|(OCT 11) Gleason's
Gym, hard by the East River on the northern edge of Brooklyn, is
straight out of central casting. Every movie scene depicting a boxing
gym probably uses Gleason's as a model. In fact, many of those movie
scenes were actually filmed there.
I went up the stone stairs to the gym, recently, the surprise was how
little it had changed in all the years since the last time I'd been
there. The same dust, the same odors, the same sounds; leather on
leather, shoes on canvas, the buzzers, the bells. The faces around the
gym were a bit different, but in a way, they were exactly the same.
This October day, in a new century, the
faces were a darker hue and the voices had lost the "dis" "dem" and
"dose" and had acquired a slightly different lilt from days gone by.
But, if you looked closely, the faces still said "boxing lifer", because
Gleason's is, and always has been, where it begins and, often, ends, for
those who believe the world revolves around a squared circle.
There was a lighted cooler of sports and energy soft drinks in the far
corner and that was certainly different from the days when the word
"hydration" was absent from any conversation within a ten mile radius of
Gleason's. There were more women in the gym, on the bags, in the rings
and while that was different, it was more of an evolution and, most
important, it seemed natural.
That evolution was the reason I had come
back to Front Street in Brooklyn and Gleason's gym. I was meeting Asa
Sandell, the unbeaten super middleweight from Sweden. She had made a
week long New York stopover on her way to Laughlin NV for her bout on
the October 8 "A Ring of Their Own" card.
|The guy hanging around the front
desk told me Asa (he pronounced the name correctly, "AH sa")
"wasn't in yet but she'd be here soon". That was a sure sign
that Asa, in a short period of time, was "known" in the gym, she
had made an impression on one of the "tough rooms" in the sport
of boxing. At Gleason's, you don't get "second looks" simply by
being a tall, blonde Swedish woman; you make an impression by
convincing the "locals" that you know your way around, inside
Asa arrived a few minutes later
and we sat down on folding chairs. The only table in the gym had
a domino game laid out, and, you don't interrupt the domino
game, just as in the long gone past you didn't interrupt the
card game. "I love boxing," she said, and I took that to mean
that she loved all aspects of the sport, including the training
and the gym work.
©Weigh-in photos by Rick
That attitude probably went a long way to
explain the respect she seemed to have earned at Gleason's. She
evidently put in "her time" in the ring and on the bags. While we
talked, it seemed like everybody in the gym stopped by give her a "how
ya doin' ", inquire about a barely noticeable bruise around her eye, or
to simply acknowledge that bond that exists between those special people
who climb through the ropes into a boxing ring.
"I love the excitement," Asa continued talking about the sport, "there's
nothing like it. I played basketball in Sweden, but boxing is a whole
different thrill. I came over to the U.S. essentially, "cold", looking
to turn professional. I had 22 amateur bouts at home but there is no pro
boxing in Sweden. It's been that way since the sixties, which is absurd,
since they have big K-1 shows in Stockholm. K-1 but no boxing, that'll
change." Asked about her style in the ring, Asa replied, "Thankfully, my
trainer in Sweden was schooled in the American style of boxing so I
wasn't brought up on the typical European, stand up straight and jab
style, I learned to bob and weave right from the start. The amateurs is
a good place to learn the sport, but that boxing is very antiseptic,
each punch counts the same and I was very anxious to get established in
the professional ranks. I knew that the U.S. was the place for me,
because the competition for the heavier weights is concentrated here."
Four of the five fighters ranked ahead of Sandell in the highly regarded
WBAN rankings, compiled by Dee Williams, are fighting in the United
States. Asked about the difficulty of the travel and time change from
Sweden to New York to Nevada, Asa,said, "Coming from Sweden to the U.S.
is not as difficult as going back. I feel the jet lag much more when I
go home after the fight, but, by then, it's not such a big issue."
Asa won three of her first four fights, two by KO, and fought a six
round draw with a more experienced Yolanda Swindell. "I just wasn't
right for that one," Asa asserts, "I had the flu and just felt
terrible." It was on TV as part of "A Ring of Their Own" series and Asa
clearly wishes she had been at the top of her game for that bout. She
must have shown enough, however,since, shortly thereafter, Rock and Sock
Productions, who produce "A Ring of Their Own" signed Sandell to be part
of their growing stable of fighters with exclusive promotional
agreements. Elena Reid and Lisa Brown currently are the others.
Sandell sees this as a major step forward in her professional career." '
Rock and Sock' has a plan for the sport and their fighters and that's a
good feeling for me. They've gotten me more fights than I could have
gotten in any other way. They know the value of competitive bouts and
that's going to determine the future of this sport; the top fighters
simply have to fight each other.
The PPV show on November 18 will feature
championship fights with top fighters going against other top fighters.
That's what fans want to see in boxing, two quality fighters competing
against each other."
Asa has targeted the fighters ranked ahead of her in the WBAN recent
ratings, "That's who I'm looking to fight, boxers, such as Laura
Ramsey, Valerie Mahfood, Natascha Ragosina, who is
fighting out of Germany and has a good reputation in Europe (Ragosina
currently has an unbeaten record in eight fights) and, of course, Ann
Wolfe and Laila Ali."
Not surprisingly, like all super
middleweights, Sandell would like a shot at Ali and is aware that the
time for that may be limited. "I've heard Laila is starting to talk
about retirement, so I guess if I get a shot with her it would have to
be in the next year or so. But, first, there are a number of fights out
there for me."
Ramsey - Sandell ©Photo by Sue TL Fox
One of those fights "out
there" was with Laura Ramsey, ranked just ahead of Sandell in the WBAN
rankings. Ramsey and Sandell fought six rounds on last Saturday's "A
Ring of Their Own" card, with Ramsey coming away with a split decision,
that by many ringside accounts, was not that close, Ramsey scoring a
knockdown in the final round to win going away.
It was a set back for
Sandell, but Asa is a fighter who "loves boxing" and, hopefully, she'll
soon be back, on another "A Ring of Their Own" show. The Sandell/Ramsey
match-up is just one of the compelling hallmarks of "Rock and Sock"
cards. The promoters aren't reluctant to put their contracted fighters
in with quality opponents. On a March program, Elena Reid fought Alica
Ashley, and lost a hard fought bout, via a seventh round TKO.
Rock and Sock Productions continues in the forefront of the promotion of
the sport of Women's boxing with a formula of all-female fight cards,
syndicated to TV stations around the country on a delayed broadcast
basis. The programs features quality fighters fighting each other. The
October 8 card in Laughlin was, according to those who were there,
another example of that formula working. It works because of fighters
like Asa Sandell, who not only "loves boxing", but knows that when you
look for a fight you don't look behind you, you look at the fighters in
front of you. It's probably why Asa Sandell fit in so well at Gleason's
and why she's a very good fit for what will eventually make the sport
Women's boxing successful.