WAIL! | The CBZ Journal | March 2005
 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Who's Hosin' Who?
Guest Editorial by Dan Hanley

Poem of the Month
By Tom Smario

Million Dollar Heist
By J.D. Vena

Flynn Outfoxes the Feds
By Robert Carson

Divorced but not Forgotten
By Ron Lipton

A Different Kind of Fight Night
By Ted Kluck

Touching Gloves With...
"Irish" Gil King

By Dan Hanley

A Look Back: Larry Boardman
By Dan Cuoco

The Sweet Science
Reviewed by Katherine Dunn

Cinderella Man [PDF]
By Michael DeLisa

The Good Professor [PDF]
By Don Cogswell

Flashback to the 2004 Hall of
Fame Inductions

Pictorial by Dan Hanley


 


TOUCHING GLOVES WITH...
"IRISH" GIL KING

by Dan Hanley


This past October, while attending the 2004 World Boxing Hall of Fame banquet, I was indulging my fistic fanaticism at the memorabilia show. This is an annual treat at the banquet. The chance for the fan to rub elbows and get a photo or simply get into a good hash session with these grand old pugs. It was here that a 30-year-old memory flashed across the old noggin. Although ex-leather slingers were darting back and forth, one in particular caught my eye. I stared intently across the canopied terrace at this fellow who had just entered the area and thought to myself, "My God, that looks like Gil King." Of course, that was impossible. I had heard Gil King was dead. Killed in some freak drive-by shooting. My curiosity soon turned into astonishment when ring announcer Danny Valdivia announced to the crowd: "Ladies and Gentlemen, now entering the area, former welterweight contender, 'Irish' Gil King."

Although the shock of blond hair has turned gray and a scar -- a memory of his career-ending accident -- remains evident, the fighting heart of Gil King has proved indomitable during a career and life that would find most men wanting. Gil and his lovely wife, Mary, were kind enough to avail their time to me in granting this interview.

DAN HANLEY: Gil, you grew up in the Midwest, didn't you?
GIL KING: Rubber capital of the world, Akron, Ohio.

What kind of amateur background did you have?
I was Cleveland Golden Gloves champ four years in a row from '65 to '68.

The Olympics were held in '68. What were your prospects? Or was this something you sought?
Oh, man, I would have loved to have gone to the Olympics, but I didn't win the Nationals, and you had to take the National Golden Glove title in order to compete in the Olympic Trials. However, my Cleveland teammate Ronnie Harris won the Nationals, the Trials and Olympic gold at 132. My one consolation, although I was 139, was fighting Ronnie in an exhibition at the Manger Hotel in Cleveland.

You turned pro that year and started running up a tremendous winning streak. But, it's funny. I always remember you as 'Irish' Gil King, however, you had another moniker, the Knockout King.
They were just playing off of my name.

Maybe also because at the beginning of your career you had a slew of first round knockouts?
Perhaps.

Around 1969 or '70, you relocated to the coast. What drew you there?
Greater opportunity. Back then the west coast was the boxing capital of the world.

When did you hook up with Suey Welch?
Immediately. I had a good amateur background, undefeated as a pro, and was Ring magazine fighter of the month. So he signed me up.

Suey Welch wasn't going to take on just anybody.
Oh, no, he had handled great fighters like Gorilla Jones and Gus Lesnevich, but he was basically retired. He actually came out of retirement to handle me. And he did have the connections.

Back then I don't suppose you were hurting for sparring partners?
Oh, man, I hit all the gyms. I trained at Howie Steindler's Main St. gym, sparring with Indian Red Lopez, the Hoover St. Gym with Hedgemon Lewis and Eddie Pace. It was there I had a tragic accident.

What happened?
I used to love sparring with Eddie Pace. We were both trained by Cannonball Green, and he used to put us in together even though Eddie was a middleweight. Eddie was coming off a fight with Carlos Monzon when we sparred and I caught him flush with a three-piece. Left jab, right hand, left hook. Eddie went down and never again got up.

I never knew that. Was there an investigation?
Yes, but we had 16-ounce gloves on, so it was ruled simply a tragic accident. Eddie was a great guy and it affected me deeply.

Your fight with Crispin Benitez at the Olympic was very controversial. Tell me about that fight.
There was a lot of gambling going on for this fight, more so than usual. I was actually approached to throw this one by a gambler, but whether he was serious or not, I was 23-0 at the time and took my boxing very seriously. In the second round I knocked Benitez clear out of the ring with a body shot. Twenty-four seconds elapsed before they allowed the fight to resume. Now what was that about?

Looking into this, Title 4, Rule 237 of the California Athletic Commission rulebook states: "A contestant who has been knocked or has fallen through the ropes during a contest may be helped back by anyone except his seconds." Now, it was actually Referee John Thomas who helped Benitez back into the ring. Most writers at that time chastised this action as showing undue partiality. And I will agree. Helping a fighter up from a slip is one thing, but what business did an official have helping a contestant up from a knockdown, which is what it was, especially during a turning point in the contest?
Exactly! And by allowing so much recovery time, Benitez was able to get back in the fight. In the fifth he decked me, first time in my career. I got back up, but John Thomas stopped the fight. I was screaming, Suey was screaming....

You got going again, winning the State title with a 12-round win over Frankie Rodriguez. You then fought a tough Nigerian named Cyclone Barth. Tell me about that fight.
Man, Barth was a good one, a real hard puncher. He hit way too hard, he was killing me, I had to get rid of him. In the eighth he tried pulling a rope-a-dope, and I suckered him coming off the ropes. I caught him flush with a left hook and took him out cold.

After that you had a real nice win over old pro Paul Armstead, before losing your State title to Nate Robinson in a close one. What happened in that one?
That was very embarrassing.

Why was that?
Because I underestimated him. I was looking for a title fight with Jose Napoles and simply looked beyond him. I had done well sparring with Napoles and was looking too far ahead.

Who was Napoles in town for when you sparred?
Emile Griffith. In fact, I'll tell you a funny story. I was a real student of the game. I lived and breathed boxing. When Suey would visit Gorilla Jones, I'd tag along just to talk and get pointers. Well, when Napoles was in town for this fight, he was training at the Elks building. I managed to get in there and went three rounds with Napoles. A couple of hours later, I was over at Howie Steindlers Main St. Gym going three rounds with Emile Griffith. Man, I just loved the action.

Shortly after this you took on a hot prospect in Paco Flores. What can you tell me about this fight?
Paco Flores was 16-0 and was very good. We fought in his hometown of Tucson. The longer the fight was going the more nervous I became, because his brother was the promoter and he came from a powerful boxing family. After the eighth round, Suey said to me, "Gil, these judges are going to give him the fight!" So again, I had to get rid of the guy and took him out in the ninth.

You were afraid they were going to steal it?
Exactly! This was the dirty side of boxing. I had to turn it on again when I fought Jimmy Hamm down in Florida. He was being promoted by the Dundees. I wasn't going to get the decision but managed to take him out in the 10th.

Shortly after the Flores fight the west coast was on its ear when the two hottest young welterweights signed to fight one another. Tell me about your fight with Armando Muniz.
That bothers me to this day. I was winning that fight and had a nice cut dug under his left eye, when he catches me with a good shot in the fifth. Okay, no big deal. But who comes to my rescue once again? John Thomas, of course, and he stops the fight. I wasn't getting any breaks from that guy.

You had a really active schedule. You were fighting, like, once a month. This was the first break in your schedule. You were off for about six months.
I was busy because a fighter only has so much time. But I was so bothered after that fight. I was never better. I won every minute of every round only for it to end like that.

When you came back, you returned against a fighter named Rosario Zavala. I'll tell you a funny story about him. When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, there was a local middleweight named Rocky Difazio who was making a bit of noise. Around '74 a promoter brought Zavala to town to duke it out with the hard-punching Difazio, and Zavala was hyped by the press as a fighter who had never been down. I yelled at anyone who was listening: "What?! Two years ago I saw Gil King bouncing him off the canvas like a basketball!"
[Laughing] That's right, two or three times before I knocked him out in eight.

You were back on track, fighting a month later and drawing in 10 with Arturo Lomeli, in what was a candidate for fight of the year in California. Then the two of you were re-matched for the vacant State title. This put you back in the mix, didn't it?
Arturo Lomeli was a top contender for the lightweight title, but I won the rematch and with it the State title, so I was back in the mix. However, it was around this time things started to go bad. I discovered Suey was skimming off of my earnings, and it just broke my heart because I really loved that old guy. I couldn't stay with him after that and let my contract run out.

You only had a few more fights after that followed by a yearlong layoff before heading up to Toronto for what would be your final fight against the No. 1 contender, Clyde Gray. I remember before the fight you stated to the press, "After this fight I want Napoles!"

Well, I may have been in Maple Leaf Gardens that night, but my head wasn't. I was distraught. My mom had just died and my wife left me, and I'm ashamed to say I just quit against Gray. After that I returned to Ohio to take care of some things after mom passed away, and almost lost my life.

What happened?
I was going into a convenience store with two girls. I was well dressed and probably looked like an easy mark to the six guys outside the store. They started mouthing off to the girls, and I guess I was just showing off. I told the girls, "Do you want to see me knock out six guys?" One punch each I took out three of them, but the fourth let me have it with a .410 shotgun to the face. I almost died from loss of blood. I fought my way back but the career was over.

Did you return to the coast?
I had saved a little money and stayed in Ohio, but Akron wasn't the place to be. Akron was my downfall.

Could you explain?
Well, after I recovered I was out and about on my new motorcycle when a cop saw me pop a wheelie. He was a rough one, said he had to impound it. I asked him if I could just take it home -- I was only a few blocks away -- but he started pulling the chains out and I got mad and said, "You are not taking my bike!" And then I decked him. After that, I was the "tough guy" in town and constantly harassed by the police. Eventually they found something to stick and I served jail time.

[Gil's wife, Mary, joins us]

Mary, how did you two meet?
MARY: It's funny, we met at a place called the Hope Cafe. I had several different people over the years tell me, "Someday you're going to marry a king." I was thinking, "What, like an Arabian sheikh?" But we hit it off and I said to a friend, "Well, how is he a king?" and they said, "Well that's his last name." And we're married almost five years now.

Was it some adjusting to an ex-pug?
MARY: Well I was no stranger to sports. My Dad is Jack March, who is in the sports hall of fame as tennis player and promoter. He's the one who brought advertising endorsements to tennis and was the brains behind the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King extravaganza. So I've been rubbing elbows with top athletes for years. But besides sports, our faith is something else we have in common and hold dear.

What are you guys up to these days?
Gil is training fighters but is very disappointed in their lack of effort and we're back and forth between homes in California and Ohio.

Gil, how do you think you would fare against the welterweights of today?
GIL: Well, I don't want to brag but I think I could handle all of them today except for Oscar De La Hoya. He's something special.


Mary, when did you guys come back to the coast?
MARY: About a year ago. There has been talk of a movie on Gil and we've finished his biography which we're hoping to publish.

What's the title?
MARY: Boxing's My Game, Gil King Is My Name!


Gil King bears the visible scars life has thrown him with a shrug of the shoulders. The inner scars however, formed from a very tough profession and the curve balls he was thrown are still open. One would not notice this through his affable smile, but they are there. Scars that would make a lesser man weep. This pain however, is assuaged by a marriage to be envied.

The pugilistic wannabes that Gil trains and frowns on today have so far shuddered at the prospect of putting time in his gym. What would they say to a once a month fight schedule? Or a career which kept missing that brass ring? Or having to deal with the seedy politics abundant to our sport? Or finally, going out of ones way to fight or spar with every top dog in the business? What did Gil King say? "I just loved the action!"

See ya next round,
Dan Hanley

Home News CBZ Encyclopedia Back Issues Contact Links

2005 CBZ Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.