Don’t call Chuck Bodak a boxing trainer, though he worked in the boxing ring corners of some of the greatest prizefighters in the last 70 years.
“A trainer works with animals. I’m a teacher,” Bodak would often say. “I teach boxing.”
Bodak, 92, passed away after a lengthy battle with physical ailments suffered due to a stroke in 2007. He was buried last Wednesday, Feb. 11 at Riverside Arlington National Cemetery. There were no elaborate speeches or ornate ceremonies.
“He would have been 93 in June,” said Michele Chong, a friend who kept tabs on Bodak’s health.
From Rocky Marciano to Oscar De La Hoya, the road traveled by veteran boxing teacher Bodak has came to an end. Though raised in Indiana, the colorful boxing man with the stickers on his baldhead and owl-like spectacles spent time in Chicago, New York, Miami and Los Angeles. His last days were spent in Aliso Village in Orange County, California.
“I’ve known him practically his whole life,” said Angelo Dundee, who worked with and against Bodak in some of the great fights of all time. “In fact when I was first with Muhammad Ali I used to go and see Chuck.”
Dundee met Bodak in Chicago and also saw the iconic boxing man while he worked the corner of then heavyweight world champion Marciano.
“I knew him because I knew Charlie Goldman,” said Dundee. “That was around 1948 or 1950. That’s how long I knew Chuck.”
Goldman is considered one of the greatest boxing gurus of all time and Bodak was one of his disciples. At the time New York was the center of the universe for prizefighting and Marciano was its bulls eye.
“Chuck Bodak was a very nice human being,” Dundee said. “A little bit introverted but friendly and a very good trainer.”
Later Bodak worked with Ali and Dundee and from then on he was always in the middle of the storm called professional boxing.
“Muhammad Ali was his favorite fighter,” said Chong.
Bodak worked the corners of many, many great prizefighters, including the East Los Angeles boxer De La Hoya during the 1990s. His shiny, bald head was a fixture on many of De La Hoya’s televised fights. Fans would flock to Bodak at any boxing event.
“He never retired,” said Chong.
Steve Harpst, husband of Chong and one of the caretakers of the Burbank Boxing Club in Southern California, said he and his wife met Bodak during a World Boxing Hall of Fame banquet in 1998.
“He liked the fact I had a boxing club,” said Harpst, who invited the boxing wizard to talk to his students. “The kids got a huge kick. After the show there was always a long line to get Chuck’s autograph.”
Off color humor and surprise hand gestures were part of his trademark.
“We always ran into him in Las Vegas. He was hilarious,” recalls Chong. “He always made some salty statement and remark that no one else would dare say.”
In one of the last public appearances he made in San Bernardino, during a WBC Legends of Boxing Museum function, Bodak appeared in his wheel chair despite the ill effects of a stroke.
“He flipped off the crowd,” said Chong. “That guy never gave up.”
Bodak was an amateur boxer and one thing morphed into another in the world of boxing. He always had his finger on the pulse of the sport.
“Everybody in the boxing profession knew Chuck Bodak,” says Dundee, who saw Bodak work as a trainer, cut man, author, actor and teacher.
Harpst said that Bodak’s role in the movie Play It To The Bone was one of the favorite moments of his life.
“He loved being in that movie and working with Antonio Banderas,” said Harpst, who has also appeared in boxing films.
Dundee says those working in the boxing profession have strong ties and that the bonds developed with Bodak were very strong.
“We have such a rapport with each other in the profession,” Dundee said. “We like each other.”
Chong says we may never see another like Bodak.
“He would go over and slip fighters money if they were falling on hard times,” Chong said. “He was unique.”
Boxing has lost an icon.