Jack Be Nimble Jack Be Quick
While serving in a U.S. Army engineer battalion in Vietnam in 1966-67, Jack Obermayer was such a rabid boxing fan that he wrote a letter to Lew Eskin, who was then the publisher of Boxing Illustrated magazine, stating that if he made it back home he would like nothing better than to write for him.
He also used one of his leaves to travel to Bangkok, Thailand to see Walter McGowan lose his WBC flyweight title to Chartchai Chionoi by ninth round TKO on December 30, 1966. The very next day, Obermayer flew back to Vietnam to celebrate the New Year with his colleagues.
Obermayer never got a full-time job with Eskin, but he became a constant contributor to the magazine. Today, he is highly regarded by everyone in boxing as one of the foremost archivists in the sport. He has been attending boxing shows—both large and small—with regularity since 1979, and to this day uses loose-leaf notebooks to maintain detailed annual handwritten records of each fight on each card.
In late April he attended a show in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was his 48th state (the only states in which he has not seen a show are South Dakota and Alaska), and his 2,950th show. One of his goals has always been to attend 3,000 shows.
“I’ve been going to fights since 1963,” said the always enthusiastic Obermayer, who is the most youthful looking 61-year-old you will ever meet. “My first show ever was the Cassius Clay-Doug Jones fight at the old Garden. The day the tickets went on sale, I was eighth in line. I said I wanted two ringside seats, but was told the best available seats were in the twelfth row. It was a learning experience. I’ll never forget that night. The place was packed, it was a great fight, and there were cops on horseback. I always loved boxing, but from that day on I was hooked on being there live.”
Obermayer, who also has a well known affinity for vintage diners and steam locomotives, is often accompanied on his travels by Jeff Jowett, whom he affectionately refers to as Jowett Boy. In fact, everyone in any way related to Obermayer has a nickname. Eric Bottjer, the matchmaker for Don King Promotions, is “The Creep,” promoter Don Elbaum is “The Bum,” and Showtime announcer Steve Farhood, is “Far-huud,” presumably in deference to his Lebanese heritage.
A native of Staten Island, New York, the long divorced Obermayer now resides in Lindenwold, New Jersey, where he works part-time at Fight Fax. In his other career, from which he is now retired, he was the office manager of a small plastics firm owned by the father of his ex-wife. He must have been so effective at his job, his former father-in-law allowed him the time off to engage in his passion of traveling to fights, whether it was by car, rail or train.
“He gave me a lot of freedom,” said Obermayer, who has a 33-year-old daughter named Ellen and two grandchildren. “Even after his daughter and I broke up, he was very understanding.”
Among Obermayer’s favorite venues are the fabled Blue Horizon (“not just because it is close to home”), and Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Maryland, which he says has “great atmosphere because promoter Scott Wagner has gone to great lengths to create it.”
Over the years Obermayer has attended fights at some venues where only a hearty few would trek. “I was at one show in North Philadelphia, where you had to duck down to get in the door,” he said. “The place had no name, because it was really just a garage.”
He’s also seen fights throughout Las Vegas and at such expansive venues as Madison Square Garden and Yankee and Shea Stadiums. Some of his favorite fights occurred at MSG’s Felt Forum in the seventies. “They were always matching Puerto Ricans with Dominicans, and there were some wars,” recalled Obermayer. “Many times there were better fights in the stands than there were in the ring.”
Although he is far from being a curmudgeon—in fact he is totally the opposite—Obermayer, who is of Italian, German, Irish, Polish and Scottish descent, is entranced by things he considers vintage. He harkens back to a simpler time—such as the days before boxing had multiple titlists and diners advertised new age eating experiences.
“I’m kind of a simple guy, and my fascination with diners comes from the fact that they remind me of my teenage years,” he recalls. “My mother would send me off to church, and I would kill the time I was supposed to be in church at the local diner.”
When he met up with Jowett Boy in Atlantic City in the late seventies, he knew right away that they were kindred spirits. Both were diehard fans and inveterate record keepers. “We have totally different personalities - we’re like ying and yang - but we mix well,” said Obermayer. “We’ve been traveling together a long time, and still argue about the same things. It’s almost like a boxing marriage.”
Among Obermayer’s favorite old-time fighters are Emile Griffith and Chico Vejar, both of whom he says had names he always thought were “intriguing and cool.” Among the favorite characters he has met over the years are “Gypsy” Joe Harris, Tim Witherspoon, and Ray “Windmill” White, all of whom, he says, “had old time styles and/or great personalities.”
“Tim (Witherspoon) is still a kid at heart,” said Obermayer. “And he’s always got a smile on his face.”
Obermayer, who started writing for underground muckraker Flash Gordon in 1968, laughs off descriptions of him as being somewhat of a boxing eccentric, which in such an esoteric sport is an oxymoron.
“Boxing is my passion, and I’m lucky to have one,” he explained. “I’m hooked on the sport, whether I’m watching four-round preliminary kids or twelve-round title fights. Sometimes I get a bit jaded, and I don’t get as excited over things as I used to. The funny thing is that I used to have lots of boxing heroes, but now I’m older than most of them. My three favorite fighters of the modern era are Rocky Lockridge, Bobby Chacon and Matthew Saad Muhammad, and I’m older than all of them.”
A veteran of 23 amateur fights, of which he won 16, Obermayer never had any illusions about turning pro, even though he patterned his stance after Joey Archer.
“I’m very happy doing what I’m doing,” he laughs. “I don’t think the boxing world is any better or worse off over the fact that I never turned pro.”