New Yorkers Sonya Lamonakis, Bruce Silverglade get their spot in Women’s Hall
New York boxing fixtures Sonya Lamonakis and Bruce Silverglade will be among the inductees when the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame opens its doors for its tenth induction class. Long before they take the stage at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on October 6-7, Lamonakis and Silverglade were opening doors for women to find a place in the sport.
Lamonakis compiled a pro record of 10-2-3 (1 knockout) from 2010 through 2017, winning the inaugural IBO heavyweight title along the way, but one of her most impactful fights came outside of the ring. Shortly after picking up the sport at age 27 to learn self defense after being robbed at knifepoint, Lamonakis was competing at the national championships in 2002. When she got there, Lamonakis saw that women weren’t getting the same treatment as their male counterparts.
“The women didn’t even stay at the USA Olympic Center. We got our own hotels, we weren’t treated the same. We didn’t get the uniform, the sneakers, everything the guys get we didn’t get,” recalls Lamonakis. That’s when Lamonakis and other female boxers began to attend meetings and petition for the same treatment as men.
“In 2010 I stayed with Christina Cruz at the USA Olympic Center, we got uniforms but they didn’t say the USA team, but the guys’ did, so there’s always been discrepancies. That didn’t really bother me, maybe it bothered other people but I was happy to be part of the crusade to change everything,” said Lamonakis, who is already part of the New York Golden Gloves Hall of Fame after winning four Golden Gloves titles, beginning in 2006, when she upset five-time champion Tanzee Daniel to capture the title.
The Greece born teacher/boxer continues to give back to the sport as the Vice President & Registration Chair for USA Boxing Metro, which oversees amateur boxing in the New York City area. Though she hasn’t fought since 2017 due to a dearth of opposition above 168 pounds, plus the double shoulder surgery she underwent several years ago, “The Scholar” admits she still has that fighting spirit in her.
“I never really announced my retirement, I just gracefully exited stage left,” said Lamonakis.
“I really didn’t want to say that I was retired because if someone came and offered me good money to take a break from work and train, I’d still fight. I’m only 48 and I still got it in me.”
Like many other female fighters, Lamonakis made her home at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, training there from the time she relocated from Massachusetts to New York in 2005. She still maintains an office at the gym, which runs regular amateur events.
Gleason’s has had 14 female champions, including International Boxing Hall of Famer Alicia Ashley and Heather Hardy, but that number would have been a lot lower if not for Silverglade making a wise business move decades earlier.
Silverglade bought into the world’s most famous boxing gym in 1982, back when it was still located in Manhattan. His business partner at the time, an older, more traditional man named Ira Becker, held the same mindset as virtually every other gym in the area, which was that women didn’t belong in boxing gyms. That started to change some time in 1984, when the economic recession of the early ‘80s forced some to take a different view.
“I said ‘Ira, why are we cutting out half of the population? When I go to the bank in the morning they don’t say is this women’s money or men’s money, they just take our money and we pay our bills with it,’” Silverglade recalls of the conversation.
“This was the ‘80s and women were coming along and becoming everything. They were becoming police officers, they were becoming firefighters, sanitation workers. To me and the younger generation it was no big deal, if women wanted to do something they could do it.”
The gym would close early three nights a week to allow women to train, leading to a huge financial success for the gym. When the gym relocated to a much larger space in Brooklyn in 1985, women got their own changing areas, though the USA Boxing ban on female amateur boxers wouldn’t be lifted until a federal lawsuit in 1993 brought about that change.
One of the women who trained out of Gleason’s Gym, a high school teacher and judo practitioner named Dee Hamaguchi, took legal action to get women to be allowed into the New York Golden Gloves in 1995. Gleason’s progressive approach to gender equality paid off as the gym racked up Golden Gloves titles in ensuing years.
Gleason’s Gym’s reputation as a women’s boxing Mecca was further enhanced by the attention that it received for its involvement in two pivotal women’s boxing films. Silverglade remembers Michelle Rodriguez, then an unknown actress, riding her bike to the gym to train for her role in the critically acclaimed independent film “Girlfight”, which was released in 2000. Hilary Swank also prepared for her 2004 role in the movie Million Dollar Baby at Gleason’s, sparring with future top pro Maureen Shea. The movie won four awards at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Swank.
“Million Dollar Baby was a huge success for the women. Right after that movie came out, many women joined the gym,” remembers Silverglade.
Nearly 40 years later, Silverglade says the gym wouldn’t be the same without its warrior women.
“They give you no headaches with their bills, they pay their bills unlike a lot of the guys,” said Silverglade. “The women that come in to compete are highly educated, they usually have very good jobs and they find boxing to be a challenge whereas the men, they join the gym because they want to make money,” said Silverglade.
Among the other inductees into the Class of 2023 are former world champions Melissa McMorrow, Melissa Del Valle and Kaliesha West, plus Jill Diamond Chastain, who is the International Secretary of the World Boxing Council.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].
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