I get off the subway train and walk down the hill into D.U.M.B.O (Down under the Manhattan bridge overpass), a picturesque, cobbled street area of Brooklyn, New York. The spectacular Manhattan bridge in the distance framing this coffee shop and bakery filled part of the city. I am trying to take it all in and enjoy the scenery but, I’m moving at a pace that reflects my excitement for what is just around the corner at 130 Water Street…
Gleason’s Gym. Yes. Gleason’s Gym: a boxing institution since 1937 and I am, a lifelong fan of the art of pugilism, about to walk through its famous doors. These doors, this gym, synonymous with world champion boxers for decades. It has seen a procession of great fighters from era after era after era; Jake LaMotta, Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson have trained here. Muhammad Ali, at that time Cassius Clay, trained here in preparation for shaking up the World against Sonny Liston in 1964 to claim his first world title. A true Mecca of boxing.
Today I have two appointments at Gleason’s, my first with David Lawrence PhD, the King of White Collar Boxing and following that, a training session with former world champion, Iran Barkley. A man who shared the ring with Nigel Benn, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. WOW. What a day ahead.
I am greeted at the door by Jieun Lee (June) who is aware I’m coming and makes me feel especially welcome, she puts my nerves at ease immediately. She gives me the gym tour. Gleason’s has a plethora of boxing equipment amongst maybe 10-15 rings. Surrounding the training area are the trainer/manager’s offices. June takes me to the deep back left corner of the building to David’s office. I am not sure what to expect but I am met by a small, straggly older guy with a huge smile… This is David Lawrence, self-proclaimed King of White Collar Boxing. The epitome of the phrase never judge a book by its cover, as I am about to find out.
We go into a small office, his desk full of books, shelves full of trophies and walls covered in newspaper articles all about him.
His story begins.
At the age of 43, in 1990, David wanted to box; mainly to annoy his wife who had insisted he gave up his love of riding motorbikes for a less dangerous hobby. He was too old to fight in US amateur bouts as the maximum age to compete was 35, so the man he is, he hatched a plan.
White Collar Boxing was his brainchild and together with Gleason’s Gym the first combatants were readied and the White Collar Boxing scene was created. David fought attorney Doc Novick at a hugely successful and glamorous New York City event in what was dubbed ‘The most educated bout in the history of pugilism’, doctor vs lawyer. WCB events have been a popular and regular occurrence in NYC and the US ever since.
I sat with David for an hour or so and he regaled me in his time as a millionaire CEO on Wall Street, his life as a rapper, writer and poet, fighting on a Julio Cesar Chavez undercard, oh, and a two-year prison sentence for tax evasion. A very colourful story of riches to rags and a very entertaining human. As the tale was at an end, he had a question for me.
“What brings you to talk to me?” he asked.
“Well David” I replied,
In 2009 your story reached Derby, UK, and Ultra White Collar Boxing was born. UWCB started as it meant to go on, offering the opportunity to people of all shapes, sizes, ages, fitness and ability levels to train for 8 weeks, free of charge, in preparation for a bout at a big event in front of their family and friends. Their obligation to us? Raise money for the event’s selected charity. So basically… get fit, learn how to box, make a difference to people in need and be a superstar on the event night.
“Tell me more Tom, it sounds amazing” David said. He was not taking credit but was fascinated with how his idea had been grown and developed.
I continued, in 2014 we made the decision for participants to raise money for Cancer Research UK (CRUK), a cause close to all our hearts. Events in more towns and cities followed, more and more money raised for CRUK. 6 years later it is 2020 and UWCB is in over 100+ UK towns and cities, as well as events in Poland and Australia have added to the calendar and over £20 MILLION raised for CRUK with over 15,000 participants per year competing at our events.
This, in real terms, equates to thousands of lives changed both in getting people fit, healthy and motivated, not to mention where the charity money is donated and the difference CRUK makes to the fight against cancer. We continue to expand and improve year upon year and offer all-comers the chance to take part in our ground-breaking events all over the country and the world.
The King is silent in his chair. Pondering how the loss of his beloved motorcycle sparked an idea that has touched the lives of many and will continue to do so for many more.
At UWCB we are proud of the experience we offer; a safety-first, charity-driven and socially improving product that we strive to continually enhance for our participants and spectators.
To take part is as easy as clicking a link and filling in your details; starting on your path to making a difference in your life and to the lives of those you care about in this battle against Cancer.
Chat over I give David the red UWCB cap. The King and his crown. He gives me a massive hug and thanks me for sharing the UWCB story with him and I thank him for sharing his. He is smiling yet emotional, happy and proud. So, he should be. Gamechanger.
I leave the office feeling as high as a kite. It is then I’m met by the former World Champion. Iran ‘The Blade’ Barkley.
“You Tom?” he mutters.
“Ready to go to work?”
“Always ready” I reply. I am not. I’m unfit, out of practice bloke with nowhere near the quality to be training in this esteemed company and setting but I’m certainly not going to pass up on this chance.
Treadmill, skipping rope, warm-up done. We climb into the ring, June, accommodating as she is, filming and taking photos of the session. We move around a little, I, tentatively throwing punches and combos Iran commands. Nervous. After the first round we laugh, joke and I relax.
Jab, double jab. Double jab, right hand, slip, right hand again.
“Boom! Tom you got something in that right!” Iran declares. I can’t hide my smile. As a boxing fan… historian, if you will. I feel absolutely overwhelmed at the praise. We complete 7/8 rounds in the ring before finishing with 3 rounds on the heavy bag. The gym walls covered with photographs of boxing legends of the past. One cannot help but be inspired here.
I thank Iran and leave via David’s office where he hugs me again and gives me a signed copy of his book, ‘The King of White Collar Boxing’, good title. Then I go into the main office where I hold a genuine WBC belt above my head in victory pose and finally the gift shop. Why not?.
I have felt this good on only a few occasions in my life. Today has been special. I feel like I’ve given David recognition that’s given him immense pride. UWCB would not be here if not for him. I am equally proud of the work we do at UWCB. We do inspire, we do help people change their lives for the better and we do put on phenomenal events and raise millions of pounds for CRUK.
I’d truly encourage anyone to get involved in UWCB. Have a go and make yourself and those around you proud and yes, you, reading this, that includes you.
Thank you for reading.