Francisco Mendez, Boxing Gym Owner and Mentor, Dies at 61


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Boxing is a mano a mano competition for primacy, two fighters alone in a ring with a referee. But for Francisco Mendez, it was also a family affair. His wife and children helped out in the gyms he opened by scraping together savings from menial jobs. And many of the loyal amateurs and professionals he trained became like family, too.

“Francisco was special,” Julie Anne Kelly, a Golden Gloves champion, told Boxing Insider. “He knew just what you needed to hear, when you needed to hear it, to box with everything you had. As a fighter, as his fighter, you wanted nothing more than to do that. For him.”

Mr. Mendez, who survived two bouts of cancer, died on April 21 in Jersey City, N.J., at 61. His son, Francisco Jr., who is known as Frankie, said the cause was complications of the novel coronavirus.

The elder Mr. Mendez was born on Feb. 19, 1959 in Huehuepiaxtla, a village in Puebla state about 100 miles southeast of Mexico City. He was raised by a single mother, who worked as a farmer.

“Ever since he was a kid he was fascinated with boxing,” his son said.

Francisco got only as far as the fifth grade in public school and later trained as a prizefighter in Mexico.

“When I realized I had no chance there, I came to the United States looking for the American dream,” in 1980, he told CUNY-TV’s “Nueva York” last year.

His son said, “After arriving in New York, while working low-wage jobs” — mopping floors, washing dishes and working as a cook — “he always kept boxing in his heart and would go to gyms after work.”

But he eventually realized that he had more of a future outside the ring. “I couldn’t make it as a boxer, but it was God’s will that I made it as a trainer and entrepreneur,” Mr. Mendez said.

He worked at the celebrated Gleason’s Gym in Manhattan, among others, and, after attracting a personal following, opened his own gym on East 32nd Street between Park and Madison Avenues in 2004.

Mendez Boxing, now at 23 East 26th, was described as “a no-frills gym” in Strauss Zelnick’s physical fitness book “Becoming Ageless” (2018): “It was gritty, smelly, and filled with skilled fighters and coaches.”

In addition to his son, Mr. Mendez is survived by his wife, Teresa Mendez; and a daughter, Luz Mendez.

After successfully being treated for cancer in 2015, Mr. Mendez said, “I always keep in mind that I’m a warrior, a fighter and I won’t let anything take me down.”

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