We’ve lost several boxing people to COVID-19.
Toledo’s Carmen Williamson – who had a 250-4 amateur record – had gone on to be the first African American to judge and referee in the Olympic Games, which he did in 1984 and 1996. In 42 years of work at Army’s Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan, he missed just two days of work.
But at 95, he couldn’t compete with the coronavirus and died April 8.
Eddie Cotton died nine days later. The well-known New Jersey referee was the third man in the ring when Lennox Lewis stopped Mike Tyson in Memphis and when he disqualified Andrew Golota for repeated low blows on Riddick Bowe in their Atlantic City bout.
Among the others deaths, there was Hedgeman Lewis, the welterweight contender who became a noted trainer in Detroit and New York trainers Nelson Cuevas and Francisco Mendez. Italian boxer Angel Rottoli was a coronavirus victim, as was Canadian national coach Pat Kelly and Detroit trainer Ali Salaam, the father of former WBC super-welterweight champ Tony Harrison.
And then there is my longtime friend Jimmy Glenn, one of the most beloved men in boxing.
He was a well-known cutman and trainer who worked with several champions and far more everyday pugs. He ran the long-gone Times Square Boxing Club and the still popular Jimmy’s Corner, a cross between a dive bar and a boxing shrine on W 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.
He was a big man with a gentle voice and held court with kindness and decency which is why, over the past 40 years, I visited his fight club and his saloon almost every time I was in New York.
And now I want to take you along on one such visit:
It was 1993 and I was walking through the then rough and gritty Times Square to his gym on 42nd Street.
I remember all this because I wrote it down for a column I was doing on Michael Dokes, the former heavyweight champ from Akron who was preparing to meet the new, unbeaten champ, Riddick Bowe, at Madison Square Garden.
While I wanted to talk to Dokes, I was more looking forward to spending time with Glenn, who used the lessons he imparted in the gym as a primer on life beyond the ring ropes.
Known for turning men into decent boxers, he took more pride in turning boxers into decent men.
Thomas Hauser, the celebrated author and boxing aficionado, touched on that with an old Glenn quote in his written eulogy:
“You take a kid off the streets. He’s angry, scared and beefing about the system. But after a few weeks in the gym, it’s ‘Yes Sir’ and “No Sir’ and the lessons of hard work and discipline set in. Before long the kid starts to make something of himself and believes in himself.”
Glenn took the same mindset into his bar which he opened in 1971 and ran with Swannie, his wife of some 40 years, until she died in 2015.
That’s when his youngest son Adam, a Harvard-educated corporate lawyer, quit his job and came to help his dad in the bar.
Glenn was recently asked why his well-educated, 39-year old son would do that.
“Because he loves me,” he said quietly.
That was never more evident that when Jimmy spent his final month at NYU’s Lagone Medical Center. All the bars in New York City were shut down and Adam – who had tested positive for the coronavirus, but was asymptomatic – visited the hospital as often as he could.
He was at the bedside of his 89-year-old father when he died May 7. They’d talked moments before.
As Adam told a TV reporter from NY1: “Looking back, I think it was with his last energy that he talked to me and some of our family to let us know just how much he loved us.”
Teaching the sweet science
Glenn was born in Monticello, S.C. in 1930. His mom was a domestic worker and when he was seven she moved to Washington D.C. and left him with his grandfather, who was a sharecropper.
In his teen years Jimmy finally rejoined his mom in Harlem.
There he began to follow his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, who trained at a gym on 116th Street. He began to box in in the Police Athletic League program, put together a modest record and then quit school to work.
Among other things, he drove a truck and sold wigs for “The House of Wagner.”
For nearly 20 years he taught boys to box at the Third Moravian Church in East Harlem. He opened his own gym above a tavern in 1978.
That day in ’93, I opened the graffiti-covered door and walked up two flights of dark stairs into a world where the smell of old sweat and fresh liniment was enlivened by the slapping sounds of men jumping rope, the chatter of a speedbags, the thuds of guys pounding the taped-up heavy bags and the piercing sound of the ring bell marking off three-minute rounds for guys sparring in the ring.
Years before when I came in there was a sign on the wall that proclaimed (sic): “NO SMOKEING.”
As a writer from Sports Illustrated later noted: “Until someone with a diploma smudged out the E and reduced the charm of the place by a vowel.”
When I sat with Dokes, he claimed he had beaten his cocaine habit, but his addictive nature still was on full display. While we talked, I watched him down six packets of ginseng extract he’d bought in Chinatown.
Bowe kept his IBF and WBA belts with a unanimous decision. Dokes would fight just five times after that, including a final bout loss in Erlanger, Ky. in 1997. Terribly out of shape, he had his jaw broken by Dayton’s Rocky Phillips.
Soon after my ‘93 visit, the gym was torn down as part of the Times Square renovation which rid the area of some of its grime and sleaze, but also took much of its soul.
For that, you had to go to Jimmy’s Corner.
‘Crossorads of the world’
The bar was easy to miss as you went along W 44th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway.
Inside it was long, narrow and dark – except for the ever-burning Christmas lights. The walls were covered with boxing posters, photos and memorabilia, including the ring bell from Madison Square Garden.
A framed portrait of Mike Tyson hung near the office and by the cash register was a photo of Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.”
The last scene of the movie was shot at Jimmy’s.
Over the bar was a sign that read: “Let’s not discuss politics here.”
Jimmy did his best to keep the pimps and muggers out, too, so much so that someone once noted: “It’s like finding a neighborhood bar at the crossroads of the world.”
The drinks were cheap – $3.50 liquor from the well, $3 drafts – and the jukebox was a treasure trove of Stax artists along with Sinatra, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
I stopped in whenever I was covering NFL games, fights at Madison Square Garden, Dayton Flyers games or when my wife and I were on vacation.
Since Glenn died, the tributes have come from all over the world.
A fellow who lived two doors down in the 1980s wrote how, when he was struggling to get by, a guy had stolen his change from the bar and run out. A few minutes later, Jimmy walked in with the money.
Lou DiBella, the well-known promoter, wrote: “There aren’t a lot of guys left like Jimmy and it’s sad because the Jimmy Glenns of the world are the best we have.”
The only thing better I’ve read came from Adam, who said when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, he’s going to reopen Jimmy’s Corner.
That means under the Christmas lights, with maybe Isaac Hayes or Al Green on the jukebox, I’ll be able to properly tip my glass to one of the best boxing men I have ever known.
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