Ahhh, the good old days…
Reminiscing, or being informed about how it was back in the day is a time honored tradition in a fight factory like Gleason’s Gym, the famed and fabled pugilism emporium in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
I did some of that today, when I was fortunate enough to be in the room when the living legend Mark Breland stopped in. He’s training a young Italian cruiserweight, and after a few minutes of shooting the bull with me, he saw an old pal. Leon “Cat” Taylor, who was a stellar pugilist back in his day, and now trains at Gleason’s, clapped hands with Breland and soon, they were talking about the good old days.
The lads discussed all the gyms they worked out of. What was that one in Bed-Stuy, the one upstairs, near the train…old Jewish guy named Sam ran it? They debated the address some, and then recalled that they used to pass notes in the back of class. Yep, they were in high school together, Alexander Hamilton. And instead of passing notes to chicas, asking for dates, young Breland and Taylor would draw up combinations. Jab-jab, step right, right hook, finish with an uppercut…
“Whaddya think about that one,” Leon would whisper to Breland, as both counted down the hours till they’d leave class and go to learn about the dark trade of pugilism.
Both agreed that really, about the only time they’d get touched in sparring was when they’d fight each other. Breland was in the high 130s, Taylor around 160, and ouch, could “Cat” crack. He’d have a stiff neck after eating Leon’s jab and it always reminded him to be smart defensively. The shakes and shimmies and slipping that would work on other guys, and we mean pros, even, they wouldn’t have the same effectiveness when Leon and Mark went at it.
It was a different age, ya’ll…
I was curious, were concussions a big deal then?
Nah, both men told me. Those were felt but shrugged off.
Smokers, pickup events not sanctioned by anyone but maybe the gym owner, went on all the the time. Cat said he took part in maybe 90 of those. And they’d sometimes fight two fights in a day, too.
..fought as a pro from 1981- 1992 after learning the trade mostly in Brooklyn, largely around Bed-Stuy, and Breland, age 55, campaigned from 1984 to 1997.
Both are revered within the fight game community, affable gents quick with a grin and never prone to woe is me pronouncements about how the good old days were better. They are the sorts who give a gym a vibe that brings people in and starts a love affair with the game. Both are now passing on what they’ve learned, and often, it is as much the mental side than the physical. Breland pointed to the kid, the Italian, and said yes, he maybe will play out to be a champ…if he listens. Less talk, more listen, he stated. Taylor chimed in, in concurrence. Mouth closed, ears open.
Mine were. It was the highlight of my day, as they reminisced and had me picturing in my head gym wars, and this rough but beautiful sport, which leaves behind scars but oh so many fond memories, of opponents and fears faced down, wins celebrated, losses mourned, and friendships formed among gallant practitioners.