Subj: The BAWLI Papers No. 41
Date: 99-01-21 16:21:36 EST
The BAWLI Papers
(Boxing As We Liked It)
By J Michael Kenyon
Issue Number 41
Saturday, January 23, 1999
New York City, New York, US of A
IN THIS ISSUE: THOMAS GERBASI'S ASTUTE
INTERVIEW WITH 'TEACHER' CHUCK BODAK
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Readers are welcome to submit interesting and otherwise noteworthy articles
concerning professional boxing's long and storied past. The emphasis,
generally, should be on the foremost fighters, managers, trainers and
promoters, and events that otherwise were of some moment in the sport's
history. Either transmit the articles via e-mail or mail them to the editor at
the following addresses:
J Michael Kenyon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
244 Madison Avenue, Suite 145
New York City, New York 10016
(ED. NOTE -- Thomas Gerbasi, who is high up on the board of governors of the
Cyber Boxing Zone -- arguably the most compelling World Wide Web site devoted
to the manly art of self defense -- though a number of moderns seem to have
forgotten the "self defense" part of the equation -- and, herewith, presents
his interview with longtime trainer Chuck Bodak for the inspection of
scrutinizing patrons of the art. If you want a guy with solid opinions of
every fighter from the past 60-65 years, Bodak's your man. And Gerbasi does a
yeoman job of drawing him out on a host of fascinating topics. Enjoy -- and
thanks, again, Mr. Gerbasi!)
Interview conducted by Thomas Gerbasi
Despite its seedy reputation and the sordid actions of a few, boxing still has
some good guys left. Chuck Bodak would definitely fall into the good guy
category. Known worldwide for his practice of placing his fighters' pictures
on his forehead while he works their corners, Chuck is nonetheless one of the
sport's most respected trainers and cutmen. Well, let me rephrase that. Chuck
doesn't consider what he does training. To him, training is associated
with animals. He teaches human beings. And what a teacher he has been. In one
capacity or another, Chuck has worked with 52 world champions. From marquee
names like Muhammad Ali, Julio Caesar Chavez, and Evander Holyfield, to the
unknowns fighting four rounders in the Forum, Chuck has been in the corner.
And even with a hectic schedule like that, Chuck is always quick with a kind
word or an autograph for a fan. How many interviewees will sit by patiently as
an interviewer fumbles with a new tape? Chuck does: "Don't worry. I'm home. I
ain't going anywhere." And when I brought up every interviewer's nightmare, a
blank tape, Chuck responded "If it doesn't come out, we'll do it again."
Luckily, the interview came out fine, and we now get a glimpse into the mind
of a great teacher, a walking boxing history book, and one of the sport's good
TG - How did you get started in boxing?
CB - Well, I was raised during the depression, and the way of life was:
acquiring something, fighting for it, and maintaining it. I was a tough,
rugged kid, always into something, and I loved contact in all sports, and
especially boxing. That's how I got into boxing. I loved it.
TG - So you boxed yourself?
CB - Yes, I boxed for about eight years. I had about 135-140 fights in the
amateurs, never turned pro. I started out when I was 13 years old. I was
always mature for my age. When I was 13 I could pass for a 16, 17, 18 year old
kid. I hung around with older guys, and I wanted to fight. There was no
novice, no beginners, no nothing at that time. In fact, the first five guys I
fought were Gold Glove champions. That was the way of life then, during the
I had no desire to turn pro because I wanted to teach, plus it was almost
impossible to make anything unless you were a real outstanding fighter, a
contender or a champion. There wasn't that kind of money around professionally
during the depression. And in the amateurs, you could fight twice in one
night, you could fight seven days a week. They had fights every day of the
week all over the Midwest. On Saturdays and Sundays they had picnics,
different outside events, and stuff like that where they always had a boxing
show. So, as a result, I practically supported a family with the money that I
TG - So you were able to make money as an amateur?
CB - In those days, when you fought they'd give you medals and awards of
different types, and you'd turn 'em in and get money for 'em.
TG - How did you go from amateur fighting into training?
CB - That's what I always wanted to do. When I quit I went back to the guy
that taught me. He was a great teacher, a great psychologist, and I went back
to him, and I was his assistant. I always loved it because I had a lot of
respect for people that gave me all their knowledge in different sports. In
school, I was an all-around athlete, plus boxing, and I always had a desire to
teach because I'd observe them and I look back at what they've done, and the
things that they've done to help kids. That's what I've wanted to do. I look
forward to it.
TG - Once you started training, who was the first fighter you had exclusively
CB - In the amateurs, I had a lot of kids locally. All the top notch kids,
'cause I was at the CYO where I started out in Gary, Indiana. Then I made a
big name for myself and I was selected on the Chicago Tribune Gold Glove
coaching staff, which handled inner city, international, and stuff like that.
And I got to know a lot of these guys that I had on teams. Also later on I
worked with a lot of these guys that turned pro. From the amateurs, the
pros, working as a cutman, and on the training staff, I worked with 52 world
TG - What is more important as a teacher, the physical or the psychological
CB - Mental and psychological, yessir. Because anybody can get in shape.
Anyone can have the requirements as far as the body is concerned, the
different intricacies that are necessary to develop and educate an athlete.
But the mental aspect is a big thing. Like I tell a guy, if I raise my finger,
I don't raise it up instinctively or automatically, I raise it up
because mentally I sent a message through my body, raise my finger. It's
really that simple. Even if you're working with a guy who's, so to speak, an
illiterate. How much simpler could it be?
TG - Do you believe training is a lost art today?
CB - Teaching is a lost art. There are very few teachers around. Everybody's a
trainer, and to me, not to condemn anybody or anything else, but just the word
in itself, training, is associated with animals. Training is
domination, dictating, giving instructions, stuff like that. When you teach,
you educate. To me, that's the difference.
Every pupil that I ever worked with, I told them, I was very explicit, I said
it's all mental. You teach. I use a mechanic as an example. He goes to a trade
school, and they teach you everything that there is about the tools; what goes
where, how to use it. They teach you the machinery. And it's the same thing
with boxing or any sport. You give the guy the tools to work with. He's the
guy that does the work. Like these guys, especially in the old days, "Shit
man, I taught this guy everything he knows, man." and all this damn crap,
that's bullshit. You teach a guy that has a good mentality, picks it up, and
in time, a lot of them even surpass the teacher. Cause like with me, the
average guy, that will probably be insulted, if a student surpassed him, I'd
be honored, cause "man, I must've done a hell of a job. This guy's better than
I am." And that's the truth.
TG - Who do you consider some of the best teachers, past and present?
CB - Well, there's a lot of them. A guy in New York who worked with the NY
CYO, a guy by the name of Pete Mello, was a great teacher, and a great
psychologist. He was on the NY Golden Gloves coaching staff besides the CYO.
It's like anything else, you've got to have some ability, and you have to have
time. Some guys think that you can get a guy in a short period of time, run
him through a short routine, give him a pair of gloves, put him in
there, and box, and that's bullshit. Like I tried to explain to a student.
It's like you start off in kindergarten, and you work your way up through the
grades. When you get in high school, you're pretty well set. You go to
college, it's an advancement. You get out and you're a finished product, and
that's the way it is, especially in boxing, or any sport, really. But more so
in boxing because boxing is so intricate and it's all one on one, and you
really have to be well educated in order to compete.
TG - As a sport, boxing doesn't have the greatest reputation. Has anything
happened that made you want to pack it in?
CB - Never. No. You know why? Because even besides the boxing, I spent time in
youth work too. I worked with handicapped kids. I worked with retarded kids.
In the program in the CYO I always had a lot of these kids that would come
down to the center. I was the recreational director of a center and I also had
sports. Naturally, boxing was the number one sport. A lot of these kids would
come down, and I started classes for them. A lot of their parents would come
down cause right after the war, when the CYO opened up this
particular center in one part of the town, and we were the first ones in the
whole damn town that had a TV set. It was donated by some furniture mogul in
Gary, Indiana and everybody and his brother, mothers, fathers, sisters, and
brothers came down to watch the football game, boxing, and everything else.
So it was quite a place. And some of them had retarded kids, they'd bring them
down. They'd fool around in the gym, for example, next thing you know, I
started a class and worked with them.
So beside boxing I was very interested in youth work because even boxing, I
used to explain to guys "I'm not teaching you boxing in the sense that it's
boxing, I'm teaching you life. All the facets that we work with, that we
deal with, that I'm educating you in, are things that you're going to be
taking in everyday life with you. Because an athletic lifespan is very short.
The thing that's going to be important is you going out into the
world and putting all this stuff to use where people accept you, where people
are willing to do something for you. Not being a big stupid lug where you're
lucky to get a job as a porter or something.
TG - Do you ever run into fighters who don't want to listen or be taught?
CB - Yeah, you have all types of kids. And there's a way to beat around that.
For example, a lot of ridicule and humor, cause with ridicule you draw a
person's attention, you stun 'em and then insert humor to where the guy can
laugh about it. And then you can get serious about things and the guy will
accept it. But you get guys that are headstrong. For example, like you're
teaching them something, the type of guy, if you were able to read minds, it's
almost like you do read the mind, and you walk away from the
guy. And the guy starts thinking, then you ignore the guy completely, and
you're working with everybody else in the gym. The guy finally walks up and he
says "Hey man, I notice you're walking around, working with all these guys,
you talk to me for a short while, and then that was it, you ignore me and
everything else." I said "No". I want to spend time with these guys cause they
don't know, and they're willing to accept my knowledge. But you, you're
smarter than I am. You don't need me. I'll just stand there and watch." "No,
no, man" You know, they start with all kinds of excuses and stuff like that.
Then you know you've sold yourself. Psychologically you
defeated a guy. He's willing to go along.
TG - Any problems with a fighter's entourages?
CB - No. But I've had experiences with these guys around. After a couple of
times these guys read the handwriting on the wall and they back off and then
you hit 'em every once in a while and they get the message.
TG - What are your thoughts on Muhammad Ali as a fighter?
CB - Here's the way I categorize him. They always talk about the greatest.
There's no such thing, not in my book. It's like when they tell me "You're one
of the greatest cutmen in the world" I said bullshit. I may be one of the
best, but as far as the greatest, there's no such thing. Because for every guy
that's considered great or the greatest, there are people out in the world,
with the exception of Ali, and I'll explain that later, there are people
behind you that are as good, if not better. There are thousands of them. So
how can one be considered the greatest?
But Ali was different. Ali had perfected instincts and you could categorize
him as one of the greatest because he was so different. Everything was there
plus he nurtured it with the type of person that he was and the different
escapades in his life. So that's why you could possibly say that he really was
the greatest. But in boxing, Ali was one of the greatest instinctive fighters.
Joe Louis was one of the greatest fundamental and basic fighters that ever
lived. In other words, if you were to teach and you run films of Joe Louis;
tell a kid "when you watch this film, everything this guy does, you do,
because this is basics and fundamentals to perfection." Willie Pep, Sugar Ray
Robinson, guys of that caliber, they're very creative. They were great. Willie
Pep, for example, he done things you never saw anybody do.
Everyone he fought, it was amazing the things he'd done. Sugar Ray Robinson
was the same way. Very creative. The guy was just a fantastic, perfected
machine. That's really my analysis of the people in different categories.
TG - Barney Ross?
CB - Barney Ross was a great technician. Plus a lot of those guys like Barney
held three titles. But today there's so much to offer a fighter, so much to
gain, that I don't know what it is, plus modern technology, modern education,
everything else. Things are elevated because when you explain it to people you
explain it in terms like a car. You can't compare a car in the '30s, the '40s,
the '50s, with the cars in the '80s and '90s. There's got to be improvement.
Time don't stand still. Technology gets greater and greater, year in, year
out. Plus the mentality today. Look at all the technology you have. All the
geniuses, the brains that are responsible for stuff like that. In every phase
of life. It's the same thing with sports. There's got to be a difference,
although there are certain phases of life that were as good
during them days as they are today. But they never had the exposure to a lot
of the things that they have today which enhances a lot of the kids today.
TG - So you believe that today's athletes are better than those years ago?
CB - I'd have to say so because its been proven record wise in all sports.
They break records constantly. And that's got to be, because you have a better
man, a super individual. There's a lot of technology associated with sports
that enhances their ability so you have to face facts. You've got to call a
spade a spade.
TG - Rocky Marciano?
CB - Rocky Marciano was a devout, dedicated, tremendously conditioned athlete.
Tough as nails. Hit like a mule. He could hit you on the arms, the shoulders,
in the chest and hurt you and stun you. But they had a tape where
him and Ali fought an exhibition, and he won the decision over Ali. Now if
you're really knowledgeable about boxing and compare the two, in a regular
match, with both of them even in their primes, Ali would have toyed with
Marciano. Sizewise, ability, and everything else, the technology. Big
difference. Ali was very scientific. Marciano was just a rough, tough,
aggressive fighter. Very little technique, very little technology, but
determination and the ability to punch and absorb punches. He was a Superman.
You've got to give him credit and respect. The people that he fought, the
record that he amassed. What else can you say? There's nothing negative, other
than when you go into technology.
It's like IQ's for example. There's five people with high IQ's and one may be
smarter than all the rest of them or vice versa. Yet they're all in the same
category. But I studied this tape and the ability of the two. There would have
been no question that Ali would have had a field day with Marciano. And a lot
of it too, you hear this so often, it's one of the
oldest cliches in boxing, "who'd he fight?" He fought so and so, who was an
old man, and all this bullshit. Well, so did every other champion coming up or
winning a title, or defending the title. It's the same damn thing, the guys
that were around, he fought em all and beat em all, regardless. After the same
guy winds up losing the title, the same damn thing. They match up with up and
coming fighters, who are potentially great, and you just haven't got it
anymore and you get beat.
TG - Sonny Liston?
CB - The guy had one of the greatest jabs. In fact, his jab was like throwing
a right hand or a hook. He was so powerful, the way he threw them seemed like
he had everything behind him. Where most good technicians, they pop that jab
out, it's nice and relaxed and snappy, with zip to it. But he was the type of
guy, he hit you with the jab, he hurt you. And he was a much better boxer than
a lot of people give him credit for.
(The Chuck Bodak question-and-answer session with Mr. Gerbasi will continue in
The BAWLI Papers No. 42 and No. 43.)
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