Category Archives: Boxing Articles

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.

 

When Fenway Park Packed A Punch

A Brief Look At The Time Boxing Matches Were Held At Fenway Park

By Bobby Franklin

Fenway Park 1912

Fenway Park is the home to a team that can now be called among the best, if not the the best, in baseball history. The Boston Red Sox were dominant this year and in the World Series. 

Fenway Park is the proud home to the Sox. It is considered one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country and one of the few remaining old time parks. Bostonians are not only proud of their team, they also take great pride in having such a wonderful home venue to host that team.

Fenway Park first opened in 1912. Over the years it has been the sight of baseball games. It has also been known to have other events as well. Among these were professional wrestling, rock concerts, ice hockey, football, ski jumping, and boxing.

The first boxing card to take place at Fenway was on Monday, August 11, 1919. In the main event that night, local boxer Frankie Britt won a 12 round decision over Ralph Brady in a lightweight battle.

There would be two more fight cards held at the park over the next year before taking a break. Boxing would resume being staged at Fenway on June 26, 1928 when Al Mello faced Billy Murphy for the New England Welterweight Title. Mello came away with a win after 12 rounds. Other local fighters who appeared that night included Hy Diamond, Charlie Donovan, Jack Donohue, and Ray Cross. They all were victorious.

There were 22 more fight cards held at Fenway from 1928 through 1937. The last during that period was held on August 24, 1937 when Tony Shucco and Al McCoy fought to a draw in the main event promoted by Rip Valenti. There would not be another fight held there until after WWII. 

During those years there were a number of great venues for staging boxing matches. These included the Boston Garden, Boston Arena, the Mechanics Building, and another ballpark; Braves Field.

Staging an outdoor fight always came with the risk of bad weather forcing a cancellation or hurting attendance. Often times big title fights were held outdoors because they could accommodate the huge crowds eager to attend so the risk was worth taking.  I don’t believe crowd capacity was the reason for holding outdoor fights in Boston. It more likely was because it is such an attractive place to be on a warm summer night. Also, in the days before air conditioning was widespread it could be a nice alternative to sitting in a stuffy arena.

During the 1930s some of the world’s leading contenders made appearances at Fenway Park. The ill fated Earnie Schaaf lost a decision to Babe Hunt on September 2, 1930. Tony Shucco fought there again in 1937 when he lost a decision to top contender Natie Brown. Maxie Rosenbloom defeated Joe Barlow there in 1932, and the great Kid Chocolate also fought at Fenway in 1932 defeating Steve Smith by decision. Future heavyweight king James J. Braddock made his only appearance at the park when he won a decision over Joe Monte in 1930.

 

Jack Sharkey vs Phil Brubaker

In 1936 former heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey, on the comeback trail, took on Phil Brubaker in a ten round main event at Fenway. He came away winning a close ten round decision. The Associated Press gave this report on the fight:

“Jack Sharkey projected himself back into the heavyweight picture today as the result of a close but convincing 10 round victory over young Phil Brubaker. Sharkey got up off the floor at Fenway Park last night, gave the 22 year old Brubaker an artistic boxing lesson, and promptly served notice that he’s serious about making a comeback. Knocked down, cut and battered by Brubaker’s first round rush, Sharkey rallied to outbox, outpunch and outpoint the California clouter. The 33 year old ex-champion, all things considered, waged one of his best fights to score an uphill victory.” 

The win would earn Sharkey a match against an up and coming heavyweight contender by the name of Joe Louis. Jack would retire after losing to Louis.

Boxing returned to Fenway in 1945 when two aging former heavyweight contenders faced off. Tami Maurlello took on Lou Nova. Both had challenged Joe Louis for the championship years before and were at the tail end of their careers. Tami showed he still had quite a bit of fire in him when he destroyed Nova in the first round, dropping him less then a minute into the fight. He then opened a cut over Lou’s left eye before finishing him off with a right to the jaw.

There would only be two more fight cards promoted at Fenway Park and they would be in the mid 1950s. Both would be headlined by one of the most exciting fighters to ever come out of Boston, the great Tony DeMarco.

In 1954, hot on the trail for a shot at the world welterweight title, Tony showed his vaunted power when he stopped George Araujo in the 5th round. Araujo put up a valiant effort but was outgunned by the power punching DeMarco.

The final boxing show to be held at Fenway Park took place on June 16, 1956 when Tony DeMarco once again headlined a show promoted by Sam Silverman. Tony was now the former welterweight champ, but was on the comeback trail coming off two wins since losing the title to Carmen Basilio.

Tony DeMarco Celebrates Victory Over Vince Martinez At Fenway Park

Tony showed he was still a serious contender to be dealt with as he won a ten round decision from the very talented Vince Martinez. Martinez started fast, winning the early rounds, but Tony came on to dominate the rest of the fight nearly stopping Vince in the tenth round.

I don’t know if Boston will ever again see another boxing show at Fenway Park, but it sure would be exciting. Taking a seat at ringside on that field of dreams would be an unforgettable experience. Maybe some promoter will consider doing it again.

BOXING’S FIVE DECADE MEN

BOXING’S FIVE DECADE MEN  

By

Mike Silver   

    

Barkley vs Duran

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet up with the great Roberto Duran. The legendary four division world champion was the guest of honor at the annual Ring 10 Veteran Boxers Association benefit. It was a rare public appearance for the now 67 year old warrior. Yes, 67! As expected, Duran’s presence electrified the 400 plus fans in attendance. 

      The fighter nicknamed “Manos de Piedre” (Hands of Stone) engaged in 119 bouts and knocked out 70 opponents. While those stats are indeed impressive (especially the number of knockouts) they are not unique. Boxers who accumulated 100 or more bouts were quite common during the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, 55 other pro boxers have knocked out 70 or more opponents. But, in spite of that, Roberto Duran’s record stands out for another reason that very few can match: He is one of only three boxers in the entire history of the sport who fought in five consecutive decades.

           What qualities did these boxers possess that allowed them to survive for so many years in their brutal profession? I came to the conclusion that the first ingredient had to be a deep understanding of their craft. All three were well schooled in the finer points of boxing technique.  That quality was further enhanced by the seasoning they gradually acquired during their first decade of competition. On top of that they had to be flexible enough to make the necessary adjustments as they aged. It also helped that all three had great chins. 

       These boxers weren’t just great athletes—they were very smart athletes. They were able to compensate for deteriorating speed and reflexes by combining experience with superior athletic intelligence and excellent defensive strategies. Even near the end of their careers they were rarely knocked out or subject to a sustained beating. It was a method utilized to great success by two former champions who stretched their careers to the maximum and are among the dozen master boxers who just missed the five decade mark: Welterweight champion Jack Britton (1904-1930) and light heavyweight champion Archie Moore (1935-1963). Both used an amalgam of those four skill sets—athletic intelligence, flexibility, superior defensive strategies, and vast experience— to keep them in the game long after their contemporaries had retired. 

      I could have added another master boxer to the list, the former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. But despite his having fought in five consecutive decades (1897-1930) there were several gaps in his record. Johnson remained active up to his winning the title in 1908. But from 1911 to 1930 there were seven years in which he did not engage in a single prizefight. I felt this was too much inactivity, even for a five decade man, so I decided that only a fighter with not more than three separate years without a fight could qualify. Those ground rules would have applied to George Foreman as well. Big George fought in four separate decades (1964-1997) but was idle from 1978 to 1986, so even if he had fought into a fifth decade that lengthy stretch of inactivity would disqualify him.   

   In chronological order here are the three members of the exclusive “Five Decade” club:

KId Azteca

Kid Azteca: Professional career 1929 to 1961. Won-lost-draw record: 192-47-11, including 114 wins by knockout . 

   A legend in Mexico, and one of that country’s greatest fighters, the 5’8” 147 pound welterweight had his first pro bout when Herbert Hoover was president, Babe Ruth was still belting out home runs for the Yankees, and Gene Tunney was heavyweight champion. When, 32 years later, he entered the ring at age 47 for his last pro bout Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were the home run kings for the Yankees, Floyd Patterson was heavyweight champion, and John F. Kennedy was president. But longevity is not the only item that distinguishes Azteca’s boxing career. He was a top ten title contender for seven years. Between October 1933 and May 1941 (40 months) Azteca was ranked as high as the #1 world welterweight contender by The Ring magazine. 

      

Kid Azteca

Kid Azteca earned his rating with wins over contenders Joe Glick, Young Peter Jackson, Eddie Kid Wolfe, Baby Joe Gans, the Cocoa Kid, Izzy Jannazzo, Morrie Sherman and future middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia (two out of three). In 1939 he lost a close decision to future welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic. After losing twice to Zivic in return matches Azteca finally gained a victory in 1947. Other notable opponents were Jackie Wilson, Baby Casanova, Bep Van Klaveren, Leon Zorrita and former lightweight champion Sammy Angott. Most of his fights took place in Mexico City but he also appeared in Los Angeles, Texas and South American rings. There are no gaps in his record—he engaged in at least one or more fights every year from 1929 to 1961. 

    Throughout his life Kid Azteca remained hugely popular among his countrymen and even appeared in several movies produced in Mexico. Unfortunately there are no films of him in action. Nevertheless, I don’t think it would be a stretch, considering his career and high rating, to say that Azteca possessed an outstanding defense. Fighters who are “catchers” or who engage in too many wars are worn out quickly and cannot sustain a career anywhere near that length of time.

Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran:  Professional career 1968 to 2001. Won-lost record: 103-16, including 70 wins by knockout. 

     The street urchin who emerged from the slums of Panama to become one of the sport’s greatest and most charismatic champions turned pro at the age of 16. Five decades later, on July 14, 2001, in the final fight of his career, the 50 year old legend lost a unanimous 12 round decision to 39 year old Hector Camacho. 

     The Roberto Duran who lost to Camacho was many years passed his prime. He was not the same fighter who took down Ken Buchanan, Estaban DeJesus, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ray Lampkin, Pepino Cuevas and Iran Barkley. Nevertheless, he could still display the subtle boxing moves and ring smarts that kept him from being dominated by much younger opponents. 

       Roberto Duran was one of the greatest punchers in the history of the lightweight division. But, as sometimes happens with exciting punchers who can also box, their cleverness often goes unrecognized or underappreciated. Duran had a world of natural ability but he also was intelligent enough to understand that there was far more to this sport than throwing punches at an opponent. There is a telling quote in Kelly Nicholson’s excellent article on Duran (“The Panamanian Devil”, International Boxing Research Journal, September 2018): “As to the motivation for his career, Duran would say shortly before the first fight with Leonard, ‘I got into boxing to learn it…I didn’t enter the ring to get out of the gutter. Those are stories. I got into it because I like it.” 

       Duran’s nascent career benefited tremendously from the expert teaching of his two old school master trainers Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel. These two professors of pugilism had nearly 100 years of combined experience. They answered his desire to learn as much as possible about his craft, smoothed out the rough edges, and made him even more dangerous. They taught him the tricks of his trade and the result was that Duran eventually developed into the type of throwback fighter that is virtually extinct today. 

     Watch a video of any Duran fight after 1974 and you will see that even in his dotage he never gets trapped on the ropes, often rides with and slips punches aimed at his head and performs subtle feints to lure his opponents into making mistakes that are paid for with damaging and accurate counter punches (especially to the body). As he moved up in weight and as he aged Duran’s punch was not as devastating as it had been during his eight year tenure as lightweight champion. As a result, he had to rely more on his strategic boxing skills. To watch Roberto Duran fight is to experience a textbook lesson in the lost art of boxing. He is one of the few genuine ring greats who still walks among us. 

Sweet Saoul Mamby

Saoul Mamby: Professional career 1969 to 2008. Won-lost-draw record; 45-34-6, including 18 wins by knockout.  

     It is virtually impossible to go through an entire professional boxing career and expect to come through relatively unscathed. But if anyone came close to achieving such a goal that person would be Saoul Mamby, which is all the more remarkable since he had his last professional fight at the age of 60!

      Just as there are born punchers I believe there are also born boxers. What I mean is that some neophyte boxers seem to grasp the concepts of on balance defensive boxing more readily than most. Perhaps it’s a genetic disposition that tells them it is better to give than to receive. 

      Saoul Mamby never thought it a good idea to receive a punch in exchange for the opportunity to land one of his own. He did not seek a knockout victory, although if presented with the opportunity his solid right cross was capable of dropping an opponent. His basic strategy involved keeping his hands up to protect his chin, using a busy left jab to keep an opponent off balance, and always keep moving. He never threw a right hand punch unless he deemed it safe to do so. It was a style that didn’t win fans but it kept him from taking a sustained beating. Jim Corbett would have approved.    

     Mamby’s defensive prowess was put to the test when he faced a prime Roberto Duran on May 4, 1976 in a non-title 10 round bout. The lightweight champion tried mightily to make Mamby his 49th knockout victim. Duran won the unanimous decision but he did not come close to scoring a knockout. Six months later Mamby faced another test when he crossed gloves with the formidable former champion Antonio Cervantes who had knocked out nine of his previous ten opponents. Like Duran, Cervantes could not find his elusive opponent’s chin and had to settle for unanimous decision.  

         His first attempt to win a title occurred in 1977 and resulted in a controversial split decision loss to the WBC Super Lightweight champion Saensak Muangsurin. The fight took place in Thailand, the champion’s home turf. Mamby believed he was the victim of a hometown decision.

  

Saoul Mamby

  Three years later, in his second try for the 140 pound title, he challenged Sang Hyun Kim of Korea. Once again he found himself fighting in his opponent’s backyard. Not willing to take any chances on a hometown decision the 32 year old challenger displayed a more aggressive style and was intent on ending the fight before it went to a decision. In the 14th round, Mamby saw an opening and landed a powerful right cross on Kim’s jaw that dropped him for the full count.    

    Winning a world title seemed to energize Mamby and in his first defense he stopped former lightweight champion Estaban De Jesus in the 13th round. Four more successful defenses followed before he lost a controversial 15 round split decision to Leroy Haley. After outpointing Monroe Brooks he was given a chance to regain the title from Haley but lost another close decision. In 1984, in his final title challenge, he fought Billy Costello for the super lightweight championship and lost a 12 round unanimous decision. 

     By the 1990s Mamby was losing more often (he won only five of his last 17 bouts) but, win or lose, he continued to frustrate opponents. Mamby finally announced his retirement   on May 19, 2000 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was 52 years old. 

     Eight years later Mamby attempted a comeback. After being told that no boxing commission would dare license a 60 year old prizefighter Mamby found a place that would—the Cayman Islands. On March 8, 2008 he lost a 10 round decision to a 31 year old boxer with dismal 6-26 won-lost record. As usual Saoul emerged unscathed. As of today there are no plans for a comeback. 

End

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.

Introduction of Kid Azteca:


Roberto Duran Gives Master Class On Boxing:

Roberto Duran meets Brighton & Hove ABC from South Coast Productions on Vimeo.