Once upon a time, 'Boogie' boxed with Mack Lewis Together again, trainer and student are partners

June 20, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the clothing store magnate who this week announced his interest in purchasing the Baltimore Orioles, has sporting interests other than baseball.

Thirteen years ago, the Baltimore native had designs on becoming a fighter, although, at the advanced age of 36, he preferred keeping his sports fantasy a secret.

One of the few people who knew about Weinglass' boxing past was Mack Lewis. For close to 50 years, he has been opening the iron gate on Eager Street that leads to his antiquated, second-story gym, where he has trained and managed more than 1,000 fighters, amateur and professional.

"You never know who will walk in the gym. Might be the next heavyweight champion or a millionaire," said Lewis, 71.

Lewis, who has handled a number of world-ranked fighters, including welterweights Alvin Anderson and Vernon Mason and heavyweight Larry Middleton, never found a heavyweight champion. But he did uncover a millionaire with a love of boxing.

How Weinglass, the chairman and principal stockholder of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. and the model for the "Boogie" character in the movie "Diner," and Lewis first struck up a friendship reads like another movie script.

"I'd always been into sports," said Wein- glass, who played basketball at City College. "At 36, I got an itch to learn how to fight. I'd watched some of those guys Sugar Ray Leonard fought early in his career in Baltimore, like Luis 'The Bull' Vega and Rocky Ramon, and figured it didn't take much to fight as good as they did."

Weinglass, already well-established in the business community, showed up incognito at Lewis' gym in 1978, driving a battered old Chevy and wearing tattered jeans.

"I told Mr. Mack that my name was Lenny Wine, that I was 28, and wanted to learn how to box," Weinglass said.

"He already had a gym full of fighters, and pros like Mason and [heavyweight] George Chaplin, but he always had time for me and the rest of the guys starting from scratch."

As Lewis recalled: "He was real raw, but he had a lot of heart. After a while, he could hold is own with most of the amateurs in the gym.

"I've had lawyers, doctors and surgeons, even a world-famous artist [Joe Shepard], train here. I don't ask them a lot of personal questions. Sooner or later, they'll start telling me about themselves."

But Lewis never really got to know Weinglass. After six months, he stopped showing up at the gym.

A few months later, Lewis started receiving anonymous checks, some for as much as $1,000. An attached note read, "Buy some equipment for the kids."

"My wife, Ann, was real worried and suspicious at first," Lewis said.

"But I did buy new bags and gloves for the gym. One day, this fellow shows up with a chauffeur-driven car. It was Lenny."

Their friendship since has blossomed.

This week, Weinglass agreed to become Lewis' full boxing partner in promoting and financing his professional fighters. For more than 30 years, Lewis had a business arrangement with Joe Gramby of Philadelphia, who developed several world champions. Gramby died earlier this year.

Weinglass is primarily interested in furthering the career of Vincent Pettway, ranked No. 10 by the International Boxing Federation in the junior-middleweight division. When

he is not fighting, Pettway, 25, works as a model and physical fitness instructor at the Merry-Go-Round plant in Joppa.

"I see what Mack has done for hundreds of neighborhood kids without reaping any real financial rewards," Weinglass said. "Someone should be lending more than moral support."

When the building housing the gym was in danger of being sold to a grocer, Weinglass guaranteed payment for a 10-year lease.

He also co-promoted Pettway's fight against Horace Shufford at the Baltimore Arena in January 1988.

The victory projected Pettway into the welterweight rankings, but the show was less of a financial success,with promoter Don King charging $10,000 for a brief appearance at a news conference.

Weinglass said he is not interested in the nuts and bolts of promoting fights, but is looking for a local boxing man to serve as matchmaker and handle sales and advertising.

Stuart Satosky has been Baltimore's most active and successful fight promoter in recent years. A fire that destroyed Painters Mill Theater in Owings Mills has Satosky seeking an alternate site for his next boxing show in September.

But he won't have to look as hard for someone willing to share the financial risks. "Boogie" is just waiting to answer the bell.

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