When Reese Scott started training women to fight at Kingsway boxing gym in Manhattan in 2007, she had just two pupils. The male boxers at the gym frequently warned Scott: You’ll never have enough women to train.
But Scott’s sessions kept growing. One morning she was looking at 30 women. “I took over the gym,” says Scott, 45.
Now, Scott is starting a boxing gym of her own — a first of its kind.
When Women’s World of Boxing opens later this month at 2147 Second Ave. in East Harlem, the two-floor space will be NYC’s first and only boxing gym for women.
“You’re going to feel the power of women as soon as you open that door,” Scott says. “These walls are going to have pictures of female champions.”
Training will be available for both experienced female boxers and those who’ve never put on gloves. In addition to boxing, women can sign up for classes in jujitsu (a form of Japanese martial arts) and Krav Maga (an Israeli combat system). Students can also sign up for a boxing after-school program.
“It’s going to be an all-female fight house,” Scott says.
‘You’re going to feel the power of women as soon as you open that door.’
One of the women who will box at the new gym is college professor Yla Eason, 67. She signed up to train with Scott after she was mugged on the 2 train last year before Christmas.
“Scott says you have to control your space,” Eason said. “No one’s bumping into me again.”
Scott grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey under the rule of conservative and religious parents. When she would box with her brother, her parents would yell, “Go play the piano!” When Scott became a creative director for a publishing company, her parents were happy and proud. Scott was miserable.
“I never really felt comfortable in my skin,” Scott says. “I always felt like there was someone else inside of me, but I wasn’t sure how to find that person.”
One day on her lunch break, in search of something to make her feel “alive,” Scott walked into Kingsway. Being in her 30s, she was too old to fight professionally, she says. But she still sparred with other amateur boxers and soon left her day job to train full-time.
Spending years in boxing gyms across New York City made her realize that female boxers needed their own space. Many male trainers don’t take the women seriously, assuming they’re there only to get in shape — not to learn the art of fighting, Scott says.
One day she asked a male trainer why the men receive more attention.
“When a guy walks into a gym, I see him and I see a future prizefighter,” he told Scott. “But a woman — you guys don’t make any money if you turn pro.”
Such inequality is even reflected in the facilities. Scott describes how, at Kingsway, the women’s locker room had just one shower with a hole in the ceiling that leaked when it rained.
Another big problem for women is “mismatching,” Scott explains. While men are matched with other men in their weight category — lightweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, etc. — women are often matched with whatever other woman happens to be there.
“They’d put me in the ring with a woman who weighed 20 or 30 pounds less than me,” Scott says. “I felt like I was taking something away from her. It was then I knew I was supposed to be doing something to empower women.”
At Women’s World of Boxing, women can train to fight for themselves and for the crowds. There will be a floor of lockers and showers, women will be matched only with women their size, and they’ll be made to feel safe, supported and motivated, Scott says.
Katie Mooney, 37, a kindergarten teacher, will also train at Women’s World of Boxing. She prefers being in the ring with women.
“Women are more strategic,” Mooney said. “They know exactly how to get you. They find your weakness and they keep jabbing.”
But some female boxers believe that men and women shouldn’t be segregated in the gym.
“I think women get better when they train around top men,” says Sarah Deming, a boxing writer and former Golden Gloves champion. “If you’re a serious student of the gym, I don’t think training in a coed environment needs to be a detriment to you. In fact, I think it can be inspiring.”
For Scott, who thinks in fighting terms, her gym is a clear victory.
“I was told for so many years that it’s a man’s world,” Scott says, sitting on the floor of her gym, which will soon be occupied by a 20-by-20 foot boxing ring. “Now all those guys from back in the day are asking me for a job. I tell them no. They should stay where they are — that’s the world they created.”