In his 89 years, Jimmy Glenn saw a lot. He was a boxing lifer, and he ran a tavern, and he’d joyfully ridden the waves of ups, and pretty skillfully slipped and ducked the fallout from the downs.
Jimmy sagged some when Muhammad Ali died in 2015, but like he’d tell a kid who got buzzed and dropped, that happens to the best of them. The very best shake it off, come back fired up, and get the W.
Jimmy’s body couldn’t do that with coronavirus. Days went into weeks, and his lungs didn’t respond to the treatments, the medicines, the attempts to help him get back on his feet. We heard on April 12 that he was up against this foe, but he hung in the fight. As time went on, the fingers were crossed til they turned white. Jimmy would be 90 on August 18; but coronavirus said otherwise. On Thursday morning, he expired, his son by his side.
Trainer, cut man, manager — like many of the lifers, he wore all the hats. That was the smartest way back in the day, for a gent born James Lee Glenn in South Carolina, who made New York City his home but never took on the sharper edges of the town.
1930 was his first year on earth, and the whole way through, Jimmy was soft-spoken, a thoroughly decent soul. Boxing has more of these types than you’d figure; the sport is a siren for all types of characters. He didn’t have enemies in a sport that is set up to ensure everyone has at least one.
Jimmy was an only child to mama Susie Glenn. They went from South Carolina to Baltimore to Washington, DC, then New York City. World War II had people shifting back to be near more family, so Jimmy went back to South Carolina. He then traveled back to NYC in 1944, and stuck in the city.
According to the New York Times — yes, that esteemed publication noted with reverence his death — “in addition to his son Adam, Mr. Glenn is survived by six other children: Denise Mercado; Cheryl Mitchell; Delana Glenn; Anita Costa; James Glenn Jr.; Tanya Glenn; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.”
The teacher had some amateur bouts and then started passing on knowledge in the 1950s. As an amateur, he had a record of 14-3 or so. A loss to Floyd Patterso, at middleweight helped convince him that his path would maybe involve more steering than driving.
Along the way, he was there to give aid and comfort to Patterson, Bobby Cassidy, Howard Davis Jr, and Jameel McCline, among many others. You’d still see Jimmy in corners, in his 70s and 80s, and we all hoped he’d be there in his 90s.
Glenn first trained amateur boxers at the Third Moravian Church in East Harlem, and he dispensed smart street wisdom to kids and grownups alike. He worked at a men’s store by day, and by night, he’d give the kids tips on how to land the left hook and steer clear of heroin, maybe. Pros like Puerto Rican welterweight Ralph Correa perhaps weren’t title-grade material back in the late 60s and early 70s, but they revered Jimmy. Ralph’s mom and dad still lived in Puerto Rico, so he used to call Jimmy “Father.”
In 1977, Glenn opened the Times Square Boxing Club in Manhattan.
“The gym, on the third floor, has 100 lockers, with 32 already occupied by New York boxers,” wrote Bill Gallo in the Daily News. Mike Lupica called Jimmy “a gentle, slow-talking black man” as he talked up the West 42nd St. fight factory, also in the News.
All along the way, he’d offer his wisdom. To a newbie who debuted as a pro and got walloped and finished off quick, he gently admonished that you don’t wanna touch gloves before the bout — pros and amateurs are different animals. He’d point out to the kids who did the Golden Gloves route who would wear a GG pendant around their neck, and that would tell everyone on the street about them, that they didn’t have to carry a knife or gun.
You know he saved some lives with that gem of a lesson, right?
Jimmy’s Corner patrons loved him too; the joint opened in 1971, its walls adorned with boxing memorabilia. You could stare for hours, interpret the photos, maybe get lucky and see a Sammy Davis Jr, Robert DeNiro, Michael Jordan, or Frank Sinatra getting a libation. If it was around 1982, Jimmy would hopefully be on site, and tell you that Howard Davis Jr would be making some noise, after he won his 16th bout as a pro and split off from managers Dennis Rappaport and Mike Jones. Or maybe about how hard Mark Gastineau could wack the bag, now we just have to see if the Jet defender can take a punch.
Jimmy knew Mark McPherson could give and take it; the kid was 18-0 by 1983, and he was with Jimmy from fight one. Jimmy had a nice little stable, and cable TV was giving more dates to his kids, like Terrence Alli. There were a few more boxing gyms, then, and Times Square wasn’t Disney-fied yet. Look out the gym window and you’d see that “Les Girls Live Revue” could be your next stop if you so desired. But Jimmy was a fixture of decency and dignity within a gritty city and a sometimes slimy sport.
He will be missed, much more than most people when their time here is over. Mark McPherson felt it like a rib shot from a nasty hooker, when he was told coronavirus had stopped Glenn. “It’s heartbreaking,” the 20-3 ex-fighter told me. McPherson met Jimmy in February of 1978. “The gym in Times Square. I was 13,” he said.
Bobby Cassidy, the Long Island light heavyweight, had seen Mark fight and told him to reach out to Jimmy, knowing he’d be looked after right. Cassidy wasn’t wrong. McPherson bonded hard with Jimmy. I asked him, did he ever see Glenn get mad?
“I was fighting Duane Thomas for the USBA middleweight title,” the Brooklyn native said. “He hit me with what he had and I dropped my hands to show he couldn’t hurt me. When I came back to the corner, it was the maddest I’d ever seen him. Other than that, no.”
Thursday was a rough one for McPherson. “He always called me son, and would introduce me as such. I had great parents, but he was a second dad to me.”
Solid and stable was Jimmy, but of course, boxing threw some curve and spitballs at him. There was the guy who offered to put up money, help refurbish the gym. The dude was signing fighters; apparently, he did well in business.
Specifics of his line of work were vague until word dropped that the DEA had paid the fella visit. $5.6 million in cash, 13 pounds of heroin, 14 pounds of cocaine, plenty of weapons were found in his residence. “He seemed like a real nice guy,” trusting Jimmy told the press.
Hall of Famer matchmaker Bruce Trampler knows full well we lost an ace on Thursday.
“Teddy Brenner hired me as assistant matchmaker at Madison Square Garden late in 1977,” Trampler shared. “Soon after, Jimmy came into my office, welcomed me to New York, introduced himself, gave me a list of fighters he managed, invited me to his gym. After he left, Brenner told me that I’d just met one of the real good guys in boxing, a stand-up SOB, a man of character and integrity. And he was right.”
Does he have a signature Glenn memory? “Funniest story: a few years later at a weigh-in in Atlantic City, a manager was talking shit about Brenner. Someone came and got me and I walked over to the obnoxious loudmouth and threw one punch. Lucky for me, it flattened the guy out cold. For more than 35 years, Jimmy loved to tell people that story, always acting out both me and the asshole and our confrontation. Sometimes he had me throwing a right, which was true. Sometimes it was a left hook, but it always ended with Jimmy giggling and laughing and happy because he despised that creep. And then everyone would get back to their beers. That was Jimmy Lee Glenn, was who always called me son and I called him daddy. Rest in peace, Jimmy!”
There is no shortage of tales to tell about how good a man Jimmy was. Bobby Cassidy Jr felt the pain in his dad’s heart when dad learned Jimmy had died. Cass, a fixture at Newsday, shared some on what made Jimmy so special.
“This is how much my father loved Jimmy Glenn,” the son of the prizefighter recalled. “In 1980 when he retired from boxing, I was probably around 16 and we went into Jimmy’s bar. I had met Jimmy a bunch of times at my dad’s fights, I’d been to the Times Square gym. We sat down at the bar and my dad said, ‘If anything ever happens to me you come find Jimmy and he’ll be the one to help you, you can trust Jimmy with your life.’ And that’s saying something in the sport of boxing.”
Bobby Jr understands why his dad was so sad today. “Jimmy used to call a lot of people ‘son’ but whenever he called me son it felt really special. He went with my dad to Sweden, my dad fought on a Sonny Liston card in Sweden and they both hung out with Sonny Liston and had a great time, there were like the only five Americans there.”
Bobby is talking about April 28, 1967, when Liston beat Elmer Rush, and Cassidy drew with Swede Bo Hogberg.
“Around that same time my father fought in South Africa and Jimmy wouldn’t go,” the son continued, speaking of a Feb. 6, 1967 gig, Cassidy versus Johnny Wood. “My father understood. He went, he had to take a fight to feed his family, but he understood that Jimmy wasn’t going to go, it was the height of apartheid.”
In and around 1967, Cassidy was a top 10 middleweight contender. In the mid-70s, he went with different management and had a different trainer, but the crafty lefty from Levittown finished with Jimmy in 1980.
“He was in Jimmy’s gym in Time Square and they talked about retirement,” Cassidy Junior said. “My Dad was 35. They agreed it was time. He said, ‘OK, Jimmy, if anyone calls for a fight, tell them you lost my number.’’’
Men of principle, men you pick when you are asked to choose just one to tuck your kid under his arm if things get too rugged. Boxing has more of these than critics would have you think, zero doubt, but Glenn was high on the list.
I asked McPherson for his signature Jimmy Glenn story. It’s not flashy, doesn’t lend itself to the bio flick, but it fits Jimmy like a tailored suit.
“A press conference for a fight in the Garden was postponed so we decided to have lunch in this cafe by Madison Square Garden,” said McPherson. “We ate lunch and talked about everything we never talked about in the gym; his kids, my brothers and sisters. I don’t know how I got to glimpse another aspect of this great man. I lost both my parents in the last seven year, but I would comfort myself by saying I’ve still got Jimmy.”
Jimmy had saintly patience. He needed it with the football star Gastineau, who decided in 1989 that he’d always wanted to be a fighter. In 1988, he’d ditched football, was 35 years old, and needed something to do. Why not prizefighting?
One morning, Jimmy got a call, it was Gastineau. Can’t come in to work out today, coach, I’m otherwise detained. Gentle Jimmy said OK, when you get sorted, circle back.
Detained, indeed. Gastineau had been partying on Long Island and got into a scuffle. The 6’5”, 280-pounder decked a 5’9” dude and got arrested for the effort, after he’d slipped away in a speedboat. (The joint was on the water.) Follow that ex-Jet, the cops said, and picked up the mulleted maniac. (Side note: In my wilder days, I swear, the tail end of them, I got into a scuffle too. I asked around for someone who could recommend counsel. A good friend told me to call a particular good attorney. She had a good handle on such cases. I used her, she was solid. I learned that, in fact, she’d been the lawyer who handled this Gastineau fracas fallout.)
Glenn was good for “careers” like Gastineau’s. He didn’t get over-eager, didn’t over-promise the press that he had the next Ali in the gym, and his patience and tolerance were the right fit for a fighter with a bountiful ego. Ed “Too Tall” Jones also used Jimmy’s gym when he was thinking that he’d like to be a pugilist in the late 70s. He decided football was gentler and hung up the mitts, as Gastineau did in 1996, with a tainted 15-2 record.
No, I won’t say here that this is Saint Jimmy who I see is trending on Twitter. He was human, after all. After one of his guys he’d invested time and money in for almost 15 years got a dream gig, a purse of maybe $300,000, the guy jetted from Jimmy, so he could keep more of the pie. It would be understandable, fully human, if Jimmy wanted his ex-fighter to take the L, and a few hooks to the right ribs. (Note: That he did. Wonder if the money was worth it for the beating he took and the way he hurt Jimmy’s feelings with that lack of loyalty?)
But Jimmy did what the best pros do, he adapted. To jackass fighters who let money rule their emotions, and to landlords who didn’t care that his gym kept kids off the streets, they wanted the max dollar per square foot. By the fall of 1993, he’d need to look for a new gym space for his Times Square training space.
Thing is, you get to a certain age, and you usually pick and choose what you adapt to, and what you accept. Finding new spots where landlords were reasonable is not easy even for the super patient types. Even the patient ones can get a wee bit ground down by the steady flow of insults boxing throws at you.
But Jimmy stayed pretty even keeled. Gastineau, he flamed out in ‘94, had one final fling in ‘96. But being in boxing means you have to be able to look on the bright side, for possibilities, for the next big thing to walk in the door, or email you. Glenn Robinson, Jimmy had high hopes for the kid who hit the snooze button too many times, overslept and missed the trials fight that could have put him on the US Olympic team in 1996. A win over 30-1 Kenny Bowman was a step in the right direction in 1999, but then light heavyweight Robinson lost the next outing to Greg Wright, and his momentum sputtered and stalled.
In boxing, in life, you soldier on, try to learn from the losses, do better next time. Jimmy didn’t become one of the bitter ones, whine about how the good old days (which were often actually just as bad, but in different ways) were preferable to the now.
Some young guns worked with Jimmy, like Paulie Malignaggi early on, but Paulie needed variety. He’d move from Jimmy to Billy Giles to Buddy McGirt to Sherif Younan to Eric Brown, etc. Like any lifer trainer/manager, the door was always open for a young gun, or a late-starting hyper-achiever, like Jameel McCline. He was a Harlem kid, went into a group home when he was seven, and stood out athletically. But the lure of the streets and darkside commerce snagged him. In 1989, he got popped for a weapons charge. He did five years, plenty of it in solitary. At age 25, he turned pro, and by 2000, was being guided by Jimmy.
Don Turner, Tommy Brooks, Yoel Judah, and Diego Rosario had cornered McCline — but it was with Glenn that Jameel learned more patience, tricks of the trade, and some basics, too. He elevated in the ranks, and signed on for a title crack against Wladimir Klitschko on Dec. 7, 2002. A win there would have McCline in line for a step up from that step-up fight. Wlad had the WBO belt, and a win over him would mean the next one would be for the kind of money that would give Jimmy a big-bite taste of that good life money. That money got made, but by others; McCline had made over $2 million on the run up, but he got stopped when he wasn’t able to come out for round 11 against Klitschko.
On Thursday, Jameel, living in Florida and having last fought in 2012, thought about the trainer.
“I mean, that was my guy,” McCline said, simply summing up what Glenn meant to him.
McCline is in good company. Promoter Lou DiBella was dark blue, thinking about the fight game icon. The virus got a good one, I said to Lou. “The best,” he responded.
Gerry Cooney thought highly of Jimmy. They’d even done some business together, in food service, in the mid-90s. “He had a helluva life,” the affable ex-heavyweight told me today, reminding me that Glenn’s run was lengthy and stellar.
Jim Lampley adored Glenn. “Beyond all description,” Lampley told me on Thursday evening. He’d been getting updates nightly from Jimmy’s son Adam. “We lost an unusually soulful brother. He put up a helluva fight these past three weeks. He had me convinced he was going to win. But the virus is a cruel opponent. It’s there to hurt you.”
I wondered how and why Lampley and Glenn formed a union. Lampley graciously explained.
“We are from the same part of the country,” the Hall of Fame commentator told me. “Our forebears grew up as neighbors in a different world. But we had a lot in common. Early on getting to know him, I somehow got the sense he came from a family where men show affection by kissing, even your father or your brother or your uncle. Southern thing, and I grew up that way. One night, saying goodbye at the bar, I tested the perception, and I was right. His son Adam told me one of the things his dad liked about me was I didn’t mind if he kissed my cheek hello and goodbye. And vice versa. I will miss him a lot. I will miss the bar. And I will miss our Carolina kiss connection, and the legitimate deep affection I felt for him. They call it the sweet science.”
We in the fight game saw a bit less of Jimmy in recent years. All were pleased to see him receive the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Long and Meritorious Service award in 2004. By 2005, Jimmy was 75, and it seemed he’d pretty much accepted the new New York. He ran his bar, on 44th between Sixth and Seventh — nothin’ fancy, no menu. “I’d rather run a gym than a bar, but you can’t make a living running a gym,” he told Thomas Hauser.
The bar got more press than boxing had for Jimmy. It’s a pretty solid low-key must-visit for tourists of a certain ilk. The place reflected Jimmy’s sensibility that his fighters spoke of. The sign that recommended/commanded “Let’s not discuss politics here” probably headed off the odd lawsuit or two, because it made it more likely patrons got along.
You could order, like, four drinks and keep some change off your twenty. That’s not new New York, where everyone pays for the ultra wealth enjoyed by the whale real estate holders.
By 2016, Jimmy was 85. We missed seeing that Fu Manchu ‘stache, that long Q-tip in his mouth at fights so much, but patrons at the bar were happy to get those cheap drinks.
“It’s my museum,” he’d say, looking at the pics on the walls, Ali in his prime, plenty of forgotten pros proudly posing, when optimism still buoyed them.
Son Adam has been a chip off that block, giving updates to Jimmy’s boxing buddies. He was at his father’s bedside, he informed the Daily News, around 5:30 a.m. Thursday when his dad died in NYU Langone Health in Manhattan.
“I fought my way in and they weren’t going to get rid of me,” said Adam, showing the fire and heart of prize-winning pugilist.
Money would come up more than now and again for Jimmy. Michael Katz in his columns used to note that Jimmy hadn’t made that “it made it all worth it” score. It’s a given, for most of us in NYC, that you can’t escape focusing too much on money, I will never be a billionaire, Jimmy would say, so I sell cheap beers. Word is that Adam will keep the biz running, after the toxic dust of the virus settles in the City.
Jimmy left a stronger legacy, by far, than any money man who owns those buildings and has that fat stocks and bonds portfolio that supposedly make him a big shot. Those dudes aren’t taking their holdings into the ground and those guys didn’t have so many people shedding tears today. The message is hammered into you way too much, from cradle to grave: “it’s money that matters.” But please, let Jimmy’s passing repudiate that sad myth.
Jimmy Glenn was rich — in decency, in loyalty, and in character.
Michael Woods is a Brooklyn resident. He worked at NY Newsday, ESPN The Magazine and now publishes NYFights.com. Woods has hosted the Everlast TALKBOX podcast since 2016. Follow him on Twitter for news and opinion.