By Maxine Dovere/JNS.org
Gleason’s Gym has been an integral part of Jewish boxer Yuri Foreman’s life for more than a decade. It is the place where he trained and prepared for his championship bouts, where he met his wife, where he celebrated his wedding, and where he returned to heal after a career-threatening injury.
“Yuri is probably one of the best fighters and nicest individuals I’ve met. He is on a positive road. I hope he regains his world title and becomes a rabbi in a very short time,” Bruce Silverglade, owner of the famed gym in Brooklyn, tells JNS.org.
Silverglade’s comments reflect the multifaceted life of one of the world’s most famous Jewish pugilists. Foreman won the first 29 fights of his professional boxing career and was super welterweight champion of the world until losing to Miguel Cotto in June 2010.
An Israeli amateur champion at age 19, Foreman “decided he wanted to become a world champion and came to New York entirely by himself,” Silverglade recalls.
“He came to Gleason’s to realize his dreams,” says the gym’s owner. “Then, he got involved with religion. His studies for the rabbinate are quite an inspiration.”
In 2010, the Belarus-born Foreman was on the ticket of the first fight scheduled at the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Saturday night fight against Cotto began later than usual because Foreman, the champion, observes Shabbat and could not travel until an hour after sunset.
The mix of attendees at the “weigh-in” press conference the day before that fight was unique, mirroring the many elements of the Foreman’s persona. The fighters and their entourages teased and challenged each other, and welcomed the usual cadre of New York sports reporters, photographers, and boxing aficionados. The Spanish press was there to support Cotto, the Puerto Rican favorite, and so were representatives of the Jewish media to cover Foreman. A boxing match is certainly an unusual venue for most of the latter.
The fight was stopped in the ninth round. Foreman lost his title by a TKO (technical knockout) and suffered a significant knee injury that has dramatically impacted his boxing career. His knee problem stems from a childhood bike accident. Never properly treated, the knee gave out in the sixth round of the fight against Cotto. Despite his defeat, Foreman gained the respect of even Cotto’s fans. They cheered the injured boxer as he left the ring.
Soon after the surgery that followed, Foreman—still on crutches—returned to Gleason’s Gym even though his workouts had to be limited. Throughout his recovery, he continued his rabbinical studies at the IYYUN Institute in Brooklyn. His teacher, Rabbi DovBer Pinson, has characterized him as “a very good student.”
Just months after his loss to Cotto in 2010, Foreman’s wife—Leyla Leidecker, an amateur boxer and former model who helped train Hilary Swank for the movie “Million Dollar Baby”—gave birth to his first child, a son named Lev Micah. The couple now has two sons. In October, Foreman’s beloved manager, Murray Wilson, who was a father figure to him, died of a heart attack at age 72.
Foreman has told the New York Times that he is “a different person, a different boxer and a different man” since the Cotto fight.
“Coming off the surgery, birth, death, it’s definitely emotional,” he said. “I have many things to fight for.”
Foreman had announced his retirement after losing a bout to Pawel Wolak in March of 2011. Now, after two years away from the ring and with a new manager, Lou DiBella, he is attempting to restart his boxing career. On July 24, he won his fight with Jamaal Davis. Dibella agrees with Silvergrade, owner of Gleason’s, that Foreman is making good progress.
Time may not be on Foreman’s side. He is 34, no longer young for a boxing champion, especially one who has suffered such a grievous injury. But perhaps the rabbinical student can draw inspiration from Jeremiah 30:17, which states, “For I will bring about thy healing, I will heal thee of thy grievous wound, saith the Lord.”
Indeed, Foreman has said he sees boxing as “spiritual in its own way.”
“You have the physical and mental challenges in boxing, just like you have lots of challenges in exploring the different levels of Judaism,” he told the New York Daily News in 2007. “They are different but the same.”
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