In 2001, ABCO’s founder Sahasombhop “Sombhop” Srisomvognse passed away and the organization was in dire need of an experienced leader. Boxing in Thailand was experiencing a downturn and demanded a boost. At the request of the WBC, “The General” took over the reigns of the Asian Boxing Council and six years later, the number of championship fights in the country has nearly doubled.
TSS: Where are you from in Thailand?
General Bhakdibhumi: I am originally from Angthong Province, next to Ayutthaya and Northwest of Bangkok.
TSS: When did you come to Bangkok?
General Bhakdibhumi: I came to Bangkok when I was ten years old; to study in school.
TSS: And after you graduated from high school, what did you do?
General Bhakdibhumi: I wanted to further my education so I went to San Francisco and studied at Heald College. I received a bachelor’s degree in communications.
TSS: And then you came back to Thailand?
General Bhakdibhumi: Yes. I joined the Thai police force as a sub-lieutenant in 1963. I began my training in the police force and with the FBI in Quantico, Virginia. Afterwards I was put in charge of the narcotics division in Northern Thailand.
TSS: I understand you own several companies and are involved in mining. You’re a very busy man. Where do you find the time?
General Bhakdibhumi: The mining business was my family’s business and my father passed it on to me. I was lucky, really. We mine for gypsum, quartz and a lot of other items – but my family handled the business while I was with the police force, so again I was fortunate.
TSS: So you’re married? Do you have any children?
General Bhakdibhumi: Yes, of course, I’ve been married for forty years. I have four children; three sons and one daughter. All have graduated from university – this is something I’m very proud of.
TSS: You’re retired from the police force now, correct? What was the highlight of your career?
General Bhakdibhumi: Yes, I’m retired now. I’m sixty-eight years old and I retired in 2000. The highlight of my career was definitely when the King of Thailand gave me my fourth star. Something else I’m proud of is receiving my major general rank (two stars). I was forty-four and one of the youngest Major Generals at the time. Nothing compares to receiving my fourth star though – from the King of Thailand.
A photo of General Bhakdibhumi receiving his General’s star adorns the wall in his office, as does another photo of the General and WBC President Jose Sulaiman meeting with the King of Thailand.
TSS: So how and when did you get into boxing?
General Bhakdibhumi: As my career with the police force was ending, I felt I had two choices; become involved in politics or become involved in sport. I’ve always been involved in sports one way or another. I was involved with the Thai Olympic Committee back in 1975 and assisted in creating a relationship between China and Thailand. So I’ve had experience in sports administration before working with the WBC.
In 1996, the WBC held its convention in Chiang Mai, in the North of Thailand where I was the chief of police. I was asked to be guest of honor and opened the convention. Years later, when Somphop (ABCO’s founder) passed away, Dr. Sulaiman asked if I’d be interested in becoming its President. It was an easy decision to make.
TSS: You also work with the WBC Muay Thai. How does the WBC work with another major Muay Thai organization, the World Muay Thai Council?
General Bhakdibhumi: We don’t. They do their thing and we do ours. We have our ratings, they have theirs.
TSS: Does the WBC have any plans to get involved in Mixed Martial Arts?
General Bhakdibhumi: No, our interest is only in boxing and Muay Thai.
TSS: What about putting on WBC shows here in Thailand featuring WBC Muay Thai champions and WBC boxers on the same bill? Sort of like the Pongsaklek show in November when you had a round robin Muay Thai tournament before his fight against Monelisi Myekeni.
General Bhakdibhumi: Yes, we hope to have more mixed shows; that is, shows with boxing and Muay Thai. We think the fans like it. Muay Thai is exciting, so it makes sense.
TSS: There are writers and fans who believe too much weight is given to fighters who win regional titles, especially Thai fighters who win ABCO and OPBF titles. Do you think this is true?
General Bhakdibhumi: Yes and no. But what is most important is the rankings need to be according to the individual fighter.
TSS: I have to ask you about some of the criticisms that have been leveled against Thailand’s fighters. First, the mismatches. What do you think about them and why are they allowed to go on here?
General Bhakdibhumi: Well of course, this is a very troublesome problem. The mismatches are unsafe and I don’t support them. I recommend to promoters and matchmakers they do not allow these types of fights to take place. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t.
TSS: Why is Thailand in both the Asian Boxing Council and the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation? This gives Thai fighters double the chance to get into the ratings. Thailand is the only country that is in both organizations. Why is this?
General Bhakdibhumi: Some countries join OPBF and others join ABCO. Now that the two organizations have countries from both regions in them, it would be difficult to eliminate one or the other; this wouldn’t be fair to either of the two. With ABCO and OPBF, we sometimes have the problem of determining which champion should be ranked higher than the other should or who is more deserving of a higher ranking or a world title shot. In 2007, we plan to have “Greater Asian” title fights between the champions of both organizations to alleviate this.
TSS: Isn’t this just one more title and one more source of sanctioning fees for ABCO and the WBC? I don’t understand this. Boxing need less champions, not more, don’t you think?
General Bhakdibhumi: It’s not about the money. First, the WBC does not receive any of ABCO’s sanctioning fees. Our sanctioning fees are $500 for a title fight, which is quite reasonable. This goes right back into running the organization. Forcing the two champions to fight is this best method to determine who the better fighter is.
TSS: Ok – but it seems to me there doesn’t need to be a title at stake to figure out who is the better fighter.
Please tell me about your goals for ABCO in 2007?
General Bhakdibhumi: I would like to see more bouts between Thai fighters. This is one goal. In March, Napapol Kittisakchokchai (currently #1) will fight Saenghiran Lookbanyai (currently #2) for the WBC’s #1 spot in the super bantamweight division. In the future, there will be more fights between the top Thai fighters.
ABCO plans to recommend world title shots for six Thai fighters; David Nakornluang, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Saenghiran Lookbanyai, Napapol Kittisakchokchai, Sirimongkol Singwancha and Oleydong Kratingdaenggym. We would like to give deserving Thai fighters the opportunity to fight for WBC championships.
We also plan to become more involved in China and India and in the future we should see more and more fighters from these countries turning professional.
TSS: Isn’t there a WBC convention scheduled to be held in China?
General Bhakdibhumi: The WBC convention will be in Cheng Du, China in 2008 – just after the Olympic Games.
TSS: Thank you very much for your time.
General Bhakdibhumi: You’re welcome. If we can assist you in any way, please let us know.
But not since Nixon vs. McGovern in 1972 has an election raised my gorge like the one being held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin right now.
And it won’t even determine who gets the next shot at my wallet and precious liberties.
It’s an on-line election to decide the most legendary dead Milwaukeeans ever, cooked up by the local Press Club for the city’s 161st birthday celebration later this month.
“As part of this year’s birthday party,” states the website at www.legendsofmilwaukee.org/, “the Milwaukee Press Club is asking you to vote for your favorite Legends of Milwaukee: The people who made Milwaukee famous! Those who made this list either were born in Milwaukee or made ‘their mark’ in our city. In all cases, candidates have a strong Milwaukee connection.
There are eight separate categories: entertainment, founders, “icons,” community, media, government, business and sports.
In the last category the Press Club politburo nominated eight candidates. They are Lionel Aldridge, a Green Bay Packer from the 1960s; NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki; Milwaukee Braves stars Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn; Marquette Warriors basketball coach Al McGuire; pro rassler Reginald “The Crusher” Lisowski; 1930s big league ballplayer Al Simmons; and Dick Bacon.
For those insufficiently up on their Milwaukee sports history, the ballot notes that Dick Bacon was “known for sunbathing year-round on Milwaukee lakefront.” I used to see him there, lounging amidst snow drifts in the wintertime and surrounded by mirrors to reflect the weak sunlight, wearing just posing briefs, sunglasses and the eye-poppingest tan this side of George Hamilton. He always waved cheerfully when anyone called out to him using the nickname by which he was widely known: “Nude Dude.”
That there are no boxers on the list isn’t really too surprising. As in most places these days, the Sweet Science isn’t on the Milwaukee media’s radar screen. But in the first third of the 20th century the city was, as The Milwaukee Journal itself then enthusiastically noted, “the big, real boxing center of the country.” And that was mostly on account of a homegrown fighter the Journal anointed as “the greatest sporting favorite Milwaukee ever possessed.”
But Richie Mitchell – known as “The Milwaukee Marvel,” for crying out loud – didn’t make the Press Club’s roster of local sports greats, and the Dick Bacon did?
Maybe for the members’ own good it’s time to look into revoking the club’s liquor license.
I’d stake my own yellowed press card on the fact that few if any of its nominees were as idolized as Richie Mitchell, or gave his sport and hometown a bigger thrill than the one Mitchell provided exactly 86 years ago this January 14.
That’s when he met Benny Leonard for the lightweight championship of the world at Madison Square Garden in New York, got knocked down three times in a row by the champion in the first round and then got up and knocked Leonard down and almost out. It was, said The Ring magazine, “as sensational a first round as the ring has known,” and even though Mitchell went on to lose on a sixth round TKO, his incredible courage won him immortality that, the Milwaukee Press Club notwithstanding, is more indelible then even the Nude Dude’s tan. Which is really saying something.
The small crowds who attend concerts and plays at the Milwaukee Theater nowadays have never raised the roof there the way Mitchell’s fans did when it was the Milwaukee Auditorium and he fought Freddy Welsh, Johnny Kilbane, Benny Leonard and other great mitt stars of that era. Local fans were so crazy about the classy, handsome blond boxer that after Mitchell’s thirteenth pro fight, a victory over Patsy Brannigan on February 24, 1914, they carried him out of the ring and down the street to a restaurant for a celebration.
By the time Mitchell fought Johnny Dundee at the Auditorium on August 30, 1915, it was the norm for hundreds of “Mitchell Rooters” to parade all over town in cars, led by a brass band. They even put a piano on a truck. “If you hear a bunch of noise on Thursday,” warned the Journal on the day before Mitchell fought Welsh on April 7, 1916, “it will not be anything but the Mitchell followers parading the downtown district.”
Lightweight champion Welsh wasn’t thrilled when the paraders held a Mitchell pep rally outside his window at the Pfister Hotel. He was even unhappier the next night when the local boxer clearly outpointed him over 10 rounds at the Auditorium (though Welsh kept his title because it was a no-decision fight).
Later that year, while Mitchell was watching a movie in a downtown theater one day, his car was stolen from the street in front. His avid fans put an ad in the newspaper offering a $50 reward for “information that will lead to the return of Richie Mitchell’s 1916 5-passenger Mitchell automobile,” and God help anyone seen driving a similar vehicle around town.
When Mitchell joined the U.S. Navy during World War I, and left Milwaukee for Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, a crowd turned out at the railroad station to bid him farewell. He wept as he told his fans, “I’m going to do my best, and serve my country to the best of my ability.”
Over a thousand people saw him off when Mitchell went to fight Leonard for the title, and later a chartered train called “The Mitchell Special” ferried hundreds of Milwaukee fans to New York for what The Ring called “the night boxing crossed over from ‘the other side of the tracks’ – when rugged Tenth Avenue mingled with fashionable Park Avenue, and the Gas House District met up with Newport and the Hamptons. Bankers, brokers and political bigwigs blended with longshoremen, clerks, truck drivers and barbers in one happy gathering.” The fight was promoted by Tex Rickard and Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan, to raise money for war-devastated France.
“I never seed nuthin’ like it!” said Rickard, agog at the tuxedoed, begowned crowd. And at the end everyone agreed with columnist Rube Goldberg of the New York Mail, who said of the fight: “It was simply wonderful, that’s all. Old case-hardened, leathery-skinned, grimy-bearded sports, who have been going to sports since the aquarium had only one fish, were enthralled and speechless.”
Mitchell and his fans blamed those three knockdowns on his “first-round jinx.” He was often knocked down in the opening round of important fights, and Journal reporter Sam Levy said the problem was Mitchell’s popularity:
“Mitchell has countless friends. These friends have been a worry to him. He enters the ring thinking of his moral supporters. He is in there to satisfy their wishes. Being of a nervous temperament, it has required several rounds for him to get well started. His first round disasters may be attributed to this. He worries too much, and is too anxious to make a flying start so his friends will not be disappointed in him.”
When he fought in Milwaukee after the losing the championship fight to Leonard, crowds at the Auditorium would stand on the chairs, toss their hats into the air and scream themselves hoarse when the bell rang to end the first round, because “Richie the Lion-Hearted” – another popular Mitchell nickname – had survived the jinx.
On April 9, 1921, under the headline “The Idol,” the Journal reported that Mitchell “was acclaimed the city’s hero Friday night at the Auditorium when he appeared as second to Jimmy Muzzy.” For merely stepping into the ring to work the corner of a preliminary fighter, the crowd gave Mitchell an ovation that went on for five minutes.
When he died at 53 on June 26, 1949, the headline in the Journal was, “City’s Greatest Era Dies With Mitchell.”
“No one who came to Milwaukee since Mitchell’s fighting days can appreciate what an idol he was,” said the story by sports editor R.G. Lynch.
I’d be surprised if a lot of the Press Club folks were even born in 1949, which would explain their egregious snub of the city’s greatest sports legend.
But there is a remedy for that. The Legends of Milwaukee election runs through the end of this month. The results will be announced at a party at the Milwaukee Public Museum on January 31.
Write-in votes – the salvation of a free society – are accepted, so in the great American tradition of such political heavyweights as Boss Tweed, Mayor Richard Daley and “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson, I’m calling on fight fans to stuff the ballot box by logging onto the Legends of Milwaukee website and writing in Richie Mitchell. (While you’re at it, throw in a vote for Thomas S. Andrews, author of annual boxing record books in the early 20th century and a Milwaukee newspaper editor, in the Media category.)
In addition to being a terrific prizefighter, Richie Mitchell was by all accounts a very humble, sweet human being who shrank from self-promotion. But under the circumstances – the Nude Dude, for God’s sake! – I suspect that he would approve this message.
Hernandez, the former IBF junior lightweight titleholder, said on Sunday that he’s ending his career with a final match in his native country. The fight will probably take place in April or June. No opponent has been named.
“I’ll probably fight someone from the grave,” joked Hernandez, one of the classier gentlemen in the sport of boxing. “Unless they give me Manny Pacquiao, and that’s highly unlikely, I will be retiring.”
Hernandez has fought professionally since 1992 and became a boxing sensation while fighting regularly at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles. Among those he met early in his career were Paris Alexander, Narciso Valenzuela and Goyo Vargas. The Salvadoran favorite was trained early by the great Jackie McCoy and later fought and beat Stevie Forbes, David Santos and Justin Juuko. He lost his title to Tijuana’s Erik Morales by decision in July 2004.
Both Carlos and his wife Veronica who manages him are one of the most popular couples among boxing writers and television journalists.
They have two children and plan to move to San Antonio, Texas within a month.
“I have no regrets. I gave it my all,” Hernandez said. “I fought my hardest every fight.”
Hatton Arrives in Las Vegas
Great Britain’s Ricky Hatton is arriving in Las Vegas to prepare for his match against Juan Urango the IBF junior welterweight titleholder on Jan. 20, at the Paris Hotel and Casino. Hatton will be preparing at Wayne McCullough’s gym. The “Pocket Rocket” McCullough trains both Librado Andrade and his brother Enrique Ornelas.
Hatton was recently awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Queen of England for his boxing achievements.
“I’m still a little gobsmacked, to be honest. It’s a huge honor and a privilege,” stated Hatton.
Tickets are still available for the fight that will also feature Jose Luis Castillo facing undefeated Herman Ngoudjo in a co-main event. For more information call (877) 796-2096.
Barrera vs. Marquez
Mexico City’s two best boxers Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez will finally face each other, according to Golden Boy Promotions.
“Both Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez have signed contracts to fight each other,” said Richard Schaeffer, CEO for Golden Boy.
Barrera, the WBC junior lightweight titleholder, meets Marquez on March 17, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Both fighters will be available soon for a press conference in Los Angeles at the end of January. Oscar De La Hoya is expected to be present. No site has been determined for the press conference.
Boxing Writer Award nominations
The Boxing Writers Association of America announced five finalists for its Fighter of the Year award. They are Joe Calzaghe, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Israel Vazquez.
Nominated for Trainer of the Year are Enzo Calzaghe, Naazim Richardson, Freddie Roach, Emanuel Steward and Victor Valle Jr.
The winners will be announced in the coming weeks.
The defeat, in isolation, caused little more than a whimper of surprise given Alexander’s combustible cocktail of knockout power and vulnerability, but the loss coupled with Richard Williams knockout defeat to Howard Eastman for the vacant British Middleweight title, once again, forced fans to lament the lost class of 2001.
If only Alexander, Williams and contemporaries Steve Roberts, Anthony Farnell, Takaloo and Gary Lockett had seized the opportunity their simultaneous emergence offered.
Their collective failure to capitalize is, of course, not entirely the fault of the fighters themselves, if at all. Circumstances of the time, notably the existence of only one television network with a commitment to the sport and the reluctance of managers and promoters to make matches that would illuminate screens but endanger unbeaten records both huge factors.
2007 is meant to be a different time in British boxing and the divergent paths pursued by the Light-Middleweight class back in 2001 exemplified the asphyxiating effect of the sanctioning bodies now all but expelled from British shores. In their “pomp,” Britain supposedly boasted three “world-champions,” a European champion, a Commonwealth champion and an Inter-Continental champion amongst its light middleweight ranks. Considering none of those mentioned had fought and beaten a contender of note nor, largely, one another, the legitimacy of their claim to a portion of the world title, or even contendership, proved shallower than the faith demonstrated by their respective promoters.
It is unlikely, though we will never truly know, whether any of those fighters could have competed successfully in the upper echelons, considering the likes of Wright, Oscar, Trinidad and Vargas topped the division and Mosley, Forrest and Margarito cast long shadows from Welterweight, but all would have improved from meeting one another, on both fistic and fiscal fronts. In a way, it was the presence of such international luminaries that made the failure to make domestic round robin matches all the more frustrating. Only Takaloo versus Anthony Farnell was ever made and the intensity of the occasion a palpable example of what British crowds had missed since the height of mess’s Benn, Eubank and Watson rivalry. It may have been brief, but Takaloo’s knockout of Farnell in front of a passionate MEN crowd, the one Farnell helped build for Ricky Hatton, proved a high point in the boxing year.
Sadly, despite the interest and electricity it generated the knockout defeat of the favorite and local hero appeared to further polarise the domestic division and confirmed their promoter’s suspicions; pitching their “champion” (read “cash cow”), in with a fellow domestic rival was an unnecessary risk. After all, SKY appeared willing to purport that the type of WBF defences Steve Roberts made were world-class fare and that every bi-monthly episode merely a pretext to challenging Winky Wright or Oscar De La Hoya. A suggestion fueled either by an unflinching willingness to mislead or a naivety bordering on criminal negligence.
The readiness of the BBBofC and SKY to embrace these spurious baubles always struck me as obtuse; after all, only boxing fans tuned into fights in the darker recesses of Satellite television and they couldn’t be bought with an acronym. So if the belt meant nothing to those tuning in, why believe that without a belt a fight held no interest? Already marginalised by the move to Satellite, and it’s then partial penetration of the British television market, the WBF, WBU, IBA, IBC, IBO, IBU and to a lesser extent their senior bedfellow the WBO served to frustrate diehards and create a knowledge barrier to casual fans. Simply put, the belts acted solely to camouflage a promoter’s no-risk strategy. To those uninitiated in the politics and hierarchy of sanctioning bodies, how do you quantify the significance of the fight you’re watching? By hiding behind these worthless trinkets British boxing took the figurative “short money” and essentially walked away from casual fans.
Now five years later, and back on terrestrial television, boxing is once again reaching out for their attention. Viewing figures show sporadic success; Amir Khan’s transition from amateur to professional attracts significant audiences, Calzaghe arrived in the public conscience with his victory over Jeff Lacy and the blue-collar brawl between Clinton Woods and Glen Johnson reminded those lost since the days of McGuigan and Bruno that the sport still had value and interest.
With shoots of interest emerging the next step is to discover a rivalry to which casual fans can gravitate, recapturing the brutality and pantomime of the Eubank and Benn era. Too late for the light-middleweight class of 2001, Roberts retired, Alexander shattered, Takaloo back to welterweight, Williams 35 and a middleweight, Farnell now training fighters after a health scare and Lockett treading water at 160 pounds. Frank Warren, ITV’s exclusive promoter, had hoped to deliver Hatton to the network, and presumably a clash with Junior Witter but found himself jilted at the alter.
But all is not lost.
At 200 lbs. British boxing has two top 10, maybe even top 5, contenders willing to face each other and not “sometime in the future” or “after their next fight,” but now – right now. David Haye (WBC #1) and Enzo Maccarinelli (WBO Champion) both want the fight, both management teams proclaim unswerving faith in their man to knockout the other, the rival networks – Haye is with Sky, Maccarinelli on ITV – are prepared to flex to make the fight happen and purses have been debated and agreed.
Yet, despite the importance of the fight at this pivotal time in the sport’s history something has gone wrong. The reason for the collapse all but lost in claim and counterclaim of which I lack the energy or time to unravel – there will always be an excuse it seems and it will always be “the other guy’s fault.” Maccarinelli vs. Haye is the one domestic fight the British fans crave more than any other – okay, Hatton vs. Witter aside – and its collapse the latest and arguably biggest example of self-harm the sport has inflicted thus far.
The proposed date of April 7th, as lead support to the Joe Calzaghe vs. Peter Manfredo Jr. exhibition bout – arranged to introduce Calzaghe to an American audience – is an HBO date and would provide both fighters with exposure they’ll need to work hard to garner for themselves despite their undoubted potential.
Fans, the real lifeblood of the sport, can only hope that the publicised discussions represent a mere iceberg tip to the fuller negotiations that will ultimately deliver the fight.
They’ll not allow themselves to believe that of course, they’ve seen it all before.
What he also found in Brooklyn was his faith. When he arrived here he was exposed to Orthodox Judaism and became an observant Jew. He strictly follows Jewish law – if he has a fight on a Saturday, it must begin after sundown, the end of the Sabbath. And maybe that’s what life is all about, sacrificing something to find something else. Be it your home, your religion or your profession. Salita knows sacrifice, but when you get to the core of Dmitriy Salita, it is all about faith.
But his faith is more than just spiritual, he has faith in the American dream and faith that his talents will take him to the top of the boxing world.
The world in which we all travel is not very simple, boxing or otherwise. Perhaps every solution merely poses another question. Life is a lot like a good counterpuncher. In December, Salita, an unbeaten junior welterweight, was invited to the White House to have Chanukah dinner with President George Bush and the First Lady.
Talk about a counterpunch? It surely had to be an interesting time to be in Bush's presence, as he contemplated the notion of sending more American troops overseas to fight an increasingly unpopular war. Events such as this are not about politics. And nor should they be.
"It is a great honor to be going to the White House," Salita said, who was also Bush's guest in 2005. "I am really living my American dream and meeting the President was very farfetched for me a few years ago as I was one of the kids hitting the heavy bag in Starrett City boxing club."
When you find yourself standing next to the most powerful man in the free world, it is indeed a pinch-me moment. "It was surreal," he said. "I immigrated to this country when I was a young boy. My family was on welfare and struggling to get by. A few years later you get the chance to meet The President of the United States. To me it shows the greatness of this country it is truly a land of opportunity."
Yes, Salita knows about immigration and that the borders are tightening. It wasn't something he discussed at the White House, but just look around at the guys training next to him at Gleason's Gym and the immigration debate takes on a new meaning.
"I don't know enough about immigration law to have all the answers," he said. "But with the safety situation that America has encountered, I feel that the government has to check and double-check everyone that comes in to this country."
The Chanukah celebration at the White House also included the annual Menorah lighting by the President. While the occasion was one of celebration, Salita fully understood that the specter of Iraq looms over the current administration.
"As far as the war in Iraq goes, it's a long and a controversial subject," Salita said. "I think that it was brave of the President to take a firm stand on a war against terrorism. It's very easy to have an opinion on these issues, however I am not a professional in this area. I leave that up to the elected officials. I support the troops, they are real and true heroes and my prayers are with them and their families."
Salita, an intelligent and introspective young man, was not invited to the White House to talk politics. It was a celebration of his faith and success and hard work. He arrived with Jimmy O'Pharrow, the man who nurtured him at the Starrett City Gym. Somehow, Salita said, eating at the White House made the food taste better. They were surrounded by oil paintings and history and fine china and a security detail second-to-none.
"There is a certain strong positive aura at the White House," he said. "It kind of feels like a palace. The security was tight but not where it made you feel uncomfortable. It was similar to being screened at the airport but the lines were a lot smaller.
"One thing that stood out in my mind – it's kind of funny I guess – but the napkins were so fine and so thick they seemed like towels. I took one for a souvenir."
A few weeks after Salita arrived back in New York, another immigrant boxer, Kemal Kolenovic, was murdered in the Bronx while trying to play the role of peacemaker during an altercation. He was born in Montenegro in the former Yugoslavia and was chasing the American Dream that Salita speaks of. It was New Year's Eve and he was 16 days removed from his 10th pro victory. There would be no more. That was life, back in the role of counterpuncher. Kolenovic was a young man who may not have been as talented as Salita, but one who worked just as hard and spilled his blood just as gamely in the ring. His DNA, like Salita's and all the others at Gleason's, is spread across boxing rings, inside boxing gyms, all over the Northeast.
"I knew Kemal," said Salita. "He was a hard worker and always gave his all in the ring. It's very tragic. He will be missed. He was a staple in the New York boxing scene."
So too is Salita. Has been a staple for quite some time. In 2007, he is hoping to make the
transition from staple to superstar. Fighting is where life gets simple for Salita. When he steps within the boundaries of the braided rope, Salita controls his destiny. Boxing is not a utopia, nor is the White House. Whether you are in a tuxedo or trunks, the thugs, the racists and the thieves are there. And while triumph and tragedy and honor swirled in and out of Salita's life in December, he was most comfortable looking forward.
He was looking forward to getting back into the ring, where there are those special nights when the punches are snapping and the combinations are flowing and his sport is elevated to art. The ring can still be that place where a man's will and his faith are justly rewarded. To stand there, with crowd pulsating, the noise rising, with your hand raised in the air, well above the ring – that is Dmitriy Salita's American dream.
Boxing films tend, for the sake of authenticity, to populate their casts with former champions and contenders. Former fighters in the cast for the 2001 film “Ali” include WBO heavyweight titleholder Michael Bentt (as Sonny Liston), former IBF cruiserweight titleholder Al Cole (as Ernie Terrell) and multi-weight champion James Toney (as Joe Frazier). Speaking of Smokin’ Joe, he’s the only professional boxer apart from Burt Young (unbelievable, but true) to appear in the first “Rocky” film. And checking the credits for “Raging Bull” reveals that the role of former light-heavyweight contender Billy Fox was played by former WBA light-heavyweight titleholder Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
Perhaps the best and most underrated film to actually be about boxing is 1956’s “The Harder They Fall.” The plot is thus: Nick Benko (Rod Steiger), an unscrupulous American boxing promoter, faced with the dearth of talent in the United States, has begun scouring overseas for his next meal ticket which he finds in the unwitting and gullible Argentine giant Toro Moreno (Mike Lane). Toro, it is soon revealed, is a hapless fighter: “a powder-puff punch and a glass jaw… that’s a great combination” one ringside spectator dryly observes at a sparring session. But this means nothing to Benko who takes on unemployed boxing writer Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart) to act as Moreno’s publicist and (later) manager. Willis fixes fights for the unknowing Moreno and maneuvers his childlike charge into a heavyweight title fight that Benko and Willis can’t fix. Toro takes a horrendous beating and Willis discovers afterwards that the mob-related Benko has fleeced Toro of the majority of the fight’s revenue through exploitative contracts and creative accountancy, leaving the broken giant with just $49 from his American boxing career. As Benko sells Toro’s contract on to an equally unscrupulous manager, Willis recovers his floundering morals and places Toro on the plane to Buenos Aires, having given his own share ($24,000) of the endeavor.
Directed by Mark Robson, “The Harder They Fall” is notable firstly because it comes from the pen of Budd Schulberg who, two years previously, had written “On the Waterfront,” another great film about the underside of boxing. Secondly and poignantly, “The Harder They Fall” is Bogart’s final film before he died of throat cancer less than a year later and it seems a fitting tribute that his performance is so well-crafted and nuanced. Here, the disease is beginning to take hold and his physical appearance, haggard and weakening, adds to the sense of Willis being tainted by what Jimmy Cannon referred to as “the red light district of sports.”
Steiger, who accompanies Schulberg from “On the Waterfront” and was/is America’s most underrated actor, adds flesh to Nick Benko who easily could have been a two-dimensional monster. Steiger never loses sight of the fact that although Benko is a businessman who will go to any lengths to protect his “interests,” he is also a loving family man who dotes on his children. But Benko inside the world of boxing is perfectly and tacitly described by film critic A.K. Rode as “an absolute hyena.” Not only does Benko coldheartedly exploit Toro, but over the course of the film he is complicit in many criminal and amoral acts including sending two of his “boys” to physically injure Toro’s first American opponent who refuses to take the dive and forcing a sick and injured man into ring causing his death before twisting the subsequent newspaper exposure into good publicity for Toro’s tilt at the championship crown. There is a toe-curling irony when the repugnant Benko calls cynically on God in front of the press to save the life of the man he has just condemned to death.
Adding authenticity to “The Harder They Fall” is a roster of big names from the fight game. Perhaps the most prominent in the cast is Jersey Joe Walcott playing assistant trainer George, a man Willis dubs “a broken-down old warhorse.” Walcott is surprisingly good in the role, improving during the running time and he holds his own in his scenes opposite the theatrically trained and more experienced Bogart. Another notable appearance is made by former journeyman Joey Greb playing himself as a punch-drunk and broke ex-fighter reduced to living in his car. The role of Gus Dundee, the former world champion who dies after his bout with Toro is played by former light-heavyweight contender Pat Comiskey.
It’s worth comparing at this point the heavyweight champion from “The Harder They Fall,” - Buddy Brannen, the boxer Max Baer and “Cinderella Man.” Like “Cinderella Man,” the world heavyweight champion in “The Harder They Fall” is a demon of a man who destroys his opponents and then gloats over their prone figures. A natural showman inside and outside of the ring but not a good one on either side of the ropes, Brannen appears to be the distinct blueprint for Ron Howard’s “Max Baer.” It is ironic then that considering the similarities between the character of Toro Moreno and former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera that the role of Buddy Brannen is played by the then-retired Max Baer.
It’s impossible when watching to ignore the similarities between Toro Moreno and Primo Carnera. Both are foreign (Toro is from Argentina, Carnera was Italian), oversized (Toro is nearly seven feet tall, Carnera was six-feet-five-inches), who are guided in a blaze of publicity towards the heavyweight crown with more than a helping hand from their promoters. And, like Toro Moreno, Carnera was also cheated of his fight purses by the unscrupulous and shadowy figures controlling his career.
Carnera didn’t miss the similarities; he sued, citing that the similarities between himself and Toro Moreno led people to presume that his own boxing career had only been successful through the careful planning, manipulation and criminal activities of unseen others. Surprisingly, Carnera lost the lawsuit. Perhaps it was because of the rumors that had followed Carnera during and after his boxing career that swayed the court’s opinion.
Where “The Harder They Fall” does differ from Carnera’s life is in the final few fights before Moreno challenges Brannen for the heavyweight title. Toro’s penultimate bout to the Brannen fight is his ill-fated contest against Gus Dundee, a reflection of Carnera’s fight against Ernie Schaaf in 1933 after which Schaaf died after being knocked out in the thirteenth round and led to Carnera going on to challenge Jack Sharkey for the heavyweight title. But unlike Gus Dundee, Schaaf was not a former champion but a “contender” or “stand-up guy” whose injuries were not sustained in his previous fight but were thought to have been inflicted by a vicious knockout in the final moments of his ten-round decision loss to Max Baer four fights previously.
Moreno’s destruction at the gloved fists of Buddy Brannen is a twisted distortion of Carnera’s fight against Max Baer. Firstly, Carnera was the champion and not the challenger, having legitimately knocked out Jack Sharkey in six rounds to claim the title. For “The Harder They Fall,” the roles are reversed so Moreno is the challenger to Brannen’s crown.
What’s more is that Moreno is knocked cold in the third round against Brannen; Carnera, in comparison, was stopped in the eleventh after rising from eleven knockdowns. Nor was Carnera an undefeated fighter as is suggested by “The Harder They Fall”; at the time of his fight against Max Baer, he had five losses on his record – three by decision, two by disqualification. Neither does Carnera’s record suggest he was in the same league of punching power as “exhibited” by Toro Moreno. Although undoubtedly heavy-handed, Carnera’s record prior to meeting Max Baer was 79-5-0 (62), a knockout ratio of 78%. But Moreno, we are informed by his trainer, had knocked out his first thirty-eight opponents in Argentina before coming to America, a trend that continues on the path to Brannen (although these fights are undoubtedly fixed). There are only two fights that Moreno doesn’t “win” by knockout: his first fight in America in which a crooked second in the opposite corner throws in the towel after his fighter reneges on the “agreement”; and another where the fighter, refusing to take a dive in his hometown, allows his gumshield to be fitted with chicken-wire, therefore ensuring a technical knockout due to cuts.
As for whether Carnera’s fights were fixed in the same manner as Moreno’s, it is a point still debated. To this date, nobody has come forward and talked openly about fixing the Italian’s record although it is widely accepted that there was the presence of a “helping hand” that took Carnera from obscure European freak-show status to the richest prize in sports. My opinion is that Carnera was better than is generally accepted, not a great boxer but able enough to be guided towards the top. Undoubtedly, he was controlled and exploited by darker elements but there are a number of factors which I believe bear out my assessment: firstly, Carnera had five losses on his record prior to fighting for the heavyweight title so each bout he fought was obviously not organized well in advance; secondly, prior to Baer, Carnera had gone to distance seventeen times in seventy-nine fights – if the fights were being fixed, surely it is easier to persuade one fighter to fall down than to persuade three judges and the newspapers to score for the other; and thirdly, videotape footage of Carnera at training camp reveals a surprisingly well-conditioned, well-coordinated and skilled fighter. I would surmise then that Carnera was an able heavyweight fighter whose backers saw the potential to earn money from the sight of a giant fighting and guided him carefully towards a shot at the heavyweight crown. There were undoubtedly a number of “fixed” fights here and there and fighters chosen specifically to lose but this has always occurred in boxing and makes the case of Primo Carnera no different apart from his size, unique for the time.
Where Moreno’s fight with Brannen matches the Carnera-Baer fight is in the horrendous beating that the Argentine takes. He is knocked down three times in the first, once in the second and, finally, for the count in the third. Carnera, as mentioned before, went down eleven times in eleven rounds.
After seeing the damage to Moreno (broken ribs, jaw; two swollen eyes; a busted mouth), Eddie Willis says simply, “He’ll never fight again.”
Carnera, however, did and he spent the next twelve years fighting throughout Europe, the USA and South America. In his later years, he moved into professional wrestling where, as legend (and not much fact) has it, he beat Max Baer in a “rematch.”
Primo Carnera and Toro Moreno belong in the black-and-white eras of Joe Louis and Humphrey Bogart. Today, unfair comparisons are drawn between the Italian and current WBA-titleholder Nicolai Valuev but things are now different in boxing. Although it is still possible to guide any reasonably talented fighter to title contention and exploit them along the way, it would be impossible for a press agent like Willis to “hide” a real giant from the press. Nor is organized crime so influential – there is not enough money in boxing anymore, nor is its profile sufficiently large enough to justify the expense or the risk promoting a talentless fighter even if they are a giant. Besides, it’s the lawyers and the sports agents who control the commerce in the fight game now.
As the film closes, Eddie Willis steps behind his typewriter to prepare a story on Nick Benko and his minions. He begins by calling for a federal body, a national government entity to regulate the sport.
Maybe, fifty years on, some things haven’t changed.
Ivan Calderon (105) The little guys always entertain me as they are generally more active and tend to fire with reckless abandon. At 105 pounds Ivan Calderon is the best there is at Minimumweight, but the surprise here is that he isn’t a big hitter yet still makes my list as one of those boxers I can’t see enough of. The reason for this is simply his high degree of skill. Calderon, 27-0-0 with only 6 KOs, is a 5-foot southpaw and at 32 years of age remains is one of the best tacticians in the game. He does everything well, has speed, tight defense, slick footwork, and can whistle combinations off his opponents noggin and be gone before the return fire finds its mark. The best part is that the Puerto Rican “Iron Boy” doesn’t dance and run and can often be found right in front of his opposition, yet still escapes unscathed. For the fanatics of the finer points in the ring, Calderon is a pleasure to watch.
Vic Darchinyan (112) Darchinyan truly is a “Raging Bull” in the ring, applying pressure for as long as anyone can withstand it. With a 27-0 professional record and 21 of those wins by KO, Darchinyan is one of the most dangerous fighters today. Born in Armenia but fighting out of Australia, the 112-pound bomber comes at opponents from a southpaw stance just waiting and measuring before letting loose. There isn’t much of a jab in his arsenal; Darchinyan doesn’t bother with that stuff. His fights haven’t gone the distance since 2003 when Alejandro Felix Montiel somehow survived the 10-round route in a one-sided beating. The current IBF Flyweight champion’s biggest problem may be trying to convince the other champions to face him.
Jorge Arce (115) Now don’t get me started on the potential war that “El Travieso” Arce versus the aforementioned Flyweight champ Vic Darchinyan would be – that would be considered cruel and usual punishment to tease us like that. While Arce (45-3-1, 35 KOs) moved up to 115 pounds in his previous bout – a four round TKO over Masibulele Makepula in a WBC Super Flyweight Eliminator – he has primarily been in the 108-112 pound range. Always entertaining due to his aggressive style and heavy hands, Arce also is a bit of a “bleeder” which adds an element of suspense to each bout. He has ended each of his past eight bouts the short route and hasn’t lost since a disappointing TKO 11 defeat to Michael Carbajal back in 1999. Arce led 98-91 on all three judges’ cards before the bout was stopped. Like many Mexican fighters, Arce is all excitement and while that may shorten a fighter’s career (Arce is just 27 years old but has had 49 pro fights), it is great while it lasts. As if that weren’t enough, Jorge Arce also happens to be one the most passionate fighters around and generally seems to love the sweet science. His smile is infectious and if little men got the attention from the boxing public that they deserve, Arce would be a household name outside of Mexico.
Rafael Marquez (118) The best bantamweight is 36-3 Rafael Marquez with his pinpoint accuracy, near-perfect combination punching and tenacity to take the body. His 32 KOs in those 36 wins have made for some explosive endings but most often the Mexico City native will simply breakdown his opponent round by round. The fact that his three losses have also come by knockout translates to 35 of his 39 professional bouts having ended before the final bell. If knockouts equate to excitement, there may not be a more exciting fighter than Juan Manuel’s little brother. Somehow, Rafael has managed his weight to perfection as he now, at 31 is the same weight as when his career started.
Daniel Ponce De Leon (122) I know, I know, this guy doesn’t have a ton of style but boy, does Ponce De Leon (30-1-0, 28 whacks) ever make up for it with substance. Pound-for-pound one of the hardest hitters in pugilism, the 26-year-old lefty has crushed his opponent 28 times among 30 wins, most of them in highlight reel fashion. While not the most technically sound fighter, the fact that he is so unorthodox is part of what Ponce De Leon so dangerous. Opponents never can know what is coming next or where it may be coming from. It is true that he was outboxed by lanky lefty Celestino Caballero in a lopsided decision loss in ’05, but he is also young enough that he can get better each time out.
Israel Vazquez (122) WBC Super Bantamweight title-holder Vazquez had another solid year in 2006, going 2-0 with both victories inside the distance. He started the party by defeating forcing Ivan Hernandez to retire after four and then TKO’d tough banger Jhonny Gonzalez in the tenth round of what was a battle. His current win streak is at nine with seven wins the short way as he has now accumulated 30 KOs in 41 wins. If you need to know more about his heart and power, consider that Israel got off the canvas twice against Gonzalez before ending the show. Under the guidance of trainer Freddy Roach, Vazquez could be unbeatable again in ’07.
Juan Manuel Marquez (126) Marquez may be the best Mexican fighter right now, and that is always saying something. True, WBO Featherweight champ Marquez did lose in 2006 when he traveled to Indonesia and lost to homeboy Chris John, but his subsequent destructions of Terdsak Jandaeng and Jimrex Jaca showcased what makes Juan Manuel “Dinamita.” Able to stalk or counter, Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs) has laser-like precision with either hand that explodes on his opponents and breaks them down. He works the body as well as he does the head, and getting seared by the straight right or being bombed by his left hook is like having to decide which method to choose for an execution. His accuracy is simply amazing. Marquez versus Pacquiao back in May of 2004 is one bout I’ll never tire of seeing. A rematch would be incredibly explosive.
Joe Tessitore gave an insight into K9's "colorful" past, which included drug dealing in Detroit. His brother is jailed for murder and his uncle drove the getaway car in that caper, Tess told us, but Bundrage said that he found God and has seen the light. Bundrage also touched on the murder of his sister, which came only a month before he fought Nito Bravo in the Contender 2 finale show.
Bundrage was the favorite coming in, as the Jamaican-born Smith has seen better days, and was coming off a loss to Oscar Diaz, his third loss in his last four outings. K9 got off to a quicker start, as Smith, age 31, took a spell to get warmed up. Bundrage, age 33, started some body work in the second. Too often, Smith bobbed, weaved and threw a single punch. Some things are great solo, but punches are best pluralized...
In the third, Smith got the kinks out, and perked up. In the fourth, Smith started by again backing Bundrage up. K9 showed that he sometimes he just isn't all there mentally, as he shoved Smith with his shoulder five seconds after the ref had warned him about that very same maneuver. Atlas had it 39-37 K9 after four...
In the fifth, the 149-pound Bundrage showed one deficiency in his game—when he tosses his right, he squares up and waits for a receipt. Like many of the subpar cashiers in my hood, the 148-pound Smith often forgot to hand the receipt over. Bundrage also was cut over his right eye in this chapter, a slice that was caused by a punch, not a butt.
On to the sixth. Smith had K9 in trouble late, but Bundrage held on for dear life. The reformed Detroit bad apple managed to survive the round. In the seventh, K9 got on his bike a bit more to allow himself to recoup some energy. Smith didn't really look to press the pace as one might think he would've. Still, the Mechanic did look to force the action, and took the round on my card, but not Atlas'. The eighth round saw more of the same, with K9 moving laterally and Smith pressing forward, but perhaps a bit too mechanically, if you'll pardon the wordplay. And the crowd didn't dig K9's strategy—they would've preferred he stand and toe to toe it with Smith. Atlas, though, rewarded K9's movement, and gave him the round. The ninth was Bundrage's early, as he picked away at Smith from the outside. His legs were as important here as his fists—he gets in, get out, and gets it done on the scorecards.
K9 jab was somewhat effective in the tenth and final round, and he showed good energy in this, his first tenth round. Until, that is, Smith caught him with a right and left that sent Bundrage back into the ropes. He stood firm, but Smith smelled closure, and amped it up. He again set on K9 and had him woozy on the ropes. But K9 is in superb shape, and he kept his legs, and his head, as he stayed away in the closing seconds, and even flurried sharply at the close. K9 had the edge in total punches landed, 207 to 196, and Atlas followed the mathematical hint, giving K9 a 96-94 edge. One judge saw it 96-94 Smith, another saw it 97-93 K9 (which drew boos) and the tiebreaker saw it 96-94 K9 (25-2), which drew even more boos. Smith, who doesn't catch many breaks in this cruel sport, drops to 20-4.
Heavyweight man of the hour Sam Peter chatted with Brian Kenny via remote hookup. Kenny presented highlights from last Saturday's Peter/Toney rematch, and played up Toney's poor level of conditioning, even despite the addition of Tae Bo guru Billy Blanks. Peter, ever the chill dude, didn't really bite when Kenny asked if he was in better shape in this outing than in previous outings. "I was in shape, every time I was in shape to try and make my career better," Peter said. What about Maskaev, Kenny asked. "That was a big bridge for me to cross and now Maskaev's next," he said. Of Toney, the Nigerian said he's "a great guy," but it's "time for him to quit." Kenny also helped clear up a mini mystery: at the last press conference, Peter told Toney that he would soon know that Peter is the more powerful, in his native tongue. No, it wasn't a death threat or anything so odious...
Peter said he wants to handle Maskaev first, and then he sees a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko in the cards. Nicolay Valuev, he said, has a head as big as Mandalay Bay (hey, this guy's a crackup!), and he wouldn't pick a winner between the Giant and Jameel McCline. "I would bring him down," Peter said when Kenny asked how he would fight the skyscraping Russian.
In the show opener from the Emerald Queen Casino, Contender alum Walter Wright, a Sugar Ray Leonard fave from Seattle, Washington, took on Dan Wallace, a 29-year-old Michigan resident in a junior middleweight tussle. Wright immediately emerged as a different class of fighter in round one; he was far slicker defensively, and his punches were far crisper than the greener foe. Teddy Atlas picked up on a Wallace trait that diminished his effectiveness—wasted motion. That effort expended, the analyst said, might mean that Wallace was thinking that he may be doing better than he actually was. Wright hit Wallace with a low shot in the seventh, and Wallace took a quick breather, but used about 20 seconds of the allotted 5 minute breather time. Atlas speculated that he may have been faking anyway, and Joe Tessitore quite smartly wondered why fighters never do take the full allowance to shrug off testicular torture. Wright put together about
10 shots to notch a technical knockdown, as Wallace sagged into the ropes a minute into the eighth. Wright didn't let him off the hook, jumping right on Wallace, who took some nasty blows, maybe a few too many, before the referee interceded. Wright is now 13-2, with 7 kayos, while Wallace tastes the bitter ale of defeat for the first time in nine bouts.
In a super middleweight four-rounder, Marcus Pernell from Portland, Oregon tangled with Roger Cantrell of Puyallup, Washington. Johnny Bumphus was working with Cantrell, and Ray Lampkin, a lightweight of some renown back in the 70s, worked Pernell's corner. The two looked to be of similar talent level early on, but Cantrell was throwing more. It appeared that Pernell didn't have quick enough hands to land from the outside and as Atlas pointed out, isn't comfortable doing the dirty work on the inside that's needed. But he did land some from the outside in the fourth round, and perhaps would've benefited from an extra few rounds. The judges handed down the word: Atlas said Cantrell won by a point, while the Tacoma arbiters saw Cantrell (9-0) a winner as well, by split decision. "A couple of judges were watching different fights," Atlas said when one judge gave Pernell (12-2) every round.
Brian Kenny caught up viewers on the latest boxing news, or at least, for those unfortunates who don't log on to TheSweetScience.com. He told watchers about Tyson's indictment, and then showed a clip from an interview with Hitman Hatton. Kenny hit on the Marquez/Vazquez possible go, what's next for Casamayor and told us of a Zab Judah return.
Next week, Angelo Dundee will chat with Kenny. That's saying something—the man is 83 years old, and still has his faculties. Then again, he did the training, not the fighting, didn't he?
By the way, feel free to leave a comment if you thought Smith deserved the nod in the main event...
Gonzalez refused to take no for an answer. “I never give up. That’s just something about me. I’m not going down without fighting until the end,” said Gonzalez of the fight.
He got up, survived and dropped Letterlough the very next round in what turned out to be an instant classic. There were a total of five knockdowns in a fight tabbed by many as “fight of the year” for 2001. To this day, the fight is regularly rebroadcast on ESPN. “Every time he landed the right hand he put me to sleep,” remembers Gonzalez. “The first two knockdowns were flash knockdowns but the third one was just tremendous.”
The 6’2” Huntington Beach native whose family had struggled to make it to Orange County from the beautiful and blazing Vizcaino desert in Baja California had finally broken through. “That’s when everybody started paying attention to me. It was that win that got me the Roy Jones fight,” Gonzalez (41-3, 25 KO’s) said.
In 2001, Roy Jones Jr. still had his superhuman instincts and blazing reflexes intact. He was considered by some as the top pound for pound fighter in the world. It was a packed house of over 19,000 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles that showed up to see Jones Jr. vs. Gonzalez along with Erik Morales taking on In Jin Chi. The roar of the crowd smothered Michael Buffer’s ring announcements. Gonzalez was there to rumble but Jones proved too fast, too athletic and too accurate. “I was trying to get him to fight my fight but he was too smart and incredibly fast,” Gonzalez said. Jones danced and countered his way to a unanimous decision win. “I did my best. I got knocked down three times and continued to fight,” Gonzalez said. It was disappointing, but that show of fortitude on his part eventually helped to earn him another title shot.
Dariusz Michalczewski was the undefeated WBO titleholder who was making an incredible 25th defense of his title. On October of 2003, in the German-Polish fighter’s own backyard, Gonzalez proceeded to defeat the European superstar. “I had a good plan on how to beat him and I was in the best shape of my life,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I’d have to win convincingly in order to take the title since it was his home turf.” It was a historic moment for boxing since Gonzalez became the first light heavyweight champion of Mexican descent.
The taste of world title success didn’t last long since he lost the belt in his first defense to Zsolt Erdei. Again, Gonzalez had to fight in his opponent’s home turf of Germany. Gonzalez concedes that he lost the match without controversy. “I don’t think I studied Erdei well enough, he outboxed me and counterpunched me well. I don’t think my focus was totally there for that fight,” Gonzalez said. “He’s still the world champion. Maybe we’ll have a rematch sometime soon.”
After wins over Orlando Rivera, David Telesco and Montell Griffin, Gonzalez earned himself a third title shot in 2005 against Englishman Clinton Woods in Sheffield, England. Woods won a decision that Gonzalez felt was much closer than the scorecards indicated. “I have no excuses. He won. I felt it was very close. Having to fight in Europe made things more difficult for me but that’s the way it goes,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who is now thirty years old, is slowly working his way back into title contention under the Goossen Tutor Promotions banner. A title eliminator is in the works for the #2 ranked I.B.F. and #6 ranked W.B.C. contender. “Goossen Tutor is working on something. I really can’t talk about it right now,” Gonzalez said. “If I win, I’ll get a fourth title shot.”
Julio’s come a long way from the dusty town of Vizcaino that’s a stopover near the middle of the Baja Peninsula. His parents moved the family to La Habra where young Julio was introduced to boxing. “That’s where I put on my first boxing gloves. It was with Dave Martinez at the La Habra boxing club,” Gonzalez said. “If it wasn’t for him opening the doors and taking us to tournaments when we were kids, I don’t think I would’ve continued. He’s been a good trainer and a good friend. He’s influenced me a lot. ”
From the little Orange County gym, Gonzalez found success early as an amateur. “I represented Mexico in the 1996 Olympics and lost to Vassily Jirov who eventually won the gold medal and was awarded the most outstanding boxer award,” Gonzalez said.
After ten years as a professional, the father of two boys feels he’s achieved most of his goals. “Boxing has been good to me. I’m very happy with what I’ve done but I feel I can do a little more. I’m very close to another title shot,” Gonzalez said. “I want to become a world champion again. That’s the goal for 2007.”
Once he ends his run in the sport, Gonzalez plans to give back to boxing. “I’d like to become a trainer. I think I have a lot of potential,” Gonzalez said. “I’d teach young fighters about giving it all they’ve got. I’d teach them to become the best they are capable of becoming and to always be satisfied with their performance as long as they give their best. That’s what it takes to be a real winner.”
If anyone knows about being a winner, it’s Julio.
For more on Julio Gonzalez go to www.juliogonzalez.net
At the time Williford had a year of college, as well as a North Carolina state Golden Gloves title on his resume. Braverman offered to send him a bus ticket to the Big Apple, but the ruggedly individualistic Williford opted to hitchhike instead.
“I really liked Al,” he said. “I know that a lot of people didn’t because he was very crude and very rude, but he was a freaking genius who always treated me nice.”
Williford took up residence in Jersey City and sparred daily with the likes of such popular local pros as Chuck Wepner, Randy Neumann, Bill Sharkey, Brian O’Melia, Wendell Newton, Al Brooks, Jimmy Dupree and Frankie DePaula.
He turned pro in 1968 and, according him and others, had about 40 fights. Box.rec.com lists his record as 1-3 (1 KO), which includes a third round knockout loss to Ron Stander in Oklahoma City in June 1976.
“Beau was fighting down south a lot in those days,” said longtime matchmaker Johnny Bos. “I remember seeing at least five or six times New Jersey, and none of those fights are on his record.”
Whether he’s regaling you with tales of the ring or the gym, Williford tells a good story. While he still speaks fondly of nearly all of his sparring partners, no one, it seems, is closer to his heart than Wepner.
“I really looked up to Chuck, still do today,” said the now 56-year-old Williford, who lives and trains fighters in Lafayette, Louisiana. “He was an ex-Marine, a real tough guy. And you couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“Beau is my dear friend,” added Wepner. “He’s a real happy-go-lucky guy, a big galoot, about 6’3” and 250 pounds. He’s a sweetheart.”
With the exception of DePaula, Williford speaks glowingly about all of his colleagues from that era.
He called O’Melia, who was a school teacher, “a beautiful guy who always had a smile on his face. He was a good fighter and a tough guy. He just couldn’t punch. If you didn’t like Brian O’Melia, you wouldn’t like Jesus Christ.”
On Dupree, he said, “He was a good guy and, like me, a Carolina boy so we had a little in common. The first time we sparred, Al Braverman told him to let me have it. He hit me with a right hand on the chin, his best shot. He told Al I guess he’s got a good chin, he’s still standing.”
Williford sparred with Newton, who was truly one of boxing’s nice guys, more than anyone else.
“He was the greatest guy in the world,” said Williford. “He never took advantage when it got to the point where I could hold my own. And he was never jealous of anyone else’s success.”
Brooks, said Williford, “Never trained a day in his life, but could knock a building down. We’d go running together and after a quarter mile or so, he’d say I’m finished. I’d get back after four miles and he’d say how far did we run today?”
Williford is not prone to speaking ill of the dead, but says that DePaula was a bully who lacked heart.
“He could hit like a freaking mule, but he wasn’t the bravest guy,” said Williford. “One time down south we had a confrontation and he said he’d whip my ass (in a street fight). I said, if you could you would. He had been in reform school so he knew a lot more about street fighting than me. He knew about knives and guns, but I wasn’t afraid of him.”
Williford, who is still good friends with Stander, jokes that the man known as the Council Bluffs Butcher because he hailed from Council Bluffs, Iowa, “hit like a sissy.” In actuality, Williford says, nothing could be further from the truth.
Still, he says that he had Stander’s face cut in two places and might have been en route to winning a decision. Instead, Stander landed one of his vaunted left hooks and Williford went down. He says he was up at the count of two when the fight was stopped.
He explains that promoter Pat O'Grady, who was known for his shenanigans, later told him, “We had to get you out of there” in order to salvage Stander’s upcoming bout with South African Gerrie Coetzee.
Williford wound up staying in New York for about eight years. In addition to boxing, he studied business at the College of New Rochelle and worked as a bartender at several popular nightspots.
“He’d ask what you were drinking and then say, ‘I’ll have one too,’” laughed Wepner. “Then you’d have to force him to take your money.”
One of those places, the Bells of Hell on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village, was frequented by writers and newspaper guys. In a 1995 article in the New York Daily News, longtime columnist Vic Ziegel recalled some wild nights, including one that landed Williford in the lockup.
At the time of the article, Williford was training Peter McNeeley for his fight against Mike Tyson. Ziegel recounted telling the former owner of Bells of Hell that Williford was by then a respected member of his community as a trainer, matchmaker, promoter, husband of a bank vice president, and father of four (now five) boys.
“Well, it took him bloody long enough,” snorted the recipient of the news.
The fact is that Williford has an awful lot to be proud of. His last fight was in 1979 and he began training boxers in 1982. His first pupil was a rough New York heavyweight named Bill Sharkey, an ex-convict who was later found murdered in Pennsylvania.
Sharkey, who fought both Mike Weaver and Kallie Knoetzee, had a fearsome reputation.
“I didn’t know anything about training fighters, but I learned a lot with him,” said Williford. “He was a bit of a nut case who would ignore you if you were afraid of him. He had to have physical respect for you. I was able to get that from him.”
Williford moved to Louisiana for a job opportunity, never expecting to stay long. Instead, he met his wife Teri when she was a college senior and they have never left.
Their five sons who range in age from 22 to 8. The two oldest, twins Leslie and Wesley, both won state Golden Gloves titles.
Last year Christian, 17, won the State and Mid-South regional titles. Having just turned 16, he was the youngest entrant at the national tournament in Omaha.
Although he didn’t win there, his father’s old friend Stander was in attendance. Omaha is just across the bridge from Council Bluffs.
“That kid can fight,” said the Butcher.
Williford now runs the Ragin’ Cajun boxing club in Lafayette. One of his head coaches, Deirdre Gogarty, is the former undisputed women’s featherweight world titlist. She is best known for her epic battle with Christy Martin on the undercard of the second Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno fight in 1996.
In December, Williford took the relatively inexperienced Kasha Chamblin, an eight year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, to Germany to fight Ina Menzer for the Women’s International Boxing Federation featherweight title.
Although Chamblin lost the battle after being stopped in the eighth round, she won the war and Williford couldn’t have been prouder of her.
“She’s as pretty as any movie star, and she really can fight,” said Williford. “The fight in Germany was, realistically, the first real fight she ever had. Ina was the first real fighter she ever faced and she did well. I told her the pros and cons of taking that fight, and she said we can’t pass up this opportunity. That’s a fighter for you.”
Williford, who also works for the Beacon Financial Corporation, is living large. He’s doing what he loves, has a family that he adores, and looks forward to each and every day with the enthusiasm of a novice Golden Glover.
“Beau is good for the boxing business,” said Wepner. “He’s just a good, good guy with a great personality. And he developed a hell of a program in Louisiana. They don’t make them much better than him.”