Twelve bartenders from New York were handpicked by the Bartender Boxing Organization to train with world-renowned trainers at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
The job of a bartender is a tough one, what with the all-night shifts of lugging kegs and shaking drinks, not to mention catering to the occasionally difficult clientele. It’s a physically and mentally demanding occupation that can make maintaining healthy eating and fitness habits difficult.
To help them out, Cazadores Tequila teamed up with the Bartender Boxing Organization to host a three-month intensive training regimen for bar professionals from across the country. The program was punctuated with a visit to Guadalajara, Mexico, near to the home of Tequila Cazadores in Arandas, the Highlands of Jalisco, and culminated in a sanctioned amateur bout.
The New York team trained in the legendary Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The bartenders worked with Delen “Blimp” Parsley and Leon “Cat” Taylor, who have trained world champions like Melissa St. Vil, Riddick Bowe, and Vivian Harris. For three months, this group of 12 bartenders reported to Gleason’s at the crack of noon three times a week. They began their training with miles of running and intense cardio workouts, then graduated to sparring with their teammates and local amateurs.
The program was a physical and emotional challenge unlike anything these bartenders had experienced before. Here are some sights and sounds from the past three months.
Name: Devin Kennedy
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Gig: Bartender at Cote, a Korean steakhouse on the East Side
What was the first workout like?
I almost threw up. I'd been lifting weights all winter so I was like, "Oh I'll come in and crush it” or whatever. But the first workout I was like, “Oh man, I'm going to throw up. What is this? We gotta do three months of this?” But then it started getting easier and easier. Then your body just wants it. Now I wake up in the morning and it's like, “I gotta go run.” I just kinda want to run. Now it's becoming a part of my routine.
What did you enjoy the most about boxing training, compared to other fitness programs?
Aside from the physical challenges, I think the mental challenges are probably the most fun part. A lot of people equate it to chess: It's very mental and strategic. You're always looking for an advantage or opening—or a crack or something to give you an edge. It can be two guys, and one is not as athletic, but he's smarter and a little bit more experienced. He's using his brain more than brawn. And that guy can come out on top. I think that is fascinating. You don't have to be the biggest, fastest, or tallest guy. If you put in the hard work and listen to your coaches and study the game and fall in love with the sport, you'll find yourself.
Name: Kayla Hasbrook
Weight Class: Lightweight
Gig: Bartender and Manager at ABC Cocina, Jean-Georges’s Latin American restaurant in Gramercy
What made you want to get in the ring?
At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it because I really like my nose. But I just turned 30 and I know a lot of the transformational and physical stuff that people undergo when they start boxing. So I decided, why not be 30 years old and in pretty much the best shape of my life? I've always been pretty physical so it's a way for me to kick it up a notch and try something new.
Will you stick with boxing now that the program is over?
The part that I enjoy the most is being in the ring. The training is great. I was a huge yoga fanatic before this. The level of intensity is definitely something different and my body changed completely from doing that. I love the results I've seen. I know that I want to stick with it to get results. I'm in the best shape of my life right now, 100%, no doubt in my mind.
Name: Brian Valencia
Weight Class: Middleweight
Gig: Bartender at the Box, a stylish cabaret nightclub in Soho
What attracted you to participating in the Bartender Boxing Organization program?
As you get older, you kind of lose your touch with health and fitness. Especially in the [nightlife] industry. I was used to the same routine: go to work, drink a lot, go home, wake up super late in the day, maybe eat some food, then wait around for the next shift to repeat again. I was kind of getting stagnant.
What about the training surprised you the most?
Definitely it was the intensity. I was pretty much training three to four hours every day. I'm a runner; I can do 10 miles. I'll do three three-minute rounds of boxing or sparring and I'm just as gassed as running 10 miles. It's incredible how in shape these boxers and trainers are.
Name: Shannon Stiggins
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Gig: Beverage Director for Culinaria Group, which owns the restaurant Oreya in the Hamptons and American Whiskey, an upscale bourbon and burger bar in Midtown
What did you think was going to be the most difficult part of the program?
I wanted to understand how my body would move in the ring. When you get punched in the face, it’s going to be an eye-opener: Are you going to turn and fight or are you going to turn and run? Nobody knows that until they actually get hit.
What memory from the program will stick with you the most?
Probably walking into Gleason's Gym. Hanging out with the bartenders and becoming a different type of family. The culture of Gleason’s is unlike any other boxing gym. It's one of the world's best.
Training in Mexico
Bartenders from New York and Chicago headed down to Guadalajara, Mexico, to train with world-renowned boxer Juan José Montes. They threw punches at the gym, and then went to a tasting at the Tequila Cazadores distillery.
Name: Jean Oviedo
Weight Class: Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at Santina, the Carbone team’s newest venture under the High Line
Describe the ways that your boxing training will help you become a better bartender.
Being healthier and drinking less has me a little more focused and a little bit more diligent in what I do. I try to take things one at a time like I do at the gym, and try to translate that with my guests.
What has been your favorite part of training?
I've never been really disciplined; I'm more all over the place. I'll do things on my own time. I never had anybody telling me what to do. So I like the discipline that's involved with boxing. It’s more like a routine; boxers have a set amount of things that they do. Now I go into the gym and there's a routine that's supposed to be followed and the trainers tell me what to do. I like the discipline and routine that's set into me.
Name: Jessica Duré
Weight Class: Lightweight
Gig: Bartender at classic West Village watering hole Chumley's and Sushi Nakazawa, a downtown destination for high-end omakase
Being a bartender can be tough—what's the most intense scenario you've been through at work?
Fully immersing myself into not only bartending but managing, too. I have difficulty controlling the hours that are for myself and for work. It's a 24/7 job. But you definitely need time to stay healthy and motivated in other realms of the universe. This program has been great for that.
What have you learned about yourself by participating in this program?
Honestly I learned a ton just from being in a fight. We've been sparring but when you're actually in a fight, it's a lot different. I still have a lot of hesitation to get over. I'm very much in my head still. It's a long two minutes—probably the longest two minutes of my life.
Name: Leonardo Urbina
Weight Class: Light Welterweight
Gig: Bartender at Featherweight in Brooklyn and Le Boudoir, a swank jazz bar on the West Side
What will you never forget about this program?
The best time was when I was at a peak of training during the middle of it. I went from running with all the guys and being at the back of the pack to being in the top three. That was really cool. Also, I got punched straight on in the chest and I was feeling that all through my bartending shift this week while I was shaking my cocktail tins. I wasn't out for the count or lying down for days on end, but I was in physical pain.
What is the most important thing you've learned about yourself by going through this program?
The discipline of getting everything done. Trying not to slack off. That's the biggest thing. Building that up again on a personal level. I understand that we're part of a team, the New York team, but it's really fundamental that you do things for yourself.
Name: Jessica Friedman
Weight Class: Featherweight
Gig: Bartender at Dead Rabbit, a cocktail bar in the historic downtown Financial District
Have you made any lifestyle changes since beginning the program?
I became more conscious of what I’m eating. It's really easy to stop at the corner bodega and pick up the quickest thing to try and fill your stomach. Or to not be conscious about how much water you're drinking. But when you're putting so much time and effort into doing something like this, you really start to think about that bag of Doritos. Is it really worth it?
What was the lowest point of your training experience?
I sparred one day and I got a little shiner. I came in the next day and the girl [who hit me] was gloating, saying like, "Oh yeah." The easy thing would have been to flip out on her. But the hard thing is to be like, no, give her credit. That was good: it's taught me how to be more humble. I learned how to lose. Anyone can win: When you win, you're on top, but how are you as a loser? That says a lot about who you are.
The Final Bouts
On November 19 at Stage 48 in New York City, boxers from NYC were paired up with fighters from Chicago. Home ring advantage proved correct as New York boxers won three of the four matches: Jessica Friedman, Jean Oviedo and Kayla Hasbrook. To watch the full fights, go here or here.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.