GENE HACKMAN once assaulted bad guys on the street in Brooklyn where there are now plans to build an urban beach.

Big Gene hunted them down through traffic, jumped through dustbins and battered them in dirty streets in the shadows of this city’s greatest bridges. There had to be dustbins – trash cans to the locals – on the streets of New York in all movies from the Seventies.

That chintzy part of the city is now a long way from the dog-day afternoons of Hackman’s wild pursuit in The French Connection, but there are still some old-school souls in the New York City borough. Boxing and boxing gyms have mostly been lost in time, able to resist the modern age; in Brooklyn there are throwbacks.

Sure, Paulie Malignaggi quits the frosty streets of his Brooklyn childhood for Florida when the temperature drops. In this city he is boxing royalty and he can do what he wants. His fight with Miguel Cotto at the Garden gives him that lifetime pass, in my opinion. And then the Brownsville boys will forever be local idols. Mark Breland of Brooklyn came from Bedford-Stuyvesant, a location so grand that it bordered on exotic in my mind whenever I heard it. Brooklyn could fight, make no mistake.

Now, in the cold heart of the most savage winter for a long, long time, I met a girl called Meg Lazar. She is an amateur boxer at Gleason’s. She works with Heather Hardy in that fabled gym. She works in a nice bar. She lives and breathes boxing in Brooklyn. She walks home in the dark shadow boxing and trying out moves. She demonstrates hooks in between tables where people sip cocktails with two inches of milk foam topping their glass. She is as old fashioned as any old-fashioned boxing nut could ever be. You know she watches the Sugars on her phone.

She has fought twice and a third fight is coming in April. She recently had pneumonia, but is just now back in the gym. “I missed it every day. Every day,” she told me at the Theatre in the Garden last weekend.

Heather Hardy teaches Meg Lazar how to box

On the night she watched every fight, taking notes in her head. She liked Skye Nicholson’s judge of distance and timing. Lazar had a high seat in one of the boxes, a truly great position to watch the movement of the fighters and not just the action with their fists. It is always good to take a bit of time on a fight, watch more than the punches.

She had a good line for just about every boxer – winner and loser – on the bill. She was observant, watching and not flitting between phone and conversations. It’s been a long time since I spoke with somebody who really takes in the fights. Al Siesta does, Jon Pegg does, Carl Greaves does. Every fight. It was a pleasure. She jumped from fight to fight, often breathless in her recall and enthusiasm. And she was right, by the way. She identified several tells and knew when the ref messed up. Knew when the corner was too brave.

“Skye moves like a fairy with endless energy,” she said. “She just hovers over the ring instead of walking on it.” Amanda Serrano and Richardson Hitchins also got their praise.

Late that night in the freezing dark, she threw punches and moved her feet as she walked from the subway to her house. She was trying out moves she had seen at the fights in the Garden. In the bar where she works, the following night, people looked up from their truffled and grilled trumpet mushrooms as she showed me what she had been throwing. The kid looks like she can fight and she is a great reminder about the raw excitement the sport can still generate. Let’s face it, the ringside can be a jaded pit.

Before the ring, Lazar climbed rocks, ran marathons and was not a boxing fan. She entered Gleason’s in 2019 as part of a scheme to give bartenders a healthier lifestyle. That was it, hooked. She had no boxing heroes; in the gym she found the locals. She found The Heat.

“My first heroes were the folks at the gym who took me under their wing,” Lazar said. “I guess it’s the community as a whole at Gleason’s that is so heroic.” She knows her modem fighters now, studies them.

She had heard about Serrano’s regime, the battle to make weight, the struggle and sacrifices of a life lost to the boxing business. She would have heard more tales of struggle from Hardy – not just for women, men have been getting overlooked, ignored, ruined, left out in the cold and neglected for a long time. That might just be the great American boxing story.

I told her about the sacrifices made by Ramla Ali and Nicholson, the months away from family and loved ones, the belief in the boxing dream. It’s no secret that Ali has turned her back on big, lucrative gigs to stay in camp. That is also sacrifice, make no mistake.

There are thousands of Meg Lazars in our boxing community, wide-eyed kids fighting as amateurs, chasing something. Not all kids, by the way. She served as a wonderful example of the pure pleasure of just sitting down to watch boxing, sitting in the middle of a passionate crowd and loving even the bad fights. I sit with people who often arrive for their free seats after five or six fights. She was my type of boxing fan.

And, by the way, she is a big Gene Hackman fan.

Skye Nicolson fights Tania Alvarez at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2023 (Al Bello/Getty Images)