Mex­ico ar­ti­sans hand­craft gloves for box­ing leg­ends

‘They use them be­cause they feel safe, and know they’re go­ing to score a knock­out’

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

In a box­ing world of­ten dom­i­nated by pro­mot­ers, self-pro­mot­ers and glitz — ex­hibit A, May­weather vs McGre­gor Al­berto Reyes likes to do things the old-fash­ioned way: his com­pany still makes gloves by hand, just as it did for Muham­mad Ali. The Mex­i­can crafts­man is the owner of Cleto Reyes box­ing gloves, a fam­ily firm founded by his late fa­ther in the 1940s whose clients have in­cluded such leg­ends as Ali, Manny Pac­quiao and even the fic­tional Rocky Bal­boa.

Reyes likes to tell the story of the best pub­lic­ity his com­pany ever re­ceived, when it made the gloves for one of Ali’s last fights: his 1978 match to re­claim his heavy­weight ti­tle from Leon Spinks. It was the kind of free ad­ver­tis­ing that is hard to imag­ine in this age of mega-bouts like next month’s “Money Fight” be­tween boxer Floyd May­weather Jr and mixed mar­tial artist Conor McGre­gor. “They had a con­tract with a dif­fer­ent com­pany to sup­ply the gloves, but Ali said, ‘I don’t fight if it’s not with Cleto gloves,’” Reyes, 65, said in his Mex­ico City of­fice.

The fight pro­mot­ers agreed to let Ali use his fa­vorite gloves, on one con­di­tion, Reyes said: he had to put tape over the la­bel. But once in­side the ring, the fighter known as “The Great­est” asked his trainer, An­gelo Dundee, to take off the tape. The photo of a sweat-drenched Ali fend­ing off a pun­ish­ing swing from Spinks the name “Cleto Reyes” vis­i­bly stamped on his glove-was pub­lished around the world af­ter the for­mer champ, then aged 36, seized back the heavy­weight ti­tle belt from his 25-year-old op­po­nent.

That par­tic­u­lar pair of gloves was made by long­time Cleto Reyes em­ployee Ruben Al­bar­ran, to­day aged 64. “It was one of the first pairs I made,” he told AFP at one of the com­pany’s two fac­to­ries on the out­skirts of Mex­ico City. “When I saw the fight, I was so ex­cited for the com­pany. Then I saw the pic­ture in the news­pa­per.” Al­bar­ran grew up with dreams of be­com­ing a boxer him­self, but when he was 15 years old, his fa­ther told him he was crazy, he said.

So he went for the next best thing, in his eyes: a job mak­ing gloves at Cleto Reyes. It is nearly the same story as that of Al­berto Reyes’s fa­ther, Cleto Reyes him­self. As a young man in the 1930s, he idol­ized Mex­ico’s then-emerg­ing box­ers

like Juan Zu­rita and Rodolfo Casanova. In those days, am­a­teurs were al­lowed to get in the ring and try their luck and Reyes, whose day job was mak­ing base­ball gear at a lo­cal fac­tory, did just that. “He lasted three rounds,” said his son. “The train­ers told him, ‘Go to the gym, learn how to hold your hands. You’ve got po­ten­tial and you’re brave.’”

Reyes was trau­ma­tized for life. But he used his ex­pe­ri­ence stitch­ing base­ball gear to patch up his dam­aged gloves af­ter that fight. Soon he was mak­ing his own gloves-and gained the no­tice of his idol Zu­rita, who used Cleto Reyes gloves in a 1945 cham­pi­onship bout against Amer­i­can boxer Ike Wil­liams. Word spread from one boxer to another that Cleto Reyes made an ex­cep­tional pair of gloves. And the list of fa­mous clients grew: Joe Louis, Ge­orge Fore­man, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Evan­der Holy­field, Len­nox Lewis, Os­car De La Hoya... even Sylvester Stal­lone as “Rocky.”

Pride and craft

Al­berto Reyes says the com­pany has never paid a fighter to wear its gloves. “They use them be­cause they feel safe, be­cause they know they’re go­ing to score a knock­out,” he said. The firm’s ar­ti­sans start by se­lect­ing the best-qual­ity leather. Then they painstak­ingly cut it, sew it and stuff it with foam and horse­hair.

It is an old-school ex­er­cise in craft, us­ing old-fash­ioned sewing ma­chines. A pro­fes­sional pair of Cleto Reyes gloves costs 1,380 pe­sos ($75). “They’re com­fort­able on the hands, which take less dam­age,” said top-tier trainer Ig­na­cio Beris­tain, who has coached Mex­i­can cham­pi­ons in­clud­ing Juan Manuel Mar­quez and Ri­cardo Lopez.

Cleto Reyes gloves are a source of pride in Mex­ico. The fac­tory walls are cov­ered with pic­tures of pres­i­dents, celebri­ties and box­ing leg­ends wear­ing them. Pub­lic health of­fi­cials here re­cently un­veiled a new cam­paign to fight breast can­cer-don­ning bright pink pairs of Cleto Reyes gloves. “It’s a plea­sure to work for a com­pany that is in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized,” said Al­bar­ran, who now stitches one of the firm’s other prod­ucts: punch­ing bags. — AFP

Box­ing gloves hang on a ring at a pop­u­lar gym.

Al­berto Reyes, son of Cleto Reyes founder of the iconic Mex­i­can box­ing gloves fac­tory which bears his name, poses in front of a wall packed with au­to­graphed gloves at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters in Mex­ico City.

A staffer of Reyes In­dus­tries works fin­ish­ing pro­tec­tive train­ing head­gear in Mex­ico City.

Box­ing gloves and speed bags are dis­played at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters. The hands be­hind the fists

Reyes In­dus­tries’ staffers work at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in Mex­ico city.

Iron molds used to pro­duce dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes of box­ing gloves.

A worker cuts the leather pieces of a speed bag at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters.

Two boys take a rest in the ring dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at a pop­u­lar gym the out­skirts of Mex­ico City.

Pro­tec­tive train­ing head­gear and box­ing gloves are pic­tured at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters in Mex­ico City.

World Box­ing Coun­cil belts made at Reyes In­dus­tries, are dis­played at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters.

A worker shapes and tests box­ing gloves at Reyes In­dus­tries in Mex­ico City.

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