When the boxing trainers down at the Mack Lewis Gym in East
Baltimore told J. Wyndal Gordon to get in the ring with a 26-year-old heavyweight
named Hannibal Otay, Gordon didn’t quite know what to make of it.
After all, Gordon had never been in the ring with anyone.
“All the guys were like, ‘Oh, you’ve got
to watch Hannibal – Hannibal’s got this terrible right hand! Don’t
get hit by the right hand!’” says the 35-year-old litigator from
his office high above the rumbling streets of downtown Baltimore. “At
that point in time I was only boxing maybe a month or so, and this guy had
been boxing for about a year, I guess. One thing about the sport of boxing:
it doesn’t take long to learn the sport, and then everything else is
just repetition, training. So if you’re boxing for about a month, you
have some degree of skill in the sport.”
“So, anyway, they said, ‘We’ve watched
you. We want you to get in the ring with Hannibal,’” Gordon continues. “And
I said, ‘You all think I’m ready to get in the ring?’ They
said, ‘Yeah, yeah – you don’t have a problem.’
And you trust your trainer. He knows you – he’s not going to put
you in a situation where you’re going to get smashed.
“They said, ‘You get in the ring with Hannibal – Hannibal’s
not going to hit you back. We’re just working on his defense – his
blocking and his bobbing and weaving – and at the same time, we want
you to continue to work on your jab and your right hand.’ So I’m
like, ‘Okay, that sounds fair to me. I can hit him, but he can’t
hit me back. So we go into the ring that first night and we’re sparring,
and I’m peppering him with my jab and my right hand and just hitting
him with everything – that was my first sparring experience, and as you
can see it was a pretty decent experience.”
The second night was a continuation of the first, Gordon
explains. “The second night, I’m doing the same thing – I’m
peppering him with the jab, hitting him with some right hands. He’s blocking
some of my stuff. I’m missing sometimes, as well, but I’m getting
him enough to build up my confidence.
“Third night we go into the gym, they say, ‘Okay,
Wyndal, same thing as the two nights before. He’s not going to hit you
back. You go in there and you do the same thing.’ So I’m in there
hitting him with my jab, peppering him with the right hand…then all
of a sudden I hear somebody say, ‘Hit him! Hit him!’ So,
I’m thinking to myself, ‘I am hitting him, you all don’t
see me hitting him?’ And then this right hand comes…
“I swear, it was like it covered up my whole face…my
lights blacked out and my nose exploded and everything. They said, ‘Stop
the fight! Stop the fight!’ So the fight stopped.”
But for Gordon, the broader fight had only just begun. “I
felt as though I had my badge of honor,” he says with a sparkle of pride. “I
felt that was my rite of passage – I went in there and got my behind
“I tried to do it when I was a kid, but my mother really
didn’t want me to engage in that particular sport,” says Gordon. “So
this year, I was watching boxing on television and just decided, ‘Okay,
I’m going to give that a shot,’ because it was something that I
always wanted to do, and I wasn’t getting any younger, and if I’m
going to do it I have to do it right now.”
Looking for a reputable place to train that was within easy
access of his office, Gordon scoped out a number of gyms before settling on
the Mack Lewis Gym, a Baltimore institution for more than a half-century.
“I told them initially that I didn’t want to
fight, [that] I just wanted to train and lose some weight and just kind of
stay in shape,” Gordon explains.
But the gym was not so easily sold on the then-34-year-old,
considered far over the hill by industry standards.
“They look at everybody who walks through the door
almost like lawyers looking at clients: ‘Is this the messiah? Is this
the one who’s going to take us there and give us the name-recognition
that we seek?’” Gordon adds. “So I said, ‘No, I’m
not that guy.’ They said, ‘Well, who are you?’
I said, ‘I’m just some lawyer who wants to learn how to fight.’ So
I had to plead my case to them because I was so old. They said, ‘We only
train fighters in here. If you’re not going fight, we really don’t
want to deal with you.’ So I said, ‘Well, I bring other things
to the table. You all have this new gym. I know Mack Lewis has his fundraising
arm – I can learn the business of boxing here, as well, and assist you
with whatever you want to do with some fighters who you do see as your messiah.
They thought about it for a minute, and they let me come in and let me train.
So I’ve been doing that for a while now, and that’s how it’s
gotten to where it is today.”
Where it is, by Gordon’s estimate, amounts to approximately
three to five hours spread over three days a week – a figure he concedes
is inadequate for anyone too serious about the sport.
“Boxing, as I learned, is all about conditioning,” explains
Gordon. “If you’re well-conditioned, you can absorb punches better.
You can last longer, and if you outlast your opponent nine times out of 10
you’re going to beat him. When you’re first starting out, you get
in there, and you think you’re going to knock somebody out in the first
round. You don’t knock anybody out in the first round – but you
can waste all of your energy in the first round, and when it comes to the second
and third round, you’ll get knocked out by someone who you know you can
beat because you just didn’t fight correctly. You didn’t fight
the right fight.
“It’s a really grueling and selfish sport,” he
continues. “If you’re going be a fighter, you have to train really,
really hard, because the minute you stop, the minute you say, “Oh, I
can take the day off,” that’s when you lose because that other
guy out there who’s fighting you, he’s not stopping. He’s
not taking the day off. He’s fighting. He’s coming into the ring
to win, and you have to maintain that same type of attitude, even when you’re
“They call me ‘Legal’ there,” laughs
Gordon, whose career in criminal defense and personal injury law tends to distinguish
him professionally from his more blue-collar gym-mates. “Everybody wants
to kick Legal’s ass because Legal has a job. Legal’s just in here
BS-ing. Legal, you know –
this isn’t his life, you know what I mean? Those guys who are in the
that’s what they do. A lot of them are young guys, they’re still
in high school – they have a few college students in there, the guys
who graduated high school but have been boxing for a while and decided that’s
what they’re going to do with their lives. So I’m like an outsider
But in spite of where they each might come from or go to
outside of the gym, they all share one unifying commonality: a sincere, deeply-rooted
love for the sport.
“One thing about boxing is that the camaraderie is
very, very strong,”
notes Gordon. “If you’ve never had a friend in your life, you join
a boxing gym [and] you’ll pick up everybody in the gym because you have
this common interest. It’s just like the Bar Association or anything
else – you have this common interest, and people support you with what
you’re doing. You develop [an almost] familial relationship with your
teammates or people who you train with because you’re spending three
days a week in there and those guys are in there five days a week…[you’re]
doing the same thing, and you get to know one another.
But to Gordon the litigator, the profession and the pastime
are not without their parallels.
“Boxing is one of those sports where it’s one-on-one – it’s
man-to-man, and to me that’s competition at its highest level,” he
explains. “Boxing to me is like going to trial, where if you’re
a lead counsel the homework that you’ve done, your experience that you
bring to the table, all those things come into play in the trial. The same
is true in boxing –
everything that you’ve done behind the scenes, getting ready for this
big fight or this big trial, you’re using that.
“I’ve always kind of done things baptism by fire,
so to speak,” admits Gordon, whose determination to one day practice
law, like boxing, go back to childhood. “The law is just something that
was within me long ago, and it was definitely what I was supposed to do because
I enjoy it immensely. I always say [that] if it wasn’t my job it would
be my hobby – that’s how much I enjoy practicing law.
“I’m a pugilist!” Gordon bellows with a
laugh. “You know, I always said that, even before I started this boxing
thing: ‘I’m a pugilist for justice!’”
Though a post-Hannibal sparring injury (a broken hand) forever
quashed his hopes of a full-fledged amateur bout before reaching the age-cutoff
(35), Gordon continues to train and pursue his dream both inside the gym and
“I eventually want to get into promoting,” he
admits. “Not necessarily managing, but definitely being the lawyer or
assisting in promotions, having a stake in promotions, investing a little in
order to get something in return.
“It’s not as brutal as it appears to be on television.
You wear your protective gear – you wear your cups, you wear your headgear,
you wear your gloves, you wrap your hands up. So as you look at the sport and
you say, ‘How can someone do that?’ Well, people you see on television
are professionals; we’re amateurs. The beatings that you take or the
punishment is not really bad, and at the end of the day, everyone is still
friends and everyone goes their separate ways. And everybody that I know at
the gym – they still have their teeth. They get a shiner every once in
a while, but you know, they’re back in the gym. And they understand that
this is a sport and you do it because you love it, not because you’re
trying to hurt someone or anything like that.
“I have a very serious work ethic, and I try to give
that to boxing as well. At the end of the day, I’m a lawyer first. When
boxing starts to interfere with being a lawyer, I cut it back a little bit
and be more [of] a lawyer than a boxer.
Because after all, boxing is boxing, nonetheless – a
reality that attorney Gordon doesn’t overlook.
“I’m really conscientious about my injuries,” he
says. “I’m not going to get in a fight with another Hannibal Otay.”