Category Archives: Boxing Articles

Requiem For A Houston Heavyweight: The Tragedy Of Cleveland Williams

Cleveland Williams Never Should Have Been Allowed To Face Ali

By Bobby Franklin

Williams and Ali

In the opening sequence of the movie Requiem For A Heavyweight, a young Cassius Clay is seen throwing a punches during a fight. The view of the action is seen through the eyes of his opponent Mountain Rivera, played by Anthony Quinn, a washed up former contender who is now being used as an opponent and as a way for his unscrupulous manager Maish Rennick, played by Jackie Gleason, to keep squeezing a few more dollars out of him. It is a tragic story about a fighter on the way out being milked by the creeps that infest the world of boxing. The movie is fiction, but the real life world of boxing is not much different from what is depicted in it. 

The story of Cleveland Williams and his fight against Muhammad Ali fits the ugly narrative of Requiem For A Heavyweight pretty closely. In fact, what was done to Williams was much worse than what was done to the fictional Rivera. First, some background.

When asked what fight shows Muhammad Ali at his absolute peak, most boxing aficionados will point to the champ’s bout against Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. That choice makes sense when you look at the fight without knowing the background of the challenger and his physical condition at the time of the fight. It also adds up if you only look at Ali’s performance and don’t examine Williams’ moves during the fight.

Ali Drops Williams

The fight took place on November 14, 1966 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Ali had won the title on February 25, 1964 with a stunning upset over Sonny Liston. A little over a year later he again defeated Liston, this time by a first round knockout in Lewiston, Maine. Muhammad vowed to be an active champion and he lived up to that promise. Over the next year leading up to the Williams bout, Ali fought five times defending the title both in the United States as well as in Europe. He decisively defeated all the opponents put in front of him. The list includes Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger. These opponents may not make it to anyone’s list of all time greats, but they were the leading contenders at the time. Ali was not one to duck an opponent. 

During the reign of Floyd Patterson, most of the top contenders were denied a shot at the title. Things were different with Ali as champ. Talented and confident, he was willing to take on all comers. But unfortunately, as 1966 was closing out there really weren’t any outstanding contenders  that stood a chance against Muhammad. The young crowd which included Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, Oscar Bonavena, and Thad Spencer were still a few years away from being ready to challenge for the title. Ali had been going through the former champs and contenders that were now beginning to age. There had been an effort to make a match against Ernie Terrell who claimed the WBA Heavyweight Championship, but terms for a contract had not been able to be worked out. Ali would go on to face Terrell the following year. He would also give Zora Folley a chance in 1967 in what would be Muhammad’s last fight before being exiled from boxing over his refusal to be inducted into the United States Army.

In the meantime, the name Cleveland Williams was tossed into the mix. A resident of Houston, Williams had a reputation as a very hard puncher. At the time, Ali had been so successful at not getting hit it was thought he might have a weak chin. After all, Henry Cooper had decked him with a left hook. Even though he was not a ranked contender, the fight was sold on the basis of Cleveland’s punching power. While Ali would certainly be the favorite, Williams had a “puncher’s chance,” at least that’s what the promoters convinced the public of. 

The fight drew a live audience of 35,460 fans to the Astrodome, setting a record at the time for the largest crowd to witness an indoor fight. Gross receipts were $461,290 plus revenue from television and radio. The hype had worked.

As for the fight. Ali certainly looked impressive as he moved around Williams landing punches at will while never getting hit a serious blow in return. It was all over at 1:08 of the third round after Williams had been dropped on four occasions, three times in the second round and once in the third before the referee stopped the carnage. It was one of the most one-sided fights in heavyweight championship history.

Did Ali look magnificent that night? Without a doubt he did. He had the grace of a ballet dancer, the speed of a middleweight, and reflexes that were phenomenal. He was poised and relaxed. However, this was not a great win for him. While it is breathtaking to watch him in action against Williams, it must also be taken into account the caliber of his opposition. This is also not the fight to use when arguing how great Ali was. For while Ali had been staying very active in the years leading up to the fight, things were a bit different for Williams.

Cleveland Williams

And The Ugly Side Of Boxing

Big Cat Williams

Cleveland Williams was born on June 30, 1933 in Griffin, Georgia. He has stated he began his professional boxing career at the age of fourteen, lying about his age in order to get a license to box. When his real age was discovered he had to put his career on hold. A few years later he moved to Florida where he began boxing again. 

According tom BoxRec, his first official pro fight was against Lee Hunt on December 11, 1951. He won by a knockout in the 2nd round. He went on to win 28 in a row with 25 victories by knockout. All his fights were in the South. He proved to have terrific punching power but, with the exception of Omelio Agramonte who was long past his prime, had not beaten any significant opposition.

The win against Agramonte did earn him a chance to fight in New York  where he took on Sylvester Jones who was in only his tenth fight. This was a four round preliminary bout and Cleveland was dropped twice on his way to losing a decision. The fight was on the undercard of the Marciano/LaStanza Heavyweight Title fight.

Satterfield Knocking Out Williams

Williams returned to Florida and ran off five more wins including a knock out over Jones. He was now matched against Bob Satterfield in Miami Beach. Williams was a late substitute for Satterfield’s original opponent. Even though he had a 25 pound weight advantage, Williams was knocked cold by Satterfield in the third round and it took several minutes to revive him.

Again, Williams resumed his career and ran up a series of wins. His next big chance would be against top contender Sonny Liston. It was April 15, 1959 and Liston stopped him in the third round. The two would fight again a year later and Liston would win by kayo in the second round.

Williams did not give up and had his best years in 1961 and 1962. During this time he scored wins over such fighters as Alex Miteff, Wayne Bethea, Alonzo Johnson, and Ernie Terrell. He also held Eddie Machen to a draw. There was now some talk of him getting a shot at the title. In a rematch with Terrell he lost a decision and in the meantime a young upstart named Cassius Clay had wrested the title from Sonny Liston.  While Clay was winning the title in 1964, something major was also happening in the life of Cleveland Williams, something major and tragic.

On the night of November 29, 1964 Williams was stopped by a Texas State Police officer for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. What ensued is somewhat disputed, but the two got into a struggle and during the altercation the officer’s 357 Magnum was fired sending a bullet through Williams’s body ripping through his intestines and right kidney, lodging against his right hip. He was taken to a hospital where he died three times on the operating table. He lost a kidney and the bullet remained in his body. He shrank down to 155 pounds and had several more operations over the next 7 months. During his time in the hospital, Williams’s co-manager, Bud Williams, told him not to worry about the cost of his care as it was all being covered. Williams was not told by Adams that a tally was being kept and that Cleveland would be held liable for the expenses.

Hugh Benbow and Sonny Liston Visit Cleveland Williams In The Hospital

Cleveland Williams proved to be an amazing patient. In spite of all the damage he sustained from the shooting, he was determined to fight again. This was not a wise decision for a man who had been through what he had, but even though he now had only one kidney and a bullet still lodged in him, his managers encouraged him to continue boxing. They knew they could still make money with him. He began regaining his strength by working on his manger’s ranch. The manager, Hugh Benbow had bought out Bud William’s share of Cleveland’s contract and now was fully in charge. Williams regained much of his muscle mass and once again looked formidable, but the nerve damage had caused permanent harm to his reflexes. Just imagine, having your insides shot to pieces from a 357 Magnum and then stepping back into the ring just a little over a year later. That is just what Cleveland did.

On February 8, 1966 Williams faced Ben Black, a fighter with only four bouts on his record. He scored a first round kayo. He then went on to fight Mel Turnbow, Sonny Moore, and Tod Herring. He won all three but Turnbow dropped him during their match.

Based on these four wins and some amazing promoting by Hugh Benbow, Williams was now signed to fight Muhammad Ali for the title. Benbow must have had some real pull with the press as it was written that Ali’s camp was afraid of having him take on The Big Cat. It was claimed the only way Benbow could get them to agree was to convince them Williams was still suffering from his injuries from the shooting. To believe Ali only took the bout because he felt he was facing a semi invalid is ridiculous. However, it is true that Williams was in no condition to fight.

I looked back at the ratings during Cleveland Williams years boxing. Ring Magazine only rated him in the top ten during four years: 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964. He was never ranked higher than number four, and was unranked at the time of his fight with Ali. His reputation was based on his punching power and the fact that Sonny Liston had called him one of the hardest punchers he had ever faced. His biggest fights were his losses to Liston, the victory, later reversed, over Ernie Terrell, and a draw with Eddie Machen.

On the night of the Ali fight, Williams was served with papers from lawyers representing his former manager Bud Adams. The suit being filed claimed Adams was owed $67,615.00 by Williams for the money that was spent while Cleveland was in the hospital. This meant that his purse for the fight would be attached and he would end up with pocket change after the bout. On top of having partial paralysis in his right hip, only one kidney, and a bullet pressing against his hip, Williams now knew he would make no money for the fight. He had to step into the ring that night against one of the greatest fighters of all time dealing with that burden. It was like a scene out of The Harder They Fall. 

When you watch the fight, instead of focusing on Ali pay attention to Cleveland Williams. At the opening bell you can see how stiff his legs are. He actually stumbles a bit as he moves out from his corner. His legs have very little muscle mass. When he misses with a left hook he stumbles. He might look powerful, but the man still should have been in a rehab working on his reflexes and coordination. For Ali, this was more like working out on a heavy bag than fighting a man. 

What Williams did was remarkable in coming back from death. He worked hard and restored his muscles, but he had been torn apart physically and emotionally. He never, never, should have been in a boxing ring. 

Calling this Muhammad Ali’s greatest fight is a travesty. Ali had many great fights, but judging his greatness off of this one is plain silly. I asked boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing about this and he said: “To say that Ali’s knockout of a damaged Cleveland Williams was his greatest performance is like saying the greatest performance of Larry Holmes’ career was his fight against a damaged Muhammad Ali. Both Ali and Williams were “shot” fighters (Williams literally) and were incapable of offering serious resistance.” He is correct. To Ali’s credit he never bragged about this victory. 

Williams quit boxing after this fight, but broke and without a way to earn a living he made a comeback two years later. He fought from 1968 to 1972 when he retired for good. He ended up losing his remaining kidney and had to have dialysis treatments twice a week for the rest of his life. Boxing promoters and managers milked him for all they could get out of him and then left him to fend for himself.  It is an ugly story, but one not uncommon in boxing.

Cleveland Williams died at the age of 66 broke and sick. He was killed when hit by a car while returning home from a dialysis treatment, marking a tragic ending to a tragic life.

Next time you are watching the Ali/Williams fight and in awe of how “great”  Ali looks in it, just take some time to think about what condition Cleveland Williams was in that night. Also consider the type of people who inhabit the world of professional boxing. These are people who would throw an invalid into the ring with a great fighter and then take him for all he’s worth. Instead of watching that fight and getting all excited about Ali’s performance, you should feel sick when you know what really happened that night.

Earnie Shavers: Monster Puncher—or Monster Myth?

By 

Mike Silver

 

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.                                     –Andrew Lang (1844-1912) 

         

Ali vs Shavers

Rating the top-ten heavyweight punchers of all-time would be easy if we just added up the number of knockouts on a boxer’s record.  But that would be a mistake. Without evaluating the quality of the level of competition the statistics are irrelevant. A fighter whose record lists many knockouts over third rate stumblebums is less impressive than one who has faced many more quality opponents and scored fewer knockouts. 

      Possessing knockout power is a huge asset but more important is how effective the boxer is in applying power to achieve the victory. Three months ago Deontay Wilder, possessor of perhaps the hardest right hand punch of any active heavyweight, was lucky to walk away with a draw decision against Tyson Fury. Wilder was by far the superior puncher but he had no strategy other than just throwing punches and hoping one would land. One of those rights finally landed and dropped Fury in the 12th round but Wilder couldn’t finish him off. 

             Superior boxing technique combined with a heavy punch is a dangerous combination. The most obvious example is former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore. During his remarkable 28 year boxing career Moore knocked out a record 131 opponents. Many years ago I interviewed one of his opponents. Willi Besmanoff was a heavyweight contender who had fought both Archie Moore and Sonny Liston. In December 1959 Besmanoff fought a prime Sonny Liston and was stopped on cuts in the seventh round. Willi absorbed some fearsome shots but did not go down. It was the first time in 66 bouts he’d been stopped. Five months later he fought Archie Moore. Besmanoff was knocked down in the 10th round and was taking a beating when the referee intervened and stopped the fight.

“Besmanoff’s answer reveals the difference between a knockout puncher and a knockout artist.”

      I asked Besmanoff who hit harder, Sonny Liston or Archie Moore? “Liston was the stronger, a very powerful man”, said Besmanoff. “But his punches were not aimed that carefully. Moore knew exactly when and where to hit you, and he hit you where it hurt the most. Liston’s punches were more powerful but Moore’s punches were more accurate and damaging.”  Besmanoff’s answer reveals the difference between a knockout puncher and a knockout artist. 

     Even if we had a machine that could measure the power of every boxer’s punch (I’m sure Wilder would rate very high) it would still not give us the answers we seek. A powerful punch is but one of several tools in a boxer’s arsenal. What good is that tool if a fighter cannot or will not utilize it to its fullest potential? 

      There are four criteria that must be considered when evaluating a heavyweight’s rating as a puncher. Fist we start by analyzing the quality of his competition. Next we determine how many KOs were scored over opponents who were rarely, if ever, stopped. A Third consideration is the ability to maintain effective punching power into the late rounds. This quality can be influenced not just by the fighter’s endurance but also his psychological makeup. How does he react when his punches are not having the desired effect? Is he capable of adjusting his strategy when things are not going his way?  

     The fourth requirement is that a great puncher also has to be a great finisher. Once an opponent is hurt he will know how to end the fight quickly and efficiently. The textbook example of this can be found in any film of a Joe Louis KO victory, especially his one round annihilation of Max Schmeling and his 13th round knockout of Billy Conn.  

“These are qualities that cannot be measured by statistics or a cleverly edited highlight video.  Too often opinion is influenced by frivolous hype that lacks context and depth.”

These are qualities that cannot be measured by statistics or a cleverly edited highlight video.  Too often opinion is influenced by frivolous hype that lacks context and depth.  Search the internet under the topic “Greatest Heavyweight Punchers” and every list that comes up will include Earnie Shavers. Of course Earnie possessed awesome power. That fact is not in dispute. His right cross was a frightening weapon—when it connected. But I cannot rate him among the top-ten all time heavyweight punchers, or even the top 20, for that matter. Before you blow a gasket keep in mind the four criteria mentioned earlier. We are not just considering raw power, but the effective use of that power to achieve victory against quality opposition on a consistent basis. If Sandy Koufax, the great baseball pitcher, had never learned to control his fastball, his full potential would never have been realized. Pure speed was not enough, just as raw power is not enough unless it can be used effectively to achieve the desired result. 

The problem for Earnie was that throughout his career he remained a second rate boxer with a first rate punch.”

     The problem for Earnie was that throughout his career he remained a second rate boxer with a first rate punch. When we combine that flaw with his serious stamina issues the true measure of his greatness (or lack thereof) as a puncher comes into clear focus. The key to defeating Earnie was not to let him hit you, which wasn’t that difficult if you were a skilled boxer. But even if he did hit you with his best punch and you stood up and fought back, as happened on at least five different occasions, it was Earnie who was stopped. 

     Shaver’s greatest victory was his first round KO of former champion Jimmy Ellis in 1973. It was that win that thrust Shavers onto the world stage. He came into that fight with a 44-2 won- loss record that included an astounding 42 wins by knockout. Thirty-seven of those victims never made it past the 4th round. Nevertheless, even though the 33 year old Ellis was at least a year past his prime he was a pronounced favorite to win. The odds makers weren’t fooled. An examination of his record revealed his 42 KO victims had a total of 334 losses (and nearly half by knockout).

      Ellis was very confident, as he should have been—maybe too confident. He came out punching in the first round and had Shavers in trouble right away. In desperation Shavers threw a right uppercut that landed flush on Ellis’s chin sending him sprawling to the canvas where he was counted out.  

     I don’t think Shavers’ management expected their fighter to win. They were well aware of his limitations. Early in his career, in his 15th fight, he was flattened by Ron Stander, a tough undefeated comer with nine straight wins. A decision was made not to take any chances after that loss and instead pad his record by carefully matching him against opponents who were used to losing. Until he met Ellis the only recognizable name on his record was Vicente Rondon, a former light heavyweight titlist whose previous two fights were quick knockout losses to Ron Lyle and Bob Foster. Shavers, fighting in his home town, was awarded the decision but was unable to catch Rondon with a solid punch. 

        

Quarry vs Shavers

After his stunning win over Ellis, Shavers was matched against top ranked Jerry Quarry. The Madison Square Garden crowd expected fireworks and they were not disappointed. Quarry opened up right away and knocked Shavers to the canvas with a series of lefts and rights. He was up at the count of nine and then retreated to the ropes. Quarry was landing punches without a return when the referee intervened and stopped the fight at 2:21 of the first round.

     One year after his debacle against Quarry, Shavers returned to New York, this time fighting in the Garden’s adjacent smaller arena. His opponent was an ordinary but tough journeyman boxer named Bob Stallings, whose record was an uninspiring 21 wins and 24 losses. Stallings was able to avoid Shavers’ bombs on the way to winning a unanimous decision. It was only the second time Shavers had gone ten rounds and his lack of endurance was evident as he barely made it to the final bell.

      Three weeks after losing to Stallings he fought a 10 round draw with Jimmy Young. After three more victories against modest opposition he faced his next big test against top ranked Ron Lyle. The two power punchers staged a free swinging brawl that saw Lyle come off the floor to outlast Shavers and stop him in the sixth round.   

“Now that Shavers was meeting a better class of boxer he was scoring far fewer knockouts.”

      Now that Shavers was meeting a better class of boxer he was scoring far fewer knockouts. Whereas prior to his loss to Quarry his KO ratio was 91 per cent, in his subsequent 41 fights he scored only 23 knockouts for a 56 per cent ratio. During that time he knocked out only one rated contender while going the 10 round distance with Henry Clark, Leroy Boone, James Tillis and Walter Santemore—not exactly household names. These last two were able to avoid Shaver’s equalizer and outpoint him. But he did show improvement in knocking out Clark in a rematch and stopping Howard Smith and Roy Williams, all three of whom were decent heavyweights. 

    

Lyle vs Shavers

On the rare occasions when a fighter was crazy enough, or tough enough, to exchange blows with Shavers the chance for a successful outcome improved if they could get beyond the 5th round. Bernardo Mercado, and Tex Cobb did just that. They took Shavers’ best shots and eventually stopped him in the 7th and 8th rounds respectively. Cobb was asked what it was like to be hit by Shavers. “The first right he threw missed and landed on my shoulder”, said Tex.  “It felt like someone had dropped a bowling ball on my shoulder”.     

     Ken Norton was the only rated contender, other than Jimmy Ellis, that Shavers was able to defeat. Nearing the end of his career Norton seemed ready to accept defeat as soon as the bell rang. Perhaps it was the memory of his brutal knockout at the hands of George Foreman five years earlier that froze him into inaction against another big puncher. In a suicidal move Norton quickly retreated to the ropes where he presented Shavers with his dream target—a stationary fighter who would not fight back. After two knockdowns the fight was stopped in less than two minutes of the first round. 

     In his prime Shavers lost to Larry Holmes (twice), Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, Bob Stallings, Bernardo Mercado and Tex Cobb and couldn’t take out a light heavyweight (Rondon) who in his previous fight was flattened in two rounds by Bob Foster. 

     So what is the explanation for so many people believing Earnie Shavers is an all-time great puncher? I believe it can be traced to the hype surrounding two of his most important fights, both of which, ironically, he lost.

       In 1977 Shavers fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship.  It was a fight that should never have taken place. At 35 Ali was washed up but refused to accept reality. Making matters worse, he barely trained for the fight. Ali came into the ring weighing 225 pounds, the heaviest of his career. He was fleshy and out of shape. The “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” days were long gone.

     If Ali had come into the ring in shape even at that late stage of his career he could have stopped Shavers in the eighth or ninth round. The key was to not let Shavers control the pace of the fight and rest when he wanted. But Ali had to rest as much as Shavers. The image that everyone remembers from the fight was The Greatest being rocked again and again by Shaver’s horrific punches as they slammed into his head. I counted at least 17 full force overhand rights that landed. At one point Ali nearly went down. It was amazing that he stood up under these punches. Only his ring guile, incredible chin, and Shaver’s lack of stamina kept him from being knocked out. It was the worst head beating of Ali’s career and did much to accelerate his descent into pugilistica dementia. At the end of 15 sickening rounds Ali was awarded the unanimous decision. Many fans thought the decision should have gone to Shavers. 

    When he was interviewed after the fight an exhausted and hollow eyed Ali made the memorable comment that added fuel to the growing respect for Shaver’s punching power: “Ernie hit me so hard, he shook my kinfolk back in Africa”. 

      

Holmes vs Shavers

Two years later Shavers fought Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship. For six rounds he tried mightily to land his haymaker but kept missing. Then, suddenly, in a brief moment of carelessness Holmes left himself open and one of Shaver’s wild swings connected to the side of his jaw. Holmes fell hard and landed flat on his back.

     Holmes had never been knocked down. He was hurt but was up at the count of six and survived the round. Holmes continued his domination over the next three rounds. In the 11th round, with Shavers sucking wind and barely able to hold up his hands, the referee stopped the fight. Holmes told reporters that Shavers was the hardest puncher he had ever faced.

     A huge deal was made of Holmes getting off the canvas and surviving the 7th round. It really was much ado about nothing. In their two fights totaling 23 rounds it was the only round Holmes lost. But it was a heavyweight title fight and the big punch had come out of nowhere to nearly upset the applecart. That is exactly why people are drawn to heavyweights. You never know when the big punch might land. And it is why people were drawn to the popular Shavers whose very presence in the ring generated a certain amount of excitement, as is the case with all big punchers, no matter what weight class they compete in.  

     The following week the cover of Sports Illustrated featured a photo of the fight with the headline “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down: Holmes Comes off the Deck to Overpower Shavers”. So in trying to build up Holmes the press had to build up Shavers as well. The fact of the matter is that despite hurting Holmes with his best punch he was unable to finish him. The hype over that one punch was blown way out of proportion. But the sport needed something to get excited about in the post Ali era. (Ali had announced his retirement a year earlier). The new heavyweight king by comparison was a competent but colorless champion who ruled over a division depleted of talent. 

     Earnie Shavers gave us some of boxing’s most memorable moments. He is a class act and a credit to the sport. But his reputation as a great puncher is based on a lucky punch KO of Ellis, a fight that he lost (Ali), one spectacular knockdown (Holmes), and comments by several former opponents who beat him. That alone is not enough to place him among the greatest heavyweight punchers. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing) and “Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. A Photographic History” (Lyons Press).



The Amazing Harry Greb’s Amazing Year

SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING: HARRY GREB, 1919                                                                                             

By Springs Toledo

Amazon Kindle Edition $7.99

Book review by Mike Silver

   If asked to name the greatest boxer who ever lived most boxing historians would most likely place Sugar Ray Robinson in the top spot. That is always a good choice. But it is not the only choice. There are, perhaps, three or four other boxers whose spectacular record of accomplishment makes them worthy of consideration. 

     In his latest literary effort Springs Toledo makes a very strong case for a boxer who just may have been the greatest who ever lived—Harry Greb. In a career that spanned 13 years (1913 to 1926) the legendary “Pittsburgh Windmill” fought a phenomenal 294 professional boxing contests often against the greatest boxers of his era. His record shows only 19 losses (eight official losses and 11 newspaper decisions). Most occurred either early or late in his career.

Harry Greb, both as an athlete and a person, is one of the most fascinating and charismatic characters of the 20th century. 

       For those readers lucky enough to have read Toledo’s previous works this paean to a truly great fighter exposes us once again to the author’s colorful and engaging writing style. Toledo is passionate about his subject, and rightly so. Harry Greb, both as an athlete and a person, is one of the most fascinating and charismatic characters of the 20th century. 

     In conveying to the reader why Greb deserves his place at the pinnacle of boxing’s Mt. Rushmore Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 focuses on the most amazing and mind boggling year of any prizefighter of any era. In just 96 pages Toledo offers enough evidence and detail to cause the reader to shake his head in disbelief at what no normal human being would seem capable of doing. 

    From January 1st to December 31st 1919—while Greb was ranked the number one middleweight contender—he stormed through twenty-one cities in eight states and fought forty-five times. (Today forty-five fights would constitute an entire 10 to 15 year professional boxing career). “Greb was on track for well over 60 had scheduled bouts not been cancelled because of either injuries to himself, or an opponent’s nerve.”

     In one year Greb “thrashed five Hall of Famers ten times, personally sought out the middleweight champion in New York City, ran two light heavyweight champions out of the ring, called out Jack Dempsey every chance he got, manhandled heavyweights, and barely lost a round while suffering unspeakable injuries.” According to Boxrec.com Greb won all 45 bouts.

      Toledo’s books—and this one is no exception—contain far more than boxing history. They are absorbing and richly detailed character studies as well. He delves into aspects of Greb’s private life outside of the ring, describing injuries to a pre-adolescent psyche that may have contributed to his extraordinary and highly unorthodox boxing style. 

    

Harry Greb

At the very beginning of Greb’s sensational run he married the love of his life, Mildred Reilly, a beautiful and feisty vaudeville actress with a personality that complemented his own. The book appropriately begins with their marriage in Pittsburgh on January 30th 1919. As the author  notes: “Marriage steadied but did not quite civilize Greb, who went on to build his legend around what he did to  heavyweights, around a slogan he’d repeat again and again: “anybody, anyplace, anytime.” It was not unusual for him to fight two and three times in a week.

     Greb did not allow anything to interfere with his drive to prove himself the greatest fighter on the planet. The honeymoon would have to wait. He had a fight scheduled in Cleveland the day after his wedding with tough middleweight contender Tommy Robson for a $1000 dollar payday. 

     He easily defeated Robson who, like all of Greb’s opponent’s, could not solve or fathomThe Windmill’s style. “How does he do it”, asked Robson. “How can any man of his weight dance and leap and keep on top of you the way he does without becoming exhausted? And he can go twenty rounds the same way. He is the biggest freak in the ring.” Indeed, Greb never seemed to tire and actually got stronger and faster as a bout progressed. One newspaper described him as “the leaping, bounding, elusive Greb, who kept both of his long arms going like flails.” The next day Harry returned to Pittsburgh and his bride.

       Before he eventually won the middleweight championship from Johnny Wilson in 1923 Greb had boldly issued challenges to the light heavyweight and heavyweight champions. Both avoided him.  Along the way he hung the only loss on future heavyweight champion Gene Tunney who was savaged over 15 rounds. Prior to the bout Tunney was warned “he is not a normal fighter. He will kill you”. To force a bout with heavyweight champion Dempsey (which never materialized) Greb sought out two of his top challengers, Tommy Gibbons and Bill Brennan and defeated both.

He issued a public challenge to 6’ 6” 245 pound Jess Willard and said he’d donate the purse to the Red Cross.

     In his persistent quest to win the heavyweight championship (despite rarely weighing more than 170 pounds) Greb went to extreme lengths to prove he was worthy. He issued a public challenge to 6’ 6” 245 pound Jess Willard and said he’d donate the purse to the Red Cross. He also opened negotiations with Luis Firpo and said he’d fight the number one ranked heavyweight contender Harry Wills “in an arena or a gym just to prove that the best African-American heavyweight in the world wasn’t much.” As noted by the author, “All of them towered over him and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, which suggests that Greb either had screws loose or was a misanthrope raging against all men, including himself.”

      Toledo goes on to say, “People who knew Greb said he needed to fight often, that he thrived on his marathon plan of meeting them all, one after the other.” He typically asked for two things—“fair terms” and “the hardest guy.” While he was pleasant and friendly and loyal outside of a boxing ring, inside the ring he was an unstoppable force of nature the likes of which had never been seen before or since.  

     Late in his career tragedy dogged the great fighter. Four months before Greb won the middleweight title in 1923 his young wife succumbed to tuberculosis. She was just 22 years old. That same year he began to go blind in his right eye due to an injury received in a bout. He eventually lost the sight in the eye but continued to fight. Attempts to get Greb a shot at Dempsey’s title were still going on in July 1925, “when he was half blind and fighting with his head tilted to the right.”

Even half blind Greb scored some of the greatest victories of his career. 

    Even half blind Greb scored some of the greatest victories of his career. “But he was losing his bearings; his boundless energy now crossed with sorrow, was like a scattershot.” Perhaps to compensate for his fading vision and gain an edge he often abused the rules and risked disqualification. He became reckless outside the ring as well. There was a drunken nightclub brawl, affairs with chorus girls, breach of promise law suits, and the loss of his middleweight championship in 1926 to Tiger Flowers by a controversial split decision. At 32, and after nearly 300 professional fights, the streaking comet that was Harry Greb was finally slowing down.

    Less than two months after losing the rematch to Flowers by another split decision Greb was involved in a car accident that fractured a bone near the base of his skill. Ten days later surgery to repair the injury went wrong and he died the following day. 

      Ninety-two years after his death the legendary fighter remains an object of fascination and mystery. Smokestack Lightning reveals the legend in all his glory and helps to unravel some of the mystery and, if possible, provokes even greater admiration and awe for the one and only Pittsburgh Windmill.

Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishers 2008) and Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing (Lyons Press 2016). Both are available at Amazon.com. 

Gregorio Peralta

Gregorio “Goyo” Peralta

The Ring Was His Stage

By BobbyFranklin

Argentina has not exported a lot of boxers, but the ones that have come from the land of Carnival have been very talented. In 1923 Lus Angel Firpo traveled to New York City to challenge Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title. The Wild Bull of the Pampas was knocked out by Jack in the second round, but before being stopped he managed to knock Jack clean out of the ring. 

Pascual Perez won an Olympic Gold medal in 1948 and went on to become the first world champion from Argentina when he won the title in 1952. Two other world champions would follow in his footsteps, middleweight Carlos Monzoon and light heavyweight Victor Galindez. Heavyweight contender Oscar Bonavena and light heavyweight Jorge Ahumada were also from Argentina.

All of these boxers were very skilled, with  Monzoon and Perez often mentioned as all time greats. Each of them either won or challenged for world titles.

Gregorio Peralta was another Argentine who knew his way around a boxing ring. Born in 1935, Goyo began boxing as an amateur while in the navy. He won numerous titles before turning pro in 1958. Gregorio was immediately a rising star and very popular. In his first 16 bouts he was only defeated once and that was by decision to Justo Benitez. He would go on to defeat Benitez three times. 

In his 17th bout, Peralta was matched with Peruvian Mauro Mina. Mina was arguably the greatest fighter to come from South America. Goyo was stopped in the 8th round. This was only one of three times he was stopped in what would be a career that consisted of 116 fights. He went on to defeat Mina in a rematch, being one of only three men to beat Mina and the only one to defeat Mina in his prime.  His other stoppages were on cuts to Willie Pastrano in a title fight, and in the 10th round against George Foreman in their second fight. In almost 20 rounds against the much larger Foreman, Gregorio was never knocked off his feet. 

Peralta had an educated left hand, that he put to good use while throwing jabs and hooks.

Gregorio Peralta was a very cagy boxer. He moved around the ring in a very relaxed fashion and used feints and head movement. Peralta had an educated left hand, that he put to good use while throwing jabs and hooks. He would often lead with the hook firing it from a straight up position similar to what Conn did in his first fight with Louis. Another tactic he used was to move in behind a jab and then step forward moving his right foot ahead of his left. This would put him into a southpaw stance for just a moment where he would unleash a combination. It was quite an effective strategy which he used in his first fight with Foreman. Always remaining loose, it was very difficult to hit him with a solid shot.

In 1963, after compiling a very solid record in South America, Peralta made his debut in the United States where he was matched against World Light Heavyweight Champion Wille Pastrano. The bout, held in Miami, was a non-title affair. Gregorio was very impressive while easily defeating Willie over ten rounds. 

Pastrano and Peralta For The Title

He would then go on to defeat top contender Wayne Thornton twice before getting another match with Pastrano, this time for the title. The fight was held in the champion’s home town of New Orleans, and there was some controversy over how it ended. Peralta was reportedly ahead on points when he was cut over his left eye. The referee stopped the bout at the end of the fifth round. Peralta’s manager claimed the referee, while examining the cut, used his fingers to make it worse. Gregorio never made any excuses for the loss, only saying he felt he could have gone on.

In his next 43 fights Peralta suffered only one loss (to heavyweight Oscar Bonavena) but never got another chance at the title. It was a case of being too talented for his own good. Though he had begun to grow out of the light heavyweight division, he never became a full fledged heavyweight. Today he would be a cruiserweight. 

Bonavena vs Peralta

He and Bonavena fought to a draw in a rematch which led to talk of  getting a fight with then WBA Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis. That certainly would have been an interesting fight and Goyo would have had a real shot at winning the title. Instead, he was matched with up and coming contender George Foreman. Big George had only 15 fights at the time, but was winning them in devastating fashion. He was also taller and heaver than Peralta.

On February 16, 1970, when Gregorio stepped into the ring to face Foreman, he looked more like an actor making his entrance onto the stage for a performance in a play by Shakespeare than a man about to engage in the most violent of sports. The Argentine with the movie star good looks had his hair carefully combed. He was calm and walked around the ring smiling. When introduced he took bows while holding his hand out. Maybe he thought he was at one of the Broadway Theaters. His performance after the bell rang that night would have certainly gotten him a Tony Award nomination as he put on a brilliant display of boxing skills. 

Peralta Stepping Into His Southpaw Stance Against Foreman

Big George, as was his fashion back then, came out strong looking to end matters quickly. Goyo had other ideas and avoided Foreman’s charge like  a matador avoids a bull. For the first five rounds Peralta relied mostly on his left hand. He was not dancing away from George as much as he was taking steps around him. Gregorio would through quick hooks to the head and body and then clinch when things became dangerous, Peralta used his left hook and his switch to southpaw move to neutralize Foreman’s power. George was getting in good shots, many to the kidneys. Gregorio’s hooks to the body took some of the steam out of big George, but the future champ was still pounding away himself. In another nod to the stage, at the end of a number of rounds Peralta would take a bow and extend his arm out as if expecting an ovation for his performance. He deserved one.

In the fifth round Peralta opened a cut over George’s left eye. In the sixth round, Goyo started landing with his previously dormant right hand. It had turned into a very interesting fight, a classic between a wily old veteran and a powerful up and comer. 

In the end, Peralta’s need to use defensive tactics to hold George off cost him the decision, though the crowd booed when Foreman was announced the winner. The decision was fair but the scoring was ridiculously one sided. It was a much closer fight than what the judge’s cards would have you believe. It was a marvelous performance by Peralta. It’s also a very interesting fight to watch.

The two would meet again seven months later, and this time Foreman would stop Peralta in the tenth round, but not before once again having difficulty with him. 

Ali and Peralta In Barcelona

Gregorio would continue campaigning as a heavyweight. He moved to Spain where he beat Jose Manuel Urtain and Gerhard Zech among others. There was talk of a fight with Muhammad Ali but that never materialized; however; the two did put on an exhibition match in Barcelona. 

As his career was winding down Peralta dropped a decision to Ron Lyle, and in his last fight Goyo fought a draw with Lyle. That was in 1973.

Eventually, he moved back to Argentina where he ran for political office. A soft spoken yet charismatic man, he was well loved in his home country. His final record in the ring stands at 119 total bouts, 98 wins (60 knockouts), 9 losses (3 by stoppage), and 9 draws, a remarkable career. He was one of those fighters who would have easily been a world champion if the timing had been better, though I get the feeling he might have preferred a career on the stage. 

Gregorio Peralta answered his final bell on October 3, 2001. He was only 66 years old. The newspapers reported he died from heart failure brought on by other health issues. It was also reported he had been suffering from Alzheimers Disease, though it is more likely it was CET from his years in the ring. He should not be forgotten.


THE MAGIC MAN TALKS BOXING: MY INTERVIEW WITH MARLON STARLING

Marlon Starling Interviewed by Mike Silver for Boxing Over Broadway 

    

Marlon Starling

Former welterweight champion Marlon Starling was the fifth boxer from Connecticut to win a world title. Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Pinky Silverberg, Batt Battalino and Willie Pep all won their titles during the golden age of Connecticut boxing from the 1920s to the 1940s. During that time the “Nutmeg State” was home to many other outstanding boxers including Lou Bogash, Ted Lowry, Chico Vejar, Julie Kogon, Johnny Cesario, Vic Cardell, Larry Boardman and Bernie Reynolds.   

     Marlon Starling is far removed from that era, nevertheless he could accurately be described as “old school”. There were few soft touches during his ascent to the title. He accomplished his goal the old fashioned way—he earned it. Along the way be became one of the top professional boxers of the 1980s.   

      Before turning pro Marlon reportedly won 97 of 110 amateur bouts. His professional career spanned 11 years (1979-1990). He lost only 5 of 52 professional fights and stopped 27 opponents.  Only one of his five career losses (all by decision) resulted in a unanimous verdict. He drew in two other bouts.

In an era of tough welterweight competition Marlon Starling stood out among his peers.

     Marlon won his first 25 fights before losing a split 12 round decision to future welterweight champion Donald Curry in 1982. He defeated his next six opponents (flattening four of them) and looked very impressive stopping hard punching Jose Baret and outpointing Kevin Howard over 12 rounds. 

     The rematch with Curry for the world title resulted in another decision loss for Starling. The Dallas hotshot seemed to have Marlon’s number. But showing the patience and persistence that was the hallmark of his stolid fighting style Marlon got back on track with wins over Lupe Acquino, Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Simon Brown and Pedro Vilella. 

     In 1987 he defeated Mark Breland in a torrid battle for the WBA welterweight title, stopping the former Olympic champion in the 11th round. Less than a year later he won the WBC welterweight belt with a 9th round TKO of England’s Lloyd Honeyghan.  

    Moving up in weight Marlon challenged IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn but lost a majority 12 round decision. Four months later, on August 19th, 1990, in the final fight of his career, Marlon lost the welterweight title to Maurice Blocker via another majority decision. 

    In an era of tough welterweight competition Marlon Starling stood out among his peers. Let’s read what he has to say about his career.

Interview:

Mike: Marlon, let’s start by talking about some of your most important fights. In 1982 you lost a split 12 round decision for the North American welterweight title to Donald Curry. It was your first loss in 26 professional fights. A year later you lost a 15 round unanimous decision to Curry, this time for the world title. Was he your most difficult opponent?

Marlon: Not difficult. Donald Curry was my most challenging opponent. That’s because Donald was a boxer like me. He did nothing great, but everything good. That was the kind of fighter I was. It was like fighting a mirror image of me. I mean he wasn’t a dynamite puncher. He didn’t have a great hook, didn’t have a great left jab, but everything was good. 

Mike: Often when boxers have similar styles it doesn’t make for an exciting fight. In fact, the New York Times reporter called it a “dull” fight. 

Marlon: I believe I won that first fight. I mean I didn’t get the decision but I know in my heart I won that first fight. But at the time Don Curry was a big Bob Arum fighter so he got the decision. The second fight was a different story. I lost that second fight more than he won it. Curry prepared himself better than I did for the second fight, even though I was prepared. He won a very close 15 round decision. My trainer kept saying ‘back him up, back him up’. But the problem was I couldn’t back him up. He was a little stronger than me in that fight. So he retained the title. I got out of the ring that day and for the first time in my career, maybe after 30 fights, said to myself ‘Wow, that guy beat me!’ And that was something that was tough for me to cough up.” 

Mike: You didn’t let that defeat slow you down. Over the next two and a half years you won 10 of 12 fights culminating in your 11th round TKO victory over Mark Breland on August 22, 1987 for the welterweight championship. Before turning pro in 1984 Mark Breland had won every amateur title including an unprecedented five New York Golden Gloves championships and an Olympic gold medal.

Marlon: I knocked him out but I still got the worst ass whippin’ I ever took. His jab hurt like most guys right hand, and he was hitting me with that jab. His jab broke my nose. I should have boxed the man, worked my way in, feint the man, and do all this, but at the time I wanted that world championship. I got it, but I had to pay to get in. My strategy was to wear him down with body punches. Once I got inside I was banging that body. I didn’t like to pay the price but I had to.  

Mike: You also had a huge edge in professional experience—45 pro fights and 287 rounds to his 18 fights and 76 rounds. And you had fought tougher competition. 

Marlon: Yes, my experience was a factor but also my professionalism, my conditioning and my willingness not to quit. But you know what? Mark Breland became one of my best friends. We talk every other week. He is a good man. I respect him to the utmost. 

Mike: You fought a rematch with Breland eight months later that ended in a 12 round draw. Most observers thought you deserved the decision.  

Marlon: Mark was a bit better in the second fight. I was better too and got hit less this time. I deserved to win that fight but he was an Arum fighter and they didn’t want him to lose. 

Mike: Your victory over Breland won you partial recognition as welterweight champion. England’s Lloyd Honeyghan had defeated your nemesis Donald Curry two years earlier and was recognized as champion by a rival sanctioning group. In early 1989 you and Honeyghan met to unify the title. You stopped him in the 9th round.  Tell me about that fight: 

Marlon: Now Lloyd Honygan was a whole different ball game. I knew I was going to beat him up.  

Mike: I recently watched a tape of the Honeyghan fight and you weren’t doing much for the first 3 or 4 rounds. Was that part of your strategy? 

Marlon:  The first two rounds I was just getting his technique…see what he’s doing…getting his timing down…getting his moves down. Lloyd was a good puncher but what good is a puncher if he ain’t gonna hit you? It’s all about hit and don’t get hit. I didn’t want to get careless. One time I did get careless and he hit me on top of the head and buckled my feet a little bit. Lloyd was a southpaw and every time he threw that right jab I’d counter with a right cross. If I showed him a feint and he put that left hand out I countered with the right. By the 5th or 6th round if I said jump he’d jump. He was actually waiting for it to happen. I mean by the 5th round I had this guy scared to punch. I was not what you’d call a knock out fighter but I’d get your attention with everything I’d throw. 

Mike: Honeyghan had a big reputation coming into that fight, running up a string of impressive victories including a TKO of Donald Curry. Do you consider the Honeyghan fight your greatest career accomplishment? 

Marlon: Most fans would think that but Lloyd Honeyghan was one of my easiest fights ever as a professional. I mean he played right into my hands. Maybe I was just so eager and wanted to get him so bad. I was sharp that night. I would rather get knocked out than take a beating like he did. Nobody needs to take a beating like that. I know he wore that fight for a long time.” 

Mike: About a year after your victory over Honeyghan you put on 10 pounds and challenged middleweight champion Michael Nunn. You lost a 12 round decision. That was the only time you ever fought as a middleweight. 

Marlon: I was at the point where I said to myself there is nobody else in the world that can beat me at welterweight so I moved up a weight class to fight Nunn. What did I have to lose? He wasn’t a big puncher and I believed I could beat this guy even though he was undefeated and a southpaw. But he was a little quicker than I thought and a lot taller. That’s not an excuse why I lost that fight. In the middle of the third or fourth round I had him in the corner and I took my gloves and I like dug them into his face and he said to me, ‘c’mon man fight fair’. I decided to just get in there and box him.  I turned the fight into a sparring session. I didn’t go get him like I should have. That particular day he was a little sharper than I was. He won that fight because he worked harder. But you know what? After the fight we went out and had dinner together. 

Mike: Who trained you?

Marlon: My first trainer was Johnny Duke. He trained me as an amateur and in my early years as a pro. For a little while Eddie Futch trained me but we had a falling out and I let Eddie go. After that Freddie Roach, who worked with Eddie, became my trainer. But for most of my career my trainer was Marlon Starling. They just had to keep me in line with the training regimen. Whatever happened in my career happened for a reason. When I got with Freddie I finished with Freddie. He didn’t have to do a lot to get me ready—just sharpen me up. We were friends. 

Mike: What do you think of today’s top fighters? Do any of them stand out? 

Marlon: I watch the fights on TV now and then but I couldn’t tell you. There are too many champions. If one of them walked by me I would ask ‘who was that?’ I mean when I was fighting I knew everybody in the top ten. Now I don’t know who they are. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to degrade anybody. I just don’t know. But from what I see when I do watch the fights a lot is missing. They have a title but they don’t have the skills.

Mike: What is missing?

Marlon: I don’t see things that they should have been taught to do years ago. Listen, you can win a title with a three punch combination— left jab, right cross, left hook. You don’t see too many people throwing that combination. You don’t even see a double jab. If you throw a punch you have to bring it back from where you threw it, because if you don’t I’m going to make you pay for it. If you throw that right hand out you’ve got to bring it right back to your face. A lot of times I see a fighter throw the right and it comes back to his chest. I will counter punch you all day if you do that. You’ll be afraid to throw punches if I was in the ring with you. If all you know is “fight” I can beat you. I’m not going to fight you. I’m going to box you and win. Most of the guys when under pressure all they know is “fight”. They don’t know the professionalism of being a good boxer. Anybody could fight. Dogs fight. You’ve got to outthink the other fighter. What I mean by outthink is that sometimes you have to outfight your opponent. I’m not fighting with a guy that punches like hell. I’m going to box you, until you get tired, and then I’m going to fight you. I was a thinking fighter. I didn’t fight the fighters and I didn’t box the boxers. 

      “Today’s boxers have more toughness than knowledge. You can be tough. I love to fight the tough guys because they don’t have the knowledge. A good right hand, a good jab, and a good left hook. You have those three punches you can go places. If you don’t have a great jab it’s like training with one arm. Everything works off the jab, at least as far as I’ve been taught.”

Mike: I noticed in reviewing your fights that you rarely got trapped on the ropes or in the corner. 

Marlon: Ring generalship. Like I told people – ‘this is my house (the ring)’. I live here. I know that square. I got radar in back of me telling me ‘you’re coming close to the ropes, you’re coming close to the corner.’ You had to know these things.” 

Mike: You were very strong at 147 pounds. You had huge shoulders and a powerful physique. Many fighters today lift weights to increase strength. Did you ever lift weights as part of your training routine?  

Marlon: No, never. You know lifting weights tighten you up. I got most of my strength and power from punching the bag and training.”

Mike: You were sometimes criticized for showboating during a fight. In fact, your occassional clowning may have cost you the first Curry fight. Did you do it to play to the audience or confuse your opponent? 

Marlon: I don’t showboat. It’s all right if you do a move and knock the guy out– then it’s all right. But if something doesn’t happen then you’re accused of showboatin’. Sometimes it’s just in your rhythm. You couldn’t tell me ‘Oh Marlon do the Starling Stomp.’  I mean it wasn’t planned.  I was just in the moment. Emotions come with this sport. I wasn’t trying to showboat. I was just trying to be me trying to get what I can get out of this guy. 

Mike: In 1980, in only your sixth pro fight, you had the misfortune of fatally injuring your opponent Charley Newell. He never recovered from the brain injury and passed away nine days later. In spite of this tragedy you made the decision to continue with your career. 

Marlon: I had previously fought him in an amateur fight when he was in prison. Charley Newell was a bully on the street but to me he wasn’t a bad person. We fought at the Civic Center in Hartford. I think it was January 9th. I hit him with a combo and knocked him out. I was working a job at that time and I went to work the next morning and I got a call that Charley Newell had passed away and that really bothered me. My parents always worried about what’s going to happen to me. I never worried about it. I came back for his funeral and his parents came up to me. His mother said to me ‘my son passed away doing something that he loved to do, don’t ever stop what you want to do.’ What she told me gave me the confidence to continue with my career. 

Mike: Tommy Hearns was welterweight champion while you were an up and coming prospect. You weren’t ready to take him on but you did spar with him while he was preparing for the Sugar Ray Leonard fight in 1981. What did you learn from that experience?   

Marlon: I got an offer to go to Vegas to work as a sparring partner and help Hearns get ready for Leonard. It was an opportunity for me to see what I could do with the ‘big boys’ out there. I sparred with Tommy and he broke my jaw but they knew I got the better of that sparring session. How do I know? They kept Milton McCrory far away from me after that. (Author’s Note: Milton McCrory, a future champion, was Hearns’s stablemate and a rising star in the welterweight division).  

Mike: A few years after that sparring session you were ready to challenge Hearns or Leonard but you never fought them. Why not?

Marlon: Marlon Starling fought everyone out there. The reason why I didn’t fight Leonard or Hearns is because my name wasn’t that big. I trained with Tommy but they just didn’t want to take a chance and give up something they had. That’ why they didn’t fight me…they couldn’t make a lot of money fighting me. 

Mike: Marlon, you lost the welterweight title to Maurice Blocker in your very last bout on August 19, 1990. The 12 round majority decision was very close and could have gone either way. You were only 30 years old and still a top rated welterweight. Why did you decide to retire? 

Marlon: I don’t think he won but it wasn’t one of my best fights. I quit the ring because the promoters and managers were making more money than me and they weren’t taking the punches.

Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science and Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. Both books are available on Amazon.com.


END

Long Time Coming: Tony DeMarco To Finally Be Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Tony DeMarco To Be Inducted

Into The 

International Boxing Hall Of Fame

By Bobby Franklin

Former Undisputed Welterweight Champion and Boston favorite son Tony DeMarco was known in his day campaigning in the professional ring as having  a devastating knockout punch. In 58 victories he kayoed 33 opponents. While he did go the distance on a number of occasions, no fight lasted as long as the time he has waited to be honored with an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. Politics and personalities play a role in these things, but Tony is finally being recognized for the great champion he was and is. It is an honor he deserved long ago and, as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait.

Tony will be inducted on the weekend of June 6, 2019. He will now be part of the Hall of Fame that includes his most famous rival and long time friend, the late Carmen Basilio. 

Tony With Trainer Sammy Fuller After Winning The Title

Tony’s boxing career was remarkable. During his 14 years in the professional ring he defeated eight world champions. The biggest of these victories came on the night of April 1, 1955 when he won the welterweight title from champion Johnny Saxton with a brutal 14th round knockout. It was an impressive performance in the Boston Garden just down the street from where Tony lived. He was magnificent that night putting on an outstanding performance. He had his shot at the title and was not going to let it get away from him.

During his 14 years in the professional ring he defeated eight world champions.

Later that same year he would lose the championship to Carmen Basilio. In the Basilio fight Tony was ahead on all the score cards and was headed to victory when he ran out of gas. The bout was voted Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine, and it was one of the most exciting ring battles of all time. Carmen and Tony became friends and remained close until Carmen’s death in 2012. 

It is important to remember that when Tony was champion there were only 8 recognized divisions with one champion in each of those different weight classes. In contrast to today when it seems like anybody with a couple of pro fights is called champion, Tony DeMarco was truly a world champion. 

Tony DeMarco was born January 14, 1932 on Fleet Street in Boston’s North End. His original name was Leonardo Liotta. He changed it so he could fight in the amateurs. He was too young at the time to compete as an amateur boxer, so he borrowed the name of a boy who was old enough. The name stuck and he continued using it for the rest of his life.

Tony Lands A Solid Right On Carmen Basilio

In a professional career that spanned the years from 1948 to 1962, the “Fury of Fleet Street” compiled a record of 58 wins, 12 losses, and 1 draw. Among his opponents, you will see listed, in addition to Basilio and Saxton, the names Johnny Cesario, George Araujo, Jimmy Carter, Chico Vejar, Vince Martinez, Gaspar Ortega, Denny Moyer, Don Jordan, Walter Byers, and Kid Gavilan. That’s a pretty amazing array of talent, and is just part of the list. With a pulverizing left hook, Tony was never in a dull fight. A Tony DeMarco fight was always an electrifying experience.

Tony With Hs Wife Dottie and Joe DeNucci

In 1962, Tony retired from the ring. For a time he lived in Phoenix, Arizona where he ran a successful night club. He later returned to Boston where he still lives with his lovely wife and best friend Dottie, not far from where he won the title. In 2011 his autobiography, Nardo: Memoirs Of A Boxing Champion, was published. If you haven’t yet read it I urge you to get a copy. It is a fascinating story. 

Tony DeMarco With Long Time Friend Mike Pusateri

Fleet Street has been renamed Tony DeMarco Way in his honor. On October 20, 2012 a statue of Tony was erected at the corner of Hanover and Cross Streets, the entrance to the North End. The beautiful statue represents just how well loved and respected he is by the people of Boston. 

The main criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame is a fighter’s record in the ring. By that standard alone Tony should have been inducted years ago. But there is more to being a champion than wins in the ring. A true champion also knows how to carry himself with dignity and a strong measure of character. Tony DeMarco passes this test with flying colors. He has never forgotten where he came from. He greets everyone he meets with a warm smile and is quick to answer questions and to share stories of his long and remarkable life. For a man who has received so many honors and accolades, he has never allowed it to go to his head. Tony is always Tony.

Tony DeMarco In A Contemplative Mood

On January 14 Tony DeMarco will turn 87 years old. The honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame will be a great gift for him to celebrate. There is, however, an even greater gift he can cherish. That is the love the people of Boston have for him. No matter how many years have passed since he was champion, the affection shown him by those who live in Boston and those in the world of boxing has never faded, in fact it has grown. 

We are all very proud to know Tony will receive this honor, but he was in the Hall of Fame of the people of Boston years ago. We love you Tony and share in your joy!

The International Boxing Hall of Fame is located at 1 Hall of Fame Drive, Canastota, NY. The phone number is 315.697.7095. There website is: www.ibhof.com

Induction weekend runs from June 6 through June 9, 2019.


Review: “Man In The Ring” At The Huntington

A Compelling And Intense 

Life Story Of Emile Griffith 

At The Huntington

Man In The Ring

By Michael Cristofer

Directed by Michael Greif

Through December 22

The Huntington Theatre Company

Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Kyle Vincent Terry and John Douglas Thompson
(Photo: T. Charles Erikson)

I was apprehensive when going to see Man In The Ring. The play by Michael Cristofer recounts the life of six time world boxing champion Emile Griffith. Mr. Cristofer had not even heard of Griffith until being asked to write the libretto for an opera about the former champ. That experience led to him writing the play. Given that, I thought this could turn out to be a real mess. 

I felt there was so much he would get wrong.  Boxing is a complicated, dark, and emotional sport. Emile Griffith’s life story is a complex one that is filled with many contradictions along with much success and terrible tragedy. There are a number of different parts of his life that could have dominated this work, but Mr. Cristofer has done a masterful job of giving us a complete and honest portrait of Griffith’s life. 

The fact that Mr. Cristofer did not have previous knowledge of Emile Griffith has proven to be an asset when it comes to telling the story. He comes to it with a blank slate and gets all of it right. Along with writing theatre reviews, I have also been a boxing writer for a number of years, as well as having spent a lifetime around the sport. If anyone would be sitting in a theatre looking for flaws in the story it would be me. It turns out I would have to dig pretty deep to point out any mistakes here. I was very impressed, and I am not easily impressed by boxing dramatizations.

Emile Griffith is played by two actors. Kyle Vincent Terry is the young Emile while John Douglas Thompson is Griffith in his later years, when the effects of the punches he took have begun to appear in what was known as Dementia Pugilistica, today as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Both actors appear on the stage together throughout most of the play, with the older Emile looking back on his youthful self while reflecting on the choices he made. It is fascinating watching the story unfold in this manner. There are times when the two have exchanges. 

John Douglas Thompson
Photo: (T. Charles Erickson)

John Douglas Thompson is among the finest stage actors performing today, and it is uncanny how he captures Griffith in the years when his mind is beginning to fade. In scenes that are both funny and tragic the effects of the dementia as it progresses are brought to the audience. One such moment occurs when Luis (Victor Almanzar), Emile’s lover and now caretaker brings him his shoe which ended up in the refrigerator. The exchange between the two is quite funny but also very sad. 

Kyle Vincent Terry’s young Emile is filled with the positivity and optimism that was Griffith (“Always hang your hat higher than you can reach”). The magnificently built immigrant from St.Thomas arrived in New York City to join his mother. He decided to come to the States to make it as a baseball player and/or singer. He also had quite a knack for making lady’s hats. This led him to a job with a fellow named Howie Albert (Gordon Clapp), a once aspiring boxer who now runs a millenary business. He was immediately taken by Griffith’s physique and talked him into taking up boxing. Mr. Terry really impressed me as Emile. As they would say in boxing “You got what it takes kid’, and he sure does.

Gordon Clapp and Kyle Vincent Terry
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Boxing fans will notice the absence of Emile’s trainer Gil Clancy in the play. This is not an oversight, the author has rolled Clancy and Albert into one character. It works very well. Mr. Cristofer also, and I am not sure if this is intentional, shows how poorly Griffith was managed at the beginning of his career. Emile is what is known as a “survivor” in boxing. His was repeatedly thrown in with opponents who were far ahead of him in experience yet still managed to win. Albert didn’t develop a great fighter, he got lucky. Emile had incredible natural talent and a head for boxing. He was mostly self taught.

Kyle Vincent Terry and Cast
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Griffith’s bisexuality was always an open secret in boxing and could have dominated this play. It certainly and rightly is a major part of the story, and Emile’s ambiguity about it is shown. His lifestyle was rarely if ever publicly discussed, that is until the weigh-in for his third fight with Welterweight Champion Benny “Kid” Paret (Sean Boyce Johnson). The scene is staged with an emotional intensity that reaches out to the back rows of the theater. Paret’s shouting “Maricon” (a Spanish slur for a gay man) at Emile caused the lighthearted challenger to lose his temper. 

What occurs next is seared into the memories of older boxing fans. In the fight which was broadcast live on nationwide television, Griffith unleashed a vicious beating on Paret while knocking him senseless. Paret would die ten days later. I have read that an earlier production of this play had trouble staging this scene. Director Michael Grief along with fight directors Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet pull it off brilliantly. Using a revolving boxing ring, a tall projection screen showing footage from the actual fight, as well as using stop action effects with flash bulbs going off brings that terrible event vividly to life. Paret’s wife Lucia (Carla Martina), standing above and to the side of the action tells us what was going on with Benny before the fight. Lucia is joined by Emile’s mother Emelda (Krystal Joy Brown) and Paret’s manager Manuel Alfaro (Eliseo Gatta) in giving all the background that led up to this tragic outcome. They make it clear Paret never should have been in the ring that night. It is very, very powerful. Whether or not you are a boxing fan, you do not want to miss this.

There is music throughout the play. Caribbean children’s songs are sung by the actors accompanied by two musicians. It is not a musical, but the music is an integral part of the play, and just wonderful.

CastOf Man In The Ring
)Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Man In The Ring is a complex work about a paradoxical man. Emile was a fun loving gentle man in the most violent of professions. A man who spent much time at gay bars while participating in the manliest of sports (this was at a time when being gay was equated with being a “sissie”). He was deeply effected by the death of Paret yet kept fighting for years after, though it was apparent he no longer fought with the same intensity.

As the play nears its conclusion we see Emile, now deeply suffering the effects of CTE, being brought to meet with Benny Paret’s son in a park. Emile is confused but the moment is touching. Young Paret, Luis, and Griffith are all involved in trying to make sense out of what happened. 

As a boxing historian I found so much in this play. The accuracy is just stunning. Mr. Cristofer not only did incredible research, but he also understands the subject.This is very impressive for a boxing “civilian”.

As a play reviewer, I saw an amazing work of theatre. This can be called a boxing play, and boxing fans should definitely see it. It is an important piece of work that should be added to the great literature on boxing. 

Beyond being a great boxing play, Man In The Ring is amazing theatre. It is impressive how much is covered in just 110 minutes. The entire cast and production team are nothing short of outstanding. It would be foolish to miss any work with John Douglas Thompson in it, but this work is solid from top to bottom.  

You might think I am giving this high praise because of my boxing background. If anything, my knowledge of the subject would have been more likely to have caused me to go negative. The fact that Mr. Cristofer was able to impress me speaks very well to this play. I brought an extra critical eye to the Huntington on the evening I saw Man In The Ring. I can assure you, you will not be disappointed in this play. It is a great boxing story, it is a great human story, it is great theatre. I highly recommend Man In The Ring.

huntingtontheatre.org 617.266.0800

“No Mas” Revisted

Leonard vs Duran II

Why Did Duran Quit?

By Bobby Franklin

When Sugar Leonard and Roberto Duran faced each other in the ring for the first time, it was for the welterweight title being held by Leonard. The fight took place on June 20, 1980 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada. It was built up as, and lived up to, being one of the best world championship fights in history. It was supposed to pit the matador, Leonard, vs the bull, Duran. However, things turned out a bit differently as Leonard decided to meet the bull on his own terms and slug with Duran.

The hype leading up to the fight was particularly ugly with Duran at his worst with vulgar language and gestures. He even went as far as making lewd comments about Ray’s wife. Today we look at Duran as an elder statesman of boxing, but it has to be remembered that he was as brutal with his words outside the ring as he was with his fists inside of the ropes. Winning didn’t change his tone either. In an earlier fight, after he knocked out Ray Lampkin and was told Lampkin was taken to a hospital Duran responded “I was not in my best condition. Today I sent him to the hospital. Next time I’ll put him in the morgue.” Hardly the words of a gracious winner.

In spite of all this, Duran was an immensely popular champion in his prime, particularly with his fellow countrymen from Panama, where he was a national hero. He was also a fan favorite in the states because of his non stop acton style and amazing knock out record. A Roberto Duran fight was always exciting.

Sugar Ray Leonard also had a huge following. He first made headlines when he won Olympic Gold at the 1976 Games held in Montreal. Ray was an exciting fighter with a captivating smile. His fast hands and power punching were a throwback to great fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson. 

The excitement that existed around the first Leonard/Duran fight was amazing. It rivaled a big heavyweight fight in interest, and was one of those matches that drew non fight fans. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone had an opinion on it. On entering the ring the two fighters had a combined record of 98 wins and 1 loss. Duran had many more pro fights than Leonard, 72 vs 27, but Ray did have a very extensive amateur career. These were two very experienced champions facing one another.

The fight lived up to expectations but with a slight twist. Leonard decided to eschew his boxing skills and instead went toe to toe with Duran. It was not a wise decision on Ray’s part but it sure made for quite the slugfest. Though it may have been a strategic mistake, Leonard did show he could stand up to Duran on Roberto’s terms. While the decision was not controversial, it was close.  

After winning the decision, Duran was on top of the world. He returned home and began partying. His weight ballooned and he did no training. Meanwhile, Ray Leonard became focused on what went wrong and what he could do to defeat Roberto in a rematch. He was motivated and wanted revenge.

During negotiations for the two to meet again, Carlos Eleta, Duran’s manager, agreed to have them face each other just five months after the first fight. This gave Duran only a short time to lose weight and get fit both physically and mentally to face Leonard again. It was something he was not able to do.

On the night of the return fight, November 11, 1980 at the Superdome in New Orleans, a very different Roberto Duran stepped into the ring. In contrast to the high energy “Hands of Stone” who bounded into the ring in Montreal, this Duran looked tentative and not sharp. He appeared lackluster climbing up the steps into the ring.

Before any fight a boxer’s mind can play tricks on him. His thoughts go back to training and whether or not he did everything he could to be prepared. Second thoughts can haunt a man who is about to step into the ring; “Why didn’t I run those extra miles? Why didn’t I spar more rounds”? As Shakespeare once wrote “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” Was Duran’s mind playing games with him that November night? Were his thoughts causing him to fear attempting to beat Leonard again?  In retrospect, you can see something, or the lack of, in his eyes before the bell rang. 

It is also interesting to note that when the first round started Roberto extended a glove to Leonard. It was almost like a peace offering. It was a brief gesture and went unnoticed by those at ringside, but it tells a lot about his state of mind as the fight began. It was as if he wanted to make friends, very uncharictaristic for Duran.

For his part, Leonard employed an entirely different tactic in this fight. He came out circling and jabbing. When Duran got close to him he was able to tie him up and take away his inside game. Ray had learned from his mistakes and was waging a brilliant fight. He was moving, throwing combinations, making Duran miss. Ray was performing a well choreographed dance of violence, and while he may not have been hurting Duran physically with his punches, he was making him feel foolish and helpless in there. Duran did not have the fire to match Ray’s skill.

In Duran’s mind he had to be thinking “This guy gave me a tough fight on my terms when I was in great shape, now I am not in great shape and he is dictating what is happening in here”. He was becoming frustrated.

In the 7th round Leonard really turned it on. He dropped his hands and dared Duran to try and hit him. He wound up with punches. Ray, through his action, was telling Roberto he wasn’t man enough to be in there with him. 

In the 8th round Roberto just threw up his hands and quit. He didn’t appear to be hurt, he just tuned to the referee and said he was done. People at ringside and those watching around the world were stunned by this. It was so far away from the image of Duran as to be completely unbelievable. Something serious had to have happened. In that one moment, Duran’s career went up in flames. His victory over Leonard five months earlier was forgotten. He was labeled with the worst name in boxing; “A quitter”. How could this have happened.

Roberto has never really given an explanation. It is likely he himself really doesn’t understand why he did what he did. It was something that just happened. Some say he got stomach cramps and had to go to the bathroom. It has been suggested he was intentionally throwing the fight and was supposed to go 15 rounds and lose a decision building up a rematch but grew impatient and just decided to end it then. I don’t believe any of this.

Roberto Duran was not ready mentally or physically for this fight. His doubts were preying on his mind. It wasn’t getting hit that was bothering him. In fact, if he had been getting beaten while in a slugfest he most likely would have gone down fighting. What happened here was he was feeling humiliated, and he had no idea how to deal with it. The world was looking at him and he felt like a fool. His reaction was to turn and get away from it. i believe it was as simple as that. Did he regret it? Of course, and for years, twenty years in fact, he continued fighting to prove himself. He never came close to quitting again. In many ways he did vindicate himself, his tough fifteen rounds against Marvin Hagler helped. But Roberto Duran and the words “no mas” will always be linked together. It’s amazing how the actions of just a few seconds can tarnish a reputation for life. 

Sugar Ray Robinson Went Out Fighting

Sugar Ray Robinson

Lost Title For Last Time In 1960

Kept Fighting Till 1965

By Bobby Franklin

By any measurement, Sugar Ray Robinson had a remarkable career. The man who has been called the greatest fighter pound for pound who ever laced on a pair of gloves had a total of 201 professional fights. Out of that number he lost only 19 times with 6 draws and 1 bout being ruled a no contest. As amazing as that record is, it is even more astounding when you consider that 12 of those 19 losses came after he lost the title to Paul Pender. Now, add in the fact that 5 of those defeats came in 1965, the last year of his career when the great champion was 45 years old.

In 1965 alone Robinson fought 12 times. He finished his career being very active, fighting twice a month on five occasions in just that one year. That’s amazing for a man of his age at the time. In that last year he also won more fights than he lost, posting 8 victories. 

After losing the title by a split decision to Pender in January of 1960, Robinson fought Paul again six months later, losing another split decision. Six months after that he would challenge Gene Fullmer for a version of the Middleweight Title in a bout that resulted in a draw. Just three months after that he would lose a decision to Fullmer. Remember, Robinson was doing all of this while he was forty years old.

In the 48 fights Robinson had after losing the crown to Pender five were against current, former, or future world champions. Out of those five he lost four decisions and had one draw. 

Today, it is not uncommon to hear the “experts” demean Robinson’s incredible talent. In an age where quantity trumps the quality of opposition, these “experts” love to play the numbers game. They will say things like “How great could Robinson have been? He lost 19 times.” What garbage.

Ray Dusts Off The Gloves For A Comeback

The number of wins a boxer has is less important than the quality of his opposition. But, in Robinson’s case, his record boasts both items. Robinson won his first 40 fights before losing a decision to Jake LaMotta. He had defeated Jake the previous year. After that loss he went on to have  90 straight fights without a loss, including 3 more wins over LaMotta. His final victory against Jake included winning the Middleweight Crown. He also won the Welterweight Title by defeating Tommy Bell.

Robinson, who began his career in 1940, would not taste defeat again until he lost the title to Randy Turpin in 1951. At that point in his career Robinson had a record of 129 wins against 1 loss and 2 draws. He regained the title from Turpin two months later. There’s the quantity. As far as quality goes? Just look at his record. Ray was fighting in an era that was dominated by great fighters, and he was competing in the division that had the largest number of them. What he accomplished was nothing short of phenomenal. 

Ray In His 201st Bout, Taking On Joey Archer.

Getting back to Sugar Ray’s post champion years, he never became an “opponent”. Up until his final fight he was campaigning for another shot at the title. In his last fight he took on leading contender Joey Archer. Joey won a ten round decision over Ray and just two fights later lost a split decision to Emile Griffith in a title fight. Even to the end and at the age of 45, Sugar Ray Robinson was in the mix of title contenders. 

If Robinson had retired after losing the crown to Pender, his record would stand at 143 wins, 7 losses, and 2 draws. He was only stopped once, and that was in his challenge to win the Light Heavyweight Championship from Joey Maxim. In that fight Ray collapsed from the heat and dehydration. 

It is a sad commentary that a great fighter like Sugar Ray Robinson should have his reputation questioned today, but that is the age we live in. Robinson’s achievements will never be matched. The Sugar Ray of 1965 would would have been able to handle today’s top middleweights. The younger Ray would have destroyed them. 

The next time you hear a “boxing expert” questioning Robinson’s abilities, just smile and walk away. That person wouldn’t know a left jab from a right cross.

Boxing’s Lessons

Punching From The Shadows

Memoir Of A Minor League Professional Boxer

Published By McFarland (McFarlandbooks.com) 

265pp

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Glen Sharp had a professional boxing career that consisted of three fights of which he lost two. In Punching From The Shadows: Memoir Of A Minor League Professional Boxer he chronicles his time in the ring and the gyms, along with his experiences with the many different and unusual characters that populated the world of boxing in the 1980s. He also discusses why a young man decides to take up such a brutal sport, and the effect it had on his life, both short and long term. 

Sharp has written a fast paced book that gives the reader much insight into what it takes to become a fighter. Unlike other sports from that era, when a young man would first enter a boxing gym it was very likely he would be training alongside seasoned professionals. This was true for the author, who would become friends with and a sparring partner for five time world title challenger Yaqui Lopez. I don’t think many young football players get a chance to workout with Tom Brady, but boxing was a very egalitarian sport. It was one of the things that made it so attractive.

Glen Sharp wasn’t some poor kid from the mean streets who sought out boxing as a means to escape a life of poverty. In fact, he explains how the belief that boxing is a poor man’s sport is overhyped. Dipping into the writings of Jose Ortega y Gasset as well as Homer, he describes boxing as a form of expression, an artistic pursuit. With the advances man has made, many skills that were once required for survival are no longer needed on a daily basis. However, there is still an urge in many a young man to test himself to see if he can pass the test when challenged on his ability to implement those qualities. These include strength, skill, courage, and endurance. Sharp found the best way for doing that was in taking up boxing.

Yaqui Lopez and Glen Sharp

In Punching Through The Shadows, Glen Sharp gives us an honest telling of his life in boxing. His self doubts and second guessing will be familiar to anyone who has taken a shot at practicing the sweet science. Along the way we meet people such as former Middleweight Champion Carl Bobo Olsen who trained Sharp for a period of time. Reading about the relationship between the former champ and the young prospect only strengthened my belief that having been a top ranked fighter does not necessarily mean you will be good at teaching the art of boxing. In fact, I came away from this book believing Glen Sharp gained more insight into what goes into making a boxer on his own than most trainers do. He really understands the “theory of boxing”.

In an interesting chapter entitled Boxing Is Economics Theory Expressed In The Flesh, Sharp, who has an undergraduate degree in economics puts that knowledge to use in explaining things like the cost/benefit calculation when throwing a punch. When a boxer throws a punch he is most vulnerable to being hit with one. How to mitigate that risk is something every fighter thinks of, though maybe not in economic theory terms. It makes for interesting reading.

When I say Sharp understands the “theory of boxing”, this is made very clear when he describes the styles of some of the leading boxers of the time. His analysis of Joe Frazier as not a slugger but as a skillfully aggressive boxer is both insightful and right on the mark. He also makes  great a point when he writes “What a fighter fears most is not physical discomfort…but rather a failure to live up to the image the fighter has of himself.” There are a number of such gems in this book.

Glen Sharp (left) On The Attack

Along with many insights into the world of boxing, Sharp also delivers a compelling personal story. His comparison of boxing with art  serves him well when discussing his own journey. His story is honest and open. He freely discusses his fears, his self doubts, and his disappointment in not being able to become a top boxer. Boxing is a sport of dreams that are rarely fulfilled. Glen Sharp, like just about any kid who ever put on a pair of boxing gloves, dreamed of one day becoming a world champion. As far a long shot as that is in reality, it is still painful to have to accept the fact that it just isn’t going to happen. In boxing, the default mode emotionally is to look upon one’s self as a failure in so many ways, most of all in believing it means you have failed the test of manhood. 

Sharp With Carl Bobo Olsen

It took Sharp some time to work his way through those feelings. After his third pro fight he stepped back from boxing. A while later he decided he wanted to give it another try. He still felt he could do it and the need to prove himself still burned inside of him. After speaking to a trainer and promoter about making a comeback, he was advised not to. It was a tough message to get and it hurt. He again uses the comparison with the arts to describe his feelings and how he dealt with this emotionally. It turns out he proved himself solidly.

When visiting a boxing gym today, the odds are you will see something more akin to a huge aerobics class setting than the boxing gyms from a few years back. Boxing gyms are now a platform for group exercise rather than places to learn the expressive art Sharp so well describes. He was around for the waning days of the old school boxing gyms and trainers who understood what it was all about. Punching Through The Shadows is a terrific chronicle of what boxing was and should be. It is also a great story of a young man’s quest to test himself and to deal with the emotional turmoil that is so much a passage into manhood.

If you spent time in a boxing gym before they became group fitness centers you will find much of what Sharp has written will bring back memories. If you missed out on those days, you will learn much about what it meant to train in an authentic boxing gym at a time when it was very different than today.

Glen Sharp With His wife Punky

I can’t think of another boxing book out there that gives such an inside look at what it was like to pursue the dream of boxing in the way Glen Sharp did. It is a great read on so many levels. Most of all, it is a very human story. I doubt there are many who will not be able to relate to some portions of Sharp’s book. I know I did.