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August 31, 2000

Wall Street Heavyweights: A world famous gymnasium cultivated generations of champion boxers. Now

By Sanford Wexler

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  • Wall Street Heavyweights: A world famous gymnasium cultivated generations of champion boxers. Now
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At the legendary Gleason's Gym, on the second floor of a nondescript warehouse near New York's Brooklyn Bridge, some of the Wall Street's toughest financial pros have traded in their pinstripes and wingtips for boxing trunks and sparring gloves.

Mike Tyson may soon have blockbuster competition - heavy duty - from Wall Street.

And it all started ten years ago when Gleason's opened up its ring to the white-collar brigade of male and female pros.

Now stock and bond traders and investment bankers (and folks like doctors and a New York state judge) work out with IBF welterweight champion Zab "Super" Judah and other boxing giants.

"The fellows on Wall Street are very aggressive," admitted Bruce Silverglade, Gleason's owner. "They have to be. In this business you need the desire to win."

"That's exactly what boxers have," added Silverglade in an interview one Saturday morning at the gym. "Fighters are extremely good businessmen. If they had the education, they would be top Wall Street executives."

Bronx Origins

Founded in 1937 in the Bronx, Gleason's relocated to midtown Manhattan before moving recently to its current location. Gleason's now has more than 800 regular members. The pugilists include 200 professional boxers and 200 amateurs. The rest includes more than 200 white-collar pros and other regulars.

Among them is a straight-talking Texas native John Oden, a partner and money manager at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

About eight years ago Oden was adding a middle-aged bulge. "What led me to boxing was the challenge of remaining physically fit as I grew older," said Oden, speaking with a friendly Southern drawl. "I love a challenge in business, in sports, in any aspect of life."

On this morning, he is gearing up for a match billed "Capital Punishment - Settlement Day in the City." It's a boxing tournament that is scheduled to take place in London between New York- and London-based white-collar boxers.

Oden, who's "a little over 50" and stands a strapping 6-foot-4, has participated in three white-collar sparring matches. He is now set to fight his fourth - a fight against Marcus Overhouse, a derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank AG London.

The Sanford C. Bernstein money manager steps out of the ring, unhitches his protective helmet, and sits down for a chat about his fascination with the world's most combative sport.

In his early 40s, Oden "jumpstarted" his athletic career by taking up two sports he had never done before. (He was already an avid tennis player and long distance runner). The criteria were great exercise and fun. Oden chose basketball. The second choice was boxing.

Over the course of a year he undertook a daily regimen of running three miles around Central Park, jumping rope, weight lifting, and shadow boxing. "There's a tremendous amount of training," Oden said. "You don't need to be a body builder. But you need to have a certain amount of strength."