In between bouts, the Belarusian-born, Israeli-reared, Brooklyn boxer studies to become an Orthodox rabbi
Up a dingy stairway, on the second floor of an abandoned factory in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, is Gleason’s Gym. The first impression given by this cavernous temple of boxing is of the gyms that flourished in the early days of television, when Gillette Blue Blades sponsored fight telecasts every Friday night, and bouts between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler, Rocky Marciano and Archie Moore captivated 1950s America. The gym echoes with the sounds of boxing boots on canvas, gloves against leather, grunts and shouts. A slight scent of liniment, mixed with perspiration, lingers in the air as muscular young men—white, black, Latino, Asian—shadow-box in one of several rings, pound the heavy bag and rhythmically stab at the small bag, ride exercise bikes, skip rope and get massages to relieve sore muscles.
But there are a few anomalies that hint at a modern era. A TV set flickers in a corner near the office, playing recorded footage of fighters at work, a remote shuttling the images backward and forward at lightning speed to allow intensive study. Some of the fighters are women. And then there’s the mezuzah at the entrance. It was affixed there a few months ago by Yuri Foreman, the Belarussian-born, Israeli-reared Brooklynite, rabbinical student and 154-pound World Boxing Association champion of the world.
“They say that since it’s there, business has picked up,” Foreman says with a grin.
In November, Foreman defeated Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico in a 12-round bout on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto battle in Las Vegas. It was the 28th straight professional win for the undefeated Foreman, and it enabled him to claim Santos’ crown as WBA champion in his class. Boxing experts had tapped Santos as the favorite; he was a southpaw, Foreman’s first left-handed professional opponent; he had more experience and possessed a far more lethal punch, having knocked out 23 of his 36 opponents en route to winning 32 fights, drawing one and losing only three.
Despite Foreman’s winning streak and his reputation as a crafty boxer, he was not known as a particularly powerful puncher—with a mere eight knockouts on his record. But throughout the fight, he moved from side to side, denying Santos an easy target and moving in with crisp jabs and short crosses that took a toll on his opponent. In the end, he gained a unanimous decision, even knocking Santos down in the final round.
A huge Israeli flag was unfurled in the ring before the fight as Foreman climbed through the ropes. When the ring announcer proclaimed him “the winner and new junior middleweight champion of the world”—Israel’s first-ever boxing champion—he dropped to the floor with joy, then beamed as handlers draped a huge championship belt and then that flag around his shoulders. Afterward, journalists focused on what seemed to them to be the oddity of an Israeli champion fighter. “People should not be surprised to see world champions coming from Israel; it’s a small country but very mighty,” Foreman said at a Manhattan kosher restaurant reception celebrating his championship victory. “People are very strong there. Just to live in Israel, you have to be a champion.”