Front Street Gym
ESPN.com once called Front Street Boxing Gym at 2076 East Clearfield Street one of “Boxing’s Most Famous Gyms.” The gym shares a building with a beer distributor and can easily be overlooked on a street that has seen better days. However, those who venture up the narrow staircase to the gym that occupies space that was once used to store automobiles are in for a step back into boxing history. The gym is a throwback to the old school boxing gyms that became famous in a number of films such as Rocky, Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby. The gym’s walls are covered in posters and pictures of bouts and fighters from over 50 years of boxing history including, Carmen Basilio, Muhammad Ali, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and Julio Cesar Chavez.
A gym has been in operation at this address since the early 1960s. Front Street Gym, founded in 1980 by trainer John Mulvenna, was originally located on Front and West Widley streets. The gym was forced to move to its present location in 1988 following a dispute between gym leadership and the owners of the building. Prior to becoming Front Street Gym, the gym was called John Hennelly Boys Club, after a carpenter who died while working on the gym. Owner Frank Kubach purchased it in the 1980s from Vic Cappuccino.
A number of boxing contenders and champions in various weight classes have walked up Front Street’s staircase to train. When asked about these fighters, Kubach fondly rattled off a list that included Jesse Ferguson, Tony Thornton, Steve Little, and Meldrick Taylor. Prior to our interview in 2016, Kubach told me that Taylor, a very popular Philadelphia fighter who fought professionally from 1984-2002, still comes to the gym to work with fighters on Thursdays. Taylor is best known for winning a 1984 Olympic gold medal in the featherweight division. He also held world titles as a professional in the welterweight division.
Kubach’s training staff consists of Orlando “Dallas” Perez and Terrence Lewis. Terrence Lewis is no stranger to the Philadelphia fight scene. He fought professionally from 1992 to 2004 in the heavyweight division. Several of his fights took place at the legendary Blue Horizon on North Broad Street.
Most members of Front Street Gym come from the surrounding neighborhoods, which face a number of issues including poverty, crime and drugs. Although the gym is located in an area of the city with a growing Hispanic population, members of the gym come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Kubach, and past owners, welcome all fighters as long as the individual is ready to train. In recent years, the traditionally poor section of Philadelphia became what Kubach describes as a “ghetto.” When asked what the biggest challenge Kubach has encountered as a gym owner, he responded, “Trying to keep the gym going.” The neighborhood’s issues have impacted membership numbers in recent years.
Kubach and his staff work closely with the fighters, especially kids. The staff takes an active interest in knowing personal details about the kids ranging from family life to grades in school. "They are concerned about kids. They want to see kids make it the right way," Kubach said regarding his staff. The gym also puts on an annual event called the Turkey Brawl in which “old timer boxers” compete in exhibition fights to raise money for local youth to attend high school and college.
Front Street Gym was featured in the 2015 Rocky franchise spin-off and sequel film Creed. A mural on the wall that is autographed by the stars of the film Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan stands as a testament to the gym’s long overdue appearance in a Hollywood film. Kubach told me that the gym could have been featured in the first Rocky film (1976), but a financial agreement could not be reached between the owner at the time and the film’s producer. When Kubach was approached to have his gym featured in the latest installment of the Rocky series, he jumped at the opportunity. Kubach said that the cast and crew of Creed treated him well, as he motioned towards several new pieces of equipment, including heavy bags. The decision to film several of Jordan's boxing training scenes in Front Street Gym was the right decision. After all, Front Street Gym stands as a reminder of the toughness required for a boxer to become a champion.
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2076 E. Clearfield Street