Ordinary Brooklynites are fighting for the right to fight.
Everyday Joes and Janes are calling on the state to legalize “white collar boxing” — spectator slugfests for non-professional brawlers.
State law permits boxing events between pros, licensed amateurs, military fighters and student athletes. But average New Yorkers aren’t allowed to go toe-to-toe in front of an audience — a case of prejudice against pugilists that Bruce Silverglade, owner of the legendary Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO, wants to change.
“If some guys get together and play basketball, that’s legal. There’s no regulation, there’s no government involved. But if they want to box, then the government says they can’t fight,” said Silverglade, who oversaw a monthly series of popular — and profitable — bootleg brawls for 17 years. “They’re getting discriminated against.”
Silverglade’s three-round matches, which had no declared winners (even the guys who got KO-ed got a trophies!), were an instant hit among the suits, ties, and nine-to-fivers who flock to Gleason’s after work.
“It’s for fun,” said Silverglade, who insists that none of his white collar fighters ever suffered a serious injury. “By not having a decision, that means no one’s a loser — and that’s a big deal when you’re dealing with some of these business guys.”
The white collar matches were also a big deal for Gleason’s, which raked in training fees from the fighters and $15 each from fans who paid to watch their loved ones get pummeled — helping offset the rising rents on the increasingly chic Front Street, Silverglade said.
The state cracked down on the fights in 2005, and since then, boxers with day jobs have been banned from public bouts — for their own good, according to State Athletic Commission Chairman Ron Scott Stevens.
“It’s a health and safety issue,” said Stevens, who noted that the only way that white collar fights could be legal would be to change the law.
Which is exactly what Silverglade tried to do — twice.
In 2006, the state Senate OK’d legislation that would permit white collar matches, but the bill got hung up in the Assembly.
In a rematch, Silverglade is again calling on the state to change the law — establishing White Collar Boxing, Inc. as a governing body for the non-professional bouts — but for a second time, he’s against the ropes.
The bill fought its way through the Senate, but it is again stuck in the Assembly. Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D–Bushwick) reintroduced it in February, but a spokeswoman for the Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D–Long Island), chair of the Committee for Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development, said the bill won’t hear the opening bell ring until January at the earliest, when the Assembly returns to session.
Would-be white collar brawlers would have their fingers crossed — if they weren’t already taped and gloved.
“They should bring this back for the fighters who can’t fight as amateurs because it’s too rough, or because they’re too old,” said Phil Maier, a judge from Park Slope.
Maier started fighting in white collar events in 1997, but since the state banned the matches, he has found it harder to train without have scheduled match on the horizon.
“It’s like you’re running a marathon and you’re 100 feet from the end, then they take away the finish line,” said Maier’s trainer, David Lawrence, a pioneer in white collar boxing who briefly rose to the professional circuit before retiring to train other fighters and write poetry.
Maier is anxious to get back into the ring, but he doubts that the state realizes there are so many enthusiastic participants itching to trade blows.
“They just can’t see that there are actually a lot of people out there that really want to do this,” Maier said.
But not every everyman who trains at Gleason’s is eager to sign up for the white collar fights.
“It’s not for me,” said one silver-haired slugger. “If my wife found out I was sparring, let alone actually fighting, I’d be a dead man.”