Johnny Tocco might be rolling over in his grave.
A woman running his West Charleston Boulevard gym? Unthinkable to the legendary trainer who had world champions and tomato cans alike call his place home for five decades before his death in 1997.
Then again, he never met Lesli Casal.
Casal, the mother of two professional fighters, has been around boxing for years. She and her ex-husband, who was a kickboxer, ran a gym in Niagara Falls, N.Y. She had grown up in Las Vegas and she knew of Tocco's establishment.
"I always wondered what went on inside there," she said. "Of course, in those days, women weren't welcome by Johnny."
Today, they are, even though the gym remains mostly the domain of men. That is fine with Casal.
"I was always a tomboy," Casal, 49, said. "My best friends are guys. But we have a few women who train here, and they're very serious about boxing."
Casal fixed up the gym while trying to retain much of the old charm after taking over as manager 18 months ago. She handles the day-to-day operations, making sure everything is in order for the fighters who train there, collecting money and paying the gym's bills.
"We upgraded the equipment and made it more fighter-friendly," she said. "But we didn't want to change the atmosphere."
A former employee of Steve Wynn where she worked in security when Wynn owned The Mirage, Casal got to know a lot of boxing people when fights were held on the property. But her dream was to run her own business. With her sons Nick Casal and Anthony Lenk being boxers, she became actively involved with the sport. That eventually led to her striking a deal to run Johnny Tocco's.
"At first, we had only 20 boxers," she said. "The gym had gotten a bad reputation with trainers and fighters because of the former manager. But now, we have about 175 (boxers) working out, and we turned a profit this past year."
Casal, who has refereed amateur fights and currently manages her sons, said she considers herself tough enough to run a gym.
"I love people," she said. "I try to get along with everyone. Sometimes, I feel like a bartender, listening to everyone's problems. But I don't mind. That's what I'm here for."