Well, a number of things come across but they’re not exactly told in the movie. Stallone has created a flood of memories in that creative mind of his awash with tears, joy and regret that life brings in general.
Watching Rocky Balboa hit me like a freight train on the Santa Fe rail.
In 1976, when “Rocky” was made, the country was a lot different. Muhammad Ali still roamed the ring and was the idol of the entire world, not just the USA.
At the time I was attending UCLA and was involved in a number of things. Jimmy Carter spoke at the school before winning the Presidential election. It would be the only election he would win.
That year was the Bicentennial birthday of our country. Celebrations were taking place all over the nation. It was my second year at UCLA and it would be the first time the basketball team did not win the NCAA title.
But there were more important things in the world.
As a country we were just getting over the shock of President Richard Nixon resigning after Watergate. The movie “All the Presidents Men” came out the same year as Rocky. All of the men in Vietnam had not yet been pulled out. I had two brothers in the U.S. Marines that concerned me.
In my hometown of East Los Angeles a whole generation of boxers were lost to the war. Though many boys from our neighborhoods joined of their own accord, the other half didn’t have a choice and were drafted. I remember most of the boxing gyms were empty.
Then along came Rocky and the gyms swelled once again. It was the younger kids that came running to the gyms to start the rebirth of boxing in East L.A. in the 1970s. It was kids like Paul Gonzalez, Joey Olivo and later Oscar De La Hoya that emerged from those boxing schools.
The Main Street Gym was still open and many of the old-timers like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Art Aragon stopped by frequently to say hi.
Those gyms saved many lives. It was during this time that drive-by shootings were at a peak in my town. Where I lived you couldn’t step out the door of your own home unless you were strapped and looked twice before feeling somewhat at ease. I lost dozens of friends and acquaintances during this period.
But the gyms began to fill and the youth began to take up boxing gloves instead of guns. Slowly the neighborhoods began to become more tranquil and life began to improve.
It would be exaggeration to say the movie Rocky solved my town’s woes. But it would be a lie to say it did not contribute to making it better. Watching the movie brought back memories of a different place and realizing that time is racing by like one of those Apollo Creed jabs.
Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton is fighting Juan Arango for the WBA junior welterweight title at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas on Jan. 20. If that’s not big enough for you, well Jose Luis Castillo is tangling with Herman Ngoudjo too. If Hatton and Castillo are victorious, they’ll meet sometime in the summer.
Sergio Mora and Jermain Taylor, No Go
Negotiations for a match between world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and Sergio Mora have tumbled. According to Team Mora, Taylor’s people have decided to go to easier pastures to beef up the champ’s credentials. “Jermain Taylor didn’t look good so they need someone easier,” said John Montelongo, a corner man for Mora. One fighter mentioned as a possible opponent for Taylor is Germany’s Felix Sturm.
Mora seeks a fight in March or April. “Sergio would love to fight someone like a Fernando Vargas, if he’s still fighting, or an Oscar De La Hoya of course,” said Montelongo. “He’s anxious for a big fight. We (Contender company) feel he could beat Jermain Taylor.”
Arreola fighting in February
Chris Arreola is scheduled to fight on Feb. 9 on a ESPN televised fight card. Opponents mentioned have been Malcolm Tann and former world champion Evander Holyfield. Henry Ramirez , trainer and adviser to Arreola, said the negotiations are ongoing but might be finalized in a week or two.
Mayeather-De La Hoya tickets Tickets for the biggest fight of the century are now on sale for the showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya. The fight will be held at the MGM Grand on May 5, 2007. The prices range between $300 to $2,000. Get them now. They won’t last very long.
Jorge Arce and company in Anaheim Mexico’s popular Jorge “El Travieso” Arce will be fighting Argentina’s Julio Ler at the Honda Center (formerly the Arrowhead Pond) in Anaheim on Jan. 27. Also on the card will be middleweight contender Kelly Pavlik meeting rugged Jose Luis Zertuche. Tickets are priced between $30 to $200.
Rocky Marciano’s gloves For just $95,000 you can purchase former heavyweight world champion Rocky Marciano’s training gloves. They’re available at the DuPont Registry and come with a letter of authenticity. Ask for Chris O’Connell at (818) 992-4353.
The most recent trouble started when Willie Gibbsâ€™ crew went to the press after the loss to Miranda to say that it wasnâ€™t Mirandaâ€™s power that won the fight, it was a knee injury Gibbs suffered.
â€œIâ€™m disappointed by the reaction of Gibbsâ€™ team to their defeat,â€? Miranda said. â€œI was told Philadelphia fighters always come to fight and that win or lose, they have no excusesâ€”well, this obviously isnâ€™t the case. The only things that knocked Gibbs out were my fists, and I donâ€™t remember hitting him on the knee. But he can look on the bright side, because if the fight would have continued, I would have sent â€˜The Gladiatorâ€™ out on his shield.â€?
â€œI know Jermain Taylor and Arthur Abraham fear me and that Iâ€™ll have to shame them into fighting me,â€? continued Miranda. â€œThatâ€™s okay though, because the people know who the real fighters are and which ones are simply pretenders with title belts. In 2007, Iâ€™ll expose all of them.â€?
A few days later Miranda released another APB, this one addressed to Taylorâ€™s promoter, Lou DiBella, allegedly making disparaging statements regarding Edison Miranda.
â€œI think Lou DiBella should stick to acting,â€? said Miranda, referring to DiBellaâ€™s portrayal of a boxing promoter named Lou DiBella in the new Sly Stallone film â€œRocky Balboa,â€? â€œbecause he plays a promoter in the make-believe world better than he does in real life.
â€œThe fans and media want to see this fight between Taylor and myself, and HBO definitely wants to see it, but Lou doesnâ€™t want to put the jewel of his company anywhere near me because he knows heâ€™ll get knocked out. I wonâ€™t be outweighed by 20 pounds on fight night and wonâ€™t need a walker to make it to the press conference like the other old men Taylor has fought, so he wants no part of me.â€?
Miranda addressed DiBellaâ€™s claim that he was a one-dimensional fighter.
â€œYou call me one-dimensional, but no one has ever forced me to go to a Plan B in the ring,â€? said Miranda. â€œI knock people out and only someone who can deal with my power will force me to show the other parts of my game. That hasnâ€™t happened yet. And letâ€™s not talk one-dimensional when I can describe every Jermain Taylor fight the same way: Jab, right cross, clinch. Jab, right cross, clinch. Jab, right cross, clinch. And you wonder why he is afraid to fight me.â€?
Miranda went on picking apart DiBellaâ€™s critique: â€œYou say that â€˜I stink,â€™ â€˜I have no clue how to box,â€™, â€˜no resume,â€™, and you think â€˜Jermain would slaughter me.â€™ In the next breath you tell the world I should fight Pavlik, â€˜if he is man enough to take the fight.â€™ You make absolutely no sense.
â€œBoth you and Jermain say you want â€˜real fightsâ€™ and are â€˜not looking for a stooge.â€™ If thatâ€™s the case, I challenge you to find another guy at 160 with a better resume than mine. Donâ€™t you even dare mention Sergio Mora or Felix Sturm! If you got such a great team with Jermain and Emanuel, why canâ€™t you beat a guy like me who is â€˜one-dimensional and can only punch?â€™â€?
Chances are DiBellaâ€™s listening to his own music and Mirandaâ€™s bleating barely affects the reception, but by beating contenders and challenging the champs Miranda at least gets to have his voice heard.
â€œLetâ€™s make this fight Lou,â€? pleaded Miranda. â€œItâ€™s the right thing for the fans and the right thing for a sport that needs the best in the world fighting each other. If Iâ€™m so easy to beat, let Taylor prove it!â€? Read more at the BLOG
This whole event begs many questions, but the first one is, “Who goes to a cockfight on Christmas Eve?!” Who goes to any fight for that matter? While the NBA, NFL, and NCAA will usually offer a Christmas day game, you never see HBO, Showtime, or ESPN presenting a boxing match. Only two professional fight cards will be held across the world this Christmas holiday, one on Christmas Eve in Japan and one on Christmas day in Belgium. No fights will be held in the United States, and have not been since 1969. Even when they were held in the U.S. during the 1950s and 60s, the events were sporadic and void of any major superstars.
There is no law against holding a boxing match on these days of course. It all boils down to popularity. For instance, ABC is advertising the annual Miami Heat/Los Angeles Lakers as a Christmas tradition. At the height of boxing’s popularity and before the invention of television, going to a fight was a holiday event. Many hall-of-fame fighters have fought during the Christmas holiday, including Fritzie Zivic, Sam Langford, Battling Levinsky, Jimmy Wilde, and Benny Leonard.
One of the greatest boxing match-ups ever held on Christmas day was a bout between Harry Greb and Tommy Loughran at Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden in 1923. The third-largest crowd in the arena’s history packed in for an afternoon event that was billed as a “Holiday Matinee.”
Many wanted to see the fight for the fact that Loughran had bested Pittsburgh native Greb two months earlier. It made Loughran and Gene Tunney the only champions to have beaten Greb at that time. The bout was also supposed to be for Greb’s middleweight title, but the champion showed up eight pounds over the 160 pound weight limit and Loughran was eight and a half pounds too heavy.
Tunney, who had beaten Greb by a decision two weeks earlier, had exposed that he was susceptible to body shots. Loughran saw that attack and copied it for his Christmas day bout with Greb, giving him trouble throughout the fight. Pittsburgh Post writer Regis M. Welsh, who covered the bout, noted that Greb seemed to be losing a step as fighter.
Yet, Welsh was most critical of Loughran’s seemingly lack of a fighting heart. He wrote that Loughran did not attack Greb with the relentlessness needed to win nor did he fight his way out of tough situations. It was most apparent in the ninth round when Greb had Loughran in a corner raining punches down on him. Loughran would not fight back and the referee would not stop the fight, so Greb backed away, dropped his hands, and invited Loughran out of the corner. The crowd laughed and Loughran offered his hand. As Welsh put it, “the affair, for the moment, became a lovely Christmas party.”
In the end, Greb won a 10-round decision. While the referee’s round scoring was not announced, Welsh gave Greb five rounds and scored two rounds even.
Arguably, the most significant title bout to be ever held on Christmas day took place in 1933, when Frankie Klick challenged Kid Chocolate for his world junior lightweight title. The Kid was in the waning days of his career. Only a month earlier, Tony Canzoneri had finished him in two rounds in a non-title bout, giving the Kid the first knockout loss of his career. However, most sportswriters felt that he still had enough ability to beat Klick. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s John Webster quipped, “I’ll take a slice of chocolate for a Christmas tidbit.”
More than 5,000 fans came to the Philadelphia Arena for the bout. The Kid fought gamely, but only in spurts. A strong performance in the second round tired him to the point of susceptibility to Klick’s body and head shots in the third and fourth rounds. In the sixth, he looked like the Kid of old, hitting Klick at will. At the end of that round, Klick had a “mouse” under his eye.
Sadly for the Kid, the strong performance in the sixth slowed him dramatically for the seventh. Two minutes into that round, the Kid moved back towards the ropes and Klick closed in and landed a smashing right to the Kid’s jaw, sending him face first to the canvas.
The Kid was up at the count of six, but after seeing his rubbery legs, referee Spud Murphy stopped the fight at 2:58 in the seventh round, but the Kid’s handlers had also jumped into the ring to stop the bout right as the bell rang. Confusion ensued because Klick’s corner did not realize that Murphy had stopped the bout.
“Disqualify Chocolate,” screamed Klick’s manager Ray Carlin. “That guy hopped in the ring before the bell.”
The anger subsided after Murphy explained the situation and Klick’s arm was raised as the new champion. After the loss, the Kid wept.
For my generation, the most memorable Christmas day bout took place onscreen, when Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) knocked out Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in “Rocky IV.” The reason that bout was held on Christmas day was because the Soviet Union wanted to ensure that all Americans would be in front of a television to see, as Russian government official, Nicoli Koloff (Michael Pataki), said, “The defeat of this so-called champion will show you how pathetic and weak your society has become.”
Of course, the Soviet government knew that every American would be at home watching this fight. In reality, if HBO, Showtime, or ESPN showed a bout on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, they could not guarantee that even their base audience would be able to catch the fight. Until they can, we will continue to ask, “Who fights on Christmas?”
The unbeaten WBO super middleweight Welsh sensation defends his crown on April 7 against Contender star, and Providence, RI native, Peter Manfredo, Jr. at the Millennium Stadium, and thereâ€™s been a ton of speculation as to who Calzaghe fights next.
But Calzaghe, according to informed sources, was extremely unimpressed by Jermainâ€™s performance against Kassim Ouma.
â€œI don't think it's fair to push him (Taylor) up to my level yet. Maybe in another year,â€? said Calzaghe, reports the South Wales Echo. â€œIt's frustrating for me because it would be a big-money fight, but it's obvious he's just not ready.â€?
Even Lou DiBella, Taylorâ€™s promoter, agrees: â€œI think he's right. I think Jermain needs a couple more fights. I think he hasn't looked as good in his last two fights as he did in the second Hopkins fight. I'm not going to push this kid beyond where he should be.â€?
If Calzagheâ€™s hands can withstand the hardheaded Manfredoâ€™s skull, thereâ€™s still an opponent out there to be named, to be determined. Read more at the BLOG
One thing about his answers, though. Along with being short, they don’t always have a lot in common with the questions. He strays a little and he won’t be caught giving out any particulars.
For example, on a recent conference call promoting his Jan. 6 rematch with James “Lights Out” Toney (69-5-3, 43 KOs), someone asked Peter (27-1, 22 KOs) if he’d done anything special to maybe improve his stamina. He seemed to be running out of it in his split-decision win over Toney back on Sept. 2 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“This time,” Sam said, “it will all be good.”
A little vague, but very polite.
Guess he’s not going to tell us how he improved his stamina.
Another guy asked Peter, who is from Africa, if he planned on putting more punches together and maybe pouring it on a little more this time.
“Yes,” he said. “This time everything will be all right with me.”
Again, vague but polite. Sounded a lot like the first answer.
Then someone asked him if he planned on doing anything different in the second fight.
“Come Jan. 6, and then you will see.”
Not a big talker.
And not exactly insightful answers, but he’s not looking to score public relations points. If he has any secrets, he’s not sharing them.
Finally, Peter was asked if he was surprised by how well Toney withstood his punching power.
“I feel good because I won that fight,” Peter said. “But I hit him clean.”
We’ll just have to wait.
The upcoming fight with Toney at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. will be a WBC heavyweight eliminator (Showtime). That’s what it was called in their first fight, but apparently, that fight didn’t really count. At least Toney isn’t counting it.
He won’t include the loss on his record because it was the mistake of two “blind” judges.
Sounds like the WBC didn’t count the fight either. They’re the ones who called for the rematch because of controversial scoring.
The winner is the mandatory challenger to WBC champ Oleg Maskaev, though “mandatory” doesn‘t pack a lot of punch in the fight game.
To get ready for his fight with Peter, Toney has been working long hours with Tae-Bo guru Billy Blanks, the TV infomercial guy.
Asked if he expected Toney to be in better shape and throw more punches because of the workout Blanks has been giving him, Peter finally cut loose and let it all hang out. Or at least he cut loose for Samuel Peter.
“Billy Blanks will not be inside the ring,” Peter calmly reminded us. “When I hit him, everything that Billy Blanks told him, he is going to forget. He is going to fight James Toney‘s style and that is what I know.”
Whoa, Sam. Settle down. That’s 37 words in a row.
Typical fighter. First you can’t get him to talk, then you can’t shut him up.
Madgeâ€™s company, Maverick Entertainment, is behind the project, which will also presumably deal with the ambiguities of Griffithâ€™s sexuality, which in part led up to the tragic bout and death of Paret.
The outing will be Madonnaâ€™s first time behind the camera. Her in front of the camera credits include â€œDesperately Seeking Susanâ€? (1985), â€œA League Of Their Ownâ€? (1992), â€œDick Tracyâ€? (1990), â€œEvitaâ€? (1996), and the remake of â€œSwept Awayâ€? (2002), a flop directed by her husband Guy Ritchie.
In addition to those formal acting credits, Madonna concert films, â€œThe Virgin Tourâ€? (1985), â€œBlond Ambitionâ€? (1990), â€œTruth or Dareâ€? (1991), and â€œThe Girlie Show (1993), etc., establish her bona fides when it comes to exploring the outer limits of polymorphous perversity. Read more at the BLOG
Madonnaâ€™s production company, Maverick Entertainment, has thrown its weight behind the project, and "Blade To The Heat," while definitely a boxing flick, will also deal with the ambiguities of Griffithâ€™s sexuality, which played a part in the ring death of Paret, and which no doubt piqued Madonna's interest.
The outing will be Madonnaâ€™s first time behind the camera. Her in front of the camera credits include â€œDesperately Seeking Susanâ€? (1985), â€œA League Of Their Ownâ€? (1992), â€œDick Tracyâ€? (1990), â€œEvitaâ€? (1996), and the remake of â€œSwept Awayâ€? (2002), a flop produced and directed by her husband Guy Ritchie.
In addition to the above, Madonna's concert films, â€œThe Virgin Tourâ€? (1985), â€œBlond Ambitionâ€? (1990), â€œTruth or Dareâ€? (1991), and â€œThe Girlie Show (1993), not to mention her lip-lock with Britney Spears in 2005, establish her bona fides when it comes to exploring the outer limits of what it means to be polymorphous perverse. Read more at the BLOG
Beginning in January 2006 a number of boxers stepped forward to meet each other for some riveting matches that took place in New York, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Las Vegas and other cities around the world.
Here are the awards for the year 2006:
Fighter of the Year
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
A number of boxers had an outstanding year but few had compelling fights that exemplified the best of professional boxing. My choice for Fighter of the Year is welterweight Floyd Mayweather Jr. for meeting the lightning quick Zab Judah and the physically stronger Carlos Baldomir and beating them in 12-round decisions despite a pair of crystal-like fists that suffer injury every time he gets in the ring.
It was a close decision between Mayweather and Filipino knockout artist Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao who demolished Oscar Larios and Erik Morales twice. Mayweather broke his hand against Baldomir and beat him one-handed. He also hurt the right hand against Judah and won by decision.
Could Pacquiao have beaten Morales twice and Larios without his left hand? I seriously doubt it. That’s why Mayweather deserves the award as the best fighter of 2006.
Honorable mention goes to Juan Diaz, Joe Calzaghe, Joan Guzman and Israel Vazquez who all had a great 2006.
Fight of the Year
Israel Vazquez vs. Jhonny Gonzalez
On the big stage the little guys in the junior featherweight division put on the best show. It was fitting that on Mexican Independence day two Mexican fighters from Mexico City named Israel Vazquez and Jhonny Gonzalez fought like their lives depended on it. Both hit the deck before Vazquez landed three lightning left hooks and a right hand in the 10th round of their battle for the WBC junior featherweight title on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas. It proved to be the most riveting fight of the year with both showing skill, power and pride in their craft.
Honorable mention goes to Sergei Liahokovich and Lamon Brewster for their heavyweight slugfest.
But the little guys let it all hang out with skill and speed and a lot more punches.
Comeback of the Year
Oscar De La Hoya
After nearly two years without a fight East Los Angeles native Oscar De La Hoya returned to boxing against Nicaragua’s Ricardo “El Matador” Mayorga and promptly knocked him out. The display of speed and power proved that the Golden Boy still has plenty of fuel left to meet Floyd Mayweather on May 5, 2007. It could be one of the biggest prizefights in the history of the sport.
Southern California Fighter of the Year
Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola
Usually two undefeated heavyweights from California would be avoiding each other until a world title fight would be the reward. But Damian “Bolo” Wills and Arreola each pushed to meet each other from the beginning of their pro careers. Riverside’s Arreola emerged the winner after seven rounds in a heavyweight clash that reminded many of the golden days of boxing in California. Both Arreola and Wills have a chance to do big things in the world stage very soon.
El Mas Macho Award
With respects to Lupe Contreras who coined the phrase “El Mas Macho,” the Jamaican native Johnson has proven to be the ultimate road warrior in accepting matches against anyone, anywhere, including Clinton Woods in his backyard last September in Lancashire, England. He lost a split decision to Woods in their third meeting but what’s new? Johnson fears no man and doesn’t care where he fights.
Good Sport Award
Boxing has many athletes who display good sportsmanship, but when it comes to losing a world title fight it’s often difficult to accept defeat. Russia’s Roman Karmazin lost his junior middleweight title and refused to offer excuses or berate the subpar refereeing in his fight against Cory Spinks on July 8. Karmazin showed remarkable poise and consideration for representing sportsmanship in his sport.
In honor of the late Willie Pep this award goes to the best pure boxer of the year. The Puerto Rican boxer Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon fights year after year and rarely loses a round let alone gets punched cleanly. It’s too bad Calderon fights in the strawweight division. He needs a showcase for his unbelievable boxing skills.
Too Dangerous Award
In boxing there are fighters that other fighters fear to fight and Oxnard’s Victor Ortiz is one of them. He’s one of those boxers with one-punch knockout power that can strip an opponent of his senses. Ortiz is following the lead of Manny Pacquiao who he’s sparred with many times. Aside from his boxing skills the southpaw packs pure power in each of his fists.
Blood and Guts Award
Mental and physical toughness exemplify most prizefighters who risk their lives every time they step in the ring. Paul Malignaggi showed what toughness is all about in his 12-round battle against Miguel Cotto on June 10, 2006. In that fight he sustained injuries that would make most fighters quit but he continued and never stopped trying to win the fight, not just survive. It was a sterling performance for the Italian-American from New York City.
Dark Horse Award
He jumped up two weight divisions from junior featherweight to junior lightweight without a hiccup in beating world titleholders Javier Jauregui and Jorge Barrios. Now he wants to face Pac Man, and why not? He won so easily against Jauregui and Barrios that he actually let them hit him to make the fights more interesting.
Because he’s from the baseball crazy Dominican Republic, few give him his due. But this guy is the “Big Papi” of boxing. He can fight with the best.
I grew up down and dirty in Philly and as a kid I read Merchant religiously when he wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News. He was my bread and butter, my meat and potatoes, the foundation on which I built an association between boxing and the written word. I didn’t then and don’t now buy or read magazines, boxing or otherwise, and was too much of a jerk to start reading books until adolescence, but I kept an interested reader’s eye on Larry Merchant over the years as he moved through and out of journalism to become a force on cable TV.
I know some folks don’t go for the wise old sage routine which Merchant delivers on HBO delivers with such regularity and grace. Maybe those who can’t stand him figure if he’s not rapping or fawning he has nothing to say and should be put to pasture. But if you forego the white hair, white skin, black and white tuxedo, not to mention his sometimes crotchety grandfatherly-like manner, to get to at the crux of what he’s saying, he offers some cultured pearls of boxing wisdom.
Larry Merchant was born on February 11, 1931, in New York City. His mom was a legal secretary. His father was a “small businessman,” Merchant told TSS, who ran a laundry and dry-cleaning business. “My father was also a big sports fan. My father and uncles took me to baseball games all the time. Saw a lot of football games. Pretty much my life outside school was athletics.”
Baseball and football are okay, but they’re not the fights, so I asked Merchant if boxing was part of his youthful equation.
“It was,” he said, “because boxing was a mainstream sport. The first boxing event I can remember is listening with my father to the second Louis-Schmeling on radio. I had an uncle who fought in the amateurs. There was some distant relative, I mean some very distant relative, who had been a professional. So a lot of people were connected one way or another to boxing in those days.”
Merchant enrolled in college at the University of Oklahoma. He was on the football team—“Football is a passion of mine,” he said—and once got to watch the Sugar Ball suited up and raring to go, but as per the coach’s instructions he remained sitting on the bench, forced to watch the action from the sidelines. And while he would have rather been on the gridiron, Larry Merchant, at the start of what turned into a lifelong habit, had the best seat in the house.
A shoulder injury suffered during a scrimmage KO’d his career in college ball, but the college newspaper, the Oklahoma Daily, had some openings suited to his talents. Merchant became sports editor and then editor of the paper.
But “I wasn’t 100% committed to being a sportswriter,” he said. “At one time I thought I might like to write about science, another time about politics.” He also thought about being a football coach.
After graduating from U of Oklahoma, Merchant became backfield coach at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. But there was a war on, the Korean War, and Merchant was drafted and shipped off to Germany where he became sports editor of the Stars and Stripes.
At war’s end Merchant was discharged and got hired as sports editor of the Wilmington Daily News in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1953. Then he worked for the AP for six months, before landing the plum position of photo editor at the Philadelphia Daily News. “Don’t ask,” joked Merchant. “And from that I became sports editor when I was 26 years old. I was there 10 years.” That 10 year stint at the Philly Daily News was followed by another 10 year stint, but at the more prestigious New York Post in the more prestigious Big Apple.
Merchant did his first radio and TV during this time. He worked at NBC for a couple of years as a reporter, commentator and producer, before leaving New York and moving to the sunny clime of California. “I had written some books,” Merchant said, “sold one, wrote a screenplay, came out here and the cable revolution happened and I got sort of recruited into cable.”
Initially he was host and producer of a showed called “Sports Probe” on the USA cable network, which Merchant described as a “Meet the Press of Sports,” and then good fortune tolled when he signed with HBO to do their color commentary and analysis for the fights. That was 29 years ago.
These days the ex-sportswriter Larry Merchant is one of the most heard, if not most listened to, voices in boxing, but I wanted to know how it was for him in the beginning making the transition from the written to the spoken word.
“I had, in a sense, burned out as a columnist after 20 years,” Merchant said, “and I liked TV for two reasons. Number one, I liked the technical people—everybody seemed to be on their toes trying to make the best show they could—and secondly, it was just another way of telling a story. There came a time when I felt I wasn’t as eager to go to the ballparks as much as I had been, and I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to be one of those old columnists who kept repeating himself or did I want to move on.”
Goodbye written word. Hello TV.
“NBC had been where the Friday Night Fights were many years before,” continued Merchant, “and because of Ali they got back into the fight business and did some Ali fights on primetime, and I was the only guy around who knew anything about boxing, so I was recruited to be a commentator on Ali fights. So that’s more or less how I got into the commentating business.
“But I’d always been attracted to boxing as much because of boxing writers as the prizefights themselves. I just found that the writers had such a rich area to write about, with the shenanigans outside the ring, with all the hustlers and rustlers around the ring, and the drama going on inside the ring, that if you cared about competition, if you cared about drama in sports, if you cared about human behavior as a way of looking at sports, it just seemed like a very rich territory.”
I asked Merchant which boxing and sportswriters influenced his early work and he rattled off some iconic names: “W.C Heinz, a great boxing writer, John Lardner, who wrote a lot about boxing, A.J. Liebling, Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, and Dan Parker in particular, who was a columnist at the New York Mirror, an old tabloid, and who wrote a lot about the colorful characters around boxing. And of course there was Hemingway, who wrote about boxing.”
Were there any examples of early boxing writing that especially stick out in Merchant’s mind?
“I tell the story of my first fight at Madison Square Garden. I was taken by an uncle, the uncle who had once been an amateur, and it was a spirited fight between two fighters whose names I’ve never forgotten: Bobby Ruffin and Johnny Greco. And the next day I read in the paper, in Dan Parker’s column, how Ruffin, if I remember correctly, ‘gave up his fish dinner in the corner’—that was the way he put it—and I can remember thinking: I’ve got to find a way to get closer to the ring.”
Closer to the ring Merchant got, but as he told TSS, “I never considered myself a boxing guy. It was just one of the things I covered as a columnist.”
Because Merchant takes the long view, as befits a man his age, he’s seen boxing’s popularity wax and wane pretty dramatically over the years, so I asked him what he thought the reasons were for boxing being held in such low esteem these days and if he thought there might be some change for the better in sight.
“It’s basically societal reasons,” answered Merchant. “Once upon a time, a young athlete would dream of becoming champion. There weren’t a lot of high school graduates, much less college graduates, at one point, and virtually every town had a gym. And kids, whether they were from coal towns or mill towns or big cities, for some of them boxing was a way out and up. But today there are alternatives, so that part has changed.
“Boxing is no longer a mainstream sport, but it has a devoted smaller following. There are about 200 boxing shows a year on cable television, including Spanish cable. It is a very big deal in the societal fabric still for Latinos—they’re just the latest racial or ethnic group that has dominated the sport—which is a growing presence in America, which is why the sport will always be around in one form or another. And boxing, like every other major American sport except American football, has been globalized. Look at the rosters in baseball. Look at the rosters in basketball and hockey. Look who’s dominating tennis now, and even to a degree golf. So boxing is more global now.”
Merchant mentioned the heavyweight champions, one removed, Klitschko, Valuev, Maskaev and Liakhovich, as an example of boxing’s increased globalization. He spoke of the Brawling Brit Ricky Hatton and the Welsh superstar Joe Calzaghe. He also mentioned the Philippine bomber Manny Pacquiao, who Merchant described as “the most exciting fighter in the world… In that sense, there’s been a tectonic shift of the plates in boxing, and it’s noticeably no longer the kind of socially acceptable kind of competition it once was. All the heavyweight prospects are playing linebacker. But it’s also a shift in the sense that boxing is entertainment for most people who go [to the fights]. It’s not a gut thing, as it was, for example, at the Pacquiao-Morales fight where you had a big crowd evenly divided between Filipinos and Mexicans rooting passionately for their guy. You no longer find a lot of that in the U.S. for American fighters.”
As for Merchant’s detractors, no doubt they’re well-meaning boxing loyalists who put the word fanatic back in the words fight fan, but there’s a possibility, however remote, that they don’t know their bums from a hole in the ground.
“I’m not to everyone’s taste. They have their favorites,” said Merchant. “And my feeling is that a fighter is a performer who’s frequently getting millions of dollars to get on his stage, and there are times when a fighter doesn’t perform up to his standards, or does things that have to be questioned, so that’s my role as a journalist. I’m trying to find the story and what happened and why it happened.
“Erik Morales, who’s a guy I’ve championed for a long time, asked me before his last fight, why have I been hard on him, and I said, ‘Well, when you’ve created a high standard like yourself, and then you lose three out of four fights, people want to know what’s going on—and I’m one of them.’ If he and his fans don’t appreciate that, then I’m sorry.
“When a great singer or band or musician performs in public and the critic or the reporter goes to write about it, if his performance is beneath his customary standard or is in some way not what he normally does, then it’s going to be written about and talked about. We’re not just there to worship and/or appreciate, which is what every performer thinks every critic or reporter should do. We’re there to ask questions. And in my mind, there’s no hard questions if you know the answer.
“I understand that if the passionate fan who wants to celebrate or commiserate with his champion doesn’t want to hear or see him in a way others might see him, and I get that, but it’s part of the deal. If I dish it out,” said Merchant, “I have to be able to take it.”
For 30 of her 36 years she played soccer, first in her native England, and later in the New York Women’s League where she excelled as a striker and goal scorer on the Barnstonworth Rovers.
After tearing up her ACL (knee) in the last ten minutes of the season a few years back, she was forced to have surgery. During the extensive and exhaustive physical therapy that followed, she joined the Equinox Gym. It was there that she observed a white-collar boxing class going on.
Thinking that learning the rudiments of boxing would be easy on her newly constructed knee, she began taking classes with onetime junior middleweight prospect Curtis Summit.
She proved to be as natural a boxer as she was a soccer player. Just two and a half months after she began training, Warner was competing in the 2003 New York City Golden Gloves 106-pound finals at Madison Square Garden.
Although she lost a decision that year, she won the coveted tournament in 2004. Her life has been lived on automatic pilot ever since.
“Everything just escalated out of control after that,” said the Manhattan-based Warner, who is employed as a researcher at Baruch College.
Warner went on to win the national tournament in Colorado Springs in 2005. Although her amateur career consisted of only about ten fights, it was after that victory that she realized she was destined to fight professionally.
“People thought I was crazy,” said the always smiling and seemingly eternally optimistic Warner. “But that’s the type of person I am. I had to give it a good go. I’m glad I did.”
Warner turned pro in September 2005, scoring a first round knockout over Doreen Hilton in Denver. Since then she has fought again in Colorado, as well as in New Mexico, Idaho, California, New Jersey, and New York.
She lost three decisions on the road, but also beat Noriko Kariya, who was 3-0, in May 2006 in Atlantic City. She won her current title from the much more experienced Yvonne Caples, now 7-11-2 (1 KO), at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx, New York, on December 8.
After beating Caples, who had been more than competitive traversing the globe to fight such notables as Elena Reid (twice), Regina Halmich, Carina Marino, In Young Lee, and Yuko Sodeoka, by eight round decision, Warner, who is now trained by both Hector Roca and Luigi Olcese, improved her record to 6-3 (1 KO).
“I can’t believe that I’m here,” said Warner. “It is very surreal to me at times. I’m surprised how quickly everything has happened, hence my nickname of Destiny. I wanted to put on a good performance and make my trainers and manager proud.”
Warner’s new manager, Allison Emmert, who is in the finance industry, couldn’t have been prouder. After Warner’s crowd-pleasing performance over Caples, Emmert was wearing a mega-watt smile that looked like it would never go away.
With no experience in boxing, and Warner the first fighter under her managerial care, Emmert admits that the boxing business, which by its nature is devoid of anything resembling fair play, had been a bit daunting for her at first.
But it is obvious that Emmert is nobody’s fool. Nor does she give the impression that she would allow anyone to run roughshod over her. From all appearances she is willing to play fairly and by the rules. However, you can’t help but detect a fighting spirit within her that will rear its head if anyone tries to take advantage of her.
“It was a bumpy journey to this bout,” said Emmert. “The future should be very interesting.”
One thing is for certain: Warner and Emmert appear to be kindred spirits who feed off of each other’s positive energy. Both welcome significant challenges, either in the game of life or the sport of boxing.
“It’s funny,” said Warner, “but back in 1992, when I first came to the United States, boxing wasn’t even on my radar. I had gone to a few training sessions, but was too involved in soccer to take it seriously. It really hit home, though, in 2003.”
In one way or another, Warner has been leaving indelible positive impressions everywhere she has been. When she first came to America, she taught sports to impoverished inner city children at summer camps in Detroit, Massachusetts and upstate New York.
She says that she found that job very rewarding, and it is hard to fathom, given her infectious personality, that the beneficiaries of her efforts weren’t equally affected by her efforts on their behalf.
Later, for about five years, she worked for the International Commission for Insurance for Holocaust Survivors, a job of equal social importance as being a mentor to youths at risk.
Warner has been making a difference for her whole life, so there is no reason to think she won’t continue to do so as a champion.
She says that she is learning to get tougher when dealing with the business aspects of boxing where she says, “People in the back scenes might not be as honest as you want them to be.”
Warner, who seems as honest as an athlete and a person as the day is long, is not naïve. She, as well as her manager, realizes that female boxing is still desperately in need of mainstream respectability.
Maybe, just maybe, these two women, both of whom are so accomplished in their own right, can help bring about a difference that will benefit women boxers throughout the world.
“Right now most women boxers are all equally as good as each other,” said Warner. “The sport is still looking for a star. There are so many good fighters out there, and all they need is a chance to show what they can do. I think that if we all work together, we can be even better than we are now.”
Jill Diamond, the head of the NABF female division, couldn’t agree more. “What makes these women so special is the fact that it is so hard for them to succeed,” she said. “They fight for such little money and prestige, but in terms of desire and talent they have as much, if not more, than their male counterparts. It’s up to promoters to make them promotable. Some promoters stepped up, but there is still a long way to go.”
If Warner can be part of a much bigger movement, she would be thrilled. “I want to go out and win titles in various weight classes and make my mark,” she said. “I want people to be inspired by the fact that I went out and followed my dreams, even if they came later in life.
“I would love for people to say she went out and did it at the age of 33,” she continued. “The lesson is that you should never give up on your dreams. Not at 20. Not at 30 or 40. Not ever.”