When Robert De Niro was preparing for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, he trained at Gleason's Gym(75 Front Street, Brooklyn Heights; 718-797-2872). When Naomi Campbell was preparing for her role as a catwalk diva during last season's Fashion Week, she trained at the Blue Velvet Boxing Club (23 West 24th Street; 822-1960). These are the two best boxing gyms in New York. Which is right for you? That depends mainly on two things: your finances and whether you happen to be the Terry Malloy type or the Gentleman Jim type. (Geography is another factor. Gleason's is in Brooklyn; Blue Velvet is in Chelsea.)
"This isn't a place for people who like juice bars," warns Gleason's proprietor, Bruce Silverglade. "It's a place for people who want to learn how to box. Our record of training champions speaks for itself." Indeed. Rocky Graziano, Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran . . . They've all worked the heavy bag here. Be forewarned: The décor is spartan and more than a bit noir. Cement floors, old fight posters, pools of sweat, weight-lifting benches mended with gaffer's tape. And don't forget all those colorful characters chomping on unlit cigars and eyeing the talent like jackals. But the price is right: $45 a month; $15 an hour for a trainer.
Blue Velvet may be less than half the size of Gleason's (7,000 square feet and one ring, versus 15,000 square feet and four rings), but that's precisely the point. With its $1,500 yearly dues and $60-an-hour trainers, Blue Velvet doesn't have to be big, but it does have to be comfortable enough to satisfy pampered pugilists like Daniel Day Lewis, Ving Rhames, and Sean "Puffy" Combs. Naturally, purists scoff at Blue Velvet's country-club atmosphere, even if pros like Evander Holyfield, Lenox Lewis, Prince Naseem Hamed, and Christy Martin have trailed through here. It isn't so much the pristine hardwood floors and sun-drenched skylights that disturb them. It's the Aerosmith CDs playing on the sound system and the video monitor that displays an endless loop of classic fight moments. Still, even grizzled trainers recognize the merit of a civilized boxing gym. "What's great about Blue Velvet is that there's no riffraff and undesirables hanging around your fighter," says Richie Giachetti, a 35-year fight veteran who has trained Sly Stallone and Mickey Rourke as well as Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes. "Gleason's is too big. There's too much hustle, too much con, too much bullshit." Juan LaPorte, a former WBC featherweight champion and longtime Gleason's regular, begs to differ. "Blue Velvet is for pretty boys and movie stars," sniffs the ex-champ. "Gleason's has better fighters and trainers. You don't have to smell good to train here."