Jill Diamond In The Rough

BY Robert Mladinich ON September 23, 2006
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For as long as she can remember, Jill Diamond has been project oriented. And whether she realizes it or not, she is also more of a giver than a taker, so her role as chairwoman of the NABF women’s division, as well as her position on the WBC female championship committee, is a perfect fit.

Diamond appears ageless as she travels the world supervising female title bouts and telling anyone who will listen that women boxers are as committed to their craft as their male counterparts.

They deserve to be recognized, she assails, and they deserved to be compensated accordingly.

“The commitment of most women boxers is astounding, especially when you consider how little money they make,” said Diamond. “For many of them, boxing represents something so much more than a vocation. Their devotion to the game is very inspiring to me.”

One top featherweight contender, Jeri Sitzes of Missouri, attended college but says that there is nothing she’d rather be doing than boxing, even though she’s driving a clunker of a car and often doesn’t know where her next month’s rent is coming from.

Diamond, who has won multiple Emmy awards for her work in music direction and composition for television, immersed herself in boxing after the death of her husband, an Emmy award winning actor named Don Chastain.

He had been a working actor from the late 1950s until shortly before the time of his death, from colon cancer, in August 2002.

Besides appearing in “Superman” and “Parade” on Broadway, he was featured in numerous soap operas as well as the most popular television shows of several eras.  

Among the programs he appeared on in the sixties were “Colt .45,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Gunsmoke,” “Mannix,” and “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” on which he played Reynolds’ husband.

The seventies saw him as a guest star on “Hawaii Five-O,” “Cannon,” “Maude,” “SWAT,” “Rhoda,” “The Rockford Files,” “Alice,” and “The Ropers.”

The next two decades, as well as the new millennium, found him on “Women of the Year,” “The Cosby Mysteries,” “West Wing,” and “Scrubs.”

After his passing, Diamond helped fill the emotional void in her life through boxing. She began training at Michael Olajide Sr’s. Kingsway International Gym, which is near her Manhattan home, and quickly fell in love with the sport.

She had always felt a connection with boxing because several members of her husband’s family had been fighters. But when she donned gloves for the first time and pounded the mitts or slammed the bag, she felt as if her body, mind and soul had opened in ways she could have never imagined.  

In recent years she has found more joy through boxing than any other outlet. Whenever she travels, which is often, she finds time to visit local gyms.

While in Los Angeles recently, where she maintains a second home, she trained daily with the inimitable Macka Foley at the Wild Card Gym.

On the same trip she put together a goodwill mission that is still being talked about by anyone who had the pleasure of experiencing it.

On September 18, she escorted championship fighters Erik “The Terrible” Morales and Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, as well as talented photojournalist Kazumichi Hayashion, to the Children’s Hospital in the City of Angels.

They brought with them a message of hope and love and support from WBC President Jose Sulamain, who Diamond says was an ardent supporter of this project from the moment she pitched it to him, as well as gift bags donated by Alberto Reyes of Reyes Sporting Goods, and WBC lifetime memberships for the children.

“The support that I received for this project blew me away,” said Diamond. “The sanctioning bodies are so often maligned, so it is unfortunate that the general public doesn’t get to see things like this.”

As one of the architects of a program called World Boxing Cares (WBC), Diamond and the WBC hope to continue this program in its 163 affiliated countries.   

Besides Morales and Hernandez, a host of boxing luminaries have already signed on as WBC Ambassadors. They include Bernard Hopkins, Wayne McCullough, Laila Ali, DeMarcus Corley, John Stracey, Alex Ramos, Gerry Cooney, Vitali Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Kostya Tszyu, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Azumah Nelson, Richie Woodhall, Luisito Espinosa, Jeff Fenech, Thulane Malinga, Brian Adams, and Derric Rossy.

“I think that boxers have the biggest hearts of any athletes,” asserted Diamond, who says that events are already planned for Colorado with local junior welterweight Donald Camarena and St. Louis with hometown world champion Cory Spinks.  

The words of Morales and Hernandez, which were spoken immediately after their recent hospital visit, certainly substantiate Diamond’s assessment.

“It is sad, but at the same time of great importance to come see these children that are struggling for their lives,” said the visibly moved Morales. “In all truth, everything I saw touched me profoundly. I am grateful to have been invited, but it is also fundamental that other governments in all other countries are aware of these needs and work harder to eradicate these fatal illnesses.”

“Battles in the ring do not compare with the situation of these sick children or those premature newborns who nobody knows if they will make it,” added Hernandez. “When we are healthy, we think that life is hard because of our problems, but the illnesses being suffered by all these children really scare you and make you truly concerned about what can happen to people at such an early age.”

“The visit was just amazing: joyous, sad and sweet,” added Diamond. “When the little boys put on their caps and posed with the fighters with their fists raised, the staff was knocked out by how much fun everyone had. It was a day I will never forget.”

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