Hand in Glove

7.8.2014

By Chadwick Moore

In the ring with the velveteers, the heavy hitters of New York’s first all-gay boxing class.

Matthew Steffens and Vance Garrett

But formal training in prison taught Valentine boxing’s most important axiom. “This game is about being a gentleman,” says Valentine, a trim man of about 5-foot-9 with a solid gold grill. “When you know you have these tools, you need to have common courtesy. Be versatile. Always leave the door open, because you never know who will walk in.”

Today he coaches. By virtue of one of his star pupils, Francisco Liuzzi, he is the unwitting man behind the curtain of New York’s first all-gay boxing class, Velvet Gloves Gentleman’s Boxing, a bimonthly Saturday morning class at the health club Clay, a boutique pamper palace near Manhattan’s Union Square.

Today’s tiny pack of openly gay professional athletes includes one boxer, Orlando Cruz, a recent contender for a featherweight world championship who married his husband last year in Central Park. Although boxing has long attracted eccentrics, dandies, and romantics, the sport remains elusive for gay men.

The Gay Games, the international summer sporting event that draws nearly 10,000 athletes to compete in 36 events every four years, included competitive boxing only once, in its inaugural event in 1982. There are no plans to incorporate the sport into the Games this year, or in 2018.

Vance Garrett, a 34-year-old event producer who lives in Chelsea, founded Velvet Gloves in November after a discussion with Liuzzi, who is Garrett’s trainer at another gym. Most
sessions have sold out.

“I think there’s a sense of wonder about boxing. I know, coming from a theater and nightlife background, that creating a space where people can experience a sense of wonder safely is what it’s all about,” Garrett explains.  “I know a lot of those guys wouldn’t go to a traditional boxing gym.”

Blake Fortson, a 28-year-old with a genteel Georgia drawl who lives in Bed-Stuy, works as a landscape architect. He and his boyfriend, Justin, are regulars at Velvet Gloves.  

“I would never train with Myles — I’d be terrified,” he says. “I love that I’m being forced to be with gay men, which I wouldn’t normally do. I feel like it’s so hard to just be friends with gay men.”

Christopher Davis, 49, a retired Broadway dancer and current producer for the Broadway Cares program Dancers Responding to AIDS, has been a Velveteer since Day 1. “We’re all concentrating so much on learning the technique, and just trying to keep up or not pass out,” he says.

Chris Davis and Christoph Babka

Tags: Sports
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