SEPTEMBER 2006


01 | Rinsing Off the Mouthpiece
By GorDoom

02 | Poem of the Month
By Tom Smario

03 | Pollack's Picks
By Adam Pollack

04 | Top Women Worth Watching
and Televising

By Adam Pollack

05 | Tournament of Champions: Boxing's Lineal Mathematics
By Cliff Rold

06 | Roberto Duran, Unplugged
By Juan C. Ayllon

07 | Appreciating Chuck
By Thomas Gerbasi

08 | Thistle in the Rose
By James Glen

09 | Anton "The Sheik" Greek
By Jerry Fitch

10 | Interview with Don Fraser
By Juan C. Ayllon

11 | Boxing's Good Book [PDF]
By Don Cogswell

12 | "John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion" [PDF]
By Adam Pollack

13 | Three Book Reviews
By Katherine Dunn

14 | What's in a Name?
By Ted Sares

15 | Audio From the Archives [mp3]
The CBZ presents another classic boxing-themed radio show. This month we bring you an episode of Duffy's Tavern ("Where the elite meet to eat"), from April 13, 1951, starring Maxie Rosenbloom.


A Candid Interview with West Coast Promoter Don Fraser

by JUAN C. AYLLON

He's seen them all, from heavyweight champ Joe Louis -- whose quiet dignity and superb performances in the '30s and '40s helped the cause of black athletes more than any other man -- to the effervescent Muhammad Ali, who parlayed braggadocio and swift athleticism into superstardom while influencing political and social change in the '60s and '70s. He's promoted media darling George Foreman and the flamboyant, consensus all-time pound-for-pound king Sugar Ray Robinson. Yet, in an age obsessed with largesse, these days Don Fraser is more concerned about forgotten fighters who never quite made it to marquee status. He does so through a group he currently runs called the California Boxing Hall of Fame based out of his home in North Hollywood, California.

"I've been out of promoting boxing for some years, and just try to honor and help the guys that fought years ago that were overlooked and forgotten about," Fraser says. "So, we put on lunches once or twice a year to honor these guys, and I guess a lot of people are touched by it, especially sometimes the families. Their loved one wasn't maybe a champion and was never in the ratings, but nevertheless a good fighter, so we honor them. And, God, they just think it's wonderful,"

Indeed.

"Don Fraser, along with George Parnasis, Eileen Eaton, and Babe Griffin, basically ran West Coast boxing promotions in the '40s through the '70s, especially after Hap Navarro stepped down," says Stephen Gordon, editor-in-chief of the Cyber Boxing Zone.

Born in Blythe, California, on January 28, 1927, Fraser has enjoyed a career in boxing for over 55 years. As such, he served as the West Coast correspondent for The Ring and public-relations director at the following: Hollywood Legion Stadium (1956-1959), Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium (1959-1957), and the Inglewood Forum (1967-1981). In 1973, Fraser promoted a rematch between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton. In 1981, he was appointed executive officer of the California Athletic Commission. Returning to promoting in 1983, he continued promoting until 1992.

Over the course of his career, Fraser promoted a slew of Latin fighters, including such greats as Danny "Little Red" Lopez, Ruben Olivares, Jose Napoles, Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Zarate, and Bobby Chacon.

Speaking from his home office, Fraser talked candidly from his rich experiences in boxing via phone over two sessions: the first on a hot August afternoon and the second the following morning. During the latter session, there is the occasional and sometimes poignant reference to his daughter's dog, Meg, which had absconded and ran around with one of his socks during the interview.

JUAN AYLLON: How are you doing today?
DON FRASER: Well, it's not really hot out here, but it's hot enough to get a sweat going.

What first sparked your interest in boxing?
As a kid, if you were walking down the street in the evening, every house that had a radio had a Joe Louis fight on. And that was bigger than life, I think, in those days -- the Joe Louis fights. And then, of course, you'd see it in a movie house, a film of the fight.

They didn't have any TV, of course. But Louis, I got so intrigued how everybody, everybody just listened to those fights, white or black. And then, going to high school, a bunch of us would go to the fights at the Olympic Auditorium here in L.A. in the old Hollywood Stadium.

I boxed a little bit in the Army. I wasn't any good, but tried it. And then when I got out, I was working at the L.A. Times as a copy boy. And occasionally they'd need somebody to cover an ordinary fight -- a fight that didn't mean anything, like at the Olympic—and they'd send me. Then, one thing led to another and pretty soon, I was the editor of a boxing magazine and then doing publicity at these various clubs, like at the Olympic.

And it seemed every time I turned around to make a move, it turned out good for me. And the biggest move was 1967, getting hired by Jack Kent Cooke. Well, he also owned the Washington Redskins and the Lakers. So, anyway, he hired me and pretty soon, I was his boxing promoter. I did that and he sold the Forum to Jerry Buss and [I] continued with Buss for a while. Then I got a chance to go to Sacramento and be Executive Director of the California Athletic Commission. I was up there three years doing that.

And then, my wife didn't want to move to Sacramento, and my kids were down here and it wasn't working out that way. So, I got a chance to come back and do some promoting here and ended up at the Irving Marriot Hotel putting on ballroom boxing once a month and that was very profitable. I enjoyed it and did that for seven years, till I was 65, time to retire, had a little nest egg and got out of the business. I've been a fan since and belonged to different boxing groups. I'm not out of it totally. I haven't promoted since '91.

Now who were your favorite fighters to work with and why?
Well, that's a big question! Some of them were such great guys, you know, even with the language barrier if they didn't speak English. But Alexis Arguello and I had a great relationship. You know, he'd come over to the house when he was in town. And Ruben Olivares was another one; I was his drinking buddy in Mexico City when I went down there. And Art Aragon—it was before your time—he was the original "Golden Boy." He was a great friend. And Ray Robinson, I did a couple fights with him. We got to be close. There was Jose Napoles, just a whole bunch of them that was great fighters but wonderful human beings and we were friends.

Who were your least favorite fighters to work with?
That's hard to say, and I don't want to name names, but there were a few guys that just thought they were bigger than what they were. If I wanted to do an interview, it was an "I'm too busy" type of thing.

For those of us who missed it, can you shed some light on the glory days of the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium?
Well, in its heyday, every Tuesday night was "Fight Night," and they jammed the place, and [it featured] mostly Mexican fighters. And that was before the L.A. Rams were here, the Dodgers were here, [and] the Lakers. So, it was a big event for the sports writers to cover. Then as the years went on and boxing started to fade and it wasn't on a regular basis, and different promoters would take over the Olympic, go in and out, they'd lose some money and then quit. And then finally, it's now a Korean church. That's the end of the Olympic. It's quite an historic landmark. In trivia, God, it was built in '26 with really no changes. But now that's it. The only fighting is going to be against the devil in that building!

If I were to give you a list of names, would you give me a reaction to them as fighters as well as people?
Okay.

Sugar Ray Robinson
Great fighter, great guy.

And would you truly say he was the pound-for-pound best?
Well, I would say he was the best fighter!

Ruben Olivares.
Wonderful fighter, maybe the best bantamweight of all time, and then just a joy to be around. Yeah, he was just a fun guy.

George Foreman.
George was a real gentleman. Yeah. You know, I didn't know him that well, but he always treated me with respect. A real good guy.

Muhammad Ali.
Well, he had such an entourage around him. You couldn't get close to him. These guys didn't want strangers to get close to Ali. But, if he ever did, he was a gentleman and did what you needed.

Sonny Liston.
I spent a little time with Sonny. He was a very moody guy, tough to get to know.

Jerry Quarry.
Jerry was a local guy, I knew him well. There was no problem with him.

By the way, how do you think he would do if he were fighting today?
Oh, he'd be making so much money. He'd be knocking these guys out right and left! He could punch.

Danny "Little Red" Lopez.
Well, he was a wonderful fighter and a real gentleman out of the ring and to this day, we're good friends.

Carlos Zarate.
He had a language barrier but was a really good fighter. I don't know if you've got Bobby Chacon there, but Chacon and I got to be great friends and maybe partied too much and I see him now, he's hard to understand, but he's a happy-go-lucky guy!

What is the one thing you would want to talk about that if you mentioned it at a cocktail party, would kill the conversation, but is something you, Don King and Bob Arum might talk about when the microphones are off?
Probably other promoters [laughs]. You know: "This guy, don't trust him; don't trust that guy." That's the usual conversation.

What are some of the more notable changes you've noticed since you've become involved in boxing?
Well, the new people -- new managers, trainers -- I don't think they're not as good as the old-timers. There's not good trainers, and they fake it a lot. You know, they watch maybe Lou Duva or Angelo Dundee on TV and then they try and act like that. And there's so many newcomers just trying to act like they're as good as Dundee and, certainly, they're not. And there's so many people coming and going in boxing and you don't know who's who, and that includes the fighters.

If you could do something to improve boxing, what would you do?
It would start with the boxing commissions. I'd have them all united. I don't know if you need federal control, because what happens then is they put a bunch of guys in the run of it that don't know anything. But what they need is a system where if a fighter is fighting in Oklahoma tomorrow night, they find out on a computer where he fought last and what the result was. And it may turn out that he was knocked out two weeks ago in Oakland, California. They need to keep tabs so you don't have these terrible mismatches, or you get rid of the guys that are continual losers and try to prevent the serious injuries by getting those guys out of boxing.

What do you think about the new mandate for 10-ounce gloves for all fighters in the lightweight division and higher? [Editor's note: A representative from the Nevada State Athletic Commission said this regulation falls into place on September 1, 2006, but if both contestants agree before September 1, that regulation may be waved.]
That's only in Las Vegas.

Right. I've heard different opinions on it. For instance, I've heard that by going with heavier gloves, they weigh more, so they have more of an effect, and also when they get wet, they soak up water and their impact is even greater.
Well, at one point they used to have 6-ounce gloves, and that's too dangerous, and they went to 8. It would be 8 up to middleweight and then 10, yet they would still have fatalities. I mean, guys are still getting killed or maimed in the ring. So, that didn't prevent that. And the gloves do get waterlogged and they become pretty much a lethal weapon. You know, anytime something like Las Vegas had two or three fatalities in one year, they gotta do something, and that's what they came up with.

Looking at your accomplishments in your career, what would you say are your top two?
Putting together the second Ali-Norton fight at the Forum in L.A., which set a box-office record. Then, making an end run around the boxing bodies that cover boxing -- the WBC, the WBA -- which Zarate and Zamora I put them together, if they fought for one of the titles, the sanctioning fees would have been enormous for the fighters and from the promoter. So, they're undefeated, they're big punchers, put them together in a 10-round fight. So, what's the difference? They're going to fight. So, we did that so we didn't have to pay the sanctioning fees, and of course that was a very exciting fight. So, I would say that certainly ranks up there with my achievements.

Who do you think really won the last couple of fights between Ali and Norton?
Norton won the first, and I think he won the second and third -- but I think when Ali got in the ring, he already had a couple of rounds in his favor before he threw a punch, because he was Ali. I think he always got the best of the scoring with the exception of a few fights, like [against Leon] Spinks.

Now, do you think Ali would have taken Norton if they'd fought in Ali's prime?
Yes, definitely.

Where do you see boxing going from here, with the heavyweight division in such disarray?
It's going to stay the same. It's going to be mostly a cable-viewing sport and the occasional pay-per-view, but no, it's not going to change much either way, going up or down.

Who are your favorite unknown fighters, the ones that most people didn't know?
Well, there was a kid out here, a middleweight, Andy Heilman -- a German kid. He never got the big break, but was just was a tough guy middleweight; he was tough to punch. And there was another kid out here, Willy Vaughan, a black middleweight. He fought Bobo Olsen in a 10-round nontitle fight. I'll tell you, I thought he beat Olsen. Then he fought [Joey] Giardello on TV, and they gave Vaughan the fight. Then, the next day, they said there was a mistake in the scoring, so they called it a no-decision. He got screwed on that one.

Speaking of middleweights, what do you think was the best middleweight era?
Well, you have to go back to the Giardello, Dick Tiger, Basillio, Robinson -- that era.

And, as far as how you'd rank the top middleweights, how would you sort them out?
Well, Robinson, certainly would be up there, LaMotta would be up there, Dick Tiger would be up there, Giardello, Giambra, Rocky Castellani...

Really? Why Castellani?
I thought he was an underrated fighter.

And how do you think they'd fare if they'd put them in with today's middleweights?
Well, they would rip them apart. Well, Hagler certainly belongs in that Top 10.

And where do you think Bernard Hopkins fits in?
Me? Jeez, I don't know. I find him overrated. I'm not a Hopkins fan. That's too much.

And where do you think Sugar Ray Leonard? How does he compare in overall standings?
Well, as a welterweight, he was one of the best. No matter: welterweight, middleweight, he was a great fighter.

If Carmen Basillio fought Leonard, what do you think would happen?
It would be a hell of a fight, I'll tell you. Leonard would have to fight him. I don't know who would win, but it would be great.

Regarding your work as a Ring magazine correspondent, did you interact with Ring founder Nat Fleischer at all? Is there any truth to the rumors that there was some payola involved during his tenure? What were your impressions?
Well, they needed somebody to write the California fights, and I said I'd do it. I met Nat. We came out here for I think the Bobo Olsen vs. Ray Robinson fight, so I knew Nat, but I dealt with Nat Loubet, his son-in-law. I could only tell you I got $50 a column, and it took forever to get paid! They were light with the money. But they got mixed up in some deal with Don King.

There was that infamous heavyweight tournament around 1975, and that was quite scandalous. What did you think about that?
Well, everybody knew what was going on, except ABC, who was putting it on TV, until somebody ratted them out.

Do you think that kind of thing is still going on a lot?
Not really, because there's so many groups, so if you're not rated in one, you're in another. Who cares, really? And who could even name them?

As far as the top heavyweights today, who do you say are the best and why?
Well, start with the Russians, and they're probably the best, and you can't pronounce their names. But none of them are superstars.

Any last thoughts you'd like to share on your professional involvement with boxing?
No. All I can say is that I enjoyed my life in boxing. But I don't think I'd want to promote today.

Why not?
The type of people you deal with. They just don't seem to have the character of the guys 30 to 40 years ago, where a handshake was as good as a signed contract. That's about it.

Tell us about your involvement with the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
I was inducted last year, 2005. You get inducted, and you're an inductee, and you're a member, but you're not a member in the sense that you have anything to do with it. I get all their mailers, and if I wanted to go back for the induction ceremonies, I can go on my own dime. But they do invite the names like Emile Griffith, Carlos Ortiz, Arguello, those guys go back as their guests, but guys like me -- and there's a lot of us -- we pay our own way.

Tell us a little bit more about an experience with the annual dinners you and your organization, the California Boxing Hall of Fame, throw for forgotten fighters.
Well, we take guys that have been forgotten about, you might say, and we have a nice luncheon, and their family is there as our guest, and we give them some sort of award.

We had [1970s light-heavyweight contender] Yaqui Lopez, remember him? He was reduced to tears. He couldn't talk. He was crying. And his niece was with him. She had to take over and read a little speech for him. He was so happy to be part of this. And we brought him down from Stockton and paid his expenses, air fare and...

Hold on, I was just putting my socks on and my daughter's dog has a fetish for them. She loves socks! So, I got one on and then the phone rang. Suddenly, I look and she's got hold of the other sock. She doesn't chew them or anything. She just loves to run off with them. I have to try and trap her and get the sock back. The best way is bribery, well known in the boxing game: Bribery. I'll get a cookie or something for her.

Anyway, that's what we do, and we really had some nice experiences and made some people happy. I do all the work, but I have volunteers who do different things -- maybe they make phone calls or they contact these forgotten fighters.

[Breaks away to talk to daughter] Denise, Meg's got my sock!

[Returns to the phone] We're going to get the sock back.

So, yeah, it's strictly a volunteer thing, and we don't make any money on it after we pay expenses. That keeps me busy. You know, trying to locate these guys is a case in itself.

When will be your next date that you have one of these dinners?
We have one coming up August 19. And then, we'll sit down after that one and have a little meeting with our group and pick another date, try and pick some people that we've missed.

We don't put out a newsletter. Really, we're so low-key that if somebody wanted to find out, they'd do just like you're doing, talking on the phone. The office is in my home, I don't charge any rent for my office, and we don't have any fancy luncheons for our group. Almost everything is done at some McDonalds or something if we meet and try and come up with some names that will be worthy.

[Refers to the stolen sock]: Just got the sock back! We won!

Indeed. And so it is with boxing and its participants high and low: With the likes of Fraser, who've rubbed elbows with kings but make it a priority to honor the forgotten integral fighters who embody the very spirit and fabric of boxing, their legacy is kept alive. And they all win.

Juan C. Ayllon is the news editor and a staff writer for the Cyber Boxing Zone. He can be reached at juancayllon@yahoo.com.

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