There are nothing like yellowed newspaper clippings and faded notes to jog an old boxing writer’s memory.
Before Ron Stander fought Joe Frazier in 1972 in Omaha, Neb., Mrs. Stander was asked how it felt to have her husband challenging for the heavyweight championship of the world. “You shouldn’t enter a Volkswagen in the Indianapolis 500 unless you know a shortcut,” she said. Stander lasted into the fifth round. The marriage did not last.
George Kantor, who looked after Jean-Pierre Coopman for the Belgian’s challenge to Muhammad Ali at San Juan Puerto Rico, closed Coopman’s workouts to the public and press. Early in the morning on the day before the 1976 fight I saw Kantor in the lobby of the El San Juan Hotel and asked him if Coopman could fight. “Are you bleeping crazy?” Kantor shouted.
Coopman was knocked out in the fifth round.
Andrew Golota, waiting in his dressing room for the start of the final news conference for his fight against Mike Tyson, was wearing a sports jacket that had a frayed sleeve. “Look at that.” said Al Certo, Golota’s trainer, who also is a tailor. “I can make you a good suit.” Golota smiled and said, “You can make me a suit, but you can’t teach me how to fight.” He quit on his stool after the second round of the bout at The Palace at Auburn Hills (Mich.) in 2000.
Early in Don King’s career as a boxing promoter, I asked him what was behind his rapid success, and he replied, “Ed, when I was in prison I read all the great philosophers . . . . men like St. Thomas Aqui-nine.”
For more than 30 years I have known and written about promoter Don Elbaum, one of boxing’s true characters. Early in his career, Don often boxed on his own shows when a fighter did not appear. On one card, both a featherweight and a light heavyweight failed to appear. Elbaum was closer in size to the featherweight, but he chose to box the light heavyweight, figuring he would be faster than the bigger man. Besides speed, Elbaum hoped he had another weapon. As he met his opponent in the center of the ring, he said, “Don’t forget who signs your check.”
One of my favorite boxing stories was told to me by Elbaum, who promoted a fight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Peter Schmidt at Johnstown, Pa., in 1965, the last year of the great Robinson’s career. At a pre-fight news conference, Elbaum surprised Robinson by presenting him with the gloves he wore in pro debut in 1940 at Madison Square Garden. A photographer asked Robinson to don the gloves, but suddenly Elbaum whispered, “Ray don’t do it.” Robinson quickly saw why. Both gloves were left-handed.
“This is Dr. Doo, a witch doctor, who has come here to help Kalule,” Irvin Rudd, another colorful boxing publicist, told reporters before Ayub Kalule defended the WBA super welterweight title against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981 at the Astrodome in Houston. Kalule, a Ugandan living in Denmark, was stopped in the ninth round. It turned at that Dr. Doo was a gas station attendant living in Houston.
Scott LeDoux was a plodding heavyweight, who was stopped by Larry Holmes in a title bid. So there he was whirling around the ring before his fight against Greg Page in a preliminary to Muhammad Ali’s farewell fight against Trevor Berbick in 1981 at Nassau, The Bahamas. After several turns, LeDoux stopped above me, leaned over the ropes and shouted: “Ed, I’ve got to get my dancing in before the fight starts.” The dancing master was knocked out in the fourth round.
I always have liked Gerry Cooney. He is a big friendly guy who likes to laugh. We often swapped jokes when I covered several of his fights, including the last one in which he was knocked out in the second round by George Foreman in 1990 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. I had finished working and had just entered an elevator at Trump Plaza to go to my room when in walked Cooney, still wearing his boxing garb. He saw me and asked, “Heard any new jokes?”
For some reason, ESPN involved comedian Jackie Mason in their live telecast of the weigh-in for the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight in 1989 at Atlantic City. “Spinks doesn’t need a weigh-in,” Mason said. “He needs a way out.”
Dwight Braxton decided to change his name to Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Shortly after the change, he was asked if his new last name ended with an “i” or an “e.” His reply: “Either way.”
I once talked with Carmen Basilio, a former welterweight champion who had won and lost 15-round split decisions in middleweight title fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, about how it seemed that more fighters of his era (the 1950s) fought with injuries. He proceeded to tell me how he had an injured his right hand for his third welterweight title with Johnny Saxton in 1957 at Cleveland. He said he called his doctor in his hometown of Conestoga, N.Y. about the injury. The doctor said he knew someone in Cleveland he had gone to medical school with, who could help Basilio.
The doctor went to Basilio’s dressing room the night of the fight. After trainer Angelo Dundee conned representatives from the boxing commission and Saxton’s camp into leaving the room, Basilio had the hand injected with Novocain. “I couldn’t feel anything in my right hand for two hours after the fight,” Basilio said. “It didn’t matter, I knocked him out with a left hook in the second round.”
I was talking to Joey Maxim about his successful light heavyweight title defense against middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson at Yankee Stadium on a sweltering June night in 1952. It was so hot that referee Ruby Goldstein suffered heat exhaustion and had to be replaced for the 11th round by Ray Miller. Robinson was far ahead in the scoring when he collapsed from the heat after the13th round and could not continue. Like many writers before me, I told Maxim the heat had saved his championship. “I didn’t have air conditioning,” Maxim said.
Bert Sugar, the boxing historian, once had a television show, and he had Pat Putnam, a longtime colleague and a forever friend, and myself as guests in a segment that was taped before a fight in Las Vegas. Sugar asked us to say something we always wanted to say but never could.
“Thanks for the drink, Bert,” I said. To Sugar’s credit he didn’t edit out my wise-guy reply. Bert does buy . . . . on occasion.