Ar­ti­sans hand­craft gloves for box­ers

Mex­i­can ar­ti­sans hand­craft gloves for box­ing leg­ends

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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 favourite 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 sweat­drenched 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.

The hands be­hind the fists-

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 at one of the com­pany’s two fac­to­ries on the out- skirts 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 idolised Mex­ico’s then­e­merg­ing 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 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 Fore-

man, 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 (US$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 recog­nised,” said Al­bar­ran, who now stitches one of the firm’s other prod­ucts: Punch­ing bags.


Al­berto Reyes, son of Cleto Reyes founder of the iconic Mex­i­can box­ing gloves fac­tory which bears his name

A worker as­sem­bles leather pieces of box­ing gloves at Reyes In­dus­tries head­quar­ters in Mex­ico City

A worker shapes pro­tec­tive train­ing head­gear

A worker at­taches ad­he­sive la­bels to box­ing gloves

A worker com­pletes qual­ity con­trol of the leather used to make box­ing gloves in the fac­tory

Reyes In­dus­tries’ staffers work at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters

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