The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with…Harold Weston, Jr.

by on Jun.06, 2011, under Boxing News, CBZ Columnists

by Dan Hanley

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In 1968 the prolific Dave Anderson penned an article on New York’s now-defunct Telstar Gym and those hand-wrapped denizens milling about the pug-infested facility. There he wrote of a 16 year old kid with great aspirations of becoming a fighter. The bemused Anderson was impressed at the youth’s eagerness and willingness to tidy the gym in return for use of the facility. The last line in the article was a direct quote from the lad, which summarised the dreams of most who crossed the sweat-lined threshold of the grand establishment. “I want to be champion of the world.” Thus, began the trek of Harold Weston, Jr.

DH: Harold, how old were you when you took to boxing and where?

HW: I was 9 years old. I got involved in the Dept. of Parks and then about three years later entered NY’s amateur program.

DH: When did you hook up with Gil Clancy and Howie Albert?

HW: (laughing) When I was 9 years old. My father, Harold Weston, Sr. trained me throughout my career and Gil Clancy and Howie Albert managed me from day one. I always say I had two fathers. Harold, Sr. and Gil Clancy. They used to call me Baby Harold back then.

DH: How did you do in the amateurs?

HW: I made it to the finals of the ’69 Novice tournament and in ’70 won the New York Golden Gloves Open title.

DH: Did you go to the Nationals that year?

HW: No, I didn’t want to. I went pro instead. Although up until then I had been traveling nationally with our NY Golden Glove team. We called ourselves, “The New York Jolts”.

DH: You turned pro in ’70 and began fighting in some famous venues such as Sunnyside Garden and the Blue Horizon. But, in your second pro fight you fought on the undercard to the Floyd Patterson – Charley ‘Devil’ Green main event at Madison Square Garden. What was it like fighting in the ‘Mecca’?

HW: Well, I wasn’t intimidated. I fought there before 20,000 fans at the Golden Gloves finals, so I was ready.

DH: Those first couple of years you developed a couple of local rivalries with Jose Rodriguez and Chuchu Malave. Did you know them from the amateurs?

HW: I knew of them and felt I won our fights. But, understand, I wasn’t a big puncher, so at this period I was only developing my skills. I can look back now and say Rodriguez and Malave never made it to the top but I made the grade and eventually beat the dog out of Rodriguez in our third fight.

DH: The first time I heard of you was in an issue of WORLD BOXING, in an article entitled, “Bloodbath at the Felt Forum”.

HW: (laughing) The Vito Antuofermo fight. Y’know, I was out of the ring for 18 months in the Army when Gil approached me about that fight. Vito was undefeated but I told Gil I could beat him and to make the match. I stopped him on cuts in five.

DH: When did you join the military?

HW: Oh, I didn’t join. (laughing) They came and got me. I was drafted. I was in from ’72-’74. First at Ft. Hood, then Fort Dix in Texas. The 1st Cavalry Division.

DH: Wait a minute, you had a couple of fights in between there. How were you managing that?

HW: (laughing) I had a great team of Captains and a Colonel who liked me. Against Vito, they gave me leave and I took the fight.

DH: In ’74 you took on one hot prospect in Fausto Rodriguez. Tell me about that fight.

HW: I was just out of the Army when we took on Rodriguez, who was a terrific puncher and rated #5 in the world. Gil wanted to stop the fight early because I caught a punch in the 2nd round that closed my eye, but I got back into the fight and was winning handily. Then, in the 10th round I was just about to make a move when suddenly I get caught again and I’m laying on my back looking up. It was funny, I actually said aloud, “What the fuck am I doing down here?” I may have got caught but I still did enough to earn that decision.

DH: There was a bit of trouble on that card, wasn’t there?

HW: There sure was. In the previous bout a Puerto Rican got the decision over a Dominican and the crowd rioted. I mean they really tore up the Felt Forum. So the Boxing Commissioner says to Gil that I won, but they’re going to give the decision to Rodriguez, who was a Dominican, so the fans don’t burn the place down, and that they would change the decision the following day. But they never did.

DH: You had controversy dogging you. Your next fight was in Italy against Bruno Arcari. I understand you had a lot to say about that decision.

HW: I was beating him good, but that referee did everything to interfere. You know at one point in the fight he actually told me to stop ducking! I was never going to get that decision.

DH: I believe the Italian promoter was Rodolfo Sabbatini, who was really pushing for a Jose Napoles – Bruno Arcari title fight.

HW: Y’now, I came closer to getting that title fight than anyone actually knows. Jose Napoles was coming off two hard fights with Mando Muniz and offered the next title fight - to be fought in December - to John Stracey. But Stracey didn’t want to go to Mexico City, so they started looking at me. But then Stracey rethought it and accepted the fight. Dan, Napoles was ripe for the taking.

DH: You went on the road again after the Arcari fight, this time to Australia and fought an outstanding fighter in Rocky Mattioli. Tell me about that fight.

HW: We arrived in Australia two weeks before the fight and I was wiped out for the first five days. I thought to myself that this was too long a plane ride to be robbed of a decision. I sat down with the promoter and told him that all I wanted was a fair decision. And he promised me a fair shake. I even helped him out inadvertently. As you can see I like to talk. Well, I started on with the Australian press as to what I was going to do and we had a helluva gate for the fight. The promoter told Gil later that, “Ticket sales weren’t much until Weston started talking.” As for the fight, everything was working right and I took the decision. It was funny, Mattioli came up to me afterwards and said, “I had never even heard of you before!” But Rocky was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.

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DH: You were now fighting pure world class and I think you really arrived against Hedgemon Lewis. Tell me about that fight.

HW: Dan, you hit the nail on the head. I knew if I beat Hedgemon Lewis, that I was good. There was so much interest in that fight that I sold 600 tickets myself. We put on a show. Y’know, Hedge and I never clinched once in that fight. And, although a draw, that fight made me.

DH: In the Clancy-Albert stable you were obviously exposed to some elite fighters. Who were you working with in the gym?

HW: Oh, man! Emile Griffith, Rodrigo Valdez, Jorge Ahumada, Tom Bethea, Ismael Laguna, Johnny Persol, Dick Tiger, I even worked out with Ernie Lopez.

DH: ’Indian Red’ Lopez?! That’s a different coast. When did that happen?

HW: Gil brought me out to the west coast when Emile was fighting Lopez and he asked me if I wanted to spar with Ernie. I thought, “What? we’re going to help them out?” Ernie Lopez was the #3 rated welterweight in the world and I did so well in sparring that it was the first time it dawned on me that I could actually become champion of the world.

DH: I’ve heard many different stories on the decision rendered in your first fight with Wilfredo Benitez. In your own words.

HW: Well, I knew Wilfredo since he was eleven. Both he and his older brother Frankie, but Frankie liked the ladies a little too much to make it to the top. However, I boxed with them for years in the gym and knew their styles well. Gil told me Teddy Brenner wanted to make Wilfredo and I in the Garden but that Don King wanted me to fight in some tournament of his. King wanted to talk to me in his office. So, I went up to Rockefeller Center and he laid a lot on me. A lot of, “C’mon, brother. Sign with me, brother”. I told him up front, “Don, I will fight for you but, I will never sign with you. And I am going to fight Benitez in the Garden!”. As for the fight, I know I beat Benitez. With the heavy latin influence in the Garden that night, there is no doubt they would have given it to him if it was close. But I wound up with a draw.

DH: You followed up that fight with some nice wins over Andy ‘The Hawk’ Price and Jimmy Heair, when you got your long awaited opportunity. You signed to fight Pipino Cuevas on the west coast for the WBA welterweight title. Now, it’s like you said, you were not noted for having a heavy dig, but you were an exceptional boxer. Yet, you fought Cuevas hard and inside. Why?

HW: I planned on boxing but Cuevas had a longer reach than I and my punch kept coming up short. He hit me with something early and I said to myself that this long range punching isn’t working, and I had to go inside.

DH: Is it a boxing myth that he broke your jaw? I ask because you were fighting again two months later.

HW: It is a myth. I had a bad cut inside the mouth, which caused my jaw to swell. That’s why it was stopped after nine rounds.

DH: After a couple of more wins you had some unfinished business with Wilfredo Benitez. This time for his WBC welterweight title. Man, I gotta tell you, you really entered the latin hotbed this time. San Juan, Puerto Rico.

HW: Oh, I know, but I was ready because there was a contract waiting for the winner of that fight to fight Sugar Ray Leonard. I would have made $1,000,000 against Leonard had I grabbed the title. The crowd was rough but I know I won that fight. You know that the two Puerto Rican judges had me losing by only 1 and 2 points, in Puerto Rico no less. But the American referee gave me only 1 round the whole fight. And that was Richard Steele.

DH: Wasn’t that the fight where Wilfredo’s father, Gregorio Benitez started slapping him between rounds?

HW: Yeah, it was the 12th or 13th round, but that was because he was losing the fight. I know I won 8 out of the first 10 rounds and lost maybe 3 out of the last 5. But that’s boxing politics. It is what it is.

DH: Your last fight, against Tommy Hearns, you were doing so well. I could see an upset in the making. Tell me about that fight.

HW: I was so ready for that fight. Howard Davis and I sparred at length in preparation for this bout. Moreover, I arrived in Las Vegas two weeks before the fight, whereas Tommy arrived two or three days prior. I had acclimated to the altitude and succeeded where others hadn’t. I successfully got under those arms and inside. This wasn’t just an upset in the making like you say, I was going to knock him out.

DH: It didn’t appear like he had a Plan B for what you were doing. But when did you realize something was wrong?

HW: Around the end of the 6th round my right eye suddenly went blank. He was winded and started moving away, which forced me to keep shifting my body in order to see him out of the left eye. Between the 6th and 7th Howie was holding up his fingers saying, “How many fingers am I holding up?” I said, “Fingers?! Howie, I can’t see anything.” They retired me in the corner and the doctor who operated on me told me I had a 90% tear in the retina. And said to me, “Thank God you didn’t go out for the 7th round.”

DH: Retirement was thrust on you. Was it a difficult transition?

HW: Dan, I loved boxing. I loved going to the gym. When it was no more, I took off a year just to find myself. Then, I started doing a bit of matchmaking in Commack, NY. I then received a call from Gil, who was now matchmaking for Madison Square Garden. He brought me up to meet Sonny Werblin, who was running the Garden and I became Gil’s assistant. He had me working my butt off, but I learned the operation from A to Z. And a year later Gil left to go to work for CBS and I became the sole matchmaker of Madison Square Garden. I held the post from ’80 to ’86 when Sonny Werblin left and the new administration came onboard.

DH: What have you been doing with yourself since?

HW: I always liked entertainment and promoted some Rock concerts around the NY area. I have since got into producing films and I tell you, the movie business is trickier than boxing and you pay for learning.

DH: What do you think of the boxing game today?

HW: It’s difficult to follow and they don’t fight often or fight anywhere near the talent we did. Back then we fought everyone and there is not one fighter from my era in the ’70s who is not carrying an injury today. We certainly weren’t in it for the money. My two biggest paydays were $50,000 each for the second Benitez fight and the Hearns fight. That’s nothing today, but we loved the game. We were warriors.

DH: Harold, last question. You really had an active world class schedule, but was there one fighter you wanted bad but never got a chance at?

HW: Jose Napoles. In ’75 he was ready to be taken and I was so close to getting that fight. Y’know between opportunities missed and bad decisions, I guess it was like Gil used to say, “Harold is just unlucky.”

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How does a simple word such as ‘unlucky’, a staple in our mainstream lexicon, hold such a varied meaning for us? Semantics I suppose. For that 16 year old kid sweeping out the Telstar Gym, who was likely staring whimsically across the street at Madison Square Garden and who would one day headline and matchmake in those hallowed halls – not to mention challenge twice for the world welterweight title – the word, in its simplest form, was personal baggage. Unlucky? On the contrary, I think Harold Weston did alright.

See ya next round!

Dan Hanley

pugnut23@yahoo.com

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