The craft be­hind the punches

This fam­ily firm main­tains the tra­di­tion of mak­ing box­ing gloves by hand.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living -

IN a box­ing world of­ten dom­i­nated by pro­mot­ers, self-pro­mot­ers and glitz – ex­hibit A, the May­weather vs McGre­gor grudge fight light­ing up at the mo­ment – Al­berto Reyes likes to do things the old-fash­ioned way: his com­pany still makes gloves by hand, just as it did for box­ing leg­end 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, the Philip­pines’ 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, says in his Mex­ico City of­fice.

The fight pro­mot­ers agreed to let Ali use his favourite gloves, on one con­di­tion, Reyes says: Ali 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-yearold 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 says 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 says.

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 idolised 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,” says his son to­day. “The trainers told him, ‘Go to the gym, learn how to hold your hands. You’ve got po­ten­tial and you’re brave.’”

Reyes was trau­ma­tised 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.

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 says.

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 (RM300).

“They’re com­fort­able on the hands, which take less dam­age,” says top-tier trainer Ig­na­cio Beris­tain, who has coached Mex­i­can cham­pi­ons such as 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 recog­nised,” says Al­bar­ran, who now stitches one of the firm’s other prod­ucts: punch­ing bags. – AFP

— Pho­tos: AFP

Al­berto, son of founder Cleto Reyes, ex­plain­ing the pro­duc­tion process at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters in Mex­ico City.

A worker at­tach­ing ad­he­sive labels to a glove in the fac­tory where ev­ery­thing is done by hand.

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