“White Collar Boxing…” (a book review)

I wrote this critique in February 2006 for The Harlem Times. I don’t believe it was ever published, as the newspaper’s launch date was delayed and assignments were pushed back for months.

(“White Collar Boxing: One Man’s Journey From The Office To The Ring,” is published by Hatherleigh Press. Book info: 260 pages. Price: $24.95. Year: 2005)

By Ed Odeven
(Feb. 22, 2006)

Boxing is everywhere. In upscale athletic clubs in quiet suburban towns, in gritty basement gyms in rough-and-tough neighborhoods and countless locales in between, somebody is slugging a punching bag at this precise moment.

It is a sport practiced by poor adolescents yearning for a shot at the “big time” and wealthy businessmen looking to stay in shape after a long day at the office.

In his revealing and often nostalgic look at the sweet science, “White Collar Boxing: One Man’s Journey From The Office To The Ring,” NYC resident John E. Oden connects the dots between the days of bare-knuckle boxing (John L. Sullivan’s era) to the present time (with snippets about Lennox Lewis and Hilary Swank, who starred in “Million Dollar Baby”), when the sport boxing has developed a new form of competition called “white collar boxing.”

In essence, white collar boxing is a great way for anyone to experience what it’s like to step into the ring and engulf the full gamut of emotions that one can encounter while confronting another pugilist mano a mano.

In this type of boxing, the rules are as follows:

There are three two-minute rounds and 60 seconds between rounds; 16-ounce gloves are used; no winner or loser is stated; and both participants get equal recognition after their fight — both fighters’ hands are raised, Oden explains.

White collar boxing’s origins can be traced to 1988, when the world-renown Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn staged a bout between Dr. David Lawrence, a Wall Street professional with a Ph.D. in English literature, and Dr. Richard Novak, an attorney/veterinarian. Nowadays, white collar fights are held every Friday night at Gleason’s before rowdy crowds. Similar scenes exist around at clubs around the country and world. In England, especially, white collar boxing has a big following.

Bruce Silverglade, who owns Gleason’s, is credited as being the creator of white collar boxing. He’s involved in every aspect of running the Front Street gym, including matching fighters of like-minded skills for Friday night bouts and introducing each fighter to the gathered audience.

“The only person who can make a champ is the person himself,” Silverglade is quoted as saying in Oden’s book, “.not the trainer, the manager, or anyone else. Boxing is 50 percent mental, 40 percent conditioning and 10 percent ability.”

Throughout the book, Oden highlights this formula for success. He delivers each literary punch with the contagious charisma of each lyric in a Mary J. Blige tune and he trains as hard as Bob Gibson once gripped a baseball.

A lifelong fan of the boxing, Oden, a principal in money management sales at Bernstein Investment Research in Manhattan (his office is in the Alliance Capital Building on the Avenue of the Americas), details the never-wavering thrill of being a white collar boxer, a sport he embraced while in his 40s in the 1990s as he transformed his lifestyle into one that emphasized fitness (he joined the New York Athletic Club in 1992).

Oden takes us through his workouts and through every emotion he’s encountered along the way to becoming a successful middle-aged fighter — the swagger, the jitters, the excitement of post-fight nights (celebration dinners in Little Italy, of course), the media interviews, the documentary made about him. He reveals splendid anecdotes about the relationship between fighters, such as this keepsake he received after a bout in London:

“It was a great pleasure to meet you on Wednesday night. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my first night of boxing and my first bout. You have kindly left me with a souvenir in the form of a very impressive black eye,” Gray Smith writes in an e-mail to Oden after their November 2004 bout.

As a white collar boxer, Oden, a heavyweight, has met kindred spirit after kindred spirit: Jack Kendrick, a boxer/poet who commends Oden for going into “the furnace of competition,” as well as Emmanuel Steward, Teddy Atlas and Gerry Cooney. And he revels in the camaraderie fighters share regardless of their personal backgrounds.

This book jabs through the minutiae of white collar boxing this way:

Anyone — lawyer, gas-station attendant, hubcap historian — can lace on a pair of gloves and experience the redeeming value of competition, the bond that two fighters share when they’re in the ring doing the same thing

 

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