Great big news for DC boxing: Jim Finley is opening another gym.
Finley, 81, tells me he’s setting up shop in the basement of his Temple Hills home.
“I got the heavy bags up,” he says. “I’m getting the ring up. I’m not in a hurry, or on a timetable. But I’m going to do it.”
Finley ran the best fight club this town has ever known. For 41 years before its 2001 closing, Finley’s Gym sat upstairs from a body shop on Capitol Hill, and could count Bobby Foster, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, and Sugar Ray Leonard among the world champs who laced ’em up there.
“Everybody who’s someone in the fight game walked through Finley’s doors,” says Chris Ray, a cut man who knows the DC fight scene as well as anybody and is now helping Finley get going. “The man’s an institution.”
The boxing scenes in Burt Lancaster’s 1973 thriller “Scorpio” were shot at Finley’s Gym, also.
It wasn’t only a place for champs and big names, however.
As the club was closing, DC-based superagent Jeff Fried, who has represented Sharmba Mitchell, Sugar Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather, explained why the loss of Finley’s Gym was huge.
“The image of boxing is now Las Vegas marquees and pay-per-view stars,” said Fried. “But what people forget is, places like Finley’s gym are where they all started. I always loved walking in there and seeing champions and also seeing 16-year-old kids with the big eyes, thinking about what could be, the old guys helping the younger guys, the whole cycle of life, right there in front of you.”
Finley walked away from his Capitol Hill gym when his club’s landlord tried doubling his rent. And when he left, he left the fight game completely.
Whenever I’d go to big fight nights around here in the years since, I’d ask about Finley’s whereabouts, and always get some version of: “Mr. Finley doesn’t come out to these things anymore.”
Finley now insists he didn’t miss boxing during his years away — “I could have stayed away, no problem,” Finley tells me. But the excitement in his voice when talking about setting up the basement gym says otherwise.
“It’s just my basement, but I got more room than I had at the old place,” he says.
Finley never was in boxing for the money. Most fighters who worked out at his old gym paid what they wanted, when they wanted. And Finley says he’s going to keep that same loose arrangement in the new venture.
“This isn’t commercial or for my [financial ] benefit,” he says. “I love working and I have some time on my hands. And, yes, I love the game! So as long as I can contribute to somebody’s welfare or happiness, then my bill has been fulfilled. Shakespeare couldn’t have said it better, right?”
Welcome back, Mr. Finley.