By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Red-faced and out of breath, Jon Kim-Reuter pounds his fists into the punching bag. He ducks to one side as the bag swings back, then fires intensely again.
At 40, Kim-Reuter, a soft-spoken philosophy professor who lives in Chelsea, isn't the type of guy you would expect to find at an elite training gym like Mendez Boxing. But he is part of a growing generation of white-collar fighters who is helping to turn the Flatiron district into an unlikely boxing hub.
"There's something very therapeutic about just being able to hit something as much as you want and not having it throw something back at you. It's very cathartic," said Kim-Reuter, who added that he loves the sweet science because it gives him a "fantastic" workout and keeps him from getting bored.
While many fear boxing may be past its prime thanks to competition from other fighting sports like mixed martial arts, Mendez Boxing has just signed a lease to open its third gym in as many blocks. At nearly 12,000 square feet, the new space at 26th Street and Madison Avenue will be the company's largest space — more than double the size of their second-largest gym, president Bob Schaefer said.
The new location will also be the fifth major boxing club to open between 24th and 28th Streets between Sixth Avenue and Third Avenue. It will join Mendez Boxing's existing locations at 25 W. 26th St. and 251 Fifth Ave., as well as Kingsway Boxing and Blue Velvet Boxing Club, reflecting a surge in interest in boxing in a neighborhood better known for its big box retailers and high-rise luxury buildings.
Sebastian Rivas, 19, of Queens, who manages Mendez Boxing’s 26th Street location, said the company has been floored by the growing response. The gym now welcomes up to 120 people a day in his location, despite the gym being tucked away inside the fifth floor of a nondescript building.
"It's crazy," Rivas said. "It gets to the point where you can't fit any more people in here."
Mitch McMahon, 35, who has been competing as an amateur for almost a decade, comes from Brooklyn to train at Mendez three to four times a week. He said part of what he likes so much about the club is getting to training alongside both professionals and non-competitors.
"Everybody works out together," McMahon said.
Schaefer, himself a boxer who used to train at the same gym as Sugar Ray Robinson, said that until recently, someone like Kim-Reuter would never have walked into a gym like his. Most boxers, he said, grew up poor. College degrees were "the exception."
But today, he said, the gym attracts everyone from professional boxers to doctors, lawyers and celebrity chefs, who work out side by side.
"It’s white collar people now. That’s what's changed," Schaefer said.