While growing up in the Chicago suburb of Bloomingdale, Illinois, Bobby Hitz was a standout football player who many people believed was destined to play in the NFL.
But Hitz’s first love was always boxing, which he began participating in as a teenager. After winning local CYO and Golden Gloves titles, he turned pro in June 1985 and became a stellar local attraction.
Campaigning until September 1989, most of Hitz’s bouts took place in the Chicago area, although he did venture to Auburn Hills, Michigan where he was stopped in the first round by George Foreman, and to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he was stopped in the same round by Pierre Coetzer of South Africa.
“I was supposed to fight Foreman four times,” said the now 43-year-old Hitz, who retired with a respectable record of 15-5 (10 KOS). “Every time I got myself in good shape, Foreman’s people would find another opponent. The fourth time I was out of shape, dead broke, and I needed the money.
“I took the fight on four days notice,” he continued. “I was so cocky, I still thought I would go in there and beat him. That’s how much I believed in myself. I had no fear of George.”
After being knocked to the canvas by Foreman’s thunderous punches, Hitz says that he is proud of the fact that he got up and, in his mind at least, was still full of fight. Much to his chagrin, the referee thought differently and stopped the fight.
“Michael Moorer didn’t get up and Gerry Cooney didn’t get up,” said Hitz, referring to two other notable Foreman knockout victims. “I got up and finished on my feet. I still don’t believe the referee should have stopped the fight.”
(According to boxrec.com, Hitz, whose given name is Hitzelberger, was a KO victim in the first round, which would indicate that he was counted out).
One positive thing to come out of the Foreman fight is that it introduced Hitz to Jackie Kallen, who became his promoter for his remaining three fights. His professional relationship with her enabled him to learn the business aspects of boxing, all of which would serve him well in his second career as a successful Chicago promoter.
“I got my Harvard education in Detroit, around Jackie, Emanuel Steward, and James Toney,” said Hitz. “One day in Atlantic City, Emanuel said you know enough about the boxing business to be good at it.”
Taking those words to heart, Hitz set out on his own and has never looked back. He promoted his first show in May 1994 at the Hyatt Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. Toney, who at the time held a version of the super middleweight title, won a non-title 10 round decision over Vinson Durham.
“The Chicago Bulls were in Game 7 against the Knicks that night and I still drew 2,200 people,” said Hitz. “Had the Bills not been in Game 7, I would have sold 4,000 to 5,000 tickets.”
Hitz was so happy with his newfound success that he soon began promoting every six to eight weeks, a pace that he maintained for a decade. Along the way he opened a restaurant called Nano’s Café, in deference to the fact that is ethnic lineage is three-quarters Italian and one-quarter German.
“Nano’s became the focal point of the Chicago boxing community,” said Hitz. “I would have meetings there and make good deals during good meals.”
Over the years, Hitz promoted hundreds of shows, almost all of which were successful. Sometimes he did three a month, handling all of the logistics from matchmaking to public relations.
Eventually he became successful enough to hire some help, so he could promote both his shows and his name.
“My name became synonymous with Chicago boxing,” said Hitz. “I started doing a lot of radio and TV work. Chicago is the third largest sports market in the country, so there was a lot of hustle involved. I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
Because he is a regular on Chicago sports shows, the charismatic Hitz says he “turned boxing into a broader opportunity.”
Hitz, whose longtime home base, the Ramada Hotel, was knocked down last year, has promoted the likes of Toney, O’Neil Bell, Andrew Golota, Angel Manfredy, Anthony Jones, and Angel Hernandez.
His favorite promotion was a rival neighborhood matchup between Tony LaRosa, who hailed from Bridgeport on Chicago’s South Side, against Lenny LaPaglia, who came from Melrose Park.
The mini-epic took place in November 1994 at the Ramada. The once promising LaPaglia was stopped in the third round.
“Two Italian guys from different neighborhoods had the fans hanging from the rafters,” said Hitz. “It was a great show.”
Hitz has promoted many fighters to world title contention. One fighter who he says he developed over time was Bell, who now holds several versions of the world cruiserweight title.
“He got stolen from me and then went on to win a world title,” said Hitz. “There is no loyalty in this game. Fighters, not promoters, are the biggest problem in boxing today. Not because they are bad people, but because they listen to everyone around them.”
When Don King brought WBO heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster to Chicago in May 2005 to fight Golota, Hitz says that he felt betrayed by the wild-haired promoter.
“I laid the groundwork for him to come to Chicago and even sold $40,000 worth of tickets for him,” said an angry Hitz. “Everyone warned me not to trust him, but I did. We always had a great relationship, so I saw no reason not to trust him. He went behind my back and kept me out of the promotion completely. When I told him ‘Don, you [bleeped] me,’‘he said, ‘C’mon, you’re my guy.’ I said, “I’d rather not be your guy and get my due.’”
Hitz does enjoy good working relationships with most everyone else in boxing, but says that the episode with King soured him for a time. It is only now that he is once again getting a taste for boxing action.
“Fighting was a lot easier than what I’m doing now,” said Hitz. “As a promoter you have to learn how to be in a cesspool and not get dirty. I never lost my sense of integrity and always treated everyone I dealt with fairly.”
That, among other things, is what made him so successful. He says that he never believed in building up opponents by giving them one easy mark after another and always put his fighters and his loyal audiences first.
“I love the fights, but I never get to sit down and enjoy them,” said Hitz, whose one sibling, a brother, had once been a Jesuit priest. “I’m running around shaking hands, kissing babies, interceding in security issues, and making sure that everyone is having fun. It’s important for me to give the customers a good bang for their buck. When a guy shakes my hand, says he bought ten $100 tickets and asks when the next show is, that is an accomplishment.”
Another of his greatest accomplishments is his 10-year-old son, Bobby Jr. Although Hitz is divorced from his son’s mother, he said that he slowed down his boxing duties to be more of a father to his son after the split. Spending time with his son has given him the ability to put all that is important in the proper perspective.
Moreover, it gives him even more incentive to stay honest as he plans his boxing resurgence in the coming months. Just because he believes that he got shafted by a rival promoter and fighters who he developed only to see them flee in the end, doesn’t mean that he should sacrifice any of his own honesty and integrity.
“In ten years my son will be running around as Bobby Hitz Jr.,” said the proud father. “A lot of people will know him because a lot of people know me. When people tell him that his father treated them well, nothing will be more important to me than that. That will make me more of a success than any boxing promotion ever did.”