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.

Aaron Meier and Blake Fortson

This being New York, the class swarms with dancers. They’ve  found that they transition to the sport easily.

“It’s like cracking a whip,” says Garrett, who trained in ballet and acrobatics. “If you know how to initiate from the center of your body, your limbs will follow. Awareness of that is what sets up a great pirouette and a punch. Also, everything is in plié. If you get too pulled up, you’re off your center and you’re really vulnerable.”

On a recent sold-out Saturday, the boxers assembled in three rows for a rigorous 30-minute conditioning warm-up before pairing off to spar with gloves and punch pads. There is no actual hitting in the club, especially in the face. Garrett assures prospective students of this when he promotes the class on social media. There is, however, plenty of sweat, leather pounding leather, and audible grunts. Instruction focuses on technique and the extreme level of concentration and coordination required in boxing, running through combos of jabs, straight punches, and uppercuts. Remaining light on one’s feet is key.

New York’s endless cadre of competitive gay sports organizations includes volleyball, sailing, bowling, basketball, hockey, wrestling, and rugby, but boxing falls short of fully making the leap.  One of the country’s most infamous boxing gyms sits just across the East River: Gleason’s, in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where Valentine and Liuzzi often train. It is a place untouched by time, hosed with glory — a shelter for wayward men, introverts, tender hooligans, and the eccentric coaches who scream at them to become fighters.

“You can look at someone and know if they are really in the game,” says Liuzzi, a statuesque, eagle-eyed 36-year-old who will compete in the Golden Gloves this year.

“You have marks on you — not just marks on your face, but on your demeanor. Doing time is part of the demeanor, too. You have a form that is built from the utility of the sport, being quick and limber. Things like big chests and big shoulders and big
biceps don’t mean you punch any harder than skinny guys.”

Or, as the late notable pro boxing referee Wayne Kelly put it: “Boxers, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers.”

“Teaching gay guys is really no different than teaching straight guys, except the gay guys tend to show up in better physical condition,” Liuzzi says.  

Well before LGBT athletes were media darlings, one of the most famous openly gay pros was a champion boxer and Hall of Fame inductee. Emile Griffith’s death last summer at 75 made few ripples outside the boxing world, where Griffith had close ties to the likes of George Foreman, Mike Tyson, and Joe Frazier.  
 
“Emile was way ahead of his time. For anyone to not think he was gay is absurd,” says Williamson Henderson, Griffith’s boyfriend throughout the 1970s. “He was a founding member of the Stonewall Veterans Association.”

Fabian Bernal and Dana Steer

Tags: Sports
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