass and took names. For the record, ten minutes before the main event, the promoter came over and said, “Here’s your ringside credential.” The interesting part of it is that after waiting six hours, I was cold, not an excuse – I’m not complaining… just explaining. The reality is, Dylan outshot me.
As a footnote: That is just this one time. Rest assured, next time I’m going to try and blow his doors off! The question is, well you know what the question is, but let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not hanging him up just yet. Maybe in ten or fifteen years…but not yet… I take my beret off to Dylan. Once, just once.
You could probably count on one hand the number of your really dear friends. Gerry Cooney and I have been friends for a long time. It’s a lot like black and white: I’m black and he’s white, then I’m white and he’s black. We don’t agree on many things, but the one thing we agree on is that children in need can use our help. Gerry has dedicated part of his life to YCS and he was gracious enough to ask JoAnne and I to come aboard. We thoroughly enjoy making art work from our sports library and having that work auctioned off with 100% of the proceeds going to the children. Stuff like that just makes you feel really good and, lets be honest, there are plenty of things that could make you feel a little not so good. It’s a time where old friends and celebrities come together. This particular evening we had Chuck Wepner , Paulie Walnuts ( Tony Sirico on the Sopranos), John Moss Sr., Jr., and the grandkids. We had our new assistant join us and she volunteered some of her art work, obviously on a no charge basis. It was a great evening, can’t wait for next year.
Hope to see you at forty fathoms,
P.S. Never let it be said that, late on a Thursday afternoon after two hours at the gym and six hours editing, I am a little flaky. Forgot to mention: Chuck Wepner was the model for Sylvester Stalone’s “Rocky”.
I have started this blog ten times and ten times I could not write it, I could not see it, and I could not feel it. It just didn’t work. In 1971, I scalped a ticket for the first Ali-Frazier fight. In 1974, I had a credential for upstairs but was thrown out and then had to move around the Garden every half round from one vomitorium to another. (Yes, it’s a vomitorium.) I would love to tell you that Ali was a very close friend of mine, but if I did that then I would be lying. I photographed him three or four times. I ran into him in Vegas and Atlantic City. One time I met him with Bert Sugar and he went right past Bert and said, “Hey Joe D., how are you?” just to tick off the Bertster. Like many great people, Ali transcended all boxing, sports, religion. Conscientious objector, the man had amazing intellect, speed of hand and eye, and a huge heart. He was absolutely the greatest and still is. I called Bert 17 years ago and asked him if we could call Ali to call to my son’s fourth grade class. Bert said, “Let me see what I can do.” Sure enough, he got Ali to call. Amazing stuff, amazing memories. I will miss him and the world will miss him, too. I guess he’s going to have a field day with Angelo Dundee, Bert Sugar, Budd Schulberg, and Joe Frazier. They won’t be drinking (okay, except for Bert and Budd) but they will be talking boxing. I wish I was a fly on the wall in heaven. You know what I find interesting? I laughed when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. After that initial giggle, I never gave it another thought. I hope that makes sense. Rest in peace, Muhammad.
Please see the video (linked below) by an old friend of mine from Sports Illustrated, Bill Nack- it says it all. He’s a professional writer, I am not.
“I’m inviting you to join me at a boxing benefit. Step into my corner to help some great kids!”
This year’s event will be hosted by and showcasing Gerry Cooney, will feature amateur USA Boxing Federation bouts, and will include special appearances in the ring by Governor Richard Codey and Michael Costa.
In addition to general and ringside admission seats, we are offering a Pre-fixe “Fight and Dinner Package” at the Zylo Restaurant at the W Hotel.
Money raised at the event will directly help to make the dreams of a safer and happier life come true for the children of the Youth Consultation Service.
To all the ships at sea,
I was honored to be the official photographer of the third annual Gerry Cooney fight night. It’s an absolutely great event and it will help children. It doesn’t get better than that, it really doesn’t. If you sign up, mention my name and you can assist me at ringside.
Gleason’s Gym is the oldest boxing gym in the United States, located in DUMBO, Brooklyn for those not familiar with the term it means -Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Great day, great fun, great people, great photos – join us.