A look inside Las Vegas' most beloved gym, Johnny Tocco's Boxing Gym.
Las Vegas’ most beloved boxing gym is not inside a glittering casino on the Strip. It’s not even accessible to anyone who doesn’t know where to look. Considering the former tenant, that is understandable. Situated in an alleyway, right around the corner from a tire repair joint, Johnny Tocco’s Boxing Gym (the official address is 9 West Charleston Blvd.) began its life as the Zebra Lounge, a speakeasy patronized by local mobsters. Johnny Tocco, a boxing entrepreneur who may or may not have had connections to organized crime, asked if he could use the space–which remained empty on most nights–as a place for training fighters. Johnny Tocco’s Boxing Gym opened its doors in 1955.
The Spartan, three-room facility, where a back-wall of the front-office used to be an open pass-through for cocktails, quickly earned its reputation as a serious place where rising boxers worked out. “Sonny Liston is the one who made this gym famous,” says Luis Monda, general manager at the venue. He points toward an enormous truck tire in a corner of the gym and continues, “That was Sonny’s tire. As part of his training he smashed at it with a sledgehammer. The holes he made are still there. It helped him to build upper body strength, lower body stability, and endurance. We keep a sledgehammer in the office.”
Liston became world champion in 1962 and the gym’s reputation was made. Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, and Michael Dokes have all worked out there. Joe Louis had been known for popping in and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s no surprise, then, that a young Floyd Mayweather solidified his style at Johnny Tocco’s. “It was at the beginning of his career,” says Monda. “He had gotten robbed at the Olympics and was already a multiple-time Golden Gloves champion. Over the years, he started to turn up the volume on himself and bring in his entourage. He likes getting positive feedback from people around him.”
These days, Mayweather works out inside his private gym and Johnny Tocco himself is long deceased. But the industriousness of hardworking up-and-comers, stoking championship-belt victories, remains alive in a 60-year-old gym that punches above its weight-class. “We’re the OGs,” Monda brags, acknowledging that the new owners (a local couple who originally bought the place as a real estate play at the edge of Vegas’ burgeoning Arts District) anticipated doing a renovation. “Someone heard about that plan and complained very loudly. That was Bernard Hopkins. He asked them not to change a brick and they listened. For people around the world, visiting Johnny Tocco’s is like making a trip to Mecca.”