By Samuel Brown
A boxing gym is an egalitarian society. Anyone is admitted, and once inside, everyone trains together. At the Baltimore Boxing Gym, professionals and amateurs work out in the same ring, on the same bags, and under the guidance of the same man, former welterweight contender and current trainer Jeff Passero.
Passero benefited from a similar arrangement as a teenager in Palmer Park, where he worked out at the same gym as the young Sugar Ray Leonard, under Dave Jacobs, Leonard's trainer.
Jeff Passero, left, enjoys training all levels of boxers at his home away from home, the Baltimore Boxing Gym. (Photo Courtesy of Neil Jones)
"I didn't know he was Sugar Ray Leonard at the time," Passero said. "I was all into myself. That's how you got to be as a fighter."
The gym is a single room, dominated by a central, chest-high boxing ring. A handful of heavy bags and speed bags hang adjacent to the ring. Just enough space remains to shadow box, facing a panel of mirrors or jump rope before the wall of windows overlooking the corner of Broadway and Fleet.
"People come in here that want to work out, train with good fighters," Passero said. "Being that I was a professional, and a good professional, and I trained with the best, I know how to make people work to be the best."
Jeff Passero retired from boxing, for the second time, in 1993. (Photo Courtesy of Neil Jones)
He compiled an 11-0 record as a professional. But success proved to be a bigger obstacle than opposing boxers. At one point, Passero's manager, in anticipation of future fight purses, advanced him $2,000 a month for ten months to train.
"I felt rich," Passero said. "Of course, I wasn't. It's not a ton of money, but I felt like I was." With the money in his pocket, Passero lost focus, stopped training, and started losing.
During his career, Passero fought in Atlantic City on national television, trained with Boom Boom Mancini, and fought some of the best boxers in the world including Kevin Rooney, Davey Moore and former World Boxing Association Light Welterweight champion Billy Costello.
Passero retired in 1983, saying he lost the drive to train like he should. He returned to the ring in 1993 and won his first three fights. But his desire faded a second time, and eventually he retired again, without regrets.
"The way I look at it, all it's come down to is everything I've done in life was to be right here," he said.
Passero is quick to say that he owes his position to the gym's owner, Jake "The Snake" Smith. Smith is the one of the most prominent figures in the Baltimore boxing scene, promoting at least one fight a month, and helping local fighters turn professional.
Passero believes that his own experience has put him in a position to help others.
"One of these days one of these kids might walk in here and become a world champion," Passero said. "I got to be there to guide him and push him."
Over time, Passero shifted his approach to less pushing and more guidance, believing that a serious boxer will work hard even when no one is watching.
Passero said he was surprised by the emotional commitment he makes to his students.
"I really never thought about that part," he said. "When you're the trainer and your fighter loses and gets knocked out, now I've experienced that. It's a heartache."
All types of people work out at the Baltimore Boxing Gym, and not all of them dream of a title belt.
"This gym here isn't about just boxing," said Passero. "It's about fitness. It's about pushing people." And Passero spends as much energy helping those people reach personal goals, as well as those with professional aspirations. "I really enjoy doing the fitness part of this. People attaining their goals, losing weight, gaining stamina.
"I wouldn't trade nothing for all that I know about boxing in the world. I'm going to get my payoff in the end, you know, helping all those people, and just being satisfied with what I do."
Issue 1.10: June 29, 2006