|WAIL!. . . THE CBZ JOURNAL||
SPIRITUAL ADVISER ON ALL
EDITORIALwww.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/jofre2.htm) that I felt pretty good about. But I gotsta say Mr. Cuoco's tops mine. The depth & detail in which he delves into Jofre's career is really exceptional. This is a piece that truly does justice to the great Jofre's incredible career.
RINSING OFF THE MOUTH PIECE
I'm gonna begin this editorial with a fond & sad farewell to one of our columnists, Lee Michaels aka Lee Gerowitz. Lee has been a terrific correspondent for us for a couple of years. He also worked on one of the finest boxing documentaries ever, ESPN Classic Sports', Shadow Boxing, which deals with the struggles of African American boxers in the 20th Century.
Lee came to the CBZ via Tom Gerbasi, my stalwart right arm. They met ringside at a fight in the Garden & struck up a friendship. Tom turned me on to Lee, I contacted him & he's been one of our best columnists ever since.
Unfortunately, boxing & writing for the CBZ has a high burn out rate. Lee regretfully informed me a couple of weeks ago that he no longer had enough interest in the squared circle too keep up his column.
As much as I regret his decision, I can't blame him. His reason is that the constant negativity that permeates the sport has left him unable to get it up to write about it anymore. He has no interest, at this time to write about boxing because the only feelings he has are negative.
& that's not the kind of writer he wants to be. Well, yeah, boy howdy, I can relate to that ... This of course has happened before, Our old webmaster, Pusboil & DscribeDC (David Gionfriddo), both burned out & quit.
But boxing is a weird addiction & I'm happy to say that both of them return from their respective hiatus' with excellent pieces this month. 'Boil gives us his take on the doings at the Hall Of Fame ceremonies &Dscribe returns with a fictional short story with a connection to boxing, that is outstanding.
Such is the nature of writing for the CBZ ... Every time someone drops out we are blessed by submissions from new writers. In the last few months we have been joined by a welter of outstanding new writers : In this issue we have contributions from, David Hudson, Alan Taylor, Adam Pollack, Chuck Hasson, Dan Cuoco, Don Colgan, Monte Cox & Alex Hall.
All of these newer writers are hard core boxing guys who know their stuff & write incisive pieces. & the CBZ is very grateful for their hard work & contributions.
Also of course, we have contributions from some of our long time correspondents. We lead of the issue with a remarkable essay on Mike Tyson by my good buddy, Lucius Shepard, that is so thought provoking, even the Ol' Spit Bucket was forced to rethink some of his positions on the detritus that is the life of Ol' Leg-Iron Mike ...
Eric Jorgensen, who has become one of our finest interviewers (check out his two part interview with Scott LeDoux in our previous two issues), returns with an interview with Dan Rafael, USA Today's new boxing columnist. As far as The Bucket is concerned, Rafael & his newspaper's commitment to extensive regular coverage of the sweet science is the best thing to happen to boxing in the new millennium. I've spoken to Mr. Rafael a few times & I've been very impressed with the depth of his knowledge. This is a young man who is very committed & enthusiastic about covering the sport with as positive an outlook as possible.
Dan Rafael is my kinda guy & I sincerely applaud his efforts.
Also in this issue we have two pieces by two of my all time favorite writers, Enrique Encinosa, who contributes a trenchant & poignant piece about one of the all time road warriors, Angel Robinson Garcia. The other one is a moving piece by Rick Farris, on one of the great LA fighters of the '70's & '80's, the irrepressible, two time champ, Bobby Chacon & the tragic circumstances his life has fallen to.
Rick is a unique boxing scribe. Not only is he a helluva writer, he is also a former main event fighter out of LA from the '70's. This is a guy who knew, sparred & worked out with great fighters like Duran, Olivares, Chacon, Pimental & many, many, others. Due to his life experiences in boxing, Mr. Farris brings a credibility to his stories that is absolutely unquestioned.
For those of you who are boxing history buffs, we have articles by three great boxing historians, Tracy Callis on Joe Louis, Harry Otty on John Conteh & Lew Tendler by the aforementioned Chuck Hasson.
There is also an article by Dan Cuoco that is near & dear to my heart about my all time favorite fighter, former bantam & featherweight champion, Eder Jofre. A few years back I wrote a profile on Jofre (
Which now brings me to Randy Gordon & Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. When the CBZ first started, a little over five years ago, Randy & the good doctor where the first major boxing figures to step up to the plate & not only support the CBZ, but to contribute to it.
Their support gave us instant credibility in the boxing world & opened many doors for us by giving us access to boxing people that would have been impossible without them. For that reason & for the friendship & great advice they've given us over the years, the CBZ will always be deeply in their debt.
Randy contributes another excellent column this month on the vagaries of the squared circle. Dr. Pacheco has graciously given us permission to use some of his boxing paintings for this editorial.
As many of you know, Dr. Pacheco has retired from broadcasting for ShowTime. However, that doesn't mean he's leaving the fight scene. He will still do work for the network & is starting his own web site www.ferdiepacheco.com . The site will be as eclectic as the good doctor himself & will cover a wide range of subjects, including of course, boxing.
The Doc also has a TV special & book in the works called Boxing's Twelve Greatest Rounds. In the September issue we will not only have an in depth profile & interview with Pacheco but he has also graciously agreed to let us excerpt parts of his new book.
Finally, in regards to the CBZ there are a few other people that I have to thank: Mike DeLisa, Tom Gerbasi, Joe Bruno, Pedro Fernandez, Chris Bushnell, Max Kellerman & Katherine Dunn.
Mike of course, is my partner & founder of the CBZ. He is also the managing editor of our Boxing Encyclopedia, which I feel is truly the heart & soul of the CBZ. Mike's efforts, along with Tracy Callis, Matt Tegen & others, is nothing short of incredible.
At this point they are about five fighters away from completing a full list of EVERY lineal champion in every division along with their records. This has been a monumental task they've devoted themselves to for the last five years. I strongly urge all our readers to check out the Encyclopedia as there is much more than just fighters’ records there.
Tom Gerbasi, the editor of this magazine, also pulls double duty for the excellent House Of Boxing web site (www.houseofboxing.com) as their web master. Frankly, without Tom, there probably wouldn't be a CBZ . But even more than his yeoman like efforts, I appreciate him as a close & dear friend who is not
afraid to set the Bucket straight by busting his balls & keeping him moving in the right direction.
Then there's Joe Bruno & Pedro Fernandez, two irascible, pit bull reporters, who never fail to call 'em as they see 'em no matter where the chips may fall ...
I would be totally remiss in my duties as editor if I didn't mention Chris Bushnell. Chris rarely writes for WAIL! itself. Instead, he covers all the major fights for us. I've mentioned this before, but Chris is the best fight reviewer I've ever read. If you don't believe me, check out his web site www.boxingchronicle.com, on it is every fight report he has submitted & they are all exceptional.
Last but certainly not least, there's Max Kellerman & Katherine Dunn. Max as everybody knows is the voice of ESPN2's boxing series. Max has gone out of his way to help us out by introducing us too many fight figures. The recent interview with Scott LeDoux & our current one with Dan Rafael came about through his introductions. Max has been a huge help to us.
Finally there's Katherine Dunn. Ms. Dunn is an acclaimed novelist (Geek Love) & journalist for many mainstream publications. She has also been a boxing scribe since 1980. Her tireless efforts in exposing the seamy underside of the business of boxing have proven not only controversial but invaluable. She also puts up with almost daily phone calls from The Bucket, who is always ranting & raving about something within the confines of the squared circle.
Her patience & advice to me has always been right on the money & again, I'm deeply grateful ...
S'anyways, I thought I'd take the time this month to introduce our dear readers to some of the excellent writers we present who make this magazine what it is ...
As is our annual tradition, the July issue of WAIL! will be the last regular issue until Labor Day. However, Mike DeLisa will be publishing our annual August history issue in the interim.
This doesn't mean we are taking off for the summer. Check out the CBZ news regularly for not only news items but fight reports & exclusive CBZ reports from many of our writers.
Enjoy the new issue! I'll see ya in September ...
What's Good For Boxing
By Lucius Shepard
It's all so predictable.
Another pitiful episode in Mike Tyson's carnival death trip, and once again we hear the chirping cries of the press calling for his head.
Put him back in his cage.
He's an animal.
He should be banned from boxing.
One expects this kind of thing from the knuckledraggers along press row, but in this instance even normally restrained reporters have fallen prey to hyperbole.
"It's hard to imagine anyone as crazy as Mike Tyson was last night," writes Wally Matthews.
Ever check out a hopeless ward, Wally? Take the nickel tour of Bellevue next time you're in New York. Hell, we don't have to look that far to find a number of people every bit as crazy--crazier, even--than Mike Tyson. The recent history of boxing is littered with certifiable maniacs. Bruce Curry and Trevor Berbick, for example. Or Ike Ibeabuchi, who has this penchant for kidnapping and claims to be possessed by demons. And let's not forget space cases such as Oliver McCall and Andrew Golota.
What is it about Mike Tyson that causes sportswriters to puff up their wattles and burble like bewigged 18th Century barristers in a high dudgeon? These people are, after all, the same folks who once reported with unalloyed delight on the savageries of the youthful Tyson, his desire to push the bone of the nose up into the brain of his opponent and his much ballyhooed bad intentions. What did they believe the term "bad intentions" meant? Did they think he was kidding? Or are they, in retrospect, spiritual brethren of the flash-bulb popping reporters who crowded around the feet of King Kong, goading him on. eager to record his every fearsome gesture and growl, but ready at a moment's notice to turn on him and demand his blood.
There are two unsavory forces at work here.
1) It has become clear that once a sports reporter is given a column, he starts to believe that having a by-line confers upon him a certain moral authority and thus he feels compelled to offer pompous pronouncements on the dubious character of athletes. It's funny, really. You can sit at ringside for a big fight and look around and see alcoholics and drug users, wife-beaters, men and women who dump their jobs at the drop of a hat when extended a better contract, and yet these very people apparently see nothing hypocritical in their bashing star athletes for drinking, doping, spousal abuse, and lack of loyalty to their managers, cities, or teams. Diehard gamblers opine that Pete Rose should be declared anathema and excommunicate. Inveterate cokeheads who have to hurry to the men's room between innings so they can chunk up pieces of their ex-sinuses into bloody handkerchiefs howl for Darryl Strawberry's banishment.
Actually, it's not all that funny. It's disgusting, stupid, and vile.
And even when no overt hypocrisy is involved, any sports reporter worth his salt knows that when he jumps up and down in print and yells Bad Crazy Overpaid Animal or any other of a number of solid gold slurs, he'll score big points with guys named Jerry from Tenafly who're in the habit of calling into WFAN after their fifth shooter in the neighborhood bar and belching out their loathing for this or that local hero.
2) The American press has traditionally had trouble dealing with any high profile black athlete who carries with him the arrogance of the street. Jack Johnson. Liston. Clay. Tyson. And we're not just talking boxers. Every major sports league in this country is rife with young black athletes who have had huge problems dealing with money and fame and have been lacerated, justly or not, by the press. Tyson merely happens to be their poster boy. (I mean, you've never seen anyone waxing all self-righteous and indignant about Ike Ibeabuchi. Violent demented nutboy though he is, Ike just doesn't have Iron Mike's Q factor. Being a native of Africa, he can be excused his primitive behaviors--all them Shango-worshipping motherfuckers crazy, right?--and as a man whose ancestors avoided the indignities of slavery, he poses a far less significant threat to our national insecurity.) Some of these young black men are, indeed, reprehensible characters. Others are simply screwed-up. Others yet are decent human beings who are never going to get cut any slack because they're not sufficiently PR savvy to control the image they present to the dumbasses who make their living writing about them...or else they just don't give a damn.
I imagine at this moment there may be a number of beady-eyed, quasi-literate "journalists" out there reading this with shreds of beef stuck between their teeth and a bubble of thought slowly forming in their brains which--when it bursts--will leave them with the distinct impression that I'm suggesting some of them are racists. Duh! It's a racist country, a racist world. If you don't believe that, well, why don't you take it easy and go back to putting that Happy Face jigsaw puzzle together. If you're having trouble with it, try to remember that a smile is only a frown turned upside down. But the fact that racism may be involved in press reaction to Tyson is only a sidebar to my actual point. What I mean to suggest is not that many of the working press are racists, but that they are either fools or frauds...or both.
You see, I am also of the opinion that Mike Tyson should not be allowed to fight any longer. However, my opinion--unlike those of the voices raised in outrage following the Savarese fight---is not funded by the notion that this would be good for boxing.
Fuck what's good for boxing.
What's good for boxing is perhaps the most ludicrous phrase in current journalistic usage. What's good for boxing is not a story that reporters for major newspapers care to report, because it's boring, it's not newsworthy, it is not celebrity-driven, and nobody wants to read all about it.
So what would be good for boxing?
Do you know, do you know, do you know...
Well, I guess it would be good if the men who sanctioned and promoted fights involving Mike Tyson were subjected to vilification and corporal punishment by large men with pointy sticks, Ditto for the men who allowed Oliver McCall to get into the ring with Lennox Lewis while he was still in rehab, and likewise for those men who enable mismatches like Gatti-Gamache, and all kinds of stuff like that. Am I right? Wrong. That would be okay for boxing, nice for boxing, but it would do no consequential good. Fighters like Tyson, McCall, Gatti, et al, are to the sport what bands like Metallica and the Stones and Oasis are to rock and roll--they and their promoters and enablers comprise a portion of a thin upper level of the business; knock a few of them off and others will rise from the depths to take their place. It's the depths of boxing that urgently need to be reported on, that need to be changed and purified in order for the upper reaches to shine. You can't cure cancer with cosmetic surgery. You have to go in and get all the tiny tumors. You have to address corruption on a local level, to ferret out all the little weasels with bad combovers and cheap tuxedos who let brain-damaged pugilists risk their lives for short money in nowhere towns in Missouri and Mississippi and Idaho. You have to write eloquently and persuasively about the practice of meatpacking, carting a van full of underage kids and has-beens and never-weres from town to town, building up their records by having them fight each other under false names every few days, then throwing them in with a real fighter on a Vegas undercard to give him an impressive KO and set him up for a title shot. You have to expose the cheaters and the drug test-fakers, the steroid pushers and the fixers, the club show promoters who stiff their fighters, the incompetent doctors and the commissions who'd license Tommy Morrison to fight a ten-year-old girl in the nude if you slipped them enough Benjamins. You have to turn the white-hot light of judgment on your own profession and point out the criminal hypocrites, the poseurs who affect a moral stance but whose lips have turned brown from rim-jobbing Arum, King, and various of the lesser demons.
We every one of us know that short of several Acts of Congress and a change in basic human nature, none of this is going to happen. Nobody cares, nobody wants to read it, nobody's going to write it. What's good for boxing just doesn't sell papers. The reason I hope Mike Tyson gets out of the sport is not because it would be good for boxing, but because it would be good for Mike Tyson. The man appears to be a manic depressive whom five or ten years of therapy might salvage, and aside from whatever benefits that might have for him personally, it surely would be a blessing for his wife and kids and the rest of those around him. I have no desire to become an apologist for Tyson, but neither do I feel possessed of the moral certitude that would allow me to make a material judgment about someone I don't know intimately, the kind of judgment that Michael Katz and his ilk seem comfortable in making. Of course all this noise about Tyson is utter nonsense. Guess who's going to be sitting ringside at Tyson-Golota? You think any of these folks will give up an all-expense paid trip to Vegas or Hong Kong or Helsinki where they can hang out with their friends, catch a few shows, and watch the latest episode in the serial train wreck that is Mike Tyson's life? What'll he do next? French kiss Mark Ratner? Dry hump a ring card girl? Don a leopardskin loincloth and stick up a Burger King? They can't wait to find out. Think they'd miss the opportunity to ladle out some more sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing, my-fine-sensibilities-have-once-again-been-offended-by-the-beast-man bullshit? Tyson's a story that's very, very good for the Wallys and the Michaels and all the rest. It's a great story. Hubris and head-on collisions. You couldn't invent it. It's a circus featuring a half-tamed T-Rex who, when he's taking his meds, can be an intelligent, even a charming guy, and when he's not, hey, just throw him a Christian with big ears, stand back and watch the fun. Everybody loves a dinosaur with a fatal flaw. And your faithful reporters are purely salivating to run that final headline...
MIKEZILLA TRAMPLES TOKYO
Then Dies in Nuclear Attack
...so they can write "I told you so, ain't it sad, I told you so, ain't it sad" over and over again just like they did when Sonny Liston died, after painting him as a monster for his entire life. Then again, maybe it's not all bullshit, maybe some of these gentlemen of the press have been at it so long they've swallowed their own chump, and Sunday morning when they're writing their post-press conference columns, fueled by shirred eggs and wine sausage and a flute of on-the-house champagne, they warp out into a zone where they buy into everything they write, they become the moral crusaders that their junior high souls presumed they would grow up to be, and their cliche-ridden harangues begin to seem like holy writ. Inspired and pithy and destined to change the world. This well may be the case, because I have the suspicion that at heart what these people truly believe is good for boxing, the very best thing, the ultimate panacea for the sport's many ills, is themselves.
An Interview With Dan Rafael
By Eric Jorgensen
Dan Rafael is the new boxing columnist for U.S.A. Today. He is a bright, well-spoken 29-year-old who takes both the sport of boxing and sportswriting in general very seriously. Recently, I had the good fortune to meet him over the telephone and speak to him about his background and the work he's doing for USA Today.
Eric:Why don't we start with your giving me some background information. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school, things like that?
Dan:I am 29 years old. I grew up in upstate New York in a suburb of Albany, south of Saratoga Springs, between New York and Albany. I went to college at Binghamton University which was one of the big university centers in New York, and had a good academic reputation. I followed boxing as a kid -- really followed all the big, big fights, which, you know, meant mostly the heavyweights. I didn't really know much about the fighters in the lighter weight divisions when I was younger. All the Tyson fights – well, a lot of them anyway -- took place near where I grew up. He fought in Great Falls and then in Troy and places like that. Actually, by the time he became heavyweight champion, I had already been following him for quite a while -- since he was just a big star locally. So, that was my early boxing exposure.
Eric:Were you a journalism major in college?
Dan:No, I majored in history. But, I took maybe a half-dozen or so journalism related classes -- intro, feature writing, magazine writing, sports writing -- and I worked for the college newspaper covering sports. Considering there was no formal journalism program and it was only a twice-a-week paper, I think we did a pretty good job with it. We followed boxing too. The college I went to, right across the street at the main entrance, was actually the headquarters of the local newspaper in town. I got an apprenticeship there, and started to learn the ropes. Then, I decided this would be something I would like to do for a living, and, when I got through with college, I got a part-time job at a paper in Saratoga Springs. I got hired there and I started covering baseball and high school and college sports.
Shortly after I got there, I took in a card at the Saratoga Civic Center, which was right down the block from my office. The card featured Buddy McGirt on the comeback trail; he was fighting a guy named George Heckley. Not a huge card, but it was prime network work. I volunteered to cover it for my newspaper. It was a great big event within the city, so they let me do it.
Anyway, Heckley got hit with an uppercut in the 10th round and a big splatter of blood landed right smack in the middle of my notebook. I was like, "this is cool, I gotta go to this more often!" I knew that there wasn't that much going on in boxing, so I knew that my opportunities to cover this sport were going to be limited, but I started following it more closely then I had done previously. I had always followed it, but, after that, I started specifically making sure that I would watch the ESPN stuff even if it wasn't necessarily a big fight, and I always watched the HBO and Showtime stuff. I just really became much more aware of what was going in the sport as a whole beyond just what was going on with respect to the "big" names.
Eric:All of which makes you unique among the boxing writers in the country.
Dan:[Laughs] You know, a lot of people have said that to me. In the last few months I've talked to basically a "who's who" in the boxing industry -- either they have called me or I have had reason to call them for a story to check something out – guys like Jay Larkin, Dan Goossen, other writers and fight people, even some promoters. I was talking to Rich Marotta a few days ago to get his input for the rankings we do, and we were talking about a guy who was fighting this weekend on HBO. He made a reference to one of his early fights, and I said "yeah, it was a 3rd-round knockout against Rafael Savala", and he was shocked that I remembered the name and knew who the guy was. I made an impression on him, I think -- that I am a writer but that I also follow the sport from top to bottom. That's why, whenever I go to a fight or watch a card on TV, I always find my seat early and watch the whole card, not just the main event. I try to see as many fights and fighters as I possibly can.
Eric:How did you first hook up with USA Today?
Dan:That is an interesting story, actually. Here's the way it worked. The paper I was working for in Saratoga was owned by the Gannett Company. I had known those people from my college days when I was an intern and I was looking to move on to a bigger paper. I knew the boss there and I interviewed and got hired for an opening. As it turns out, the Gannett Company also owns USA Today. So, what they do is, about three time a year, every four months or so, USA Today sets up what it calls a "loanership program". It takes one person from about a dozen different papers within the Gannett Company (of which there are, I don't know the exact number, about 80 or 90 papers, all different all over the place), and place them for a short while at different jobs on USA Today. Anyway, there came a point in 1998 when I applied for the program and I made it. So, I got to go to USA Today on a loan. It was from August of 1998 to the end of December 1998. You just go there as a regular employee. The home paper pays your rate and USA Today puts you you up in a hotel that's like 2 blocks from the office and you just go to work there as part of the staff.
I got assigned to the baseball desk. My second day of work McGwire hit his 62nd homerun, so I was right there in the middle of everything. When things calmed down and baseball season ended, I moved over and worked on the college desk and covered college football and college basketball. Even though you're there as a "loaner", they want you to do all the different things that you want to do – they want you to feel your way around and really take in the whole experience. I volunteered to do a couple different things. They needed help covering the NFL once, for example, so I covered a couple Redskins games and helped out with some advance work for the Superbowl, stuff for that.
At the time Jon Saraceno was covering boxing, although he was really more involved with covering football, and John was getting a little frustrated that the paper wasn't really committed to boxing. I used to suggest stories to Jon and he would say, you know, "that's a good idea -- why don't you take it to them and see if they'll do it?" So, I pitched a couple of story ideas and they let me do them. I pitched a story about the 1996 Olympians. Floyd Mayweather, Fernando Vargas and David Reid were all right on the verge of their title shots, and USA Today has always considered the Olympics to be one of the main things it likes to cover in sports, so the timing was right. They liked that idea and the story I wrote became a cover story.
After that, I got a chance to do some other boxing stuff because then they knew that I knew what I was doing. They called me in special to do an obituary on Archie Moore because their regular "boxing writer" was in Arizona doing an interview with Tyson and he was unable to do it, so that's how that happened. I kept in touch with them on and off and for the year after I had returned to my own paper. I had been gone for like 13 months between the time I left them at the end of my loan and I got hired back and so when they decided that they were going to become more involved in boxing because of all the different things that had happened, everything form the Lewis-Holyfield decision all the way to the IBF trial – you know, all the things that really just seemed to pile on and put boxing behind the eight ball. They decided to expand their coverage and when they decided to do that, they remembered me and my interest and my knowledge and they decided that they should give me a column. So it was very quick, basically the whole thing was two phone calls, and I was hired on at USA Today full time to cover boxing.
Eric:So it was more like they decided to increase their boxing coverage and start a column and picked you to do it rather then you talking them into doing the column?
Dan:I had kept in touch with them and I had, not like a pain in the ass or anything, but occasionally I would write to them and ask "what are you going to do about boxing?" I think my getting the job was a combination of me keeping my name fresh in their minds in that fashion and also their deciding that boxing was something the paper was going to begin covering more regularly.
Eric:So, besides the column compile your own set of world rankings, right?
Eric:What do you do to prepare them?
Dan:Well, first of all, I keep track of all the fight results and watch basically every single fight that I can. Then, what I do is basically spend a few hours on the second Friday of every month I take close look at who did what in the preceding month and use those results to change the rankings as appropriate. I also spend untold hours throughout the week talking on the telephone with various people in boxing, asking their opinions on who they think should be here or there and that's what makes it kind of interesting.
Of course, because some people have a hard time dealing with the fact the we only rank the traditional 8 weight classes rather then all 17. So, I have to stop and think hard about this for a minute, where would I Kostya Tszyu when I have to rate him as a full welterweight along side guys like Oscar De la Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley?
Eric:The reason I ask you for detail on that is becoming more and more difficult to find rankings that are trustworthy these days – ones that are honestly put together.
Dan:What we did was, the first couple of times they ran, we included a little disclaimer so to speak, just kinda explaining what we were doing. The bottom line is, yes, they are subjective, and that means that they are strictly based on results. So, yes, maybe there will be times when you don't necessarily agree 100% with where a particular fighter is ranked, but you can be sure no one paid me any money to put him there.
Eric:And that way you don't come up with, for example, John Ruiz as the No. 1 contender.
Dan:[Laughs] Yes, and this is nothing against John Ruiz the person, because he is probably a nice guy to hang out with, but he is not ranked in our top 10. In fact, I try to list at least 3 "other" contenders in each class -- not in any particular order – whom I think you should keep your eye on. John Ruiz is not even listed there. I'd probably put him about 17th or 18th. In the top 20 heavyweights, yes. Not the number 1 man, though, absolutely not.
Eric:I think that's a joke. So, in your column, let me just ask you, do you have any agenda items that you plan to pursue over the course of the next couple of years?
Dan:Actually, it's not really a "column". I'm basically a reporter reporting the boxing news. Obviously, I can pick and choose what I write about and suggest features and so forth, but it's not really "Dan Rafael's Column".
Eric:So, are there any items or topics in the boxing world that are particularly near and dear to your heart. For example the . . . .
Dan:I think one thing, obviously, as you can tell form our rankings, is that we don't give any credence whatsoever to the rankings of the governing bodies produce. I will never even reference them in any of my stories, unless I'm writing to criticize, say, the WBA ranking John Ruiz no. 1 contender. The idea is that we want to be legitimate with our rankings, we want to give people an idea of who the best guys are in the world. Yes, you can quibble that fighter A is not worthy of being ranked 4th, you think he should be 7th, you think the 7th guy should be 8th, etc., but at least you know that we're not gonna blow smoke at you and put John Ruiz no. 1. And, by reducing it from 17 weight classes to 8 it makes it (a) easier to follow, and (b) really shows you the depth of the various divisions, what they would have been when boxing only had these divisions and guys who weighed over 135 pounds fought as 147-pounders. When you look at things that way, it really goes to show you the depth of some of the divisions, like the welterweights and featherweights. Then you look at the light-heavyweights (which include the super-middleweights) and you say, man, the depth stinks. That kind of makes it kinda like a quick read. It's a very good way to just look and see generally who the top guys are.
Eric:There has been a lot of talk recently about boxing being the worse officiated sport in the world, any comments on that?
Dan:The worst officiated?
Eric:In terms of judging, picking the winners of the fights. Do you have any thoughts on some of the controversial decisions that have come down recently?
Dan:I'm really not into the whole conspiracy theory thing. I know there have been fights where the public thinks the wrong guy got the call -- obviously the first Lewis-Holyfield fight, Barerra-Morales, and others. But, I would never sit here and say, well, you know what? Somebody got paid off.
There's a lot that needs to be looked at, I suppose, and probably a good start would be to look at the State Commissions that appointed all judges instead of just looking at the alphabet organizations. But, of course, you know the organizations have their own problems. I don't know if there is a perfect answer for these kinds of things. I just kinda hope that you get honest people who call it like they see it. I also know that looking out from ring side and watching the fight you could score it much different then watching it on a television.
Eric:That's true too.
Dan: I mean I was ringside for the Junior Jones v. Paul Ingle fight at Madison Square Garden and had Ingle winning the fight, but, when I came home and I watched the tape of it the following week, it was a little bit of a closer fight than I had first thought.
Eric:Do you plan to give any attention to women's boxing? What do you think of that?
Dan:I'm not a big women's boxing fan. But that being said, you have to look at it like this (from the perspective of USA Today as the biggest paper in the country that covers sports), is it something that people will follow or are even that much interested in? I don't think the answer is "yes", which is why you have seen probably very little about woman's boxing in the paper. But, what I will do, of course, because of the curiosity factor or just the fact that they have famous names, is at least note the results of the daughters of all these different champions, Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, etc. And, if Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier fight the way they are suppose to down the road, obviously, we will cover that fight. I would be shocked if we didn't.
But, am I gonna sit there and rank like the top women heavyweights in the world? No - I am not going to bother with that, because, first of all the number of women fighters at that weight class is so limited and the skill level so low at this point that its really not worth it. God bless them for doing it and for pursuing their sport, but we're not going to spend a lot of time covering it, the public interest is just not there.
Eric:That makes sense to me.
Dan:So, yeah, I don't think you'll see much women's fight coverage in USA Today as a general rule. But, if Christy Martin fights Lucia Rijker, will I write about it? Of course.
Eric:I think that would be about a one round fight, frankly, 'cause I actually think Lucia Rijker is a terrific fighter, but. . .
Dan:Even if it is, going into it it is still the most intriguing of women's fight there is because most people refer to them as the two top women out there.
Dan:And Freeda Foreman or Laila Ali or Jackie Frazier-Lyde – you've got to cover them because people will talk about them and because their fathers were some of the biggest names ever in the history of the sport.
Eric:Back to the men. Are there any rising stars whom you're watching these days?
Dan:I mean certainly if you look at like, just based off of their recent fights, you know Clifford Etienne in the heavyweight division has been putting together some pretty good performances recently. Also, a lot of people have told me about a guy named Kenito Drake, who I believe has been one of the main sparring partners in the De la Hoya camp. I think he's about 16-0 or 16-1, something like that, but he is suppose to be a real good solid prospect and a bunch of people with no particular connection to the fighter have said a lot of good things about him. But I reserve judgment until I see him for myself. I guess there are some other guys here and there. No one is exactly "setting the world on fire" in my mind right now. There are good amateurs who are turning pro to keep an eye on, I guess, because they have good names as amateurs. I don't know what they will do as pros. I hear Marshal Martinez, who quit the Olympic team, is turning pro in a couple of weeks; I'll be interested to see what does.
Eric:I appreciate your time here. Is there anything you would like for me to add at the end of the article, any statement you'd like to make?
Dan:Just note that USA Today presents sincere and informed rankings on the second Friday of each month and that we're back covering boxing the way it should be covered.
Eric: You got it, and thanks again.
Bobby Chacon, The BeginningJanuary 14, 1984, Chacon challenged Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini for the WBA Lightweight title in Reno. At the age of 32, Chacon was past his prime but still had the heart of a champion. Bobby went toe-to-toe with the brutal Mancini but was backed into the ropes where he was taking a beating. The fight was finally stopped in the third round to save Chacon from further punishment.
By Rick Farris
While checking my E-mail this morning I received an instant message from CBZ editor GorDoom. He wanted to let me now that there was a story in USA TODAY about Bobby Chacon.
The "Bucket" knew that this was a story that I would want to read. However, it was not a story that I would enjoy. In a sense, it was good news in light of the recent reports that I'd heard regarding the two-time former world champion. However, it was depressing to me because I was a part of Bobby Chacon's era in Los Angeles boxing. I also played a very small part in the very beginning of Bobby Chacon's boxing career. It was a career that included world championships in two weight classes and made Chacon a millionaire, at least for a short period. It was also a career that made Bobby Chacon a household name among Southern California boxing fans and gained him respect from others around the world. Unfortunately, like with many before and after him, it was a career that would leave Chacon with a diminished mental capacity and a broken life.
The newspaper article revealed that Chacon has pugilistica dementia. This was not news to me. Last I heard Bobby was living in a make shift room set up in the garage of his mother's house, the home where he had grown up in Pacoima, California. I knew that Bobby was not doing well and would get lost easily. On a trip to Arizona a few years back Bobby disappeared for weeks and those close to him feared that he had met with harm. However, Chacon eventually showed up again with a smile on his face, not understanding why everyone was so worried. When asked where he had been for so long, Bobby couldn't remember.
The day Bobby Chacon and I crossed paths for the first time neither of us had any idea about what would follow. At the time, Bobby was 15-years-old and on the wrong path, headed for a dead end. However, perhaps the result of some divine intervention, Bobby Chacon took a detour. The detour took Bobby to 13717 Jouett St. in Pacoima, California. This was the address of Johnny Flores, the legendary Southern California Boxing manager and also where The Johnny Flores Gym was located behind Flores' garage. It is where former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry and dozens of other world class boxers had started their careers. It was also where I had been training since the age of twelve.
How did it all begin? Well, I'm probably the only person who can tell you about the first time Bobby Chacon stepped thru the door of a boxing gym and laced on a pair of gloves. I was not only there, but the person who first traded blows with the future world champ in a boxing ring. Although this occurred well over three decades ago I still remember it as if it were yesterday. You see, Bobby Chacon was one of those special people you don't forget easily. He certainly made an impression on me. Chacon's story is not unique, however, it would become a part of boxing history.
Bobby Chacon and I were the same age, the same size, and started our boxing careers in the same place. However, I had a bit of a head start on Chacon and had already been boxing for a couple of years when Bobby first showed up one evening in 1967.
The night Chacon walked thru the door of the Johnny Flores Gym for the first time he was with two friends. All three of the visitors had long hair and were obviously stoned. The three stood quietly inside the door looking around at the gym built by Flores in the early 1950's to develop amateur boxers. At the time Johnny Flores handled heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, lightweight Ruben Navarro, and the most feared featherweight in the world, Dwight Hawkins, among others. In addition to Flores' amateurs there were a few junior amateurs training at Flores' Gym at the time and I was one of them. I had just turned 15 and had been been boxing for more than two years, having recently won my first Jr. Golden Gloves title.
I remember that when the three long haired guys entered the gym that night I was up in the ring shadow boxing and warming up for my workout. After standing quietly for a few minutes one of the guys moved over to the heavy bag and began throwing punches at it. The old heavy bag was made of canvas and had gotten soaked with water during the winter when rain had leaked thru the roof. Most of the sand inside the heavy bag had sank to the bottom, laving the top half soft to hit. however, the bottom half was as hard as concrete. As the kid flogged away he threw a wild punch that landed on the bottom of the bag. "DAMN"! the kid yelled, "that thing is hard".
The kid's friends howled with laughter until he began to smile, shaking the pain out of his hand. A couple of us up in the ring were smiling too, having hurt our hands in the past while punching the bag. The fact that it happened to some punk off the street made it even more entertaining to us.
A few moments later the door to the gym opened and in walked Flores. During the afternoon Flores would be at the "Main Street Gym" watching over his top professionals. However, in the evening he would check in on his amateurs after eating dinner. When Flores entered he waved to a few of us who were loosening up in the ring and greeted a trainer who was wrapping a boxer's hands. He then looked over at the three guys standing in the corner and nodded at them. About this time the kid who had hurt his hand on the heavy bag was trying his luck on the speed bag and having a hard time with it.
The kid turned toward Flores and asked if he could box somebody. Flores was picking his teeth with a toothpick and raised his eyebrows. "You want to box somebody"? Flores asked. "Are you a fighter'? Flores asked the kid this question in a serious voice that those of us who knew Johnny realized was anything but serious.
The kid turned to his friends with a confident smile and then back to Flores. "Yeah, I wanna box him" he said, pointing directly toward me. Flores turned toward me and winked and then looked back at the kid, "You want to box with Ricky"? Johnny asked. "Yeah" the kid answered. Flores looked at the kid for a moment and asked, "So you want to be a fighter, huh"? The kid looked back at Flores and answered "I am a fighter". The kid then looked back toward his friends who were silent.
Flores just smiled and said "OK champ".
Manny Diaz, one of Johnny's coaches tied a pair of boxing gloves on the kid and rinsed off a mouth piece for him to use. "I don't need that", the kid said as Diaz tried to stick the mouth guard into his mouth. Diaz just smiled, "Yeah you do pal". The kid reluctantly put the mouth guard into his mouth and climbed into the ring. When Diaz tried to put a head guard on the tough kid he once again said "I don't need that". Once again Diaz replied, "yeah you do", however Flores intervened. "If he doesn't want to wear it he doesn't have to". I chose not to wear one either.
A couple of minutes later we were ready and Diaz yelled "Time". The kid moved right toward me and began throwing wild punches from all angles. I expected this and let him go crazy for about 15 or 20 seconds. I blocked, side stepped or just made him miss. After spinning away from him, he turned to attack again and I snapped his head back with a jab, followed by a "goncho", a short left hook to his exposed liver. The body punch was right on target and the kid folded up and went down on one knee. After a few seconds he stood up and said he was "OK", but I knew that he wasn't. When he rushed in again he ran into two more left jabs and a short right to his solar plexus. The body shot knocked the wind out of him and he was finished. It wasn't that he quit or didn't want to keep trying, he just had no air left and was in no shape to throw more punches, let alone take more.
Flores looked up at the kid trying to catch his breath and smiled. This wasn't the first time that Johnny had let some tough guy step into the ring with one of his boxers. It was the best way of teaching a kid a lesson. However, this kid was not like the others. Before leaving the kid said he would be back "tomorrow". He didn't show up the next day, the next week or the next month. But just as promised, he eventually came back.
It would be more than six months before Bobby Chacon would return to the Johnny Flores Gym and when he did he was a different man. His hair was cut short and he came with his own coach. The coach was Joe Ponce, one of the finest boxing trainers I ever met. During the six months since I had my way with the long haired street punk, he'd been training with Ponce. Ponce was not only teaching young Bobby but he was conditioning him. A few days after Chacon's return to the Flores gym we boxed again. This time things were different. I had a lot more experience than Chacon and I was glad that I did, I needed it this time. After a couple of rounds or so I realized something, this guy could fight. I have never seen another boxer learn so much in just six months. I remember the kid telling Johnny Flores that he was a fighter six months previous. He wasn't lying.
From that day on Bobby Chacon and I became friends. He and I would box on and off over the years, as amateurs and later as pros. Bobby Chacon just kept getting better and better. I turned professional exactly thirty years ago, on June 4, 1970, while still in high school. Bobby Chacon would have turned professional himself at the time but Ponce insisted that Bobby wait a couple of years until he was twenty.
Bobby Chacon made his professional boxing debut at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles on April 17, 1972. Bobby scored a fifth round knockout over Jose Rosa. It would be the first of 17 consecutive knockouts Chacon would score during the first ten months of his pro career. Veteran featherweight contenders Ray Echevarria and Turi Pineda were two of Chacon's KO victims and this set up a match with another former featherweight contender, Frankie Crawford.
Crawford was one of the finest featherweights to come out of Los Angeles in the sixties and forced Chacon to go the full ten rounds. However, It was a one-sided match and Bobby came away with a unanimous decision victory. Less than a month later Chacon took on former World Bantamweight Champ Chucho Castillo and KO'ed the tough Mexican in the tenth round.
Just one year after his pro debut, Bobby Chacon was unbeaten with a near perfect record of 19-0, 18 KO's. This would set up a match with another former world champ, the great Ruben Olivares. This was an interesting match for me personally because I new something that many did not about Chacon and Olivares. Less than two years previous I had been a sparring partner for Olivares when he was training for a banatmweight title defense against Jesus Pimentel. At the time Bobby Chacon was still an amateur and joined the Olivares camp as a sparring partner along with myself. Bobby surprised everybody by out fighting Olivares in the sparring sessions and making the champion look bad. Based on this, many believed that Chacon would easily beat Olivares who had moved up to featherweight after losing the bantam title to Raphael Herrera. Olivares was known for spending a lot of time on the party circuit and entered the ring an underdog to the unbeaten Chacon the night they first fought on June 23, 1973. One thing that spectators didn't know about Olivares was that Ruben never looked good in sparring sessions but would come alive in the ring when it counted. Ruben Olivares knocked out Chacon in the ninth round, handing Bobby the first loss of his pro career.
Bobby would come back and score four more knockouts during the next year before being matched with another hot Los Angeles featherweight, the unbeaten future world champ Danny "Little Red" Lopez. Lopez had won 23 straight with 22 KO's. In a toe-to-toe battle to determine who was the best featherweight in Los Angeles, not to mention the world, Bobby Chacon knocked out Danny Lopez in nine rounds, winning the U.S. Featherweight title and setting himself up for a title shot with WBC featherweight champ Alfredo Marcano.
On September 7, 1974, Bobby Chacon, the tough street punk who wandered into Johnny Flores Gym one evening seven years earlier, knocked out Alfredo Marcano in nine rounds to become the WBC Featherweight Champion of the World.
About this time Chacon fired Joe Ponce, which may have been the biggest mistake of Bobby's career. I knew what the problems were between Ponce and Chacon. Joe Ponce was a task master, a disciplinarian who had no patience with anything less than 100% dedication in the ring. Bobby Chacon wanted to enjoy the benefits of being a world champ and this interfered with his workouts and caused friction between he and Ponce. After Ponce was gone Chacon hired his brother-in-law as a trainer.
Six months after winning the title Chacon successfully defended it with a second round KO over Jesus Estrada in Los Angeles. A month later he would seek to avenge his only loss to Olivares in his second title defense. This
would have been a tough fight under any circumstance but without Ponce in the corner and Bobby's questionable conditioning it would turn out to be a disaster. The former two-time bantam and WBA featherweight king knocked out Chacon in the second round. Bobby's featherweight title reign had been a short one, just nine months.
Five months after losing the title Bobby went to Hawaii and scored a fifth round knockout over a tough filipino named Fil Clemente. A month later he headed to Mexicali and lost a decision to Rafael "Bazooka" Limon. This would be the first of four memorable battles between Chacon and Limon. Over the next four years Chacon would lose only one of 17 fights, dropping a decision to Arturo Leon in Anaheim in 1977.
On November 16, 1979, Bobby Chacon would challenge the great Alexis Arguello for the WBC Jr. Lightweight title. Arguello stopped Chacon in round seven.
Eventually Chacon would win the Jr. Lightweight title. After being stopped by Cornelius "Boza" Edwards in his second attempt at the WBC crown in 1981, Chacon would finally win the title in 1982 with a unanimous 15 round decision over Rafael "Bazooka" Limon. Five months later Chacon would defend the title and avenge his loss Boza Edwards, winning a close twelve round decision.
A month after beating Edwards, Chacon abandoned the Jr. Lightweight title and moved up to lightweight. On
This would be the last time Bobby Chacon would ever fight for a world championship. However, it was also the last time Bobby would ever lose. Chacon would continue to box on and off for more than four years, winning all seven of his fights including a seventh round KO over former WBA Lightweight Champ Art Frias.
Bobby's biggest fights, however, were not just in the ring. During his career he was challenged by the suicide of his wife Valery the night before a title fight. He lost his 18-year-old son Bobby Jr. to a drive-by shooting,
and he battled with drug abuse and jail time spent on domestic violence charges.
According to the story I read in USA Today, Chacon is attempting to put his life in order. He lives in a skid row hotel in downtown Los Angeles and teaches boxing in a gym set up downstairs. Bobby's memory may not be sharp any longer but my memory is strong when it comes to Bobby Chacon. The Bobby Chacon story is a special one to me and one I will never forget.
Randy's World Of Boxing
By Randy Gordon
Don’t ya’ just love it when so many of these so-called boxing writers tell you that they have no interest inMike Tyson, then scoot across the Atlantic to cover his fight? I know. They say it’s their obligation. They say it’s their job. They have to do it. Bull! These yellow journalists cover Tyson because they want to cover him. While his latest fight -- starching, is more like it -- wasn’t exactly what any of us wanted to see, quick and destructive endings always must be considered when buying a ticket to or covering a Mike Tyson fight. I found it funny -- but totally expected -- that the incredibly-hypocritical columnist of the New York Post, Wallace Matthews, would rip into Tyson after the bout. Face it. Tyson was destructive. He was awesome. He was ruthless. He was also off his temper-controlling medication, which, when it comes to a professional prizefighter, is just what the doctor ordered on fight night. Okay, so Tyson whacks out incredibly over-matched Lou Savarese in 38 seconds. Okay, so he goes after Savarese even as the referee is clearly waving his arms and indicating that the fight is over. Matthews, who leads the league in out-of-the-ring altercations and challenging people to fights, then wrote one of his poison pen columns on what an animal Tyson is and how his act has grown stale. Quite frankly, I think his act has a renewed vigor.
Asked about heavyweight king Lennox Lewis, Hanibal “The Cannibal” Tyson, who has been known to eat body parts before, said, “I want to eat his heart. I want to eat his children.” Jeffrey Dahmer he is not. Mike Tyson he is. He is a great, great, first-round fighter. Those first few moments against him are chilling. For anybody. Even Lennox Lewis. I guarantee that if Lewis gets hit with one of those bombs in round one, all 6'5" of him will head to the floor, just the way all 6'5" of Lou Savarese toppled. If Lewis should make it past the first, and perhaps second round, then the fight will be his. I worked with Francois Botha against Tyson. We prepared him for a first-round assault unlike anything he had ever seen. He was ready. Savarese was not. Botha took Tyson into round five and was beating him. Then, he stopped listening to the corner and was nailed. He became over-confident. Another round or two and Tyson was all his. After the fight, Tyson was a complete gentleman. To Botha, to Botha’s camp and to the media. To Savarese, he was an animal. A savage, untamed animal. Part of the reason was the medication. Another was respect. Tyson respected Botha. Botha never said anything nasty about Tyson. Savarese never stopped bad-mouthing Tyson (“I was his size when I was 12!”). Did Tyson try to hurt Savarese? He sure did. And when the fight ended as fast as it did, Tyson, much like a young Roberto Duran when he ended a fight quickly, wanted more. In his fight mode, he threw additional punches even though the fight had ended. Duran did it and Tyson does it. The referee should have been facing the man with the live ammo and the nasty reputation, rather than the stricken fighter, and stopped him from punching. Fighters punch after the bell and after stoppages all the time. Doesn’t make it right, but they do it. Believe it or not, it’s more a physical thing than an emotional thing. Perhaps too much adrenaline is flowing. Perhaps testosterone levels rise through the ceiling. Although I never condone late punches and really wish he hadn’t thrown the after-the-fact shots, I have no problem with Tyson doing what he did to Savarese. Tyson is a 34-year-old former world champion with a world of demons running amock in his head. But I’m not concerned with what he does outside the ring. I’ll leave that to his promoters, friends, advisor Shelly Finkel and to his battery of attorneys. In the ring is all I am interested in. And it’s in the ring I think he’s still awesome. He may not be able to beat Lennox Lewis over 12 rounds. But, no fight starts with the 12th round. They all start with Round One. And in that initial round, nobody is better. Nobody! I look forward to seeing it.
A few of us were talking about great managers/advisors recently. The names of so many of history’s greatest managers came up. Included in the group were such Hall of Famers as Al Weill, Gil Clancy, Cus D’Amato, Jim Jacobs, Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward and Lou Duva. Also mentioned were Dennis Rappaport, Rock Newman, Carlos Eleta and Dave Wolf. A number of oldtimers, such as Jack Kearns, Joe Jacobs and Irving Cohen also were mentioned. The discussion was, “Who Was The Greatest Manager of All Time?”
I think many of the names listed are indeed all-time greats. All were exceptional. However, there is only one name I think of when I think of great managers. The man I have in mind is incomparable, the way Sugar Ray Robinson, especially as a welterweight, stands alone. The man is Shelly Finkel. He has absolutely no competition. Finkel manages. He guides. He negotiates. He is a father figure/manager/agent/psychiatrist rolled into one. He is the complete package. If he were a fighter, he’d be Sugar Ray Robinson. He’s quick on his feet and quick in his thinking. His combos are lethal and his power deadly. Among those he manages or has managed are Alex Ramos, Johnny Bumphus, Tony Ayala, Tony Tucker, John Molina, Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Tyrell Biggs, Fernando Vargas, Zab Judah, David Tua and Mike Tyson. His managerial brains and negotiating skills were a huge part of the tremendous success then-fledgling promoter Main Events enjoyed throughout the 1980's on their rise to becoming a promotional powerhouse.
So, you can talk all you want about Jim Jacobs and Dave Wolf and all the rest. When they wanted advice, they turned to the best there ever was, a man right in their midst--Shelly Finkel. It’s only a matter of time until he gets elected into boxing immortality--the Hall of Fame. It’s where he belongs.
Is there a chance Oscar de la Hoya will ever lose a fight and admit he lost? Don’t count on it. He’ll just blame the loss on whoever may be working his corner for that particular fight. I had to laugh when I recently heard him respond to the question “Why did you let Gil Clancy go?” Oscar’s response was “He couldn’t teach me anything anymore.” Yeh, right! The Giller has forgotten more about boxing than Oscar will ever know. Since 1992, when he turned his back on Shelly Finkel after all-but-acknowledging Finkel would be his manager, Oscar has left a trail of hired-then-fired managers and trainers. There is no chance he’ll change. Ever. It’s who he is. A rattlesnake will always be a rattlesnake. Only with Oscar, his bite has become less venomous over the last year.
THE CHANGE THAT REFRESHES: Reading Tim Smith’s columns in the New York Daily News is like taking a swig of ice water on a hot summer day. This is especially so after dealing with over a decade of negativity from Smith’s predecessor, Michael Katz. Now, if only the New York Post’s Wallace Matthews--another of the “New York Negatives”--would retire...
Kudos to trainers Al Gavin and Eddie Troiano on the great job they did in training and conditioning light heavyweight Eric Harding. Gavin, as we know, is among the sports’ best trainers , as well as being its number one cutman. His protégé, Troiano, is on his way to being recognized as one of the best trainers in the game...Want to know the most overrated one-two punch in the sport? Manager Marc Roberts and heavyweight Shannon Briggs.
WHEN THUGS MEET THUGS: August 19 should be an interesting, for lack of any better word, day. Actually, the two or three days preceding that should be interesting. For at that time, Prince Naseem Hamed will be fighting at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in the Connecticut hills. Nobody has a louder, more obnoxious entourage than Hamed. Nobody is more egotistical than the unbeaten loudmouth from Great Britain. I know, I worked for him. On the other side, no casino has a rougher, no-nonsense Gaming Commission than Foxwoods. I know, I worked for them. Its commissioner, Roy Butler, has a sense of humor about as funny as a school bus accident, the personality of a tree and knows very little about professional boxing. His job qualifications are that he’s an Indian and the Indians are in charge at Foxwoods. He was the best choice of a very weak lot. His right hand man is “Wild” Bill Hickey, an ex-Connecticut cop who is an extension of Butler. The fight fraternity affectionately calls them “Beavis and Butthead.” Foxwoods Boxing Commission is also run by an Indian. His name is Joey Carter. Lucky me. At Foxwoods, I worked for him, too. As the head of the commission he makes a great fight fan. Unlike Butler, Carter has a great personality. And unlike Butler, Carter doesn’t sound as if he has marbles in his mouth when he speaks. On a real state commission, however, Carter -- who would rather be playing golf -- would make a great receptionist. On a real state commission, Butler would make a great file clerk. Yet, at Foxwoods, both have large staffs. Foxwoods Gaming Commission think nothing of yelling at, threatening and even manhandling visitors who don’t comply with their set of rules, many of which are ludicrous. Are you ready for one such ludicrous rule? How about “No Gum Chewing in the Dressing Room.” Butler once told me “the gum could be laced with a performance-enhancing stimulant.” Duhhh! That was basically his response when I told him, “If that’s true, then the fighter will flunk his post-fight drug test.” Another time, Butler and his thugs refused to allow James Toney to share a dressing room with his stablemate, Lucia Rijker. Finally, after much complaining by Freddie Roach, the trainer of Toney and Rijker, Butler had his staff put up a curtain in the dressing room so the likelihood of Rijker and Toney seeing each other naked would be minimized. A few nights later, Carol Channing was in with a show. Her actors and singers changed backstage in front of each other. Base-assed naked were dozens of men and women. Nowhere was the Gaming Commission to stop them. Ahh, it should be a riot when the Prince’s Thugs meet Foxwoods’ Thugs. I do mean a riot. I worked with The Prince when he fought Wayne McCullough in October 1998. The Atlantic City casino we stayed in bent over backwards to make Naz happy. The hotel’s president, Ken Condon, was among the most professional executives I have ever met. Still, Naz was not remotely happy. His thugs even engaged in some fisticuffs with hotel security at the weigh-in. Naz and his boys have no idea what they are in for and up against at Foxwoods. Nor do “Beavis and Butthead” realize how thuggish and disrespectful Naz and his crew can be. Also, if Naz so much as forgets his passbook or a single medical is not on hand, one of Foxwoods super commissions will threaten to cancel the fight. The fight itself -- Naz vs. Augie Sanchez -- is interesting. But if they make it into the ring, that will be a story unto itself. You see, it’s getting Naz through several days at Foxwoods which will be a task. For when Thugs meet Thugs, anything can happen. They deserve each other.
MUHAMMAD ALI’S LEGAL BATTLES
By Adam Pollack
On April 19, 1971, the United States Supreme Court reversed Muhammad Ali’s conviction for refusing to enterthe military. Most Americans are aware that Ali refused to enter the U.S. Armed Forces and that his conviction for refusing to do so was eventually overturned. Ali has gained international heroic status for taking the position he did, which cost him a three and a half year absence from the boxing ring. However, what is not well known are the factual and legal intricacies surrounding his legal battles. This article chronicles the story of Muhammad Ali’s legal fight history as it relates to his draft status, draft evasion conviction, and loss of his boxing license.
Ali’s Draft Classification and Administrative Appeals
As required by law, on April 18, 1960, Cassius Marcellus Clay registered with the selective service, Local Board No. 47, Louisville, Kentucky. Later that year, Clay won the 178 pound division Olympic boxing gold medal. In 1962, Cassius Clay was classified 1-A by Local Board No. 47, Louisville, Kentucky. This meant that he was available for military service and eligible to be drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in March of 1964, as a result of a mental examination, Cassius Clay (then Cassius X) was classified 1-Y. This meant that he was not qualified for induction in the armed forces under the current standards.
On February 25, 1964, 22 year old Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight championship when Sonny Liston retired in his corner after the sixth round. The next day, Clay announced that he had joined the Lost Found Nation of Islam, otherwise known as the Black Muslim movement. He renounced his “slave name” and stated he would be known as Cassius X until he could assume a Muslim name. Shortly thereafter, the World Boxing Association (W.B.A.) stripped Ali of its title because of his religious conversion.
Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, stopped Sonny Liston in the first round on May 25, 1965, successfully defending his world heavyweight championship. Ali followed that win with a stoppage of former champion Floyd Patterson in twelve rounds.
On February 17, 1966, after having been considered by the Examining Station in accordance with the current regulations (which had been lowered in light of an increased need for soldiers), Ali was found fully acceptable for induction into the military. He was classified 1-A in accordance with his original 1962 classification. A week later, Ali submitted to the local draft board a Special Form for Conscientious Objector (I-O). This was the first time he claimed that he was a conscientious objector to war. Ali also requested a personal appearance before the local board regarding the change of his classification from 1-Y to 1-A. After granting Ali a personal appearance, the local board again classified him 1-A, eligible for service. Ali appealed the decision to the Kentucky Appeal Board.
Shortly after Ali won a fifteen round decision against George Chuvalo, on May 6, 1966 the Kentucky Appeal Board determined Ali was not entitled to the I-O (conscientious objector) status. The complete file was referred to the Department of Justice for an advisory recommendation as required by the Selective Service Regulations. The Department of Justice then requested an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.).
Ali continued his title defenses, stopping Henry Cooper on cuts in six rounds and knocking out Brian London in three in May and August 1966, respectively.
Following the conclusion of the requested F.B.I. investigation, a special hearing was held in Louisville. On August 23, 1966, the hearing officer reported his belief that Ali was sincere in his conscientious objector claim. At that point, Ali additionally claimed to be a minister of the Lost Found Nation of Islam. He contended he should be exempt from military service as a “regular minister of religion” (known as the IV-D classification).
Ali again defended his heavyweight championship in September and November of 1966, stopping Karl Mildenberger in the twelfth round and knocking out Cleveland Williams in the third round.
On November 25, 1966, the Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Conscientious Objector Section, recommended to the Kentucky Appeal Board that Ali’s request for conscientious objector status be denied. Following that recommendation, on January 10, 1967, the Kentucky Appeal Board again denied the requested conscientious objector claim. Two days later, Local Board No. 47 in Kentucky unanimously found that Ali was not entitled to the ministerial exemption. The Local Board reconsidered Ali’s classification a week later at the written request of General Lewis B. Hershey, the National Director of Selective Service, and again classified him 1-A.
On February 6, 1967, Muhammad Ali won a fifteen round points decision against Ernie Terrell, regaining the W.B.A. title.
Following another appeal, on February 15, 1967, the Appeal Board for the Southern District of Texas also classified Ali 1-A. A week later, the National Director of Selective Service, General Lewis B. Hershey, appealed Ali’s classification to the National Selective Service Appeal Board (also called the Presidential Appeal Board because it is composed of three members who are appointed by and act for the President, who has the power to decide claims). Ali himself could not file this appeal because the regulations required that one or more members of the appeal board dissent from the classification (which had not occurred) before a registrant has a right to file the appeal. The National Director of Selective Service had the discretion to file the appeal anyway, even though there were no dissenters regarding Ali’s draft classification. On March 6, 1967, the three member Presidential Appeal Board (which included a black member) reviewed Ali’s entire file and unanimously classified him I-A, denying the conscientious objector status. Muhammad Ali had fully exhausted his administrative appeals.
On March 22, 1967, Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight championship for the ninth time, knocking out Zora Folley in the seventh round. This was to be Ali’s last bout for over three and a half years. A week later, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky refused to grant an injunction against Ali’s induction into military service prior to presenting himself at an Induction Station. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the application for stay of the District Court’s order. Therefore, Ali was required to submit to induction into the armed forces.
Criminal Conviction for Refusal to Submit to Induction Into the Armed Forces,Loss of Title, and Legal Appeals
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali reported for but declined to submit to induction into the armed forces on the grounds of his religious beliefs as a minister of the Islamic Religion. The W.B.A. immediately stripped Ali of his title. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended Ali’s boxing license. However, the World Boxing Council (W.B.C.) continued to recognize Ali as champion.
In June, Ali’s federal criminal jury trial resulted in his conviction for knowingly and willfully refusing to report for and submit to induction into the armed forces of the United States. Although he had no prior criminal record or charges, Ali was sentenced to five years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. Imprisonment was delayed pending the results of Ali’s appeals.
On May 6, 1968, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, satisfied that he had been fairly afforded due process of law without discrimination, affirmed Ali’s conviction for refusing to report for and submit to induction into the armed forces of the United States. Ali’s appeal sought a declaration that the Universal Military Training and Service Act was unconstitutional as applied to him because of “systematic exclusion” of blacks from membership on draft boards, and, that there was no basis in fact for the denial of a ministerial exemption or the conscientious objector status.
Due Process - Black Representation on Draft Boards
Ali’s first basis of appeal claimed that he was denied due process of law because the ratio of blacks on draft boards did not reflect their ratio in the population. Ali was correct that there was not only a local imbalance, but a nationwide imbalance of black membership on draft boards. However, the court found that the absence of a proportion of blacks in accordance with their ratio to the population was not required by the law.
The racial imbalance on draft boards resulted from the federal appointments by the President upon recommendations of the governors of each state. The appointments were the result of the political process, which does not require such appointments to reflect population ratios. The court compared appointments as a result of the political process to a malapportioned legislature. The court held acts of such a legislature are not invalid and the laws which it passes are not void. There is no right to be classified and inducted by a selective service board composed of a percentage of black members which the black population bears to the total population.
Even if Ali’s objection regarding the proportionality of blacks on draft boards was valid, it could not stand in light of the fact that a three member board which was one third black had unanimously classified him eligible for service (1-A). The Presidential Appeal Board acts for the President himself, as it is the President who is vested with the functions and duties of the determination of questions with respect to inclusion for, or exemption from military service. The Appeal Board considers matters of classification de novo. That is, its classification is one of first instance and not a mere affirmation or reversal of the Local Board. Any prejudice or error on the local level is cured by a fair and fresh consideration on the appeal, because the action of the board of appeals completely supersedes the action of the local board. One of the three members of the Presidential Appeal Board was black, and therefore Ali’s draft status ultimately was determined by an appeal board which was 33% black, reflecting a greater percentage of blacks than in the population as a whole.
Ali had never charged or provided evidence of discrimination because he was black. As he had simply asserted a denial of due process because of the composition of the draft and appeals boards, the basis of his appeal was not sound. The court noted that Ali had been classified 1-A on seven different occasions; on four different occasions, Ali was classified 1-A (available for military service) by his local board, twice more by appeal boards in Kentucky and Texas, and once by the National Selective Service Appeal Board. All votes were unanimous. Ali was afforded every procedure known to the Act and the regulations, and an appeal to the Presidential Appeal Board to which he was not specifically entitled.
Denial of the Ministerial Exemption.
The scope of review of local board decisions in draft cases is very limited and the range of review is the narrowest known to the law. The court has authority to reverse only if there is a denial of basic procedural fairness or if the conclusion of the board is without any factual basis.
Ali claimed that the denial of the requested ministerial exemption from military service was without any factual basis. A Congressionally created exemption from military service includes regular or duly ordained ministers of religion. A regular minister of religion is one who teaches the principles of religion as his customary vocation. A regular minister of religion must be recognized by his or her church, sect, or organization as a regular minister, although he or she does not necessarily have to be formally ordained as a minister of religion. The exemption is intended for the leaders of the various religious faiths and not for the members generally. Preaching or teaching the principles of one’s sect, if performed part-time, occasionally or irregularly, are insufficient to bring a registrant under the exemption. The activities must be regularly performed and comprise the registrant’s vocation, and the registrant must have a recognized standing as a minister.
The court found the evidence which the local board had before it was much more than necessary to constitute a “basis in fact” for Ali’s 1-A classification and denial of the ministerial exemption. Ali was certified as a minister by the National Secretary of the Lost Found Nation of Islam and by its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He contended that he spent 90% of his time on his ministerial duties. However, although he contended he became a minister in 1964, his vocation appeared to be professional boxer. In the first information which he supplied to his local board on selective service forms, his occupation was shown to be that of “professional boxer” and “professional prizefighter.” The Report of Medical History dated January 24, 1964 showed his usual occupation to be “boxing.” His Current Information Questionnaire dated February 2, 1966 listed his occupation as a “professional boxer” and his work as “professional fighting.” Just three days prior to his reclassification to 1-A from 1-Y, Ali wrote Local Board No. 47 on February 14, 1966, stating that “My occupation is professional boxer, and I am at present the Heavyweight Champion of the World.”
Even when he filled out the Special Form for Conscientious Objector dated February 28, 1966, though claiming to be a member of the Nation of Islam, he did not claim to be a minister. His March 17, 1966 letter to the Local Board No. 47 protested that his reclassification imposed “grave hardship upon me as heavyweight champion of the world at now age 24.” Finally, when he appeared in person before the Local Board on March 19, 1966, boxing was listed as his livelihood. Accordingly, the court held Muhammad Ali’s vocation was clearly that of a professional boxer.
Denial of Conscientious Objector Status
“The knowledge that military service must sometimes be borne by – and imposed on – free men so their freedom may be preserved is woven deeply into the fabric of the American experience.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson, Message on Selective Service to the Congress, March 6, 1967.
Technically, every adult American citizen may be constitutionally compelled to serve in the armed forces. There is no constitutional right to exemption from service for conscientious objector or ministerial status. However, Congress is empowered to create exemptions from military service. Therefore, the conscientious objector or ministerial exemptions from military service are purely matters of Congressional legislative grace.
Muhammad Ali’s appeal also claimed there was no factual basis for the denial of his status as a conscientious objector. Only a general scruple against participation in war in any form can support a claim for conscientious objector status. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held there was more than adequate evidence to justify the rejection of Ali’s claim, for he did not object to participation in war in any form.
Ali’s claim that he was a conscientious objector began on February 18, 1966, one day after his reclassification to 1-A. In his appearance before Local Board No. 47 on March 19, 1966, Ali claimed hardship on account of taking care of his parents and paying alimony to his former wife. The board’s record stated, “His religion teaches them not to take part in any way with infidels or any nonreligious group.” Also, “Clay objects to being in service because he has no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”
He wrote a lengthy letter to his local board dated April 16, 1966 in which he repeated his above-referenced hardship claims. He protested that two years of military service would cause him serious financial loss in being unable to pursue his livelihood as a professional boxer. The letter read in part,
Two years is a very long time in the life of a heavyweight champ. . . I may never be able to overcome this time of loss of boxing sharpness and come back from the service and earn the kind of money required to pay off these financial obligations, even though they may be abated during the time of military service. I would therefore be in hock for the rest of my life, whereas if I can get in a few more fights, which are lined up through the fall of this year, I should be able to settle these permanent financial obligations from the money I should get within this year, which I am at my peak of shape and am the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
The local board reaffirmed the 1-A classification.
The Department of Justice requested an F.B.I. investigation and a special hearing on the character and good faith of Ali’s conscientious objections. The special hearing was held on August 23, 1966. The hearing officer reported to the Department of Justice that Ali stated his views in a convincing manner and answered all questions forthrightly. He believed Ali was of good character, morals and integrity and sincere in his objection on religious grounds to participation to war in any form. He recommended that the conscientious objector claim be sustained.
However, the Department of Justice opposed Ali’s claim, concluding that Ali’s objections to participation in war insofar as they were based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam “rest on grounds which are primarily political and racial. These constitute objections to only certain types of war in certain circumstances, rather than a general scruple against participation in war in any form.” Therefore, Ali’s grounds for conscientious objector status were inconsistent with its requirements.
At the F.B.I. special hearing, Ali stated,
If the Honorable Elijah Muhammad looked me in my face and he who I believe is directly from Allah, Almighty God Allah, and if he looked at me and advised me, which I’m sure he wouldn’t, to fight in any kind of war, if he advised me to I would.” He also stated, “I wouldn’t raise all this court stuff and I wouldn’t go through all of this and lose and give up the millions that I gave up and my image with the American public. . . if I wasn’t sincere in every bit of what the Holy Qur’an and the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad tell us and it is that we are not to participate in wars on the side of nobody who - - on the side of nonbelievers, and this is a Christian country and this is not a Muslim country, and the Government and the history and the facts shows that every move toward the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is made to distort and is made to ridicule him and is made to condemn him and the Government has admitted that the police of Los Angeles were wrong about attacking and killing our brothers and sisters and they were wrong in Newark, New Jersey, and they were wrong in Louisiana, and the outright, everyday oppressors and enemies are the people as a whole, the whites of this nation.
Ali also affirmed at the F.B.I. special hearing that he was correctly quoted by the Chicago Daily News on February 18, 1966 in stating, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Vietcongs . . . . Let me tell you, we Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked. Those Vietcong are not attacking me. . . . Why should we Muslims get involved?”
The Nation of Islam’s teachings did not preclude fighting for the United States because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. Therefore, the court held there was adequate evidence to justify the rejections of Ali’s claim. The court cited United States v. Spiro, 384 F.2d 159 (3rd Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 956 (1968), in which the court upheld the denial of the conscientious objection claim of a Roman Catholic who said he would fight only in a “just war.” Ali, like the Roman Catholic, was not opposed to war in any form.
In March, 1969, the W.B.C. declared the heavyweight title vacant because of Ali’s inability to defend the title as a result of his continuing legal problems. Ali had not fought for two years.
Influence of Wire Taps on Ali’s Criminal Conviction.
On March 24, 1969, Ali argued that his draft status and criminal conviction had been improperly influenced by illegal wire taps. The Supreme Court of the United States remanded Ali’s case to the lower court for a determination of whether electronic government surveillance used against him in his criminal trial were in violation of Ali’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Ali had been a party to five telephone conversations which had been improperly electronically overheard by agents of the F.B.I. Ali had standing to challenge the legality of the surveillance even though it was not his telephone under surveillance, but the telephones of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elijah Muhammad. It was necessary to determine whether his conviction was tainted by the information obtained as a result of the electronic surveillance.
The government never challenged the illegality of the surveillance. However, the lower court was required to decide whether the evidence gathered against Ali grew out of his illegally overheard conversations or whether the evidence was obtained by means independent of the illegal wire taps so as to be purged of their influence. If the recommendation by the Department of Justice to deny Ali’s conscientious objector claim was based upon illegally obtained evidence and not upon independent properly obtained evidence, the “basis in fact” which the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas found for his classification would have been defective.
A log of a March 24, 1964 wiretap of Elijah Muhammad’s phone (Log 2) stated, “Elijah said he wanted to see Clay as he was going to make a minister out of him when he quit thinking of fighting all the time.” Another log of a telephone surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Log 4) stated “C said that he is keeping up with MLK that MLK is his brother, and with him 100% but can’t take any chances, and that MLK should take care of himself, that MLK is known world wide and should watch out for them whities (sic) . . .” Ali attempted to show that because Log 2 reflected Elijah Muhammad’s wish that Ali become a minister, and because Log 4 reflected Ali’s reference to “them whiteys,” the logs would have an influence regarding his ministerial status and a bearing on the Department’s conclusion that his beliefs were political and racial, rather than religious.
On July 14, 1969, the lower court held not only was there positive testimony that the logs were not used at all in the preparation of the Department of Justice report, but the logs were “so totally innocuous” that they could not have had any bearing on the defendant’s conviction even if they were used. The Department of Justice’s duty was to submit a recommendation concerning Ali’s status as a conscientious objector, not a minister. Therefore Log 2, regarding Elijah Muhammad’s desire to make Ali a minister, was irrelevant because it had no bearing on whether Ali was entitled to conscientious objector status. The Department could have recommended Ali be granted conscientious objector status despite the fact that he was not a minister of his religion. Even if the issue had been before the Department, the court found that the independent evidence that Ali was not a minister was overwhelming.
The court also held that construing a passing reference to “them whiteys” as being the Department’s basis, or even partial reason, for holding Ali’s beliefs to be political and racial was “completely untenable.” The conversation was not a theological discussion and the common slang reference was not within a context which could have had any bearing on Ali’s beliefs. In addition, even if there had been such a context, there was ample evidence from an independent origin before the Department to conclude that the Muslim religion (as taught by Elijah Muhammad) held the white race in contempt. Elijah Muhammad had said in the Supreme Wisdom, “The white race or Caucasian European race is known to God and his prophets as Satan, the devil, the enemy of God and his people (the original nation) power was given to them to rule with evil and falsehood the darker nations for six thousand years. . . If you understood it right you will agree with me that the whole Caucasian Race is a race of devils.” Accordingly, the court found the information obtained in the wiretaps could not have been relevant to Ali’s conviction.
On July 6, 1970, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit again upheld Ali’s conviction, holding that it was “clear from uncontradicted testimony that none of the information obtained in the five wiretapped telephone conversations was used in the F.B.I. investigation of defendant’s conscientious objector claim, or in the preparation of the adverse Department of Justice recommendation made in connection with defendant’s original request for conscientious objector classification."
Ali’s Fight to Fight
The New York State Athletic Commission suspended Muhammad Ali’s boxing license on April 28, 1967 because of his refusal to submit to induction in the Armed Forces of the United States. The W.B.A. had also stripped Ali of his heavyweight title on that date. However, Ali continued to be recognized as champion by the W.B.C. until March 1969, when the title was declared vacant because of Ali’s inactivity for two years as a result of his legal problems (and the fact that no state would license him to fight and Ali’s passport had been revoked). Later that year, Ali was convicted by a jury of the federal felony of refusing to submit to induction into the Armed Forces, and was sentenced to a term of five years imprisonment. During his criminal appeals, Ali had been at liberty upon a $5,000 bond.
On September 22, 1969, Ali applied to the New York State Athletic Commission for renewal of his expired license to box in New York. On October 14, 1969, the Commission unanimously denied his application because his “refusal to enter the service and felony conviction in violation of Federal law is regarded by this Commission to be detrimental to the best interests of boxing, or to the public interest, convenience or necessity.” Ali had no other criminal record. Following the Commission’s decision, Ali brought an action for a preliminary injunction restraining the Commission from denying him a license to box in the State of New York.
On September 14, 1970, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Ali’s motion for a preliminary injunction restraining the New York State Athletic Commission from granting him a boxing license. Ali’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim was based in part on his charge that the Commission’s action was arbitrary and capricious in that Ali’s conviction for draft evasion had no rational relationship to the regulated activity of boxing and was therefore irrelevant to the proper exercise of the Commission’s functions. Ali also alleged that the Commission discriminated against him in violation of his rights under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the government to treat similarly situated persons similarly, without discrimination. In support of his equal protection claim, Ali demonstrated numerous other occasions in which professional boxers who had been convicted of crimes had been licensed despite their records. For example, Joey Giardello had been convicted of assault. Rocco Barbella, also known as Rocky Graziano, had twice been convicted of petty larceny, and had been court martialed while serving in the United States Army and convicted of being absent without leave and disobeying orders. Graziano was sentenced to one year hard labor and a dishonorable discharge. Sonny Liston had been convicted of armed robbery and assault with intent to kill. Unlike Ali, these boxers had been granted licenses to box.
The Commission’s records revealed at least 244 instances in recent years in which it granted, renewed, or reinstated boxing licenses to applicants who had been convicted of one or more felonies, misdemeanors or military offenses. Some ninety-four felons licensed included persons convicted of activities such as second degree murder, burglary, armed robbery, extortion, grand larceny, rape, sodomy, aggravated assault and battery, embezzlement, arson and receiving stolen property. The fifteen military offenses included convictions or dishonorable discharges for desertion from the Armed Forces of the United States, assault upon an officer, burglary and larceny. Thirty-five licenses were granted to felons and misdemeanants in 1968 and 1969, subsequent to the suspension of Ali’s license.
Furthermore, the Commission had not in the past distinguished between recent convictions or sentences not yet served, and those older or served. The Commission’s records revealed numerous instances where a license had been issued in the same year of the applicant’s conviction of a serious crime. Twenty-eight boxers had been licensed to box while on probation, and twenty-six while serving their sentences on parole. Regardless, such distinctions would have the undesirable effect of discouraging a convicted applicant from exercising his right to pursue an appeal.
The court held that denying Ali a license because of his refusal to serve in the Armed Forces while granting licenses to hundreds of other applicants convicted of other crimes and military offenses appeared to be on its face intentional, arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination. The court could not find a rational basis for singling out the offense of draft evasion as detrimental to the interests of boxing while holding that criminal activities such as murder, rape, and arson were not so classified. Draft offenders do not usually pose rehabilitation problems or threats to the public safety in the way that convicts of other crimes do. Additionally, there could be no rational basis for distinguishing between a deserter from the Armed Forces, to whom a license was granted, and a person who refuses to serve in the first place. Therefore, the court granted Ali’s motion and enjoined the Commission from denying him a license to box. Although his criminal appeals were still continuing, Ali would be able to box again.
In his first fight in three and a half years, on October 26, 1970, Muhammad Ali stopped Jerry Quarry on cuts after the third round. In December, Ali knocked out Oscar Bonavena in the fifteenth round. Then, on March 8, 1971, billed as ‘The Fight,’ Muhammad Ali lost a unanimous fifteen round decision to Joe Frazier in a bout for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Although this was Ali’s first professional boxing loss, there was another round to be fought, more important to Muhammad Ali than any boxing match . . .
The Final Round of Ali’s Appeal of His Criminal Conviction and Denial of Conscientious Objector Status
Muhammad Ali’s legal appeals finally ended on June 28, 1971, when the Supreme Court of the United States addressed the denial of Ali’s application for conscientious objector status. In order to qualify for classification as a conscientious objector, a registrant must satisfy three tests: He must show that he is conscientiously opposed to war in any form, that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief, and that the objection is sincere. If Ali failed any of the three tests, his conscientious objector claim could not be valid under the law.
It seems clear that Ali failed at least one of the three tests; that which required opposition to war in any form. In addition to the statements cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Ali had testified that Islam did not allow war “unless declared by Allah himself, or unless it’s an Islamic World War, or a Holy War . . .” The Islamic just war, or jihad, was a war in which Ali would take part. Clearly, Ali was not opposed to war in any form. Therefore, the Department of Justice had written a letter to the Appeal Board stating that Ali’s beliefs “do not appear to preclude military service in any form, but rather are limited to military service in the Armed Forces of the United States . . . . These constitute only objections to certain types of war in certain circumstances, rather than a general scruple against participation in war in any form. However, only a general scruple against participation in war in any form can support an exemption as a conscientious objector under the Act.” As Ali was not opposed to war in any form as required by the law, he did not fulfill the requirements necessary for conscientious objector status.
The Department of Justice had also recommended rejection of Ali’s claim because it believed that Ali’s opposition to the Vietnam War was not based upon religious belief, and because it questioned the sincerity of Ali’s beliefs. The Department letter to the Appeal Board stated, “It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad.” The letter also stated that Ali “has not consistently manifested his conscientious - objector claim. Such a course of overt manifestation is requisite to establishing a subjective state of mind and belief.” The Department criticized that Ali’s claim was not asserted until military service became imminent.
Upon receipt of the Department of Justice’s recommendation letter, the Appeal Board denied Ali’s conscientious objector claim without specifically identifying the reasons for the denial. Therefore, the Supreme Court did not know which reasons were relied upon by the Appeal Board as its grounds for the denial of the claim.
Despite the Department of Justice recommendation letter, the Government conceded on appeal that Ali’s beliefs were based upon religious training and belief, as they were founded upon basic tenets of the Muslim religion. The Government also conceded that it no longer questioned the sincerity of Ali’s beliefs. It continued to argue that Ali should not be granted conscientious objector status because he did not object to war in any form, as required.
The integrity of the Selective Service System demands that the Government not recommend illegal grounds. Although it remained clear that Ali failed the requirement that he object to war in any form, because the Appeal Board did not state which of the three grounds it based its decision upon, the court could not speculate. It was not possible to know whether the Appeal Board denied Ali’s conscientious objector status because of only one ground for denial which was proper, or all three, which included two grounds which the government conceded were wrong. Therefore, his conviction could not stand. Even though the Appeal Board could have properly denied Ali’s request for the singular reason that he did not object to war in any form, because two of the three grounds upon which the Department of Justice recommended denial of the claim were not valid, and the Appeal Board did not state which of the reasons it relied upon, the Supreme Court held that Ali’s conviction could not be upheld.
Muhammad Ali had narrowly escaped affirmation of his conviction. Although Ali had attained heroic status for taking a stand he believed was morally correct, Ali’s stance against the war was not one which entitled him to exemption from military service under the law. This point does not diminish Ali’s tenacity and courage in the face of his moral dilemma. However, he ultimately escaped being held to the legal standards any other American would be held, as a result of the fortuites of the Department of Justice being incorrect regarding whether Ali’s beliefs were sincerely grounded in religion, even though the sincere religious beliefs he held were insufficient to meet the legal requirements for conscientious objector status, and the Appeal Board’s failure to state which of the Department’s grounds for denial were relied upon. If the Appeal Board had simply stated that it denied Ali’s claim because he did not object to war in any form (which the evidence demonstrated he did not), Ali would have lost his appeal and his criminal conviction would have been upheld. On the other hand, it could be argued that Muhammad Ali would not have undergone the same ordeal if he was just another American.
Roy Jones Jr.: An Appreciation.
By Monte Cox
I was in Indianapolis at the Conseceo Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers, for the Roy Jones-Richard Hall Light-heavyweight championship fight on May 13th. The crowd of over 13,000 screaming fans was the largest to ever watch a fight in the state of Indiana. It sounded like a Pacers game with the crowd noise which is not obvious on the tape of the fight. It was so loud in Conseco I could not hear Michael Buffer and his "get ready to rumble" pre-fight introductions. The crowd was very boisterous and extremely pro Roy Jones. Richard Hall was booed so loudly, on his ring walk, that one would have thought he was the designated bad guy at a WWF wrestling event. RJ on the other hand was so fully embraced by the crowd one might have thought we were in his hometown of Pensacola. The crowd loved Roy Jones.
Why do the fans love Roy Jones you may ask? Hasn't Roy been criticized by many boxing writers for having no competition and supposedly ducking some contenders? The answer is simple. Roy Jones is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. No one can deny his talent. Roy was voted as the best boxer of the 90's by the Boxing Writers Association. I also nominated Roy Jones as the Fighter of the Decade for the 90's on my web-site (coxcorner.tripod.com). When viewed objectively Roy has faced the best competition available. He beat Bernard Hopkins in 1993 for the vacant Middleweight title with an easy decision, Hopkins would go on to control the division for the remainder of the decade. James Toney was undefeated and considered the best 168 pounder in the World when Roy totally dominated him for the IBF Super Middleweight crown. At the time it was considered to be a superfight and a number of writers picked Toney to win. They were badly mistaken. He destroyed highly rated light-heavyweight contender Montell Griffin in one round, and veteran Merqui Sosa in two. Former Light-heavyweight champion Virgil Hill was devastated by a one punch ko. Hill had never before been knocked out. Roy unified 2/3 of the title by beating WBA Light-heavyweight champion Lou DeValle, winning 11 of 12 rounds in the process. He then destroyed IBF Light-heavyweight Champion Reggie Johnson to unify the 175 pound titles. The fight was no contest. It is not Roy's fault that the alphabet soup boys installed men such as David Telesco, Ricky Frazier and Richard Hall as their number one contenders. The fact is that once the bell rings Roy Jones is the finest fighter in the world and no one in his weight class can beat him. As a paying spectator at the Jones-Hall fight I had the impression that Jones carried Hall during the early rounds after the first round knockdowns. Jones has learned, as the character Maximus did in the recent hit movie "Gladiator," that winning quickly is not enough. The audience must be "entertained". I was glad for it because Roy put on a great show for the fans some of whom shelled out a 1,000 dollars for ringside seats. Roy Jones is much like legendary heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano in terms of his level of competition. Like Jones, Marciano did not have the highest level of opposition. Louis was 37 and a shell of his former self, Walcott was 38, Charles peaked at light-heavyweight and did not have the greatest chin (kayoed 7 times), and Moore was a 42 year old light-heavyweight champion. Vingo, Layne, and LaStarza were nothing special. But whereas Rocky struggled at times against mediocre competition, Roy Jones has utterly dominated his. Jones will not leave enough of a legacy to
satisfy everyone, but his utter domination of every opponent put in front of him will lead historians to believe that he could do it against tougher opposition. He will not have the competition to compare to a Ray Robinson, but his ability and domination will command respect.
I've been studying films of Roy Jones fights and make the following notes:
· Fastest Hands since Ali.
· Has knockdown/knockout power in either hand.
· His left hook is among most dangerous punches in boxing history for weight.
· Uses head movement to slip punches.
· Utilizes Feints -a skill rare in the modern age of boxing
· Superior counter-punching skills.
· Effective aggressor in initiating most punching exchanges
· Great body puncher.
· Strong defensive fighter, covers up well off ropes.
· Rarely hit due to fantastic speed and movement.
· Only uses jab against slugger types.
· Dominates southpaws as easily as orthodox fighters.
· Destroyed Virgil Hill with a crushing body shot.
· Against Telesco backed up and outslugged bigger man with one hand.
· In 5th round against Richard Hall he made opponent miss from all angles looking like Willie Pep.
· The one knock is Jones sometimes carries opponents and is unwilling to take risks. They said the same thing about Jack Johnson.
Most of Roy's criticism comes from the fact that he has yet to face the legitimate number one contender, Germany's Darius Michalczewski. Some may claim Darius is the true champion by historical lineage but Jones holds all of the legitimate belts. The same naysayers mostly refuse to recognize Shannon Briggs as having been the heavyweight champion though he held the "historical" title that he won from George Foreman. Irregardless, it is Jones, not Michalczewski, who is considered to be the best pound 4 pound fighter in the game today. It seems amazing to me that Jones is under fire for not agreeing to fight Daruis when it is Jones who is the recognizable champion. Michalczewski will only take the fight in Germany. If he really wants a shot at Jones then let him come to the United States. Why should the world's best fighter be forced to defend his belts in enemy territory? Normally when a champion does go overseas to defend his title in a challengers homeland he is well compensated. This is only fair. The fact is Darius makes a good living fighting in Germany and after he loses to Roy his value may go down. Despite his boasts it is unlikely he will fight Jones in the U.S. He doesn't want to fight Roy Jones, not the other way around. If Darius wants the fight then let him come over here.
The only real challenge for Roy Jones Jr. may be at heavyweight. This would be a considerable risk. The day of heavyweight champions who weigh well under 200 pounds are probably long gone. Remember Roy started off as a middleweight and does not have a heavyweight's frame. It is possible for Roy to defeat Lennox Lewis, but in order to do so he would have to box the perfect match both strategically and tactically as Billy Conn did for 12 rounds against Joe Louis. He would also have to avoid making the mistake of trying to slug it out with Lewis if he hurt him. One punch from the 6'5" 247 pound Lewis would end matters in a hurry. Strategically Jones would have to find the perfect range. Billy Conn had the advantage of knowing Joe Louis was a precise mid-range puncher. Louis preferred to work in that area so Conn was able to box and move effectively on the outside. Lennox Lewis however, is an outside puncher whose long devastating right hand has destroyed large and powerful men. On the inside he would have to be constantly watchful for Lewis' crushing uppercut which has developed into a formidable weapon. Roy has the speed and skills to frustrate anyone. He can make Lennox miss (but can he make him pay?), he can slip and counter and move and try to outbox the larger man. Roy will have to avoid the ropes and keep the fight in ring center. One does not want to be against the ropes against someone with a 60 some pound weight advantage. If Roy could box the perfect fight with no mental lapses he could conceivably win a decision. Roy would finally give the fans the career defining moment that they seem to be begging for. If he loses, so what?. He was still a dominant light-heavyweight champion who was simply to good for his competition.
Historically, a fighter should be judged at his best weight. Unfortunately for Roy he may be not be appreciated by the boxing public until he is gone, as was the case of one Larry Holmes. There are just no challenges for Roy at light-heavyweight. He is too good. Roy is simply the best, better than all of the rest. As a 70's pop song said, "Nobody does it better. Baby you're the best!"
The Under appreciated Champion
by David L. Hudson Jr.
It was though I was looking into the mirror. I've never been exposed to a fighter who could slide punches like this. No one. I mean no one can make me miss punches like that.
- Sugar Ray Leonard (in A Fistful of Sugar)
This under appreciated pugilist began his career at age 15. Two years later, at the age of 17, he shocked the sporting world by outboxing the legendary Colombian champion Antonio "Kid Pambele" Cervantes to become the youngest fighter ever to win a world championship (a distinction that he still holds) in 1976.
A few years later, he decisioned the popular and rugged Carlos Palomino, he of beer commercial fame, to win the welterweight title. He later became the youngest fighter to win a world title in three different weight divisions when he knocked out Maurice Hope with a single right cross to win the junior middleweight crown.
His elusive skills confounded boxing aficionados, causing many to proclaim he had radar in his brain. Opponents were universally awed by the defensive brilliance of this counterpunching phenom. Harold Weston, Jr., a clever boxer himself, called him "the best defensive fighter I ever fought." Palomino praised him as an "absolutely brilliant defensive fighter." Sugar Ray Leonard remarked incredulously that no one ever made him miss so many punches.
At times in his fights the self-proclaimed "Bible of Boxing" would engage in an unusual form of bravado reminiscent of Ali's rope-a-dope. He would purposely lie on the ropes and showcase his sheer wizardry at slipping punch after punch without firing retaliatory shots.
This defensive genius showed that boxing can occasionally live up to its often times oxymoronic moniker - "The Sweet Science." Even Joyce Carol Oates could not capture the beauty of this legend's elusiveness. You had to see it to believe it. After watching one of his finest displays, the Hall of Fame matchmaker Teddy Brenner called him "the best fighter in the world."
In arguably his greatest hour he outclassed Roberto Duran with a boxing lesson that would have turned Willie Pep green with envy and forced Pernell Whitaker to take notes. "Hands of Stone" was reduced to merely striking air. Even Duran, who never praised opponents, called him a "very good boxer" after being vanquished. In his prime he defeated everyone except for Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.
Who is he? Wilfred Benitez, the great Puerto Rican champion whose boxing brilliance was outmatched only by his poor training habits. Legend has it that he trained a grand total of one week before facing Leonard. Emanuel Steward, the longtime trainer of Tommy Hearns, once joked that he knew Hearns would beat Wilfred because Benitez had trained for Hearns. "It may mess him up. Training is a shock to his system", said Steward.
Unfortunately, neither Hearns nor Leonard ever gave him a rematch. Benitez repeatedly challenged Leonard, but Sugar Ray refused to face him again.
Fittingly, the youngest fighter to win a world title became the youngest fighter ever inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame at the age of 37 in 1996. It was his first year of eligibility.
Unfortunately, a few months after this great honor, Benitez nearly lost his life due to brain injuries. Benitez, like his idol Muhammad Ali, had stayed in the fight game too long. His skills gradually dissipated and eroded due to fast living and little training. Punches that for years were easily eluded by his wondrous skills, began to connect. A shadow of his former self, Wilfred succumbed to journeymen plodders that he would only have toyed with in his prime.
Benitez's life after boxing paralleled Ali's in another disturbing and tragic way: slurred speech and health problems. In 1986, a neurologist discovered that Benitez suffered from brain damage. Diagnosed with traumatic encephalopathy in 1989, he retired belatedly the next year. His problems continued in another all-too-familiar fight game pattern: that of a former champion, who had earned millions in the ring, reduced to poverty. Only with assistance from the Puerto Rican government was he able to survive. A government official said it was the least they could do for the man "who put Puerto Rico on the map." His problems escalated dramatically in 1996 when he slipped into a coma from which doctors feared he would never recover.
Yet, Benitez - ever the champion - finally awoke to his mother's teary eyes, whispering "God is good."
In the ring, you were much better than good, Wilfred Benitez, much better.
By Harry Otty
During the 1970?s, Liverpool?s John Conteh could have become the Muhammad Ali of the light-heavyweights. Handsome, roguish, athletic and unquestionably skilled as a boxer the only thing that may prevented his total domination of his division was his inability to suffer fools and his taste for alcohol. And of course, a liberal sprinkling a sheer bad-luck. Conteh had natural talent in abundance, athletic ability, (possibly inherited from his West African father – the determination and grit from his Liverpool-Irish mother), yet he appeared intent on dissipating it in the bottoms of champagne bottles and endless lost week-ends spent drowning his woes when things were not going his way.
To look at John Conteh you may have labeled him a lover and not a fighter, but his dark, smoldering mustachioed looks were a mask for the mean streak that resides in the perfectly honed physique of just about every truly great champion.
One could argue that it was boxing that made Conteh mean. He learned so much from the double-crossings, wheelings and dealings and one-up-man-ship of managers, governing bodies and even family members that it would seem inevitable that a mean streak would develop. In his own biography "I, Conteh", (written and published when he was only thirty years old), he cynically named one of the chapters "The Meat in the Sandwich", undoubtedly a reflection of how he felt he had been treated by the boxing powers that be in general. Fat-bellied, blazer wearing sycophants that close ranks at the first sign of outside trouble or when it appears that one of their licensed boxers actually has a brain and a mind of his own. Sat in their oak-paneled halls they attempted to destroy the career of a fighter who had fought his way to the top of his profession despite great adversity.
During the roller coaster ride that was his professional career one can only imagine the depths of despair to which he at one time sank. A dark and troubled place inhabited by visions of Randolph Turpin and Freddie Mills two former champions who apparently could not face a life in the shadows, away from the bright-lights and the trappings of celebrity status.
The story of Conteh though is not yet over. A meteoric rise to the top of his profession, a fall as equally spectacular and a redemption that is ongoing make the story of Britain's finest light heavyweight champion ever sometimes stranger than fiction. As he lives life out of the ring, but still involved occasionally in the media surrounding the sport he must often think back to his humble beginnings and to the days when he was at the top of the tree.
Born in 1951 and one of eight boys, (with one sister), John and his siblings lived a typical working-class existence. His parents eking out a living while they were all crammed into Victorian dwellings in Toxteth, a suburb of Liverpool, England that would, in later years be the scene of rioting brought on by racial tension and sheer frustration. At the tender age of four John and his family moved from the ethnic melting pot of the south-end to the grey, to the sterile newness of a housing project in Kirkby to the north. It was here that Conteh first experienced racism first hand as he was labeled a "half-caste" by some of the local boys. His ever-supportive mother insisted that her children were half of nothing, but were full human beings. The discipline was handed out by John's father, himself a former amateur boxer in his birthplace of Sierra Leone, and with so many boys in the family, a switch from the back garden was employed often. When an older boy chased one of the brother's home, Mr.Conteh insisted that his son go out and face him like a man. He stood for no messing around and insisted that his family 'stand up and be counted'.
Life in Kirkby was tough and, after raiding the gas meter for shillings to fund their adventures, John and his older brothers would often attempt to break away, heading for the sights and sounds of London. Usually not getting much further than the motorway before they had eaten all of their provisions and were cold and bored. Boxing was introduced to the boy's life to give them some focus and to keep them off the streets, which were rapidly becoming their home. John experienced what he called the 'thrill of his young life' putting his first sparring partner on the canvas. From then on, the old disused Royal Air Force barracks on the outskirts of neighboring Fazakerley became John's favorite place, despite the Spartan conditions. The place was heated and lit by paraffin oil lamps and the boxers would have to prime the burners by pumping them for several minutes. By the time boxing training commenced, the lads would be tired.
Charles Atkinson Senior was the main man there then and like most amateur coaches was not much short of being an unpaid social worker. Mr A, as he was called, develop several champions and had a hand in developing a young Jimmy 'Shea' Neary. The light-welterweight champion would be the last fighter that Mr. A would deal with as he passed away in 1997. Also at the Kirkby Amateur Boxing Club was ex-fighter Tucker Hetherington who taught young John Conteh the value of a well developed left hand, especially the hook.
He had scarcely settled into his first year as an amateur when a run-in with the law after a raid on a local supermarket led to the twelve-year-old Conteh spending time in an 'approved school' forty miles away from home in Stockport. While family and friends were missed, quite naturally, it was the gym that John pined for most and upon his release he headed straight back to what he loved most.
A defeat at the hands of a boy called Bobby Blower in the semi-finals of the national junior championships was only his fourth loss in the amateur ranks and after that setback John would go on to remain unbeaten for several years. He won the National title at middleweight in 1970, a Commonwealth gold, also at middleweight, in the same year, (defeating Tanzanian Titus Simba) and added the national light heavyweight title the following year.
Liverpool professional Harry Scott aided John in his preparation and by John's own admission he became very fast on his feet after many sparring sessions in a small ring with the powerful middleweight. Now unbeaten in over three years young Conteh was being courted by many of the professional fight games big guns. He had talks with an American syndicate that wanted him to be trained by legendary molder of champions Cus D'amato. He also spoke with Angelo Dundee and entertained dreams of training with one of his heroes, Muhammad Ali.
Regular work, the kind that pays the bills was sought and some jobs lasted longer than others. Unable, after one day on the job, to hack it as a timber porter John approached his father about work in the boiler works where Conteh Snr. was a foreman. Although he enjoyed the work the appeal of working outdoors became too strong and he joined a building gang as a hod-carrier for the bricklayers. This hot and thirsty work had it's rewards and John was soon baptized into the world of the manual laborer and his after work drinking session down the pub as he followed the old ethic of 'a good days work should be rewarded by a good drink.'
"In my youthful innocence I wholeheartedly agreed. I had to admit I enjoyed the feeling of well-being drink brought on. I liked being high. I have chased 'highs' in one disguise or another ever since."
John Conteh, (in I, Conteh p. 28)
Whether the demon drink was responsible or not, things appeared to go horribly wrong for the much vaunted favorite for European amateur honors as John simply froze in his opening match in the Madrid championships and was easily beaten at the first hurdle. Still, the professional side of the game appeared to keep faith with him and he was promised £10,000 to turn to the punch-for-pay ranks. George Francis and Lennie Martin, an unlicensed manager, were to become his guides. Okacha Boubekeur, a Parisian kitchen porter, was his first paid opponent as he got off to a flying start with a first-round knock out and although his management and the dinner-suited crowd were happy with the display John Conteh was not. He knew the opponent was a stiff and he felt bad about all the hoopla and money flying around. But, it was not too long before the young prospect woke up and caught a whiff of the coffee as harder opponents were wheeled in for the same amount of money.
For his third fight, John was matched with a fighter called Frank Bullard in London. The fight itself is not a memorable one to John, but he does recall one of his funniest memories of the fight game from that night. Jerry Quarry was brought over to fight Britain's Jack Bodell on the same bill and it was a quip from Quarry that still makes John smile. After scoring a first round KO over Bodell Jerry was asked by a reporter if he found his opponent awkward, 'He certainly fell awkward.' responded the American.
Fighting on the under-card of Ali versus Al Lewis in Dublin, John got to meet his hero, but failed to heed his advice on the subjects of training and money. What he did remember however, was the opponent that day. John developed a genuine fear of men like Johnny Mac, a man he knocked out in two rounds. Here was a washed-up old pro, looking for a payday and being thrown to a young lion to satisfy the blood lust of a stadium full of fight fans. The fear was that he too might end up that way one day, something he was determined not to experience. Another old pro in the form of American Eddie Duncan put a stop to the winning ways of Conteh, halting a win streak at eleven. The defeat did not stop John or his management taking on heavyweights, which was where the real money was to be made. In another era, it might well have been John Conteh, heavyweight champion of the world. But, these were not the days of Fitzsimmons, Tunney or Ezzard Charles and the heavyweights of the day lived up to the name of their division. Wins over Canadian Champion Bill Drover, (who was spotted close to twenty pounds), and former world title contender Terry Matthews in Las Vegas proved that Conteh could deal with heavyweights, but also helped realize that his natural weight was indeed closer to one hundred and seventy-five pounds.
With sights now firmly set on the pinnacle of the light heavyweight division, manger George Francis aimed his charge at the European title and in what was his nineteenth fight, Conteh became European champion by defeating Rudiger Schmidtke inside twelve rounds. After adding the British and Commonwealth titles to his collection by defeating Chris Finnegan over fifteen rounds John began to look at the world championship and remained on course for that title by defeating Vincente Rondon, Baby Boy Rolle, Tom Bogs and Finnegan again. With a couple of domestic fights thrown in to remain active and in the money, Conteh's 'no quarter' style was already beginning to draw rebuke from the traditional English purists.
"I preferred the American Approach of 'kill or be killed' – It was more honest."
John Conteh, (in I, Conteh, p. 53)
By the end of his fourth year as a professional John Conteh was the WBC light heavyweight champion of the world by virtue of a fifteen round decision over Jorge Ahumada. Four months previously, Ahumada had held legendary Bob Foster to a draw over the championship distance. With Foster failing to go ahead with a rematch against Ahumada or a defense against Conteh, he was stripped of the title that the Liverpudlian light heavy now owned. Bureaucracy was becoming more commonplace in boxing and the newly crowned champion would soon find himself running foul of the same crowd.
The more lucrative offers were now beginning to flood in for the new champion and a proposed match with Carlos Monzon was mooted for the near future. All Conteh had to do was get past Lonnie Bennett and a clause that his new promoters, Levene and Duff were insisting upon for a guaranteed £33,000 for the Bennett fight. Conteh's next two fights would have to be under their promotional banner. Figures of close to half a million pounds were being bandied about for a showdown with the reigning middleweight champion and Conteh was hungry for it. Legal action was taken against the promoters after they applied for a British Boxing Board of Control ban over the fighter and succeeded in having one enforced. Conteh won a 'restriction of trade' case against the board, but lost out to the WBC who insisted that he compensate the promoters to the tune of $35,000 U.S. it would be three and a half years before Conteh would fight for the promotional double-act again,
Conteh's fear of being 'knocked over' for a mere £15,000 when there was millions on offer resulted in him being manager-less, trainer-less, promoter-less and gym-less. He set about rectifying these problems by appointing his brother as manager, (a decision he would later rue), himself as promoter and trainer and setting up facilities in a gym in North London called the Lyons Boys Club, which was an amateur establishment.
As self-promoting goes, John didn't do too good a job with his first venture. Teaming up with Don King for what promised to be a lucrative series of bouts, both home and abroad, he signed to meet Willie Taylor in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Taylor was a relative novice with only ten wins in sixteen bouts, but what he lacked in experience he made up for with a head like a rock. Conteh, a city block ahead in the scoring, broke his right hand on the offending noggin in the seventh round. From then on in it was a one-handed fight and Taylor, realizing this, went for broke down the final stretch. John thought that the taping job done by Rich Giachetti may have been partly responsible for the damage, the resulting two hour operation and the steel pins that know held the bones in place, but the damage was done and it was no use crying about it now.
Angry and frustrated at the prospect of six-months out of the ring, John turned to the drink. Training became a thing of the past and for a while he lived it up, one day blurring into the next.
"I was not drinking anywhere near enough to cause any lasting physical damage, but on reflection what I was doing, to disastrous effect, was establishing an alternative life-style."
John Conteh (in I, Conteh p. 74)
Somehow, brother Tony, acting as manager, managed to get John involved with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and a match was proposed for Kampala. With Mickey Duff offering £15,000 for Conteh to fight Alvaro 'Yaqui' Lopez and Idi Amin promising £250,000 it was really no-contest and the decision was made to fight Lopez in Amin's backyard. Things immediately began to go 'pear-shaped' as Lopez cried off from the original date due to illness, Conteh re-broke his hand in a training session two weeks before the re-scheduled date and Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Uganda leaving the possibility of a world title fight there a non-starter. To make matters worse, Tony Conteh had taken an £18,000 advance from Amin, whose government was now demanding a full refund, (actually they were demanding a settlement of £39,000). No matter how bad this all appeared to Conteh, his brother was about to prove that things could only get worse as he arranged for a world title defense against the aforementioned Lopez in Denmark. For £100,000, Conteh would have fought anywhere in the world, apart from South Africa, whose apartheid regime he was totally opposed to.
John's one abiding memory of the fight against the highly rated Lopez was the half-empty hall.
"Not surprising since it was an Englishman versus a Mexican in Denmark!"
John Conteh, (in I, Conteh p.81)
Still, money was money and John was expecting to enjoy a handsome payday after he had recovered from the affects of his opponent's hard punches. What a shock he received when brother Tony came to pay him out and rather sheepishly put a cheque for £2,000 in his still aching hands. Tony was lucky to escape with a sever shaking and John vowed never to work with him again. But, Tony had already started talks with a Liverpool promotional group about a homecoming fight for the city's reigning world champion. Conteh relented and agreed to the March 5th date with top ranked Miguel Cuello at the Liverpool Stadium. Unfortunately the meeting with Cuello fell through and John fought Len Hutchins at the same venue with future world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks on the same bill. A decent payout of £117,000 highlighted the growing influence of television and added to John's sense of well being after scoring a third round knockout in front of his hometown fans.
The WBC then insisted that Conteh re-schedule with mandatory challenger Cuello within sixty days. The dangerous Argentine was on a run of sixteen consecutive knockouts and was the official challenger for the belt. However, negotiations for the fight hit a snag that had more than a hint of revenge about it when the British Boxing Board of Control refused to allow live television rights for the event. Monte Carlo was the proposed site, but Conteh stubbornly refused to play ball. He wanted to defend at home and that was that. The WBC stripped of the title in May of 1977 –once the specified sixty-day limit was up and Cuello fought Jessie Burnett in Monte Carlo, winning the vacant title via a ninth round knockout. He lost the title in his first defense, nine months later, also in nine rounds to Mate Parlov.
It was ten months before Conteh fought again and the intervening period of drinking did little for his conditioning. He won a ten round decision over American Joe Cokes to remain in contention, but the slide had already started. A fifteen round loss to Parlov in Belgrade was Conteh's first defeat in Championship outings, but his well practiced coping strategy saw him through again leaving him with barely enough skills and energy to beat Leo Rodgers at Wembley in September 1978. What was left by this time though was not sufficient to get by Jesse Burnett, who held the former champion to a ten round draw in London.
With the frequency fights now dwindling to an average of two per year, John had more time on his hands to party and seek out other troublesome distractions. When the chance came to regain his old belt against new champion Saad Muhammad in Atlantic City in August of 1978 he through himself into training for one last throw of the championship dice. This would be his third, and possibly last, bite of the cherry and he was determined to make the most of it. Unfortunately, events yet again conspired against the former champion as the former Matt Franklin had a solid chin, an experienced corner and a compound the closed the cuts around his eyes in an instant. The fight could of and should have been stopped with Saad Muhammad cut badly and Conteh ahead in the scoring, but the substance around his eyes enabled him to continue and Conteh punched himself out trying for a finish. The reigning champion gamely fought back, dropped his exhausted challenger several times in the final two rounds, and earned himself the decision over the championship distance of fifteen rounds. If had been a twelve rounder, such as we have today, Conteh would have regained his title.
When an investigation into the substance used in the stricken champions corner was held it was decided that rules had been breached and people would pay. The champions cut of the $815,000 was dropped from 85% to 55%, with Conteh receiving 55%. John thought he had earned himself a decent pay-day until Bob Arum stung him for the tax, adding to his woes of having lost a title fight over the last couple of rounds of action and with the illegal substance used in the champs corner. The promise of a rematch cheered him some and seven months later at the same venue he received the opportunity to right some wrongs. An opportunity he failed miserably to prepare for.
The usual distractions coupled with advertising and personal appearances, which netted him somewhere in the region of £15,000, meant less time in the gym and Saad Muhammad exposed him ruthlessly for the fraud he had become. During the re-match at Atlantic City only seven months later, the slide was complete as the once proud champion was bounced around the ring and off the canvas with embarrassing frequency during the three and bit rounds that the 'fight' lasted.
"The word 'yo-yo' actually entered my head to taunt me as I waited to beat the count on one occasion."
John Conteh, (in I, Conteh p.128)
The party was most certainly over for Conteh, but as was his style he was not about to go quietly into the night. Drowning his sorrows in the hotel bar after watching 'old blue eyes' himself perform John was refused an introduction to the legend of song. It was, he felt a case of 'losers not welcome' and he took his drunken, frustrated self up to his room to wreak a little havoc amongst the fixtures and furnishings. An incident he is not proud of. Returning to Liverpool for what turned out to be his last hurrah, John beat American James Dixon inside of five rounds and with the face of Johnny Mac looking back at him from the dressing room mirror he decided to call it quits there and then.
Fortunately John Conteh stuck to his decision, just as his wife Veronica and his children James and Joanna stuck with him. Even when he sought solace in drink, drugs and the arms of Stefanie LaMotta, (who betrayed all of his confidences for a £20,000 newspaper pay out). And for a change, luck may have actually been with him when he considered a comeback, but failed a Board of Control medical.
Today one of Liverpool's, and for that matter the worlds, best boxers makes the occasional appearance at local sporting events or functions. Smiling as he hands out 'promising sports person' awards or the 'local sports personality of the year' trophy at his local council organized events. On the odd occasion, he might permit himself a wry smile, possibly recalling his own tenure at the top and how things may have been different. But, I would doubt if John has any regrets about his time, because at the end of the day he did it all his way and under his own terms. He was and is, as his self-titled biography screams, –"CONTEH".
The Great Globetrotter: The Life And Times Of Angel Robinson Garcia
By Enrique Encinosa
The news came down through the Little Havana grapevine that Angel Robinson Garcia died in Cuba.
He was a flawed diamond, a Renaissance oil masterpiece with chili stains. Angel was a fighter of tremendous ability but his lifestyle, which eventually destroyed his liver and kidneys, was what kept him from gaining belts and fame.
Still, even pickled on booze or stoned on weed, in a career that spawned three decades, Angel Robinson Garcia was a ranked contender in two divisions, fighting at least 225 fights in twenty-one countries and four continents. He was the supreme globetrotter in boxing history. Despite his wild lifestyle the Cuban fighter was never late, nor did he ever cancel a fight.
In 1955, at the age of eighteen, Angel Garcia turned pro, after winning a Cuban national amateur championship. The young lightweight patterned his boxing style after his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson. Thus the handsome young fighter adopted the ring name of Angel Robinson Garcia.
With his flashy moves, Garcia reeled off twenty-four wins out of twenty-six fights. They were hard fights for small purses. Richie Riesgo, a veteran trainer who worked with Angel Robinson related a memorable anecdote.
"Angel was booked to fight Chico Morales," Riesgo said, "In Santiago de Cuba, and the trip by bus took fourteen hours. When we arrived they had a carnival that had brought thousands of tourists into the city and there were no hotel rooms. So, we went to an all night movie theatre and sat through several showings of the same film, taking little naps but waking up all the time. After that we went to a park bench and that was worse. In the morning we went to the weigh-in, had breakfast and sat through more showings of the same movie. We were exhausted, but Angel Robinson looked very good in the ring that night. He won on points against Morales who was a good prospect."
The fight with Morales in Santiago de Cuba is not listed in the record books, being among those bouts that slipped away from record keepers.
Between 1955 and 1961, Garcia resided in Cuba, but began his travels by fighting main events in Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and the United States.
"He did not care who he fought," Riesgo said, "all he wanted was to have a good time. Sometimes he trained hard and other times he didn't but he drank and chased women every day. In Cuba the boxing commission for a while suspended him. He was on a winning streak but his adventures became public gossip and the boxing authorities enacted a moral clause. Did he change? No way. He would have sex the night before a big fight, after the weigh-in, anytime and all the time. Money went through his fingers, never in the pockets. He borrowed so many advances from a promoter that after a fight he was still two hundred in the hole. Angel Robinson had a lot of ability and heart but his reason for living was to have a good time."
Young and quick, Angel Robinson fought anybody anywhere. In Venezuela he drew and lost to future junior welter king Carlos Hernandez, a hard slugger. In Havana rings he defeated rated lightweight Alfredo Urbina, split two with future welterweight contender Jose Stable, and drew and lost to another brilliant prospect, Douglas Valliant, who would eventually fight Carlos Ortiz for the lightweight crown. By 1961, Angel Robinson was a fringe contender in the lightweight division with a respectable 42-14-2 record.
Politics intervened. Fidel Castro was on its way to establish a dictatorship in Cuba. Professional boxing was about to be banned. Angel Robinson Garcia did not like communism and an altercation with a Cuban soldier landed him in a prison cell for several days. As soon as he could, the gifted lightweight headed for Miami Beach.
The Fifth Street Gym was in its glory days. A young heavyweight named Cassius Clay and newly crowned light-heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano were two of the stars of the Dundee brothers. Chris and Angelo scooped almost all the Cuban fighters leaving the island.
"Chris had worked with all the Cuban promoters," boxing historian Hank Kaplan said, "and Angelo went to Havana constantly, taking fighters over there and even picking up Spanish. So when these fighters showed up in Miami they would look for Angelo and Chris to train, manage and promote them and it was a hell of a group. Luis Rodriguez, Jose Napoles and Jose Legra became champions. Florentino Fernandez and Douglas Valliant were top rated contenders and both had title shots and Angel Robinson Garcia was rated as a lightweight and junior welter."
"The first time I saw Angel Robinson," Kaplan said, "he came into the gym dressed in an expensive suit and puffing on a cigar. He was a unique character, always smiling and joking around. A very likable man who could have matched Lew Jenkins at a bar stool."
Angelo Dundee lined up fights geared to take Garcia to a world title. Angel outscored Hilton Smith, a fighter who held a win over Napoles, and beat Jimmy Mackey, a good Florida lightweight.
"He looked sharp," Angelo said, "and then I get an offer to put Angel in against Rafiu King, a European contender, in Paris. It was one of the big mistakes of my career. I sent Angel over for one fight and he stayed for ten years."
"I could have promoted him to a championship," the late Chris Dundee once remarked, "but he was unpredictable. He had a couple of good wins with us and we were guiding him, making the right matches, keeping him in shape and suddenly he's in France."
Paris was made for Angel Robinson Garcia. Wine was cheap and the nightlife was excellent. Garcia was in his prime, his face slightly marked but still handsome, and French girls loved his happy-go-lucky charm. Angel Robinson stayed in Paris, somehow obtaining a temporary residence permit.
French promoters loved his smooth style, which drew crowds that included famous actors like Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo. Garcia was willing to fight anyone on the planet and he fought the best, losing to junior welter champ Eddie Perkins and to the lightning quick Ismael Laguna, but knocking out the highly regarded Ray Adigun in six and defeating Rafiu King in a rematch.
In Paris he married the daughter of a shopkeeper, which meant that for however many days the honeymoon lasted Angel did not go off night clubbing with his new found French buddies, an oversight he remedied quickly.
After his marriage collapsed, the Cuban fighter drifted to Spain where he linked up with a fellow countryman, Evelio Mustelier, known in boxing circles as Kid Tunero. A soft spoken, well mannered, middle-age man, Tunero was the antithesis of Garcia, the wild child of boxing.
In his youth, Tunero had been a ranked contender, an excellent orthodox boxer. He was so good that as a middleweight, he outscored a young light heavyweight named Ezzard Charles. Tunero had settled in Madrid where he was a highly regarded boxing trainer, owned a gym and managed some very good fighters, including another fellow Cuban, the mini-Ali featherweight Jose Legra.
Spain also suited Garcia. He knew the language and wine was cheap. He fought main events but did not mind filling in a prelim to help out a promoter or make enough to cover party expenses. Rolando Fernandez, a young Cuban exile was part of the Tunero team.
"I drove them around," Fernandez, a Miami businessman related years later, "and I worked buckets, whatever. I was young and it was a fun time. Tunero was always booking Legra in cities and towns all over Spain, fighting club fighters and local heroes at very little risk. Angel would ride along even if he did not have a fight booked. We would pull into a town and Angel Robinson would weigh in 'just in case' and inquire where the tavern was located. Twenty minutes in town and he was sitting in a Spanish tavern, puffing on a smoke and polishing off a bottle of wine. Tunero would show up and say something like –there's a fallout but they need a middleweight for an eight and he's fifteen pounds heavier than you are- and Angel would say –I'll take it. I'll be in the dressing room on time.- And after Tunero went back to the arena or bullring, Angel would smile and say –Well, now that I have another payday coming we can order another bottle before the fight.-A couple of hours later with a good wine buzz, he would take out the middleweight. He was unique."
Angel Robinson trained and partied, looking to fight anywhere there was a peseta, lira or guinea to be made. He fought in England, visiting pubs before and after weigh-ins, also traveling to Switzerland for a ten-round draw and a couple of one night stands with easy women. Angel drank good wine before trading leather in Italy, then went to war in Belgium, Tunis, Algiers and Finland, where he lost to Olli Maki.
After five years in Spain he became restless. Ever since leaving Cuba he had wandered like a gypsy. Packing his bags Angel Robinson moved to Italy, where he found passionate women and good Chianti. He was no longer young; he had become a mature veteran. His handsome face was slowly flattening and his once smooth eyebrows showed thin lines of scar tissue.
In Rome Robinson Garcia became a local favorite. He won, lost and drew with world rated lightweight Paul Armstead and knocked out L.C. Morgan, a dangerous puncher who held a win over Napoles. Angel lost to world champs Bruno Arcari and Carmelo Bossi.
Growing homesick for his Cuban buddies, Garcia rejoined Tunero and Legra in Spain, where he spent another three years trading leather. He was fading, losing more frequently, but Angel Robinson was by this time a very seasoned, tricky fighter. He was seldom hurt even in defeat. Most of his losses were to top European fighters like Roger Menetrey and Cemal Kamaci.
Deciding to change continents, Angel Robinson Garcia headed back to the Americas. He was in his mid-thirties, no longer rated and showing the wear and tear of his turbulent life. He was offered a fight in Panama against an undefeated young prospect with 21 knockouts in his 25 victories. Garcia hopped on a plane and fought Roberto Duran in the stone man's backyard.
"He was dangerous," Garcia said in an interview years later, "but I knew how to work the ring. I shuffled back and forth and worked angles and kept him out of range, confusing him...I caught him with some good shots but he was too young and strong. He won the decision but after the fight he looked at me and said –Cuban, you know a lot?"
A few months later Angel went the distance with Esteban De Jesus, Duran's nemesis.
Returning to Miami after his ten-year tour of Europe, Garcia contacted Angelo and Chris Dundee once again. In Miami he defeated club fighters Jimmy Hamm and J.T. Dowe before losing in a marihuana haze to Saoul Mamby and Sugar Ray Seales.
Frankie Otero was a world rated lightweight working out at the Fifth Street Gym when Robinson returned to Miami.
"At the time he fought Hamm and Dowe," Frankie remembers, "Robinson was a shot fighter but he was very clever. Even out of condition he knew how to pace the fight, resting in the clinches and with his ass on the ropes, bobbing around and making the other guy miss. He knew every move and trick in the trade and he took advantage of every opportunity you gave him. He was very good and he had a chin like granite. I think he was only stopped a couple of times in over two hundred fights."
Robinson Garcia continued to fight top men. At thirty-nine Angel lost a decision to Wilfredo Benitez, the teenager who was destined to win three belts.
His last moment of glory came in 1976, when a Philadelphia promoter was looking for an opponent to fatten the record of junior middleweight prospect Perry Abney, a seasoned veteran with a good left hook and nine wins in his last ten bouts. The purse was insignificant, only seven hundred dollars, but when no one accepted the grizzled Angel Robinson stepped up to the plate. With a mellow buzz the ancient warrior gave Abney a boxing lesson, stopping the local hero in nine rounds.
In his last years of campaigning, Angel Robinson lost to former welterweight champion Billy Backus and to Clyde Gray, a rated Canadian fighter. His career ended in New York with a loss by KO to Willie "The Worm" Monroe.
Garcia's record is incomplete as his travels took him to far corners of the planet and although he claimed about 300 fights, the accounting so far is 225. His record as far as can be determined was 129-76-20. Of his 124 victories, 49 were knockouts.
Banned from fighting in the U.S. by commissions who rightly argued he was too old and worn out, Angel returned to France. His application for a boxing license was rejected. The man who had fought main events in twenty-one countries had finally lost his trade.
Robinson Garcia was in his forties, but the years of substance abuse, hard fights and daily binges had destroyed his health. His eyebrows were crisscrossed with scar tissue and his face was reshaped from the handsome youth he had once been; his liver and kidneys were failing him, the end result of decades of alcoholic abuse. He could not work.
In France he became a "clocharde," which is an elegant sounding word to describe a homeless panhandler residing in the bowels of the Paris subway. A friend in France wrote to tell me that Jean Paul Belmondo, the great actor recognized the beggar as one of his favorite fighters, interceding on his behalf.
Although the Cuban government did not like professional fighters, Castro has always attempted to maintain a political relationship with European artists and intellectuals. When Belmondo made a request the Castro government allowed the old globetrotter to return home to die. Frail and sick, the nomad fighter returned home to die.
He is gone now, the way of all flesh. Angel was the untamed party animal who self-destructed with gusto, yet I feel no anguish at his demise. He chose his road and traveled the highway without the twisted rage of a Tyson or the psychological angst of a Golota. Robinson Garcia enjoyed his smoke, wine and women without regret and did it all with a certain style, with a happy buzz smile and a wink of complicity, always on time, never complaining, always in the fray.
Adios, old warrior.
THE INTELLIGENT USE OF MUSCLE IN BOXING
By Adam Pollack
In general, boxers are viewed by the public as brutes who swing away at each other. Knowledgeable fans realize that nothing is further from the truth. However, the public and media’s fascination with ear-biting and comments regarding eating children by Mike Tyson only help perpetuate the general view of boxing as barbaric and devoid of intellect. Although media hype of one man’s brutish side puts rear ends in seats for his fights, in the long run, such attention only brings harm to the sport’s image and fosters the further decline of boxing. However, this is nothing new to the sport. The death of boxing’s image began a long time ago.
At the turn of the twentieth century, boxing champions were extolled as pillars of intelligence, courage, character,poise and determination, and also, white superiority. That was a time when most champions were white. When Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in 1908, the media and public began attacking and describing the sport and its sportsmen as brutish, barbaric, and devoid of intelligence. Because a black champion could not be allowed to symbolize all that the white champion had symbolized, and because no white fighter could defeat Johnson, it was the image of the sport itself which had to be altered.
So powerful was Johnson’s symbol that Congress passed a law banning the interstate importation of fight films. Today, try locating a complete copy of Johnson’s wins over Tommy Burns or James Jeffries. At best, you’ll find ten or fifteen minutes. However, substantial footage of Johnson’s eventual 1915 loss to Jess Willard in Cuba does exist.
Following Johnson’s defeat, the attack on boxing subsided and no black man was allowed to challenge for the heavyweight championship for over twenty years. Unlike Jack Dempsey, no U.S. postal stamp will be issued in honor of Harry Wills, the black boxer who was prevented from challenging Dempsey because of the color line.
Boxing was predominantly a white sport through the 1950s, and it was extremely popular. However, starting in the 1960s, and not coincidentally, coinciding with the civil rights movement, the sport began a shift. More and more champions were black and latino. By the eighties and nineties, white champions were a rarity.
Today, relative to what it once was, boxing is at a low point in general popularity, and all talk about fighters being symbols of intelligence is dead. Free television bouts have almost completely disappeared. The public is most enthralled by a man who fits the stereotype sought to be impressed upon Jack Johnson in 1908. However, this article is not about race or the death of boxing. Rather, it is my goal to explain, at least to some degree, why the earlier version of boxing’s image which admired boxers for their intellects (without the racial elements) was correct.
Boxing is as much an intense mental sport as it is physical. Even to the extent that the sport is physical, the body is inextricably linked to the mind. Every choice a fighter makes in relation to his body derives from intricate mental processes which must negotiate a plethora of factors. Good fighters are masters of the intense interaction of the mind and body. In order to explain the mental challenges presented to boxers, one must understand the human body as it relates to the sport of boxing.
Power equals velocity (speed) multiplied by mass (weight here on Earth). Punching power is a delicate blend of punch speed, timing, and coordination of muscle tension. Speed is obtained by sprinting the muscle - attempting to throw a punch as fast as possible. Mass is obtained by form and muscle tension. Form is the shifting of body weight in a way which can maximize the amount of mass that is propelled toward and at the point of impact. Muscle tension is achieved by flexing or tightening the muscles of the body. The purpose of muscle tension is to combine the numerous entities of body mass into a whole so as to maximize the mass propelled towards and impacting the target through form. Think of the human body not as one mass, but as a number of separate entities which must be combined into one whole. In order to maximize mass, muscles must tense up to join the masses by connecting the dots between them, so to speak. This requires mastery of the skill of form and muscle tension.
When a fighter is able to connect all or most of his body's masses at the moment of impact, he places all of his body weight into a punch. When that same fighter is also able to propel those masses as fast as he can, achieving maximum velocity and muscle tension at the moment of impact, he is punching with maximum force for his body. Some boxers do not appear to have power, even when throwing with good form. That is because either speed or mass is insufficient. Some fighters are not willing or have not developed the ability to propel their body masses at a fast rate. Also, the human body, when attempting to concentrate its masses into one point - the fist - cannot do so unless it sufficiently contracts its muscles to join the masses.
The human muscle has both aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. When we go for a long jog or bike ride, our muscles are generally being used in an aerobic capacity and we are able to continue for long periods of time. However, when we lift weights or sprint, our muscles are being used in an anaerobic capacity and we become fatigued quite rapidly.
The challenge that boxing presents is that a fight is a high intensity situation which instinctively calls upon draining anaerobic powers, yet because of its potential lengthy or short duration, necessitates an intelligent disciplined control and awareness of one’s body. Unfortunately, punching hard requires large amounts of energy. Punching with maximum power is generally of an anaerobic nature, which depletes the body rapidly. This is counterproductive in a sport where the ability to continue for lengthy periods of time is necessary. Therefore, boxers must compromise with their bodies and learn just how much output is available or necessary without completely depleting themselves.
Fighters must punch as hard as they can without sending their bodies into an anaerobic mode, just as long distance runners must know how fast they can run in order to make it to the finish line without allowing their bodies to go anaerobic and burn out. Unlike running, where competitors generally remain at approximately the same rate of speed until the end of the race, boxers have many more options at their disposal and must constantly alter their intensity based on their opponents' actions or inactions. It is the challenge to control one’s body in a highly charged situation that beginning boxers find most difficult, and even for professional veterans is still a constant battle (just ask Derrick Jefferson, who completely burnt out against David Izon).
Boxers can be analyzed for the ways in which they combine speed and mass in their punches. For example, a fighter such as George Foreman throws slowly, but maximizes his body muscle tension. On the other hand, fighters like Hector Camacho threw extremely quickly and derived power mostly from speed, but failed to fully tense the body to obtain mass power. Roy Jones, Shane Mosley, and Mike Tyson are good examples of fighters who blend speed and muscle tension to maximize their power.
There are a number of variations on how fighters approach the dilemma of the human body. Boxers must consider when to throw a punch, how much they tense up their muscles and how fast they throw their punches at any given moment, how many punches they throw or whether to throw at all, which punch to select in order to impact their opponent and simultaneously, to prevent damage to themselves and maintain conditioning. Fighters must decide when to move their bodies toward or away from an opponent for offense and defense, the timing of their movement and punching, and when and how much to utilize defensive moves and feints. These decisions all depend on the fighter’s and his opponent’s defensive and offensive strengths and weaknesses. Although the main focus of this article is on the punch, every aspect of boxing can be thoroughly analyzed in a similar way.
When fighters throw their punches in a relaxed less tense fashion, generally they can throw many more punches and continue to do so for longer periods of time. However, when a fighter puts too much intensity on his punches, he withers rapidly (i.e. Tommy Morrison, Courage Tshabalala, young George Foreman). Some boxers throw lightly throughout a fight (i.e. Wayne McCullogh, Zack Padilla), sacrificing mass or speed for volume of punches. Some throw extremely hard throughout a fight and take rests in between by holding or covering up (i.e. Jose Luis Lopez, Mike Tyson), some fight with bursts of energy balanced with lighter or slower punches in between (i.e. Ray Leonard, young James Toney, Roy Jones, Shane Mosley, Sharmba Mitchell), and some are able to fight with a consistent strong pace and intensity (i.e. Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad). The power play involves tensing more or less, throwing faster or slower, and blending speed and muscle tension in various combinations. Boxers must determine how to best tackle their own physical limitations at any given moment in a fight.
More versatile fighters have the ability to attain a plethora of muscle speed and tension ranges. The best fighters know their bodies and have a sense of how to shift gears. They know how to gauge how many hard and fast punches they can throw before they need to settle down and throw lighter slower ones, or hold or cover up and get a breather. They also know how much they can and should move before needing to settle down and rest their legs. If Oscar de la Hoya had moved a bit less against Felix Trinidad, he would not have tired so badly and given away the last few rounds (although he still won, in my opinion).
The boxers who are most physically talented are the ones who can achieve the highest punch output, speed and muscle tension combination over the lengthiest period of time (just as the best long distance runners can run very fast over long periods of time without depleting themselves). However, even the most physically talented fighters must know their body in order to maximize its potential output over the course of a fight without depleting themselves. This requires intelligence and experience. Fighters are constantly synthesizing information about themselves and their opponents and making strategic decisions as a result of their assessments.
Intelligent strategic decisions make champions. Certain fighters intentionally allow their opponents to lead on points. Although the opponent may land more, the better fighter may determine that those punches are not having much effect and that they are able to place fewer power shots more effectively. Conscious that their opponent is winning, they believe the other boxer is overworking to achieve that win. Well placed hard shots to the head and body can have their toll over time. While the crowd only sees the present, the champion sees the future, confident in his strategy and ability to overcome either superior physical talent or foolhardy excessive early effort. If a fighter does not know his own body or his opponent’s ability to take punishment, that reflects poor thinking on his part.
Some fighters must take the risk of depleting themselves when they hurt an opponent who is better than they are overall, seizing the opportunity to finish the opponent before he can collect himself. Others, fearing depletion and confident that they can wear out their opponent or win even if they don't knock out their opponent, back off and pace themselves. Any strategy can be a gamble, but nevertheless are made based upon both fighters’ histories and what is learned while in the ring.
George Foreman is a great example of a fighter who with experience has become more familiar with his body and has balanced his output in order to go the distance, as opposed to his youth when he utilized too much energy early on to his detriment. After his victory over Michael Moorer, George made a comment to Larry Merchant which appeared to befuddle him. George told Larry that if the three knockdown rule were in effect he could have knocked Moorer down three times early on for the victory. However, because there was no three knockdown rule, he knew he had to pound on Moorer over a period of time to wear him out so he could get a clean knockout. What George meant was that if he had utilized a lot of energy early to swarm Moorer, he could have dropped him three times. But Moorer could have possibly continued to get up and fight. If Moorer was well enough to continue, George would have overextended himself and had nothing left to continue into the late rounds. Therefore, he knew he had to pace himself and break Moorer down gradually.
Conversely, Moorer should have shown more respect for Foreman’s punch. Moorer should not have remained in George’s range as often as he did. Maybe that meant not throwing as often and moving more. Maybe that even meant giving away a few rounds. Sometimes the appearance of dominance comes at a high price - wearing out physically and allowing the opponent to invest with good shots that will accumulate over the course of the bout.
In contrast to Moorer’s performance, Tommy Morrison’s best win was against Foreman, when he decided to use footwork and quick relaxed punches to outpoint Foreman. Tommy could have placed full intensity on his punches and attempted to knock George out. However, given that Foreman also punches hard and had a better chin than Morrison, and most importantly, that Morrison rapidly withers when he throws his punches hard, Tommy decided to employ the two things that have historically given George trouble - movement and quick relaxed punches with less muscle tension than typical for himself. Although primarily an aggressive fighter during his career, he intelligently fought the type of fight that was completely foreign to him in order to secure the win.
Over time, the merit of great fighters usually shines through. When Julio Cesar Chavez defeated Meldrick Taylor in their first fight, regardless of what you thought of the stoppage, it was not Chavez who was on the canvas at the end of the fight. Meldrick Taylor overworked himself. While Taylor was landing eye-catching blazing combinations, Chavez was digging subtle shots which contributed to Taylor’s eventual demise. Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Ray Leonard were well behind on points to Billy Conn, Joe Walcott, and Thomas Hearns before eventually knocking out their opponents. Intelligent strategy in the use of their bodies and poor decisions by their opponents lead to victories for these fighters. Perhaps their opponents shouldn’t have punched as often or moved as much, or perhaps they should have moved more, or should have better selected their punch combinations, held more often, exhibited more defense, and employed strategies to account for their weaker chins. Decisions lead to losses as surely as the decisions made by the winners lead to their victories. Regardless, the final outcome is a reflection of the accumulation of the decisions fighters make.
If the decisions a fighter made proved incorrect in the first fight, he may intelligently alter his strategy in order to win the rematch. In their first fight, Humberto Gonzalez was clearly ahead on points against Michael Carbajal. However, he fought Carbajal’s fight by fighting aggressively on the inside and taking big shots, resulting in Gonzalez being knocked out. Carbajal demonstrated he had the better chin and conditioning in a power fight, if not better punch. In their second and third bouts, although Gonzalez did not drop Carbajal as he did in their exciting first fight, and although the fights were boring, Gonzalez intelligently completely changed his strategy. He moved more and boxed in a relaxed cautious manner to win easy decisions. He learned his lesson and adapted his strategy to do what was required to win. Similarly, Ray Leonard adapted from a toe to toe hard punching style in the first Duran fight, to a moving boxer in the second and third fights, in order to clearly dominate Duran. These fighters won their rematches employing superior intelligence in utilizing their bodies, considering both their own and their opponents’ physical strengths and weaknesses.
Oscar de la Hoya v. Shane Mosley
Recently, we saw Shane Mosley upset Oscar de la Hoya. If there is a rematch, de la Hoya will have to intelligently alter his strategy in order to overcome Mosley. Although Oscar won most of the early rounds, he did so by being very aggressive, punching fast and hard, and almost never taking a backward step. This tense strategy appeared to deplete him and limit his timing and range, especially in the late rounds. Oscar’s strategy did not pay off, and Shane’s more relaxed boxing strategy did. In the rematch, de la Hoya needs to forget about power, move backwards more often, and have the mind set that he is looking to be relaxed, just touching Mosley and letting the occasional power punches flow from the lighter ones, and looking for a decision. If he does not alter his strategy, it is likely he will be defeated once again. There is no question that Mosley and de la Hoya are very physically talented fighters. What ultimately separates them in any given fight is and will be their minds, not their bodies.
Evander Holyfield v. John Ruiz
Evander Holyfield has sometimes looked extremely well conditioned, comfortably throwing a great number of punches. At other times, Holyfield has seemed to run out of gas, leading to speculation regarding his alleged heart condition. In his first fight against Lennox Lewis, he was unable to mount a consistent offensive attack. However, in the rematch, he was able to demonstrate better conditioning, leading to a closer fight. While most have accepted the heart condition explanation for his inconsistent performances, there is an alternative explanation for his poor performances.
Some fighters, once they switch into anaerobic power mode, cannot seem to get out of it. Evander Holyfield is one of those fighters. Evander can achieve a very good level of power, as exhibited in the Cooper and Tyson fights, but at times he exceeds his power envelope. It is a very fine line between punching hard and remaining aerobic and punching just a little too hard and going anaerobic. In his first fight with Moorer, and especially his third fight with Bowe, Holyfield attempted to put too much on his punches and rapidly depleted himself. In the first Lewis fight, he attempted to punch as hard as he could in the third round and depleted himself there as well.
One of Evander's "tells" is when you hear him grunting loudly. Listen to his grunts in the third Bowe fight, in the third round in the first Lewis fight, and around the second round in the first Moorer bout. When Evander goes anaerobic, he struggles badly to recover and has difficulty getting back into an aerobic mode. Holyfield threw many punches in the Bobby Czyz fight, limiting their power in order to maintain a high output. Although many criticized the performance, this was good preparation for the Tyson fight, in which relaxation and conditioning over a lengthy period of time would be to his benefit.
Evander Holyfield needs to attempt to throw quick punches with no more than a 75-80% level of muscle tension. He should only throw a single hard punch once in a while, when he sees a great counter opportunity. When he follows up, rather than turn tiger, he should focus on staying relaxed, just touching his opponents with medium power combinations to break them down. However, if Evander tries to throw too powerfully he will be physically in trouble if his power punches do not knock his opponent out.
Because Holyfield controlled his body in a more intelligent fashion in the Lewis rematch, the fight was much more competitive than was their first fight. This may be important against John Ruiz, a fighter who throws relaxed punches, demonstrates good conditioning, and like Lewis, has the ability to use some footwork. Although Ruiz is a heavy underdog, if he uses footwork and relaxed punching and Evander stays too tense, an upset is not out of the question.
In conclusion, fighters make mental decisions which prove to be to their benefit or detriment. The reasons why fighters win or lose are not simply based upon their physical abilities (although of course, at the margins, a physically limited fighter is going to have a hell of a time defeating a highly talented physically gifted fighter). Like chess, boxing is a skill. It is a thinking man’s game. If a fighter fails to duck or block a punch, or overexerts himself to gain an early lead to his detriment late in a fight, or puts himself in harms way when he cannot take a punch, or fails to adapt to his own limitations, he loses. Conversely, if a fighter exhibits good defense, punch form and selection, and intelligent strategy, he wins. The best fighters and their trainers must understand the abilities and limitations of both their own and their opponent’s bodies in order to yield the best possible performances.
Unfortunately, it is much too rare that the intellect of fighters and the intelligence demanded by this sport is extolled by the media. It is important for the legitimacy and advancement of boxing that the public be educated regarding the intellectual aspects of boxing. If the public does not appreciate or approve of the sport of boxing, it should not be because it ignorantly views the sport as lacking intellectual challenge.
JOE LOUIS … “HIS FISTS DID THE TALKING”
By Tracy Callis
Joe Louis was sad-eyed, solemn, patient, and deadly. His methodical, almost mechanical attack was backed up by strong shoulders and lightning fast hands. And, in those hands was “TNT.” Joe stalked his man, expressionless, striding forward with “that” jab which was equal to many a man’s “Sunday Punch.”
Many experts consider him to be the greatest counter-puncher among the heavyweights. When the slightest opportunity presented itself, the right-left exploded. Sportswriters of his day described him as “a combined boxer-puncher with the fastest pair of hands and the hardest punch ever seen” (see Durant 1976 p 99).
His offensive capability was most likely unequaled in the ring. He performed at optimum efficiency with little wasted motion. His style was that of a standup boxer with quick reflexes. He carried his guard moderately low. His defense consisted of a superb offense.
Gutteridge (1975 p 41) said that Louis “was unquestionably the most complete heavyweight of them all.” He wrote, “The power he packed looked capable of lopping a man’s head from his shoulders. He was the most correct hitter I have seen and he turned the destruction of his opponents into an art form.”
Further he stated, “Using his left jab he could set up his victim for either a lethal left-hook, delivered with unerring accuracy, or for the text book right cross.
He concluded, “Louis did his job with a cold detachment, fighting with a deadpan expression that never changed in victory or defeat.”
In many ways, he was the ideal champion. His conduct in and out of the ring was that of a gentleman. His sportsmanship was first class. He was at the same time both modest and confident. He dodged no man. He gave a title shot to all deserving contenders and beat them.
Louis did not run his mouth like some fighters. He let his fists do the talking and when they spoke, everyone listened. In fact, they spoke so loudly that the echoes can still be heard.
He was champion for eleven years and eight months. He defended the title 25 times. He knocked out six other Heavyweight Champions – Primo Carnera, Max Baer, Jack Sharkey, Max Schmeling, Jim Braddock, and Jersey Joe Walcott.
Henry Cooper (1978 p 10) contended, “He was a beautiful mover, compact, and with a great left jab which more often than not opened the door for a right cross that might just as well have had the word curtains tattooed on the glove.”
He added (1978 p 11), “Joe always let his fists do his talking.” Max Schmeling said the same, “He (Louis) says nothing with his mouth … He says it with his fists” (see Astor 1974 p 171)
Jim Braddock said, “Nobody hits like Louis … A punch is a punch. But that Louis. Take the first jab he nails you. You know what it’s like? It’s like someone jammed an electric bulb in your face and busted it” (see McCallum 1975 p 45).
Durant (1976 p 101) wrote, “The Brown Bomber … did not have the whirlwind aggressiveness of Dempsey or the beautiful ring science of Corbett or Tunney but he combined a good portion of these qualities, and in addition had the fastest pair of hands in ring history.
He was one of the very few who could knock a man out with a left jab, and his straight right spelled destruction. Joe could end a fight suddenly and completely with either hand with a punch that did not have to travel more than a few inches.”
Bromberg (1958 p 59) said, “In the cold recording of successes, one is apt to lose sight of the fact that Louis was much more than an effective automation. Anyone who breathed the boxing air through Joe’s generation would be quick to confirm that he had a capacity to respond electrically to a tense situation.”
Fleischer and Andre (1975 p 127) wrote that Joe Louis was colorful and one of the greatest fighters in modern boxing. Joe was described as having the “grace of a gazelle” and the “cold fury of an enraged mountain lion.”
Grombach (1977 p 64) recorded, “Louis showed an easy, relaxed style, delivering lightning left hooks, and two-handed attacks to the body. He displayed in addition nice pacing and unusual ability to handle a much bigger and heavier man in clinches.”
He evaluated Louis by writing, “Joe Louis, even seen through contemporary eyes too often prone to look to the past for great fighters, was definitely one of the finest fighters in the history of boxing.”
Durant and Bettmann (1952 p 229) called Louis “a superb fighting machine, a combined boxer-puncher who punched so fast and accurately that they (fans) could scarcely follow the course of his blows.” They also asserted he was “one of the greatest fighters of them all” (1952 p 269).
McCallum (1974 p 198) called Louis “a great champion” and a “clean and fair sportsman” and rated his ring record the best among the heavyweight champions. Carpenter (1975 pp 76 88) wrote that Louis was sleek and quick, punched with short blows, and became the greatest of all champions.
Houston (1975 p 57) wrote, “If any heavyweight champion could be called a perfect fighting machine, it was Joe Louis. Louis was considered unbeatable at his peak.” He added (1975 p 58), “He was one of the most destructive heavyweight punchers and a great combination hitter. When he had an opponent in trouble he was merciless”.
Further, Houston wrote, “Louis had a jarring left jab, which he used to set up an opponent for the heavier artillery – the hooks, uppercuts, and the smashed straight right-handers. He punched in jarring sequences, not just one blow but a whole series, all deliberately aimed and driven in fast and hard. He shuffled forward and sought to cut off the ring and pin down his opponents.”
Jimmy Cannon (1978 p 113) quoted Billy Conn as saying “Louis was just the greatest.” Cannon, himself, said (1978 p 157) “The greatest heavyweight I’ve ever covered was Joe Louis. The hands were quick, and a left hook or a right hand would stun the other guy and then he would put the combinations together with a rapid accuracy.”
Odd (1974 p 40) asserted that Louis was “Undoubtedly the finest fighting machine ever to step into a ring” and described him as “a poker-faced, deliberate attacking fighter, who came forward in a shuffle behind an almost mechanical left jab, that traveled the shortest distance between any two points, was straight, true, and deadly. It would snap a man’s head back with sickening monotony until he wavered under the steady punishment”
Odd went on to say Louis would then finish off his opponent quickly with swift and accurate hooks from both hands. He stated that Joe was “ice-cold”, rarely wasting a punch, and able to anticipate and avoid a blow by the mere movement of his head.
Nat Fleischer rated Louis as the #6 All-Time Heavyweight. Charley Rose rated Joe as the #4 All-Time Heavyweight. The Ring (1999, p 125) ranked him as the #2 All-Time Heavyweight and The Ring (2000, p 125) ranked him as the #2 All-Time greatest fighter of the twentieth century (among all weight classes). In the opinion of this writer, Louis was the #4 Heavyweight of all time.
Astor, G. 1974. “… And a Credit to His Race” (Joe Louis). New York: Saturday Review Press/E.P. Dutton and Company, Inc.
Bromberg, L. 1958. World’s Champs. Retail Distributors, Inc.
Cannon, J. and Cannon, T. 1978. Nobody Asked Me, But … (The World of Jimmy Cannon). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Carpenter, H. 1975. Boxing : A Pictorial History. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.
Cooper, H. 1978. The Great Heavyweights. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, Inc.
Durant, J. 1976. The Heavyweight Champions. New York: Hastings House Publishers.
Durant, J. and Bettmann, O. 1952. Pictorial History of American Sports. Cranbury, NJ: A.S. Barnes and Company.
Fleischer, N. and Andre, S. 1975. A Pictorial History of Boxing. Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books.
Grombach, J. 1977. The Saga of the Fist. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company.
Gutteridge, R. 1975. Boxing : The Great Ones. London: Pelham Books Ltd.
Houston, G. 1975. SuperFists. New York: Bounty Books.
McCallum, J. 1974. The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Radnor, Pa: Chilton Book Company.
McCallum, J. 1975. The Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Radnor, Pa: Chilton Book Company.
Odd, G. 1974. Boxing : The Great Champions. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.
The Ring. 1999. The 1999 Boxing Almanac and Book of Facts. Fort Washington, Pa: London Publishing Co.
The Ring. 2000. “The 20 Greatest Fighters of the 20th Century by William Detloff” contained in The 2000 Boxing Almanac and Book of Facts. Fort Washington, Pa: London Publishing Co
No More Heroes Any More
By Alan Taylor
'Sugar' Shane Mosley's defeat of Oscar de la Hoya was perhaps the best welterweight fight since Leonard - Hearns I. The Golden Boy was better than he has been in recent fights but Mosley was better. In fact he was better than I've ever seen him before. But then, I have never seen him before!! Mosley, undefeated in 34 fights, former lightweight champion, now a welterweight champion, and this was the first time he has appeared on British television. And it's not just Mosley. Among the best fighters around today are Floyd Mayweather and Fernando Vargas; I've seen Mayweather once and Vargas twice.
I look at Phrank Da Slugger's ratings with bewilderment. Zab Judah? Randall Bailey? Antonio Diaz? Who are these guys? The middleweight division is full of names I don't recognize. The super-middleweight division is full of
names their mothers wouldn't recognize. Apparently there are two girls in the welterweights - Shannan Taylor and Michele Piccirillo; their challenges for Mosley's title should be interesting. And isn't Samson Toyota-Thailand a far eastern car dealership? No, he's a top rated Jnr. Bantamweight.
Fifteen, ten, even five years ago I could name most, if not all, of the champions (even multiple champions) at most of the weights; and I had seen most of them. I knew the top challengers and looked forward to their title challenges. Now the majority are just names on a page (or a webpage).
You could argue, of course, that I have lost interest; that I have grown apathetic. Perhaps, you say, I'm suffering from the old-timers' disease I used to accuse the old-timers of - you know, the old-time fighters were better than the current lot, these guys couldn't have lived in the 'thirties. But that's not it. I know that there are good fighters out there. And anyway it's not me that I'm concerned with, or with die-hard boxing fans for that matter. It's the general sports fan that concerns me, the general public.
As an experiment I asked several people to name five current world champions. The results bore out my assumptions. Few could manage to name four. Holyfield, Lewis, Tyson, Not Tyson, that bloke who beat de la Hoya last week, Hamed - just some of the answers I got from people I consider to be general sports fans. The same guy who knew that De La Hoya had lost but did not know his conqueror's name, knew who Butterbean Esch is.
It's a sad state of affairs when a freakshow like Butterbean is more recognizable that Shane Mosley.
Perhaps it is only on the right hand side of the Atlantic that this is true but I fear that the decline is evident in the USA as well. Everywhere we look the news coverage of boxing, if there is coverage, is likely to be about Mike Tyson. Tyson has not been a force since the early 'nineties but yet many talk of Tyson-Lewis being the only fight out there. Don't people realize that the Tyson camp is playing them for fools? Of course they don't. That's why the bandwagon can roll on, Tyson can knock over nobodies like Julius Francis and Lou Savarese and can pass them off as competitive fights. As he did when he returned from his prison term, Tyson will maneuver himself into an undeserved title shot and will get KO'd by someone better - probably Lewis.
Think about it. In any other sport a talent like Roy Jones would be a household name. Of course the fact that Jones believes that he deserves to be a household name without having to earn it doesn't help. I don' t know the answer. Perhaps this is just a sport in its final death throes. I hope not but....the last time a lightweight champion moved up to defeat a welterweight champion in a fight of any note was when Duran beat Leonard in 1980. That fight set up a decade of great fights, a four way struggle between Duran, Leonard, Hearns and Hagler. It was also, I suggest, where the problems began.
The great middleweight and welterweight fights of the 'eighties, together with the advent of Pay-per-view lead to today's anonymous champions. The fights involving the aforementioned all-time greats were so good that we wanted to continue watching them. The seniors tour of the late 'eighties meant that younger fighters were ignored.
Added to the almost complete hijacking of the sports headlines by Iron Mike this unwillingness to support and nurture new stars has lead to the atrophy of the sport of boxing. We can blame Don King or HBO but the truth is that we are all guilty. I know I am. I have allowed my longing for super-fights to blind me to the lack of future super-fights. But I have seen the light! I hope that Tyson-Lewis never happens. I want to watch younger, better fighters ply their trades. Bring on Mosley, Mayweather and Vargas. Even Samson Toyota-Thailand and the girls. I'm writing to Sky TV now. I'll support them all and, when it's time to move on, I'll let them go.
PHILADELPHIA SOUTHPAW LEW TENDLER
By Chuck Hasson
For many years, when discussing the greatest southpaw boxers of all time, one name was usually at the top of every list – Lew Tendler! Of course, in recent years, with the resurgence of left-handed boxers, Tendler’s position of supremacy has been challenged by the likes of Marvin Hagler and Pernell Whitaker. Even in Philadelphia, some local fistic followers rate Tyrone Everett as the best portsider ever developed in the city. While opinions on this matter may vary, one fact remains certain and that is – Tendler is one of boxing’s legends.
Tendler was born in Philadelphia on September 28, 1898 and raised around 6th Street and Reed. In his youth, he was a wiry little guy who was always looking to hustle a buck to help out at home since times were tough and extra money was hard to come by.
Eventually, he became a newsboy, which during this period was a very rugged occupation for a youngster. Philadelphia then had eight daily newspapers and circulation wars were raging across the city. Many papers hired “sluggers” in order to hawk their sheets at prime corner locations and run off any competitors.
Soon, Lew came under the wing of Phil Glassman, an older youth who organized a group of paperboys to combat the sluggers. To Glassman’s surprise, scrawny Lew became quite proficient at holding a corner. Before long, Glassman and Tendler both had ideas that maybe his ability to hold a street corner and hawk newspapers was not the extent of Lew's talents, they started thinking they might make some long green in the boxing game which was flourishing in the city at this time. Philadelphia had seven clubs running successful weekly boxing shows plus frequent activity in the outlying areas of Camden, Chester, Allentown, and Lancaster that provided many paydays for a rugged and colorful lad.
Young Tendler knew the only obstacle in his path was that his parents, particularly his mother, had strong objections to “prize-fighting.” At first, he intended to box on the sly so that his folks would not find out. But, after coming home with a few too many bruises and not enough adequate excuses, Lew was soon confronted by his mother who asked “have you been prize-fighting?” As the histrionics continued and Mama Tendler sat down and began to cry, Lew went to her and put ten bucks in her lap. She looked up and said “Lew, where did you get this money?” “Fighting, mom,” he said. Hearing this, Mrs. Tendler wiped her eyes, looked at the ten bucks and said “Lew, you are a great son. When is your next fight?” Lew Tendler was on his way.
The non-stop, all-action style that Lew used at the beginning of his career quickly caught on with the Philly boxing fans and he became a sensational attraction at all the clubs. Glassman realized that Tendler had something special and he was soon negotiating Lew’s services with the highest bidder.
Sellout crowds were the norm for his bouts at the National AC (at 11th Street and Catharine), the Olympia Club (at Broad and Bainbridge), and the Broadway AC (at 15th and Washington). He met and defeated Philadelphia’s legion of top flight bantams and featherweights including Eddie O’Keefe, Benny Kaufman, Louisiana, and Young McGovern. Before long, Lew became a highly skilled craftsman with a terrific body attack that made him a feared battler.
His first national attention came when he whipped the future World Bantamweight Champion, Pete Herman, at the Olympia. This was during the “No Decision” period in Philadelphia and all the papers had Lew winning against the great New Orleans scrapper. This prompted the promoters to import the best talent from around the country at a time when there were literally hundreds of top notch performers in the lighter weight classes. The list of boxers that Lew defeated read like the “Who’s Who” of his day.
Lew ran up a remarkable record and was virtually unbeatable for a stretch of five or six years and well over one hundred matches. It was far from an easy run though. He had many rugged battles and some close calls. A case in point, and one of the most discussed and debated bouts in history, was his affair with New York’s vicious punching Willie Jackson at Shibe Park on August 11, 1919, for the promotional combine of Herman Taylor and Bobby Gunnis.
Jackson, who was one of only two men to ever knockout the great Johnny Dundee (a man of 330 bouts) in a sensational affair at the Olympia in 1917, came out fast against Tendler and caught him cold with thunderous shots, dropping him flat on his back and seemingly out to the world. But, the fast work and “savvy” of the Glassman corner team, which included trainer “Scoodles” Rhinefeld and the notorious - and feared – Max “Boo Boo” Hoff (famous as a manager and promoter, and infamous as a bootlegger and rackets boss), saved Lew.
Although versions of this story varied as the years went on, heating up the always inter-city rivalry between New York and Philadelphia, one fact is indisputable. As Tendler lay unconscious in a neutral corner, “Hoff” ran over and threw a bucket of water on him, reviving him so he was able to reach his feet by the count of nine.
The New York contingent screamed bloody murder, claiming that referee Pop O’Brien gave Tendler a slow count and then allowed him to recuperate by admonishing his corner that Lew would be disqualified if they ever tried that again. All this took place before he let the contest continue – that was the “New York” version. The Philadelphians, of course disagreed, stating that although they were guilty of throwing the water on Lew, he was able to beat the count, resume the fray, and survive the round – and that O’Brien’s sermon came as he was counting. Anyway, Lew recovered enough to come back and easily win the remainder of the six round bout. Still, the controversy lived on for years.
By this time, Lew had become a popular attraction all over the country and had beaten the best local lightweights these cities had. It wasn't long before the national press was writing that Tendler was perhaps the best lightweight in the world. This was no minor feat when you consider that the champion, Benny Leonard, was considered to be “pound for pound” the greatest fighter in the world in an era when champions like Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Johnny Dundee and Pancho Villa ruled their divisions.
Tendler and Glassman began to pressure promoters Taylor and Gunnis to secure a title match for Lew. Finally, they signed Leonard to meet Tendler at the Baker Bowl on August 12, 1921. Interest in the match was fantastic and over one hundred thousand dollars was already in the till 3 weeks before the fight date when Leonard cancelled - claiming a broken pinky finger. As the promoters refunded the money, the Philadelphia sports world was outraged, calling the injury a hoax and fanning the flames of the old New York-Philadelphia rivalry.
As everyone knows, the pair was matched again the following year on July 27, 1922 in Jersey City and it became one of the most famous title contests in history, as Leonard "talked” Tendler out of the title.
The fight was scheduled for 12 “No-Decision” rounds - meaning that Lew would have to stop Benny inside the distance in order to be declared the new champion.
He got the chance in the eighth and what followed has been the subject of legend ever since. Lew staggered the champ badly with a terrific shot under the heart. When it appeared that Benny might fall, he seemed to say something to Lew that abruptly stopped his attack and caused him to protest what Leonard said.
The boxers never reported to the press what was actually said at that critical point, but speculation ran wild and many versions were volunteered. Among them were "keep them up, Lew” and “that was a good shot, Lew" (Leonard accusing Tendler of hitting low). Our favorite is that Benny spoke to Lew in Yiddish and said "that was a good punch, Lew, but if you want to get fresh, I'll get fresh too" and by the time Lew translated the Yiddish to English in his mind, he had let Leonard off the hook.
Anyway, Lew lost his chance and Benny retained the title. He even gave Lew another shot the following year at Yankee Stadium with Leonard winning by a comfortable margin in front of a record lightweight crowd of 58, 519.
Lew earned a title shot at Mickey Walker's Welterweight Championship at the Baker Bowl on June 2, 1924. Unfortunately, Mickey's youth and speed were too much and Lew dropped a ten round decision, but he remained a top-notch, world-class fighter until he retired in 1928.
In all, Lew had 165 bouts and lost only sixteen. He met 9 world champions a total of 14 times - including Leonard, Herman, Johnny Dundee, Rocky Kansas, Mickey Walker, and Joe Dundee. He was stopped only once by Jack Zivic, later avenging this loss in a Philadelphia Ball Park.
After retirement, Lew opened a restaurant at Broad and Locust that became the center of activity for the sporting, entertainment, and political sets in Philadelphia. It was a hub of activity, drawing tourists and famous celebrities from around the world when they visited the city. Lew was respected and admired by all and they were proud to call him their friend
In boxing circles, Lew Tendler is acknowledged as one of the greatest boxers of all time and possibly the greatest southpaw ever - maybe even in Philadelphia
Return to Mecca
Well folks, I spent this past weekend in Canastota, NY. The home of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I will not write anything further without saying this: Ed Brophy and his crew are continuing to do a fantastic job.
This year's ceremonial weekend was a far cry from the one's I have attended in the past. There was a lot more going on. The grounds of the hall were more comfortable. Everything seemed to be improved. Not to say that previous years were done poorly, just that each year the staff of employees and volunteers seem to make this weekend better and better, except for one incident which I will address later.
This year's featured inductees were Carl "Bobo" Olson, Ken Buchanan, "Joltin'" Jeff Chandler and Tito Lectoure.
Olson was a middleweight who came along at the wrong time. The prime of his career was spent in the shadow of perhaps the greatest fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson. Still, Olson amassed an impressive record of 99 wins, 16 losses, and 2 draws with 49 KO's. One quarter of Olson's losses came at the hands of Robinson who he finished up with an 0-4 record against.
After Robinson's first retirement, Olson won the vacant Middleweight title by beating Randy Turpin in October, 1953. He made several successful defenses of the title over the next two years until Robinson came out of retirement and in December of 1955 KO'd Olson in the second round. Olson finished his career at Light Heavyweight n 1966. 16 losses in 22 years is nothing to be ashamed of.
Ken Buchanan (61-8, 27 KO's) is most famous for his Scottish plaid trunks and for losing the lightweight title to Roberto Duran in June of 1972. Few remember his win of the title in triple digit temperature in San Juan, Puerto Rico against Ismael Laguna in 1970. Also the fact that the loss to Duran came after a low blow by the future "Hands of Stone" legend and Buchanan could not answer the bell for the 14th round.
Buchanan never got a rematch with Duran but went on to beat future Hall of Famer Carlos Ortiz with a sixth round TKO also in 1972. He retired in 1983 after only fighting occasionally the previous few years.
Jeff Chandler (33-2-2, 18 KO's) was World Bantamweight champion from 1980-1984. He was a tough "Philadelphia" fighter who always wanted to fight the best. Bantamweight is a division that American fighters have never really dominated, but he managed to stay undefeated for a seven year stretch in that division.
Tito Lectoure was a boxing promoter of unmatched quality and quantity in South America. The sporting arena Luna Park was just one of the sites that Lectoure promoted at heavily. Over a thirty year period he averaged two fight cards a week. Think about that number for a moment. Fighters like, Carlos Ortiz, Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith are just a few of the names that fought on Lectoure promoted cards.
Back to the weekend.
All of the usual festivities occurred, the celebrity workouts, lectures etc. Current middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins was giving an interview and signing autographs on the museum grounds as was referee Arthur Mercante Jr. and a host of others. The Memorabilia show appeared slightly less crowded then previous years, but my old friend the Neanderslob was there, hawking his wares. My favorite item for sale at his booth was the boxing gorilla, oy vey.
Ken Norton was there, autographing his new book titled "Going the Distance". Ken Buchanan was available for autographs as was Angel Manfredy, Carlos Ortiz, Jeff Chandler and Jimmy Ellis. And what would a boxing memorabilia show be, without Boncerusher Smith's new hot sauce, I shit you not.
Saturday night was for the highlight and lowlight for me at the Banquet of Champions dinner. The dais was a who's who of boxing past and present. In some cases it was a who's that?? Why Carl "The Truth Is I Have No Chin" Williams was up there was beyond me.
Our host for the night was Bert Randolph Sugar. In his usual flamboyance, he outdressed most of the women at the dinner. As Joe Frazier, and several others, noted "Nice pants, Bert". There were conversations done at the podium between Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor, Lou Duva and Mickey Duff, Joe Frazier and Jimmy Ellis and many other well matched pairs. They exchanged stories, barbs and jokes. There was also a nice video presentation on Bobo Olson's career.
We met up with Alexis in the bar area, we happened to step out of the room at the same time for a smoke break. Real gentleman, we chatted with him for little while before returning to our table.
We were supposed to be seated at table 69, but when we got there the table was one seat short. So the woman in charge of seating (I believe her name was Melissa) moved us over to table 61, which was empty at the time. Apparently this table was being used for overflow and for volunteers. Shortly after we were seated, the rest of the table was filled up.
About 20 minutes later, three gentlemen came over to the table. All three of their tickets said Table 61. So once again Melissa came over. I thought that we might have been in their seats, so I reminded her that she had moved us here. She said that was not the problem but she would figure it out. So these guys continue to stand at the end of the table.
Here's where I lost it. The woman sitting next to my friend, who was one of the volunteers, actually calls to these gentleman and asks if they are going to be standing there the whole night. One of them politely turns to her and says, "No, we're just waiting to find out about our seats." She replies "Oh I thought you were just security."
These three men were dressed in suits, looked better than my friend or I did. I was an unshaven mess, in khaki pants and something resembling a dress shirt. It was pretty obvious to myself, my friend Billy, and our three newcomers, that she made this "assumption" based on the fact that these men were black. I was appalled. Billy and I just looked at each other and looked at these other "paying" customers (125 bucks a head) like us and couldn't believe it. One gentleman just smiled at me and he must have seen the rage in my face, because he just said to me "Don't worry about it".
Well, I couldn't let it go. I'm a wiseass through and through. My favorite line from the movie "Major League" came into my mind and I rose from my seat I whispered to this guy, "You want me to drag her outside, and beat the shit out of her??". He laughed so hard and then again said, "It's okay, it'll all work out. It's cool."
Well as it turned out he was right. Melissa returned and addressed my newest enemy sitting next to Billy and proceeded to inform us all that it was her and two of her friends that were at the wrong table and they should return to the correct table now. She was quite stern with the idiot next to my friend, which I really enjoyed. It may not have been justice for what this imbecile said, but we all got a pretty good kick out of it.
The night went on, Billy and I spent the night talking boxing with these guys it was great. All three were from Philly, and knew their shit about fights. We talked about fights like Starling-Honeyghan, Pettway-Brown, and other fights that your casual fan probably missed. When the night was over, we all shook hands, said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Hope to see our new acquaintances back at the dinner next year.
After dinner, we all headed over to Graziano's for a beer or ten. Arguello was quite the smoothie on the dance floor most of the time I was there. Bert Sugar looked like a baby giraffe on crack dancing, but he is always good for a laugh. The place was packed full of people and was hot as hell. A little after one o'clock we decided to leave and head back to our hotel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this year's activities and once again Ed Brophy deserves to be commended for his and his staff's work. I refuse to let one myopic amoeba's point of view damage my memory of the weekend, but I will admit it still annoys me.
Michalczewski Is The Best Challenge For Jones?
By Alex Hall
I am a firm believer of the notion that a boxer's talents and not his accomplishments should be the measure of his greatness. After all, an overachiever is someone who achieves a lot even though he lacks true talent. I have long defended Lennox Lewis for not putting on the dramatic displays thought to be compulsory for a heavyweight champion against Evander Holyfield. I also believe that fighters should be forgiven (to a certain extent) for not taking the very best if the demands are too great and that fighter's particular talents are not. There is however (as indeed with most things) an exception: Roy Jones JR! Why a man who some nights looks as though he could have whipped Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali on the same night (an exaggeration of course) chooses to 'entertain' us with one-sided, lackluster wins over whoever the parasitic alphabet bandits let him and half-hearted jests about excursions into the heavyweight division is simply beyond me. I am sure I speak for every true fan of this sport when I say: 'Get off your arse and fight someone good for Christ's sake!' However, most call for the light heavyweight wonder to tackle Dariusz Michalczewski. I personally say that those out there who see a potential toss-up are in for a big shock for the reasons stated below.
Stated rather bluntly, Michalczewski defense is thinner than fat-free milk mixed with water. Jones would find it harder to get his hands on sand in a desert than on Michalczewski's face. Rocchigiani (old as he is) found it disturbingly easy to pound on the WBO light heavyweight belt-holder (due to recent events I no longer refer to the belt-holders as champions). Picture Rocchigiani with super-speed in his gloves, upper-body and legs, increased power, superior skills in a body five year younger and you have Roy Jones. With that in mind, would Michalczewski be able to hurt Jones? Forget that, would he be able to hit him?
Is Michalczewski really the best challenge out there? Most fans and insiders simply shrug their shoulders and say 'guess so'. I disagree. There are others. Take for instance, the three main cruiserweight belt-holders. At this point I would like to ignore the notion of Jones journeying to the land of the giants. To those out there who still hold hope for a Jones-Heavyweight match-up: We could stage it in the parted Red Sea, if one miracle happens, why not the other? And anyway, for a man who once fought as a 156 pounder (in the amateurs), fighting men 45 pounds heavier than his current extended weight is not on. But cruiserweights such as Tiozzo, Jirov etc carry enough whack in their mitts to make things interesting. It would be good for Jones as well. We have been starved of good Jones fights recently (metaphorically speaking we have been starved of Jones fights recently) and at this point we are willing to lust after any fight with more promise than Jones-Hall etc. When you've been living on bread and water for years, a three-day-old hot-dog tastes like lobster. It might help him finally get respect from those old timers. Below is a quote made by this site's expert-historian Tracy Callis:
''Usually, the considerations (when ranking a fighter's greatness) are:
(1) how well a man dominated his weight class compared to how others dominated their weight class,
(2) the ability of a man to fight successfully against others who were larger and heavier than himself,
(3) how well a man did over his career if he moved up and fought in heavier weight classes, and
(4) a "gut" feel as to how a man compared to others. At the same time, one has to consider the caliber of opposition a man faced.''
Put simply, two out of four are to do with beating bigger men so he would score highly on two out of four if he fought the cruiserweights. And the number 4, gut feeling, should not propose a problem as the man looks like a million bucks in the ring.
Those of you who read my controversial article on Pernell Whitaker might remember the pound-for-pound list and Jones' high-ranking. Giving Whitaker such high respect has won me a literary bashing in the most recent issue and I would bet the ranch that Jones' placing had old-timers fuming at the nostrils as well. I have since decided to change that in light of Jones' cowardly act with the HBO team (Jones instructed his fellow commentators not to mention Michalczewski name during broadcast). This acts suggests to me that underneath the glitter of the green, black and red of his title-belts lies a glowing yellow streak that would spell doom for him against the tough old-timers. I must also conclude that my ranking of him as the greatest light heavyweight ever was also a mistake (at present I am undecided as to who should take his place but I have narrowed it down to Langford and Fitzsimmons). However, here I pray I am wrong, as a new all-time legend is needed to kick-start the new millennium. In a recent issue of Wail, Thomas Gerbasi wrote an excellent article portraying the way Jones career should have been at middleweight and super-middleweight. I hope that sometime in the future, he will not have to write a similar article about how Jones let us down at light heavyweight and cruiserweight.
Should Jones fight Michalczewski? Of course he should! But it cannot end there. The 190 ninety pounders beckon, and Jones' prime (unused as it was) bids us fair well. There is still time for Jones to wrap up his career with some degree of class that he has lacked for years. Jones' recent choice of opponents, dismissal of discussion on top-level opposition (which quite frankly is not much better than CREEP) and bad attitude makes me sick to my stomach. We set such low standards in modern boxing. Lennox Lewis was praised no end for taking on one of the best heavyweights in the world rather than the undeserving John Ruiz. But all champions should do that! Jones seems determined to do less than is asked of him. If we raised the demands, maybe he will follow some. Jones has few real followers, and if I am an example to go by, then they will not last forever. Simply put I am making a challenge and a request:
1.) (To Roy Jones JR himself) Do the things asked of you above!
2.) (To journalists in high positions) Make challenge number 1.) to Jones.
Roy Jones JR, you have been blessed with talents that come along once in a generation. They will slip from you over the next four years. You cannot hide from it, Father Time strikes at all. Earn a place in Canastota, show the wounds of war. If not, get out of this sport because I and many others are sick and tired of you.
Eder Jofre - The Second Best Pound-for-Pound Fighter in Boxing HistorySugar Ray Robinson is generally considered by most boxing experts as the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time. I agree wholeheartedly!
By Dan Cuoco
But who is number two? I'd like to make a case for former bantamweight and featherweight champion Eder Jofre of Brazil. Why Jofre you ask? Because those lucky enough to have seen him in person say he was the equal of Sugar Ray Robinson. The late legendary ring historian Nat Fleischer, founder and editor of Ring magazine, favorably compared Jofre with the old-timers of the past - and declared him pound-for-pound the best fighter of his era. He repeatedly referred to Jofre as the bantamweight Sugar Ray Robinson. This is high praise when you consider that Fleischer in his long and distinguished career personally witnessed in their prime ring immortals such as Jack Johnson, Sam Langford, Joe Gans, Terry McGovern, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Harry Wills, Harry Greb, Tiger Flowers, Benny Leonard, Kid Chocolate, Tony Canzoneri, Jimmy McLarnin, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and countless others.
Jofre, like Ray Robinson, was a supreme stylist and a picture book boxer with a big punch. Ray was more a stand-up boxer, while Eder used a bobbing and weaving semi-crouch style. Eder was very patient in the ring and liked to feel his way during the early rounds looking for weaknesses. He was adept at working the body to wear opponents down before moving upstairs and unloading his terrific left hook or straight right hand.
The Cyber Boxing Zone's biography of Jofre describes him as follows: "Eder had everything a great fighter must possess. He had one punch kayo power in both hands, unlike fellow bantam bangers Zarate and Olivares. He was also as slick a boxer as either Sugar Ray and was blessed with unbelievable reflexes and defensive skills. To top off the package, he also had an iron chin and resilience of a LaMotta, Basilio, or Saad Muhammad. Perhaps his most amazing quality was his ability to adapt. Jofre was a very intelligent fighter who could change his style to adjust to any kind of opponent. He could be cute, brawl, anything. The guy was a fistic work of art, and he did all this as a vegetarian!"
Eder Jofre registered 24 knockouts in his first 37 fights with three draws (2 disputed) blemishing an otherwise perfect record on his way to the world title. These slight blemishes were later erased convincingly. When Jose Becerra gave up the world crown, he was matched with Eloy Sanchez in Los Angeles on November 18, 1960 and scored a sixth round knockout to win the vacant NBA world bantamweight crown. After two defenses, he unified the world bantamweight title on January 18, 1962 by destroying Ireland's previously undefeated Johnny Caldwell in 10 rounds. Over the next three years he continued to dominate the bantamweight division by knocking out deserving challengers Herman Marquez, Jose Medel, Katsuyoshi Aoki, Johnny Jamito, and Bernardo Carabello.
By 1965, Jofre had been contemplating retirement for a couple of years, but didn't because he was a national hero in Brazil. After Pele, Jofre ranks as Brazil's greatest sporting hero.
In May 1965 he went to Japan to defend his title against future hall of fame great Masahiko "Fighting" Harada. Jofre had to lose pounds the day of the fight and lost a close split decision. Most ringside observers, however, felt that Jofre deserved the verdict. Thirteen months later, the now 30-year-old Jofre, (ancient by lower weight standards) returned to Tokyo for a return match. This time he came in two pounds under the limit. In an obviously weaken condition, the highly talented Harada was simply too strong for Jofre and again took a narrow decision. After his second loss to Harada he retired.
Three years later, at the age of 33, he returned as a featherweight and began one of the most successful comebacks in boxing history. In four years he ran off 14 consecutive wins (8 by knockout) to earn a shot at 29-year-old featherweight champion Jose Legra. Legra was a smaller version of Ali with an impressive record of 130-8-2 (48). Few believed the 37-year-old Jofre could pull it off. But he did! In a close fight, Jofre used his superior ring talents to win a majority 15 round decision. He next chose to defend his title against another future hall of famer, the great Vicente Saldivar, former two-time world's featherweight champion and seven years his junior. Eder dedicated the fight to his dying father. He knocked out Saldivar with a perfect left to the chin in the fourth round. Eder was stripped of the crown for failing to defend it against the WBC's mandatory challenger in 1974. He continued to fight for two more years winning seven more non-title fights before retiring for good in 1976. His incredible comeback encompassed 25 consecutive victories (13 by kayo). He finished his career with an impressive record of 72-2-4 (50 by kayo).
Eder was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. Ed Brophy, Executive Director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame described Jofre as "a sturdy, two-fisted fighter with a big punch. Remember, while most American fans didn't get a chance to see him in action, there was a time in the early-and mid 60s where he was considered the best fighter, pound-for pound, in the world." Today, Jofre is the mayor of Sao Paulo, one of the most populated cities in the world.
In evaluating the career of Eder Jofre I hope to give you my opinion of his historical standing by chronicling his career from his birth in a gym to his enshrinement into The International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Eder was born to be a fighter - literally! He was born on March 26, 1936 and raised in a boxing gym in a poor section of Sao Paulo, Brazil. His father was Argentine of French and Spanish decent and his mother's side of the family was Italian. His mother and father first met each other at a gym that was open to anyone who wanted to box or wrestle. His father, Aristides, a former boxer, ran the gym and his mother Angelina looked after the gym. Eder had over a dozen relatives who made a living in boxing and wrestling. Olga Zumbano was one of the best women wrestlers in the world, Ralf Zumbano was lightweight champion of Brazil and Hans Norbert was middleweight champion of Europe.
The Jofre's lived in a back room of the gym and it was from this humble beginning that young Eder began his boxing education. The gym was Eder's kindergarten and play room. His first fight was at age four against an older cousin. Eder was embarrassed by his families' laughter at both he and his cousin's futile attempts to land punches without falling down. He was so determined to be taken seriously that every day after school he would stand in front of a mirror and practice the things he saw the older boxers do. As his skills grew, the Zumbano and Jofre families started to take him seriously. They encouraged him by correcting his mistakes and letting him get in the ring with them. He learned how to lead, duck, dodge and hit a moving target. At the age of nine, his father ran a fight card at the gym. Eder and one of his cousins were scheduled to fight a special event. "The excitement I underwent before the bout was something I'll never forget. For a week I trained extra hard. I ran extra long distances. Every night when I went to bed I dreamed I was fighting. It was so clear - I would be going at it hot and heavy, then I would bring over a right hand and he would go down, the fight was over. Then the fight began. Here all the nervousness went out of me. I was doing what I wanted to do. It all seemed like something I had done many times before. And you know what? In the third round, just as I dreamed, I hit him with a hard right hand. Down he went and he didn't get up. I had knocked him out."
Eder won his first amateur championship as a flyweight at age 12. He engaged in over 150 amateur fights winning all but two. He avenged both losses by knockout. One of those losses however, took place at the 1956 Olympic Games. Eder was favored to win a gold medal, but lost a narrow decision in the bantamweight semi-finals to Chile's Claudio Barrientos (He later avenged this loss in the professional ranks by kayoing Barrientos in eight rounds).
Jofre turned professional on his 21st birthday and immediately began fighting main events in his native Sao Paulo. There is a parallel that comes to mind between that of Eder Jofre and Sugar Ray Robinson. Both were outstanding amateurs and both faced and defeated highly respected ring-wise veterans in their first year as professionals.
In that first year, Eder quickly established himself as a future champion with knockout victories over rugged fighters like Raul Lopez, Osvaldo Perez, Juan C. Gonzalez and Luis Jimenez; and decisions over Raul Jaime, Adolfo Pendas and Cristobal Gabisans. He also fought two ten round draws with Argentina's Bantamweight Champion Ernesto Miranda.
Capable judges of talent were impressed with Eder's form against his much more experienced foes. At the end of his first year as a professional his record stood at 10-0-2 (6). His record possibly could have been 12-0-0. Under Brazilian rules a fighter needs a four-point margin to gain a verdict. Eder did not have a four-point margin against Miranda in either bout, so they were declared draws. The same thing occurred to Eder on November 5, 1965 in a fight with Manny Elias. If the three draws in Brazil took place in another country, Eder's final record would have been 75-2-1 (50) rather than 72-2-4 (50).
He continued his unbeaten streak in 1958 by going 10-0-1 (9). He fought a draw with Ruben Caceres in Montevido, Uruguay and outpointed Jose Casas. He repeated victories over Cristobal Gabisans and Jose Casas, only this time by knockout. In addition, he also handed Argentina's Jose Smecca his first knockout defeat.
1959 was a banner year for Eder. On June 4, 1959 he faced his stiffest test when he took on the world's fourth ranking bantamweight contender Leo Espinosa of the Philippines in Sao Paulo. Eder was engaging in his 26th professional fight while the experienced Espinosa was taking part in his 54th professional fight. Eder dropped the crafty Espinosa in the fourth round and won an easy ten round unanimous decision. A month later, he became the first Brazilian fighter ever to achieve an international ranking. He followed this victory by avenging his draw with Ruben Caceres by a seventh round knockout. And he closed out the year by taking on another Filipino, Danny Kid, who was the third-ranked challenger for Jose Becerra's world title. The durable Kid entered the ring with 47 fights under his belt. His resume of opponent's was a virtual who's-who. He had defeated the likes of Dommy Ursua, Tanny Campo, Al Asuncion, Billy Peacock, Jose Lopez, Joe Medel and Dwight Hawkins. All 13 of his losses were by decision to the likes of Pascuel Perez, Chamren Songkitrat, Pone Kinpetch and Herman Marquez. Eder dropped Danny twice in coasting to an easy decision before 15,000 of his fanatical fans.
On February 19, 1960 he won the South American Bantamweight Title, and avenged two earlier draws, with a 15 round decision over South American Champion Ernesto Miranda. The loss was only the third suffered by the seventh ranked Miranda in 39 professional fights. In a return match, again for the South American Bantamweight Championship, Eder showed his supremacy by knocking out Miranda in the third round to retain his title. The knockout was the first suffered by the talented Miranda. The contest was one-sided from the very beginning, not only because Jofre was now reaching his peak, but also because he got off to such an early start and was so perfect doing it. Miranda's offensive efforts proved futile against the defensively gifted Jofre and he couldn't avoid the vicious assault of the determined Jofre. It was obvious early in the opening round that this fight wasn't destined to go the distance. Jofre's jabs were not light left leads so often used by present day boxers. They were stiff accurate jabs as executed by such ring greats as Ray Robinson, and Joe Louis. They rocked Miranda's head, time and again. and set him up for an early demise. Jofre tried hard to finish the fight in the second round and it appeared he might do it, as he was punching with precision and power. Eder mixed his punches so well that Ernesto could not figure out any defense against the blows. When it seemed like Ernesto was ready to cave in he would grit his teeth and fight back gamely. Finally, midway through the third round Eder's rifle like rights to the jaw and terrific left hooks to both head and body ended the contest.
In his next fight he avenged his Olympic defeat with a brutal eighth round knockout of Claudio Barrientos. Claudio was floored a total of eight times and retired immediately after the fight.
His stirring victories brought an offer from Los Angeles promoter George Parnassus for Eder to fight Mexico's Jose Medel in a 12 round elimination fight for the right to challenge champion Jose Becerra for the world
JOFRE-MEDEL I (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Bill Miller )
LOS ANGELES - Up from Brazil came Eder Jofre, 24, a hard-hitting bantam, to score a 10th round knockout over Mexico City's Joe Medel at the Olympic Auditorium, LA. The fight was scheduled for twelve. The winner, it was announced, would meet Joe Becerra for the world title in mid-November. (Less than two weeks after Jofre's triumph, Beccerra was knocked out by Eloy Sanchez. Becerra announced his retirement immediately thereafter). Jofre and Medel staged a savage brawl. The Brazilian, making his U.S. debut, is aggressive and colorful: hits hard with both mitts. This was his 23rd knockout in 36 pro starts, an imposing figure for a bantam. A smashing right cross, a few seconds before the end of Round 10, sent Medel to the canvas, and that's where he was at the count of 6, when the gong sounded. Medel's handlers wouldn't let him come out for the 11th. All ring officials had Jofre in front at the end of Round 10.
When Eder was coming up he kept reading about world bantamweight champion Jose Becerra of Mexico, He read about what a murderous puncher he was and how he had dethroned the brilliant Alphonse Halimi in a thrilling fight in Los Angeles. And how in their return match before a crowd of 32,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Becerra well behind on points going into the ninth round, suddenly exploded a short hook on Halimi's chin which stretched him out on the canvas where he was counted out.
"It was my ambition to fight Becerra. I didn't care where. But that very year Becerra was unlucky enough to be responsible for the death of Walt Ingram, whom he had boxed in Mexico. I don't think he wanted to fight too much after that. He continued for another year, or until he himself was knocked out over the weight in Mexico by Eloy Sanchez. Then he did retire."
When Promoter George Parnassus was unable to dissuade Becerra from retiring, he arranged a match between Eder and Becerra's conqueror Eloy Sanchez for the vacant National Boxing Association (NBA) crown. In the meantime, the European Boxing Union (EBU) organized a match between Alphonse Halimi and Freddie Gilroy of England for its own version of the world title. Three weeks before Jofre's fight with Sanchez, Halimi outpointed Gilroy and was recognized as world champion by the EBU. Jofre's title fight with Sanchez took place in Los Angeles on November 18, 1960.
JOFRE-SANCHEZ (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Bill Miller )
LOS ANGELES -Boxing is assured of a new, universally recognized world bantamweight champion as successor to retired Jose Becerra when Eder Jofre and Alphonse Halimi clash in the next few weeks in an international contest in Sao Paolo, home of Jofre. Eder, who stopped Eloy Sanchez of Mexico in 1:30 of the sixth round in the Olympic Auditorium, gained the NBA and American championship while Halimi a fortnight before had won the European Federation crown and the support of the European Federation as world title holder in that part of the world. Eder had all the better of the fighting until the fatal sixth round which was Sanchez's best. The round was a savage one. The Mexican came tearing in and one blow to the mouth sent the Brazilian's mouthpiece flying to the ring floor. That blow brought the large gathering of Mexican rooters to their feet. They shouted words of encouragement to their countryman but the right cross that soon landed and ended the affair, quieted both the fans and Eloy. The right hand of Jofre has become as famous as the coffee that comes from the South American republic, judged by the wide comment in Spanish papers of his knockout triumph. His lethal one punch kayo caught Sanchez flush on the jaw and the game Mexican, who was responsible for Becerra's retirement by virtue of his knockout of the champion in a non-title bout, caused the Mexican to come close to taking a back-flip before his body struck the canvas. It was a clean-cut knockout and Eloy lay outstretched for several minutes before he regained consciousness. Eder later said that winning the NBA title gave him an empty feeling because he had always wanted to win the title from the last man to hold the championship.
On Jofre's return home, 100,000 people lined the route from the airport. "In a scene worthy of a Roman epic, a crown of laurels was placed upon his head, and the procession moved past the Governor's Palace of the Elysian Fields. It was a setting to match the occasion. Lending the proceedings a lighter touch, Jofre led the parade atop a fire engine. It took four hours to reach Parque Peruche, the poor neighborhood where he had grown up and still lived.
Soon after his triumphant return home, Jofre was anxious to get back into action. His first priority was to fight Halimi and unify the title. He was even willing to go to France to fight him. Unfortunately, like the proposed showdown with Becerra, Jofre-Halimi never came to pass.
Less than a month after winning the NBA title, Eder took on 27-year-old Los Angeles featherweight Billy Peacock in Sao Paulo. Billy, a former National AAU champion and former North American Bantamweight Champion was a dangerous boxer/puncher with an impressive resume. Three years earlier he had been the number one ranking bantamweight in the world. He had gained that high rating by knocking out Raul (Raton) Macias the then undefeated NBA bantamweight champion in 3 rounds in a non title fight. He also knocked out name fighters such as: Johnny Ortega, Keeny Teran, Chamren Songkitrat, Pimi Barajas, Nate Brooks, Rudy Garcia and Panchito Gonzalez. He held decisions over name fighters such as: Happy Gault, Pierre Cossemyns, Jose Lopez, and Ross Padilla. Among those who beat him were former champions Raton Macias, Mario D'Agata, Alphonse Halimi, and Jose Becerra, and top leading contenders Danny Kid, Jose Lopez, Herman Marquez, Boots Monroe, Battling Torres and Felix Cervantes. Eder knocked him cold in two rounds.
Eder was frustrated by Alphonse Halimi's refusal to meet him the ring to crown an undisputed bantamweight champion. This led the NBA and several other national organizations, including the prestigious Ring Magazine, to recognize the winner of Jofre's title fight with Italian Champion Piero Rollo as world champion.
JOFRE-ROLLO (Reported by Ring Magazine Editor Nat Fleischer )
RIO DE JANEIRO - Eder Jofre, Brazil's top boxer, a hard hitting rangy lad, who is also up on ring science, celebrated his 25th birthday by winning the world bantamweight championship by stopping Piero Rollo, Italian title-holder, in the 10th round. In his drive for the world crown, Jofre triumphed over all who stood in his path and when he knocked out Eloy Sanchez he gained the top ranking position in his class and shared with Alphonse Halimi of France, the right to contest for the throne left vacant by the retirement of Jose Becerra. But neither Halimi nor the man from whom he won the European portion of the world elimination, Freddie Gilroy consented to meet Jofre for the crown. Their refusal to face Eder resulted in the Italian Federation and the NBA to name Piero Rollo the number 4 challenger as a suitable opponent. Under the circumstances there can be no doubt that Eder's knockout over Rollo entitles him to recognition as world champion. The Ring, to clear the atmosphere presented Jofre with its championship belt. It is up to the European Boxing Association now to do justice to the Brazilian by granting him the recognition he deserves due to the exorbitant demands of Halimi and Gilroy.
Rollo. A veteran with a record of 53-6-6 (21) had the experience but against his more youthful, fast stepping opponent, he was made to order for Jofre. He tried to trade punches with Jofre, but like all the others who have fought Eder, he learned quickly that it was not proper procedure. The victor, known in South America as the Golden Bantam, had the upper hand almost from the start. The first five rounds were loaded with action, the Italian striving for a quick kayo. But he found his master in Jofre, who caught many of the Italian's blows on the arm or shoulders, and quickly countered with perfect jabs and speedy hooks to the face. Twice in the fifth round Rollo was staggered with left hooks and in the same session, a long, swishing right caught Jofre on the chin and put him off balance. He spun around, speedily recovered his equilibrium and retaliated with a right that cut a deep gash over Rollo's left eye. The following round was another bad one for the Italian. His eye began to close, but good corner work enabled him to come out for the next two rounds.
He made an excellent comeback in the eighth. Rollo realized his only chance was to win by knockout and he forced the issue during the first portion of the round. Jofre took the play away from him by an assault of lefts and lefts to the body and head throughout the last minute. When the bell sounded for the ninth round Jofre rushed out of his corner prepared for the "kill". He staggered Rollo several times with hard punches and his defensive work was excellent. Rollo tried hard to fight back, but his clever opponent kept up a constant volley that forced the Italian to retreat. Blood trickled over his face, which, before the round ended, was a crimson hue. The flow blocked his vision and he became a setup for Jofre's stinging lefts. The new champion, with an assortment that only veterans possess, made it extremely uncomfortable for the Italian who, when the bell clanged ending the round, walked warily to his corner. The contest was stopped between rounds by the Commission doctor with the consent of Rollo's manager.
Rollo in his dressing room declared that his conqueror is one of the best boxers he ever met, and said that had he not suffered the eye injuries, he would have given a far better performance. After the fight Jofre expressed his preference for fighting Halimi next, since the European Boxing Union continues to recognize him as champion. "I'm not afraid to fight him," said Eder in perfect English, "but his refusal to accept the large sum to meet me shows that he's afraid of the outcome." At any rate, the throne, in our opinion, is now occupied by Becerra's successor, a good fighting lad, a well-liked young man who should bring the division back into the spotlight.
Eder kept busy with two non-tile kayos over Dutch bantamweight champion Sugar Ray, KO 2, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sadao Yaoita, KO 10 in Sao Paulo. Yaoita, the number one world ranked flyweight, came into the ring weighing 120 pounds to Jofre's 121. He possessed a 42-8-1 record and was the first fighter to defeat the great Pascual Perez. He gave Eder a good workout and was able to hold his own against a vastly superior fighter for nine rounds, and actually win a few of them in the process. But as the rounds wore on Eder started to find the range with his deadly left hook. In the tenth and final round, Eder landed solidly and Yaoita went down like he was shot. Then, to everyone's amazement, he got up at seven. But Eder was not to be denied. He fired a short but devastating left hook to the jaw. Ten seconds later it was all over.
Less than a month after knocking out Yaoita Jofre was back in the ring defending his title against Venezuela's Ramon Arias. Arias was a tough fighter who in only his tenth professional fight fought Pascual Perez for the flyweight championship. Although he lost, he extended Perez the entire 15 rounds.
JOFRE-ARIAS (Reported by Ring Magazine Editor Nat Fleischer )
CARACAS - Eder Jofre defended his world bantamweight championship with signal success by stopping Ramon Arias in the seventh round. I was one of the three judges. I saw a great fight at close range and did not have to collaborate on a decision. Nor did Barney Ross, the referee, have much to do as Jofre proved himself the spectacular technician. " The Fighting Champion." That's what they call Jofre throughout South America. This 25 year old tall, handsome world bantam king, well deserves the acclaim he has received. He is by far the best the division has had in many years. Clever, a powerful left hooker, a stand-up boxer who has learned much of the technique of past masters, Jofre stands out as did Ray Robinson for many years in the welter and middleweight divisions. He can give and take punishment, blocks well, and like Benny Leonard can make his opponent fight the way he wants him to. Watching Jofre against Arias, champion of Venezuela, I was reminded of the days when the bantam class boasted a score of top, hard socking fighters.
With the knockout of Arias, Jofre lost no time requesting his manager, Abraham Katzenelson, to sign for another championship defense. In his Caracas defense, Jofre scored his tenth successive knockout. He has not lost a fight in four years of campaigning. As in his two bouts in Los Angeles in which he kayoed Joe Medel in 10 and Eloy Sanchez in six, Jofre didn't cut loose until after he had tested his opponent for a few rounds. Once he was cornered and hurt, he opened up with a furious attack that ended in the challenger resting on the canvas. It was in the fight with Sanchez that Jofre earned his spurs.
From the start through the fifth round, the Jofre-Arias fight was a thriller. The first two rounds were regulation compared to what happened in the last two. Though Arias on my score card had gained a shade in the second and took the fifth by a fair margin, it was obvious from the beginning that his more powerful opponent, who kept shooting left hooks to the body, would be the ultimate winner. In the fifth, the best for Arias, he gambled for a knockout. He forced Jofre to the ropes and pummeled his body, but not without receiving plenty in return. It was that rally by Arias that forced Jofre into full action in the following session. He opened up with a right to the temple that knocked all the fight out of Arias. Then came a barrage of rights to the body and the challenger was floored for a count of eight. Arias got to his feet bewildered. Yet he pinned Jofre against the ropes in Ramon's corner where he got in two left hooks before the bell sounded. Then came the climax. And what an ending! Arias came out of his corner weak. Before he could toss one punch, Jofre was at him like a tiger, raining blow after blow to the body. Eder's left hooks were most effective, particularly the final one that sunk deep into the midsection and rendered Arias helpless. He went down feet crossed under his body, blood trickling from nose and mouth and cuts under the eyes. Within seconds, his chief handler leaped into the ring as Ross started the count. But it was over. The champion had retained the title.
Referee Barney Ross, former world lightweight and welterweight champion, one of the classiest boxers in history, commented on Jofre's showing after the fight: "I just thrill at that boy's performance. He is a marvel of boxing perfection. He does things in the ring that I never expected to see again. There is nothing he cannot do."
A month prior to Eder's title fight with Arias, Halimi lost his portion of the EBU world title to unbeaten Irishman Johnny Caldwell. Five months later in a return match Halimi again lost to Caldwell. Finally, after fourteen months the long-awaited title unification fight between the NBA and EBU champions became reality. The world championship match between the two unbeaten champions was scheduled for January 18, 1962 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
JOFRE-CALDWELL (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Richard Charles Sylvia )
SAO PAULO - There was no gainsaying Jofre's superiority over Caldwell in the meeting of two previously unbeaten title claimants. Recognized as world champion by The Ring and the NBA, the shifty, sharpshooting 25-year-old Brazilian outclassed his 24-year-old rival, who had been accepted as title-holder by the European Boxing Union. After the first round, credited to Caldwell, Jofre was complete master of operations. Eder's stinging left jabs and jolting left hooks were too much for his Irish rival. In the third round he drew blood from Caldwell's nose, and in the fifth round he sent the Irishman toppling to the canvas for the count of three. From then on it was a question only of how long Caldwell would be able to last. The gritty little Irishman fought back stubbornly but could not match the Brazilian's speed and accurate punching. By the tenth round Caldwell was hopelessly beaten. Toward the end of the round he was dropped again, this time for nine, and was reeling helplessly when his manager jumped into the ring, stopping the fight with fifteen seconds of the round remaining. The bout refereed by former world featherweight champion Willie Pep attracted a sellout crowd of 20,000 to the Ibirapuera Stadium, the largest indoor attendance in South American boxing history. Thousands of others were unable to gain attendance.
Anxious to fight in the United States again, Eder accepted an offer to meet ranking contender Herman Marques, in San Francisco on May 4, 1962. Marques, the 1957 National AAU Amateur Champion and holder of the California State Bantamweight Title, was a slick boxer who had never been knocked out or knocked off his feet either as an amateur or professional.
JOFRE-MARQUES (Reported by Ring Magazine Editor Nat Fleischer )
SAN FRANCISCO - I saw a fine fight in San Francisco's Cow Palace, the night Eder Jofre, undefeated in a professional career of six years, stopped Herman Marques, of Stockton, Cal. in ten rounds. Referee Fred Apostoli was well within his rights when he called a halt with Marques on his knees. Jofre was not at his best in the Marques fight. Had it gone the limit the Stockton longshoreman doubtless would have taken the title. Judge Vern Bybee had it 5 to 1 for Marques after nine heats and Judge Fred Bottaro called it 7 to 0. Apostoli called it 5 to 3 in favor of the champion and I had it 4 and 4 in rounds, Jofre ahead 5 to 4 on points.
The recent death of Benny Paret received considerable attention from the loser and his followers, who accused Apostoli of being too hasty in ending the affair. "Apostoli was influenced by Paret's death," said Manager Al Avila. "I was robbed!" shouted Marques. "Jofre didn't knock me out. He didn't even knock me down. The officials told me before the fight I could take as many 8 counts as I wanted and I was doing just that. I went down deliberately. I was playing it smart", he said. But that's not what the referee and most of the ringsiders saw. They saw Jofre suddenly lash out with a vicious attack that dropped Marques twice. When he went down the second time, he rested helplessly on his knees and one look at the fighter was sufficient for Apostoli to call a halt. When the referee started to walk toward Jofre to raise his hand, the count of eight already had been reached and the challenger was still on the canvas. It is doubtful he could have regained his feet in time. With Paret's death in mind, and Jofre set to resume the attack both the Commission and spectators were satisfied that Apostoli had acted properly. Bringing the Paret death into the picture as an excuse was bad taste on the part of Marques and his handlers.
Jofre, a slow starter who feels his way during the early rounds with clever boxing, found a capable opponent. Marques outboxed the champion in the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds, and brought Jofre to the realization he had to go all out. This he did in the tenth frame when he suddenly unleashed an attack such as enabled him to put away Piero Rollo, Ramon Arias and Johnny Caldwell in previous championship matches. He cut loose with a volley, an all-out burst, that soon had his challenger dazed. Marques, never before knocked off his feet, now knew how it felt to be resting on the canvas taking a count. What for a time hinted a major upset, was turned into another triumph for a good, fighting champion. Jofre showed that he had the ammunition. After landing a left hook that jarred Marques, quick as a flash, the champion unlimbered the weapons that have enabled him to retain a clean slate in 43 professional fights in which only three draws blemished his record. This was Jofre's first sustained attack and it swept Marques off his feet. Several smashes sent Herman down. He got to his feet at eight and found Jofre poised for the kill. Herman tried to pull away but Jofre was at him like a tiger and the roof fell in on him as he went down for the second time. Apostoli didn't take up the count. He figured the challenger had enough and raised the hand of the champion, a knockout winner under California rules. Though knocked out, Marques gave an excellent account of himself.
Eder's next title defense was against the division's most avoided fighter; number one ranked Joe Medel of Mexico. The 24-year-old Medel had not lost since his kayo defeat to Jofre in their title eliminator two years before. Since that defeat he had racked up ten consecutive wins, including knockouts wins over Jose Lopez and highly rated Japanese ace Mitsunori Seki, and a decision over Sadao Yaoita. In fact most experts agreed that if it weren't for Jofre, Medel would have been bantamweight champion of the world based on his record before and after the two Jofre fights. Case in point. After the second Jofre fight he handed Masahiko (Fighting) Harada his first knockout defeat. He also kayoed Ray Asis and Walter McGowen and outpointed murderous-punching Jesus Pimentel (who at the time they fought had run off 38 consecutive victories, 35 by kayo).
JOFRE-MEDEL II (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Renato Pires )
SAO PAULO - In winning his fifth defense, Jofre stretched his unbeaten string of professional bouts to forty-five. It was the second time the pair met. In their previous engagement on August 18, 1960, Medel was knocked out in the tenth round. Having disposed of three of the top five contenders, Jofre now faces a problem for opponents. He already knocked out Johnny Caldwell, of Ireland, leading European and Piero Rollo of Italy and is willing to accept Halimi, European title holder, for the next defense, but it is doubtful if this contest can be arranged since Alphonse, following Becerra's retirement, turned down a meeting with Jofre to decide the successor to Becerra. That's how Rollo got the match. Although statements have appeared that Jofre is having weight trouble and will vacate the throne to enter the higher division, he disproved the rumors by easily making 117 1/2 for the Medel bout and displaying his usual strength and speed. Medel was half a pound less. The victory was the thirteenth consecutive knockout for the champion. The 26-year-old tile holder was a 3-1 favorite and proved the odds were reasonable by the manner in which he handled his opponent who had fought ten fights without a loss since his last meeting with Eder. Medel started off well but it didn't take long for Jofre to find the range and pepper his man almost at will. The first two rounds were rather dull as each fighter was feeling his way, but occasional spurts kept the fans on edge. But beginning the fourth round, Jofre having warmed up, started taking the play away from his opponent and thereafter it was all his way. He jabbed, hooked, cleverly avoided blows aimed at him, and landed many punches that hurt Medel. His attack was vicious and the speed with which he tossed blows, bewildered the Mexican challenger. After the fourth round it was merely a question how much longer the Mexican could stand the gaff. He was floored twice, once just before the bell sounded ending the fifth round and again in the sixth after he was dropped again and counted out in 1:30 of that frame. A right to the chin ended the fight. Jofre proved again he is one of the world's outstanding champions.
By the end of 1962, boxing experts such as Nat Fleischer, Lou Loubet, Jersey Jones, Ted Carroll, Daniel M. Daniel, Lew Eskin, Stanley Weston, Abe Glick, Barney Ross and Willie Pep, were praising him as pound-for-pound - the best fighter in the world. The legendary Nat Fleischer repeatedly referred to Jofre as the bantamweight Sugar Ray Robinson.
Willie Pep said: "I refereed the Eder Jofre-Johnny CaLdwell fight. That Jofre is a helluva fighter. A real bang-bang guy but smart, too. They'd love him here in the States if he ever fights here."
Ted Carroll of Ring Magazine said: "Among active fighters, discerning judges call Eder Jofre, Brazil's world champion bantamweight, a likely candidate for All -Time ranking among the great little men."
Eder maintained his standard of excellence in the first half of 1963 with two stirring title defenses five weeks apart against Katsuyoshi Aoki (with a ring record of 34-1) in Tokyo, Japan; and Johnny Jamito (with a ring record of 38-3-1) in Quezon City, Philippines.
Tony Petronella, Chairman of the WBA Rating Committee, acted as one of the judges for the Jofre-Aoki title fight. He also covered the fight for Boxing Illustrated.
JOFRE-AOKI (Reported by Tony Petronella )
TOKYO- Fortified by sukiyaki and tempura (shellfish) washed down with hot rice wine or cold beer, the 10,000 wildly partisan fans in Kutamae Sumo Arena shrieked encouragement to their little hero, Katsutoshi Aoki. For two rounds, the 20-year-old Japanese challenger had been battering bantamweight champion Eder Jofre with punishing rights and lefts, pinning him against the ropes with flurries of blows. Waiting tensely during the rest period, anxious ringsiders with cameras poised stood ready to capture every detail of what appeared to be a staggering upset in the making.
Sitting glumly in his corner, a puzzled look creasing his face, the usually happy-go-lucky champion half-listened to the barking orders of his cornermen. Jofre, seemed worried. Looking up at the 27-year-old champ from ringside, where I was serving as one of the judges, I noticed a certain tautness about him. Aoki, on the other hand, wore a confident grin. He had roared into the fight with only one loss in 35 bouts and now spectators fully expected him to notch another win - the biggest one of his life.
Eder, who had just squeezed under the 118-pound limit, moved out cautiously as the bell sounded for the third and for about a minute the challenger continued to rip into him. Then the flashy Brazilian started stepping up the pace. This was more like him. Aoki, 117 3/4, sensed the change and tried to pour it on. Suddenly, Jofre nailed him with a booming left that sent him crashing to the canvas. The punch was a beauty. It traveled only a few inches but Jofre followed through with a wide sweeping motion - like a pitcher whipping a fireball across the plate. Getting up groggily at the count of five, the surprised Japanese wobbled on rubbery legs while taking the mandatory eight-count and threw a couple of feeble blows at Jofre's head. Stepping back, the champ carefully measured his foe and crumpled him with another sledge-hammer left to the side. The blow knocked the last puff of steam from the game challenger and he was counted out at 2:12.
The spectators sat in stunned silence for a few seconds, then rose to their feet in a frenzy - showering the ring with seat cushions in typical Oriental tribute to a great champion. It was the champion's 14th straight kayo and his sixth defense of the title. Recovering rapidly from his punishment, the resilient young Japanese shrugged his thin shoulders in disappointment. Later he said he had felt the first knockdown punch, "but I didn't know what hit me the second time. That man has a terrific punch."
A month later, the amazing Jofre stepped in the ring once again to defend his title. His opponent this time was ranking contender 23-year-old Johnny Jamito of the Philippines.
JOFRE-JAMITO (Reported by Boxing Illustrated Correspondent Alan Clevens )
MANILA - It's the same old story. Murderous-punching Eder Jofre, unbeaten in 49 fights (36 knockouts, including seven title defenses) knocked out another pretender to his bantamweight throne, then praised him to the skies. Eder Jofre on Johnny Jamito: "He (Jamito) is a brainy fighter. He uses his head. I did not expect him to be such a good fighter. It will take a good boxer with a good punch to beat him." Actually this, Eder's 7th defense, was more annoying than it was dangerous. Jamito, 23, fighting before 25,000 excited countrymen In Quezon City's indoor Araneta Coliseum, kept the people happy in the early rounds by darting in, out and around the champion, peppering him with left jabs, landing sharp punches in close and clinching or taking off when Eder showed signs of life. But in the ninth the roof began caving in on Johnny when Jofre landed a terrific left hook and Jamito had all he could do to stay on his feet. In the eleventh, a right to the body knocked the challenger into the ropes. On the rebound, Jamito grabbed Eder by the waist, but the champion pushed him away and exploded a lightning-fast left-right to the chin. Jamito landed on his knees. His eyes were closed, his head bent low. The bell clanged before referee Antonio Ziravallo could start a count, but it was obvious that Jamito was through for the night. It was stopped between rounds eleven and twelve, with Eder way ahead on points, unmarked and untired.
In October 1963 Eder received Ring Magazine's ultimate compliment when it chose to feature him on the cover of its 500th anniversary issue. In the issue Ring's Managing editor Nat Loubet penned an article entitled "Jofre a Small Sugar." Here are some excerpts from the article.
Ever so seldom the ring produces a fighter about whom it is said that he is the greatest in decades for his poundage. Such a standout was Ray Robinson. Now, with Sugar Ray on the wane, there is another spectacular scrapper on whom that "pound-for-pound label" of superiority and domination looks good. That man is Eder Jofre, the Brazilian, who holds the bantamweight championship of the world. There have been bantamweight champions galore since the days of Charley Lynch, who ruled the class as far back as 1856. The division has boasted such all time greats as George Dixon, Kid Williams, and Johnny Coulon. But none have dominated the class in their time with greater elan than Jofre crowds into his reign as champion. Harry Markson, boxing director of New York's Madison Square Garden is quoted in the article. "This Jofre man is the greatest guy for his weight since Sixto Escobar. He is a real scorcher, I wish he were some 20 pounds heavier. I'd bring him to New York and let the TV viewers see a great fighter."
Little did Eder know after the Jamito fight that it would be 18 months before he would step into the ring again. This was his longest layoff since he started to box as a boy. A match was finally made for Eder with Jesus Pimentel in the late spring of 1964. But Pimentel and his manager pulled out one week before the match. Six months after the cancellation Eder finally stepped into the ring again in Columbia against the division's 4th ranking
bantam, Columbia's unbeaten Bernardo Caraballo.
JOFRE-CARABALLO (Reported by Boxing Illustrated Correspondent Pete Vaccare )
BOGOTA - World Bantamweight Champion Eder Jofre, Brazil, chalked up his eighth successful defense of his title by stopping number four ranked Bernardo Caraballo, Colombia, in the 7th round. Jofre is clearly establishing himself as the best fighter, pound for pound, in the ring today. Jofre has scored 47 wins and 3 draws in 50 bouts. Caraballo became the 37th KO victim of Jofre. Caraballo was unbeaten in 43 fights. This was Jofre's first fight in 18 months. Caraballo, a crack combination puncher, could do nothing against Jofre who attacked him from the beginning with long lefts, stinging combinations and stiff right hands. Jofre was well ahead on all scorecards when he finally kayoed Caraballo in the seventh wound. It was his 17th straight knockout.
During his four-and-a-half year reign as champion Eder was having more difficulty making the division's 118 pound limit than with the fighters in his division. On May 17, 1965, Eder traveled to Japan to defend his title for the ninth time against number one contender Masahiko (Fighting) Harada. The morning of the fight Eder was more than 2 pounds overweight at the weigh-in. After an hour's run he scaled the division limit of 118 without an ounce to spare. "I thought to myself, after this fight I'm going to eat and drink until I make heavyweight! He joked."
JOFRE-HARADA I (Reported by Boxing Illustrated Correspondent Tony Petronella )
NAYOGA, Japan - Masahiko (Fighting) Harada, fighting in his familiar whirl-wind style, piled up a huge early lead, and then switched to a defensive pattern in the closing rounds to capture the world bantamweight title, with a 15-round split-decision over the hitherto unbeaten Eder Jofre. It marked the very first setback of his professional career for Senor Jofre, who entered the ring sporting a string of 50 consecutive triumphs, including eight successful defenses. A tumultuous crowd of 12,000 went wild when Referee Barney Ross, former world lightweight and welterweight champion, raised Harada's right hand in token of victory. The intrepid 22-year-old southpaw warrior set a tremendous pace right from the start and piled up points with an aggressive, two-fisted attack that had the title-holder on the verge of a knockout in the fourth round. Jofre just managed to avert a total blackout. But the sturdy challenger continued to maintain a blazing tempo. Showing the ring rust from his long lay off Jofre was unable to keep up the pace. Harada, who held the Flyweight championship briefly, after knocking out Pone Kingpetch, continued buzz-sawing Jofre with a pressuring attack of rights and lefts for the first ten rounds. Then very wisely, the Japanese battler switched tactics, by boxing careful in the center of the ring - and using flickering rights to keep knockout-conscious Jofre from getting set to unload his big guns. Harada again staggered the champ in the eleventh. But Jofre came roaring back with an all-out barrage; and almost delivered a kayo, when he sent Harada reeling against the ropes with a stunning series of lefts and rights. From the twelfth on, Harada managed to keep the action at long range as Jofre stalked him, hoping to get across the big punch – which never did come. The newly crowned champ tipped the beam at 117 1/4, while Jofre just did get under the wire at 118. And since there is no return bout clause in their championship contract, Jofre seemed uncertain whether or not he would continue campaigning in an effort to regain the crown. An exceedingly slow start apparently lost the fight for the overconfident Jofre, a 29-year-old veteran who had registered 33 in a row, the last 17 by kayo. Harada opened up a cut above Jofre's left eye in the sixth - the very first time the Brazilian had been cut in 51 professional bouts. In the midst of his fifth year in the pro ranks, Harada has now achieved a record of 39 wins and 3 losses. Referee Barney Ross balloted 71-69 for Harada on the five point must system. Judge Masao Kato of Japan had his countryman ahead 72-70, while the other Judge Jay Edson of Phoenix dissented by voting Jofre a 72-71 winner.
Six months later Eder entered the ring in his hometown against number ten ranked Manny Elias of Phoenix, Arizona. Eder was ahead by 3 points on all three score cards at the end of 10 rounds. But under Brazilian rules you need a four-point margin to gain a verdict. Eder did not have a four-point margin against Elias, so the fight was declared a draw. The draw did enable Eder to retain his number one ranking and more importantly earn a title shot against champion Masahiko (Fighting) Harada. Thirteen months after their first fight, Jofre and Harada squared off in Tokyo
JOFRE-HARADA II (Reported by Boxing Illustrated Correspondent Kuni Iwaya )
TOKYO - Mashahiko (Fighting) Harada proved that his victory over Brazil's Eder Jofre last May was no fluke. He outfought the taller South American to retain the title in a spirited 15 round fight before over 15,000 screaming fans. For Harada, who had a wee bit of trouble making the 118-pound weight limit, it was the 41st win against 3 losses. Eder suffered his second loss, both to Harada. It was a hard fought struggle from the very first round, with Harada ploughing forward and slamming away with both hands to the body. Jofre boxed smartly during the early rounds, spearing his man with left jabs and stiff left uppercuts as he moved in, but the champion just shook off the blows like water, and kept pressing the attack. The first five rounds were fought on even terms - Harada threw many more punches, but most of them were blocked or parried by Jofre. The steady pace began to take a its toll on the 30-year-old challenger in the 6th round as Harada bulled him into the ropes and pounded away with both hands to the head and body. A slight cut was opened in the corner of Eder's left eye by one of the champion's right hooks. Eder rallied in the 7th round, but it was now obvious that he was slowing down. Harada kept the pressure on and won the next three rounds. Sensing that the fight was slipping away from him, Jofre staged a rally in the 11th and 12th rounds. In the 11th, a series of stiff jabs drew blood from the nose of the champion and in the 12th a series of left uppercuts snapped back the head of the Japanese, but that turned out to be the last winning round for the Brazilian. Harada just kept boring forward. The leaden legs of Jofre could no longer carry him out of range as Harada backed him
into the ropes and pounded away to the head and body. The crowd began to holler for a knockout in the 14th as Jofre was forced to cover up under the steady rain of leather. With only seconds left in the round, the cut over Jofre's left eye was reopened and this time the blood cascaded down his face. Jofre was weary and beaten when he answered the bell for the final round, while the champion still appeared fresh. Harada bulled Jofre all over the ring in the final round, but was unable to bring him down. Except for a slight swelling under his right eye, the champion was unmarked at the finish, whereas Jofre's body was covered with welts and bruises, as was his face. The decision was unanimous: 71-68 by Judge Hirouki Tezaki; 71 69 by Judge Takeo Ugo and 69-68 by the referee, Nicholas Pope. Jofre said he was tired, but offered no excuses. He also said he wanted to think things over before deciding whether or not to continue fighting.
On January 2, 1967 Jofre officially retired from boxing. In the summer of 1969, Eder surprised everyone hen he returned to the ring as a featherweight. Like Ray Robinson before him, Eder's return was due to dwindling finances. On August 27, 1969, the amazing comeback of Eder Jofre officially began with a 7th round knockout over tough journeyman Rudy Corona (44-18-1, 27 kayos) in Sao Paulo. Over the next three years Eder went undefeated in thirteen starts to earn a title shot at world champion Jose Legra. Legra, an ex-Cuban living in Spain, was considered the featherweight Muhammad Ali. Like Ali he was an expert in hyping his fights. He boldly predicted he would knockout Jofre in the 4th round.
JOFRE- LEGRA (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Bo Azine )
BRASILIA - About 25,000 witnessed the biggest boxing show ever held in this country, and saw Eder Jofre win the WBC featherweight title from Jose Legra over 15 rounds. Jofre took the first two rounds, but was dropped by a crisp right cross in the 3rd round just before the bell ending the round. Before the start of the 4th round, Legra stood and, turning full circle, gave the crowd a thumbs-down sign to indicate that it was time for the finish. It was at that point that Jofre demonstrated the qualities that are the hallmark of a truly great champion. He came out for the 4th with both hands blazing and quickly had the surprised champion in trouble. Jofre used his superior technique and piled up points as he chased Legra and tried to nail him, but Legra fled away. Legra was warned twice for holding. The last moment of glory for the ex champ was when he had the Brazilian in trouble in the opening of the 14th round, when he hit Jofre with a crushing right hook to the liver. Jofre survived, however, and won by 146-141, 148-143 and 143-143.
Once again Eder Jofre was a world champion and undisputed king of Brazil. He engaged in two non-title fights (Godfrey Stevens, KO 4 and Frankie Crawford, W 10) before putting his title on the line for the first time against former world champion Vicente Saldivar.
JOFRE-SALDIVAR (Reported by Ring Magazine Correspondent Carlos Henriquez )
SALVIDOR - Eder Jofre knocked out Mexico's Vicente Saldivar in the 4th round of what was to have been a 15-round contest. As Jofre was born in March 1936, he is 37 years of age. The legion of the retired should have claimed him long since. Jofre maintained a good pace throughout the fight. The opening round was about even and not very thrilling. The second saw Vicente take the initiative. But the attack was short lived. Jofre had decided not to prolong the battle and adopted a devastating technique. In the 4th round, he appeared to have decided that the time had come. He tore into Saldivar with jabs to the face and hooks to the body. Jofre then maneuvered his man against the ropes, where he had no space for action, and blasted him with jabs and hooks until he had more than enough. A terrific left was the finisher. Saldivar tumbled to the deck and was off to dreamland. The 30-year-old Saldivar retired after the fight with a record of 37-3-0 (26 kayos).
Jofre's knockout of Saldivar turned out to be the last major victory of his career.
1974 turned out to be a catastrophic year for Eder. Managerial bickering over finances between his handlers Abraham Katzenelson and Marcos Lazaro kept him out of the ring for the entire year and ultimately cost him his title. On March 24th, two days before his 38th birthday his father succumbed to lung cancer. The WBC ordered Jofre to defend his title against mandatory challenger Alfredo Marcano of Venezuelia or be stripped of the title. Lazaro tried to strike a deal on Jofre's behalf, but Katzenelson refused to accept the financial terms. On June 17, 1974, the WBC stripped Eder of his title for failure to defend against Alfredo Marcano.
15 months after his defeat of Saldivar, Eder stepped into the ring for the first time in his life without his father. He struggled in winning a 10 round decision over a mediocre opponent. Shortly after the fight he made up his mind to retire again. But 13 months later Jofre returned to the ring once more and won six more fights (3 by knockout and 3 by decision). Jofre's last fight took place in his beloved Sao Paulo on October 8, 1976. Five months shy of his 41st birthday, Eder outpointed Mexico's Octavio (Famoso) Gomez in ten rounds.
Since his retirement, this great champion has continued to fight, but this time his fighting is done in the political arena. As the mayor of San Paulo he is working to solve his country's social and economic problems with the same tireless dedication and resolve that he brought to his ring career.
Although his name is not mentioned often by American boxing writers, those lucky enough to have seen him in person have praised him as pound-for-pound the equal of Sugar Ray Robinson. It is unfortunate that his standing has suffered because he only fought three times in the United States. In a career that spanned nearly 20 years he met the best and captured two world titles - 12 years apart. The second occurring at the amazing age of 37.
Like Joe Louis before him, Eder Jofre carried himself with a quiet dignity. I believe his record and the accounts of his ring prowess disclose he was a fighter close to perfection. He possessed perfect balance in the ring and there seemed to be no apparent effort when he launched his power punches. Moreover, he was a master boxer and a defensive genius with fast hands, reflexes and stamina. But, it was his thunderous punching, launched with relentless fury, that made him a standout. Add to that the fighting heart of a Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Carmen Basilio and Mathew Saad Muhammad and you have an all-time great - second, in my opinion, to Sugar Ray Robinson as the best fighter, pound-for-pound in boxing history.
Black Light Shadow
By David Gionfriddo
It’s taken me 20 years to realize that most men are idiots, and another ten to figure out that most women prefer it that way, but barely five to comprehend that no sane man should give the proverbial rat’s ass. So now, here I was, flabby and staring down the dreaded 40, with a headful of painful insights, on the verge of acquiring something hundreds of thousands of my peers wanted, but almost none could afford: an ex-wife. And it was hot, so hot I was sweating through my clothes. I had to run upstairs and put on an undershirt to keep from looking like a Vegas showgirl. I needed a drink.
Maryssa Grieco. What the hell kind of a name was that, anyway? Was that “y” supposed to make her extra-special, a TV commercial kid waiting to happen? I asked myself nasty questions like that when she was in one of her moods, stomping around and slamming doors like she was under house arrest, every attempt at conversation like the opening bell of a small-town four-rounder. And she didn’t follow any Marquess of Queensbury rules, either. She fought dirty. It was all done with silences, snaps of the head, huffy sighs that threatened to turn whole rooms into vacuums. She knew all the tricks. She was Fritzie Zivic in thigh-highs.
“Seen my keys?”
“Don’t know, where’d you leave ‘em?”
“If I knew that, Madeleine Albright…”
It hurt to remember the early days together, the hazy Rorschach courtship, the idiot laughter under speckled barroom lights. People had treated me differently then. I was joining the club, putting away kids’ stuff. A man was taking shape. When people asked me about things, they looked me solidly in the eyes and their mouths were tight, serious lines. Yeah, there were real benefits. This love racket had been so easy to break into, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it sooner.
“Then find them yourself, Stephen Hawking…and when you find ‘em, you can…”
But ours was not one of those Hallmark romances, the ones that went all soft and Golden Pond as they got older. Both of us had to turn our backs on years and years of friends and laughter and, once we realized how far we had drifted from all the good times, neither of us was all that happy about it. Sure, there was more than that -- money and geography and such -- but this was the basic storyline: each of us had talked the other into a bad bargain. Now we were six years on, and we seemed to spend the bulk of our energies thinking up ways to get even, grinding out cigarettes in each other’s juice glasses. At least God hadn’t given us live kids to clobber each other with.
“How long are you going to be tonight?” She wouldn’t look at me. Instead, her small fingers kept fussing with clumps of soil in a chipped clay flowerpot that had never grown a thing.
“’Till I forget where I have to come back to.” I was just trying to wind her up. I’ll admit it. It was performance review season at the office and I had eaten a bunch of shit over some low Midwestern sales numbers, and it felt good to be pitching for a change.
She laughed. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for small favors.” She always said things twice, like she was scared of being ignored the first time. It bugged me until I learned how to listen with just one ear. Nowadays, I hardly used one.
“I’m so glad we had this time together,” she sneered. “Don’t stand around and let all my a/c out.” I just let her get the last dig in and closed the door. I would only have made things worse. As if that were possible. Besides, Tuesday was Jamie D’Aquila’s night behind the bar at Prime Time Players, and I needed a couple of borrowed smiles, even if I had to pay rip-off microbrew rents for them.
Kaaaannnngggggg……I hated when the PTP guys rang the old firebell. It went through my head like a guillotine blade. Thankfully, they only rang it for big tips. Tuesdays, it was just the old skinflints from the neighborhood. There weren’t any of the college kids bragging about their ski vacations, trying to impress the Saturday night sportsbar sluts who seemed to come out of nowhere like sharks at the smell of chum. It was just Greg Mellanbee the cross-eyed physician’s assistant, that Arab with the limp who always yelled hello from the flower delivery van as I wandered into work, the twitchy bike-messenger kid who called himself Revv and bragged about selling bone marrow for Christmas money. Oh yeah, and Robichaux, the noisy tub-o’-guts slip-and-fall lawyer who always took the dogs and the points.
“Hey, hey, brutha.” You could practically smell the smug dripping off of him like steamroom funk. “I could sure use that sawbuck. Didn’t I tell you that Nebraska was too big up front for those Show-Me kids?” Betting with Carter Robichaux was a way of killing time. And I always hoped to take him big one day, shut him up once and for all, like I almost did on the Escobar fight, before the guy’s forehead split open like a ballpark frank. I stared up at an old framed newsphoto of Rocky Graziano planting one on Tony Zale’s crushed-up kisser and wished us both into the picture, just me bouncing a roundhouse – whuppp! -- off old Robby’s lantern jaw. That felt good.
“That you did, Robby, that you did.” I handed him the money, but kept my eyes straight ahead on the TV screen. I didn’t want to encourage him to plant his fat behind on the next stool. “I’ll know better next time. Never bet against Big Red. Hope ya get cirrhosis, ya lucky bastard.” Jamie was coming out of the back with an armload of unopened bottles. Inside I’m thinking, if I ever see you making a try for this woman, you Sansabelt lowlife, I’ll set your sorry ass on fire and piss out the ashes.
Jamie looked up and smiled, sliding a bar napkin in front of me with a pretty, languid gesture. She had the forgiving face of a cowtown ingénue no longer young, an animated sweep of chestnut hair, and when the lights hit her heart-shaped face a certain way, her consoling gray eyes let you in on secrets. She was kind without being dopey about it, in an amicably sarcastic way that supplied the only spice a lot of these guys ever tasted. As I had found out myself, she had no tolerance for drunken misbehavior, and even less for unprovoked earnestness, but she had the all-world bartender’s instinct for knowing just when to pour one on the house. She could make me smile. I loved Jamie D’Aquila, all those deep empty places I imagined her having, although it took me years to form the thought, and I had not one blessed thing that she could have wanted.
Robichaux was barking my way again. “How about another Alex Hamilton, double or nothing, on James-Holligan? They’re showing it now.” Of course, it was a replay of a fight that had happened weeks ago. Everyone knew that. It was funny, all right, but not in the way Robby intended. Listening to Robichaux’s jokes was like watching a spastic try to extract himself from a mud puddle. No one laughed with him. Not even the tubby Asian kid from the luggage store who would laugh at people’s drink orders.
The fight was a blessed, but brief, distraction. There was the usual 15 or 20 minutes of introduction, with Ferris Gladstone, the champion of some unbelievably obscure division (bantamweight? dust-moteweight? junior-lawnjockeyweight?) in some even more obscure ratings body spouting doggerel about puncher’s chances and focus and lightning in a bottle while canned video clips played: Insane Elisha James skipping rope and staring down reporters like an aging hyena eyeing a child’s quarter pounder through zoo bars. Abner Holligan, the guy they had exhumed for James to whip up on, was a carrot farmer from Arkansas who had fought mostly mid-card eight-rounders in K.C. and Tulsa and on Mississippi riverboats. A few years ago, he had gone ten with one of the few recognizable cruiser contenders, but, then, so could you. He was there to be hit and he knew it, but he did The Job, whistle-stopping all over the country with the guy who had put Hakim Underwood the Olympic Hero in a wheelchair permanently. He gritted his teeth in his traveling-salesman suit and did fist-on-chin photo ops and spouted all the usual horseshit about making Russellville proud and having nothing to lose. Tell that to Underwood, I thought. The tale of the tape said it all: Holligan, whose name some production staffer had spelled with just one “l,” was 39, a full seven years older than the guy they were paying three-and-a-half million to pulp him.
“Sort of like playing the Bears every week,” an older black gentleman in shirtsleeves said to me, reaching across the bar to pay for a pack of Newport Lights.
“The Bad News Bears,” I said.
He was watching me watching Jamie, my eyes reflexively flicking back toward her as she made small talk with the other chumps along the rail. “Hey, man, I been there,” he laughed. “Shit, I’m still there sometimes.”
We all kept watching the screen, not despite the impending disaster, but because of it. I think we all wanted to see if this guy would really come out, if he would do the smart thing and collapse the first time he felt leather, or if he had anything inside that would make him stand up. Maybe we wanted to imagine how we would measure up to Abner Holligan in a hopeless situation, how much we would put ourselves through in his shoes. I don’t know, but you never saw such attention paid, not outside of the Cat Fancy strip joint, where it was a damned insult to look away. Guys got 86’ed for that. I’d seen it.
Davey Machado, whose dad had reffed pretty much every big fight of the 1960s, gave the fighters their pep talk and sent them off to wait in their corners. Holligan, in denim trunks, looked for all the world like the first guy off the amphibious landing craft at Omaha Beach. James seemed bored, to be honest, as though he couldn’t imagine how he had come to this. I couldn’t hear the bell for all the barroom chatter, but I saw James run -- actually sort of lunge -- toward Holligan, all the while readying and extending a huge, looping lead left that was so slow and predictable it looked like something from a movie fight. Holligan pulled up a little and made a half-hearted effort to roll his chin and shoulders but still somehow managed to put himself right in the way of James’ punch, which caved in his knees and sent him down as if under the weight of a falling piano. His temple hit the canvas squarely and bounced a couple of inches and, when the camera zoomed in, he was wearing the same expression Richard Dreyfuss had watching the alien landing craft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“Ha, ha, he’s seein’ ‘em now. The black lights. He’s seein’ them black lights. Damn right.”
What a strange expression, I thought. The black lights. What were people seeing when they had soaked up the worst the world could throw at them, when they weren’t even acquainted any longer with their senses? A hot darkness that somehow radiated, moved over everything, canceling out the way that light opened things up? When I was younger, we used to have light bulbs coated with black and deep purple paint that would glow white-hot and throw all that negating energy around the room. Funny how it would pick out the stupidest, most garishly-painted features on our posters and sneaks and notebook stickers and make them shine in our smoke-addled brains like shards of fugitive stars. Maybe that was what Holligan was seeing, all the trivial parts of his life, shining like something holy, something out of this world. There must have been some reason why these guys risked coma and dementia and death to climb through those ropes time and time again, even after their friends and fans had moved on. Some feeling worth more than money, worth dying for. And these days, what was? I wasn’t sure anything was, except maybe my warm spot on the barstool. Maybe getting even.
When it was all said and done, the time was twelve seconds, the fastest heavyweight knockout by a left-hander fighting in prime-time on cable or some meaningless record like that. The announcers made way too much of it. Elisha James, in his deceptively melodious growl, thanked Jesus Christ (as if the Son of Man pulled the strings, helping grown men pummel each other), the guys at Hammer City Gym and a few of his homeboys from Mattapan and Anacostia and Red Hook and we were back to watching some chunky Seattle Mariners set-up man scratch his ass and spit chaw.
“Just like that,” I said.
“I’m telling you, that James is shit-hot. He’s gonna whomp Hogwood good, if he ever gets him in the ring.”
Jamie was quietly polishing some brass fittings on a tap. “You look like you’ve just been through a war, Dennis. You had better not keep M.G. waiting too long tonight. One more drink and I’m afraid you’re gonna pull an Abner on me.” She mimed my dozey head smashing the bar and bouncing up like a superball. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that was how guys really got hurt, the bouncing. I needed her around too much to shame her like that. I don’t know how I felt. Maybe a little better off. Somebody got stood on his head and, for once, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t exactly a clean feeling, but I shook my head and mumbled my disapproval under the big Tiffany light, where I was sure to be seen.
“You feeling okay?” she asked.
From there, things got truly weird. I knew that Maryssa and I were on the way out, but I never expected the end to come so fast. No wonder she had wanted to know when I was getting home. As soon as I stepped into the living room, I could sense something was different. Things were askew, pulled apart. At first I thought robbery, but too many good things were left behind: the big-screen, my stereo set with the table-sized sub-woofer. All that was gone were Maryssa’s clothes, the wedding artifacts (mummified wedding cake, photo album, salt shaker filled with wedding rice) and the $800 in cash we had stashed in an empty iced-tea jar. She had thrown all her crap in the Tercel and screwed. I had always hoped this moment would be a wallow, a chance for me to revel in indignation and angst, but now that it was here, it seemed worse than cheap. There wasn’t even a real “Dear John” note, just a piece of paper towel on the kitchen counter with the words Happy Now? scrawled, barely-legible, in purple felt tip. I felt tired and a little wobbly, like I could crash right there on the sofa. But the comforter was her mother’s and she had taken it with her, so I hobbled up the stairs and fell into our bed, now so empty it was like something in a highway off-ramp HoJo’s. There was the relief of kicking off my shoes, a beautiful, forgotten Johnny Rivers tune on the clock-radio -- welcome back, baby, to the poor side of town -- then sleep.
Bad things always came in threes, so I sat around the office the next day thinking: lost wager, lost wife, lost job. Mason Edmonds, the division president, had just handed me a coach ticket to Chicago and pep-talked me about “closing the TelComCo deal.” Yeah, right. I had been working on this contract with Dunphy for months. But we were nowhere close. It would take a half-dozen major concessions on price and specs and delivery schedule to get this piece of garbage signed, and Dunphy knew it. That explained the e-mail on my screen that morning from him about how he was “reallocating his energies to strategic planning” and “letting junior staff earn their wings” on some of the pending transactions. Bullshit. The project was a loser and there was no way Dunphy wanted to sit across the table from Tilinghast and Berkery and the rest of that crew of hard-ons and be called an overreaching shit-for-brains. Edmonds needed either fancy year-end numbers, or the pecker of someone who had failed to deliver them, to show his board, and I had a pretty good idea whose gonads they were going to be. And these two-bit jackoffs couldn’t even send me business class.
“Do it for the team, Den,” Dunphy said as I walked by. “And give my regards to The Golden Mile.” Not a jury in the world, I thought.
I was somewhat less Irving Berlin about the whole exchange. “When I get back,” I explained, “I’m going to get my uncle’s sledgehammer and make that shiny new fuckmobile of yours look like what they pulled Princess Di out of.” I cared a lot less than I thought I would. I was old, but I wasn’t unemployably old. If I was going to vegetate in a no-future job, I could find one where the coffee didn’t taste like Leona Helmsley’s bathwater, the softball team didn’t forfeit every game, and the secretaries were worth daydreaming about. I considered this the career equivalent of taking a knee, letting the ref count out a standing eight.
In the United departure lounge, my stomach was roiling and rumbling, I had the beginnings of an all-day headache and nothing but Tic-Tacs to eat. The Record had a story about Elisha James. His posse held a post-fight party in one of Buenos Aires’ local house clubs, and he had thrown a few wild swings at a local radio dj, his buddy and the coked-up women they were with. There were the usual arrests, the usual releases without charge, the usual press conference to let James beat his chest and hype the next fight. “Whatever it is my people need in a heavyweight champion, I will be that thing,” he said, “just as soon as Matthew Hogwood quits hiding and steps through the ropes.” James’ appeal had petered out in the U.S., so now he was trying to come over all Ali, barnstorming in Third-World hellholes that didn’t usually see big fights. Malachi Hawke the promoter said that 140,000 tickets had been sold for the next tilt, a February match at some soccer stadium in Lagos against a local martial arts champion. “Tsunamis, monsoons, tidal waves, cataclysms beyond all proportion,” Hawke said, “but this part of the world ain’t seen nothin’ like is coming. No way. This is some biblical stuff.” Abner Holligan’s purse was being held up by some commission with a fancy Spanish name, all $35,000 of it. I guessed he would clear – once all the cuts and expenses were taken out – maybe $18, $20K before taxes, just about enough for a decent late-model used car. It was probably a little less than my half of what would come out of my company 401k when it all hit the fan. Guys like us, we fell, and if we fell gracefully enough, we could be useful.
Flight 1862, bound for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, now boarding all first-class and premium platinum passengers. Flight 1862.
I had a hard time believing there were 140,000 people in Lagos with Hawke-type money to throw around. I imagined Hawke’s people on dusty, too-still street corners, tossing fistfuls of tickets to the local people – peddlers and jewelers and beggars and bank clerks -- urging them to come and fill the seats, to help convince the world that Elisha James was still The Man. I imagined a dread heat and a toxic sun pouring down on a parched soccer ground, the glistening body of Elisha James leaning over the fallen figure of some confused and hurting kickboxer whose head swam with the roar of pure human weather. And the people would stand, yelling their approval, at the simplest, the most potent brand of human conquest. It would be like a carnival. No one would be shamed; no one would be silenced; nothing would be hidden. And whatever needed to happen would be allowed.
Now that, I thought, will be something. That may just be worth paying for.
Ó David Gionfriddo 2000