Ring 8, the New York City branch of the Veteran Boxers Association (VBA), has been helping fighters and serving as a surrogate family to scores of active and retired pugilists of all levels since its inception in 1954. Meeting regularly at the Waterfront Crab House restaurant in the Long Island City section of Queens, New York, guests can meet some prominent – and some not so prominent – boxers from the past and present. In recent months the organization was instrumental in securing a headstone for former welterweight champion Kid Gavilan.
“The organization goes all out to assist fighters in need,” said Mike Silver, who along with Bobby Cassidy Jr. and Sal Rappa, serves as one of the organization’s official historians. “At their monthly meetings, a fan or an historian can uncover troves of information. There is so much history associated with the organization and its members, some of whom are not remembered at all by today’s fans.”
Two such fighters are onetime middleweight Phil Pollack, who at age 90 is the oldest member of the organization, and former lightweight Charley Noel, who at 78 is a youngster by comparison. Both are in good health and eager to share their tales from bygone eras. While each had immensely different boxing experiences, they are linked by a common thread: their love for boxing and their ability and willingness to talk about it so articulately.
Pollack, the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from Poland, grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A strapping youngster, he was always adept with his fists and won the 1936 sub-novice middleweight Golden Gloves title by scoring five knockouts in six bouts. One time, he scored two knockouts on the same night.
“I could punch and everyone likes punchers,” said Pollack whose mind is amazingly sharp for a nonagenarian. “In those days boxing was king and winning a New York City Golden Gloves title was like being a world amateur champion. The only thing bigger was being an Olympic gold medalist.”
Pollack, who turned pro in May 1937, was such a popular attraction he fought his second bout at Madison Square Garden. He was often responsible for selling $1,500 worth of tickets, of which he was supposed to receive fifty cents for each ticket sold. When he argued with his manager about his always meager take, the manager disparagingly referred to him as “temperamental.”
Growing more and more disgruntled with each professional fight, Pollack retired after a June 1939 points victory over Vic Hale. Pollack said he was fouled incessantly throughout the bout and spent ten days in bed with bruises to his groin.
“I never lost in the street, as an amateur, or as a pro,” laughed Pollack, who left the professional game with a 7-0 (5 KOs) record. “After my last fight my mother said you got no money and you’ve been lying in bed for ten days. No more fighting for you.”
Later he was one of only 20 people out of thousands of applicants to be hired by the New York City Department of Sanitation. Back then all civil service agencies had their own boxing teams and Pollack reigned supreme, often fighting other pros who were working for various city agencies.
Because he was making only $18 a week, he ventured off on his own and eventually owned a successful Upper East Side dry cleaning business, as well as a shoemaking shop and a laundromat. He has been married to his beloved wife Amy for 65 years and they have four children. All in all, he’s happy with the way things turned out.
“I’ve had a great life,” said Pollack, a Queens resident who looks, talks and acts as if he is decades younger. “I never became a champion but that’s okay. I’ve had some struggles, but had some good times too. I don’t worry about what could have been. I think about what was, and what was was pretty good.”
Noel, on the other hand, was a quintessential opponent, as his unenviable record of 9-39-3 (1 KO) will attest. But his record doesn’t begin to tell the true story of his career. He rarely had more than a few days notice for fights, even against such championship caliber opponents and top contenders, some of whom he fought more than once, as Sandy Saddler, Mike Belloise, Jimmy Carter, Phil Terranova, Harry Jeffra and Bobby Ruffin. While in and of itself losing to those opponents might seem insignificant, when you consider that Noel was never seriously hurt or stopped it is astounding.
“Charley could slip and slide with the best boxers and most vicious punchers, without even getting a bloody nose,” said Silver. “Saddler knocked out many opponents who were much better fighters than Charley was. Belloise was a tremendous boxer and Carter was a great boxer/puncher. Bobby Ruffin, although never a champion, would go through today’s lightweights like a knife through butter.”
Noel, says Silver, “is a throwback to an era when an opponent didn’t fold like a cheap beach chair. There was something very useful about opponents back then. They didn’t just pad the records of fighters, they helped build their character. There was a big difference between being an opponent and a tomato can. Charley was an opponent. Make no mistake about that.
“A tomato can didn’t last ten rounds with someone like Saddler, come out unscathed, and be ready to fight the next week,” added Silver. “Knowing he was going to get called on short notice, Charley was in the gym everyday. He was always in superb shape and perfected the art of survival. And when he had some time to prepare for a specific opponent, he beat some pretty rugged guys.”
Noel laughs off any compliments or attention that is accorded him. He says that he was a so adept at fighting, he would often come home from a night of partying and board a train hours later for a bout against a much more skilled boxer. To him, it was all part of a game he not only loved but one that came naturally to him. Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, he learned to defend himself early on and was fighting professional main events at the age of 17.
Amazingly he scored the lone knockout on his record in his very last bout, a first round stoppage of Richie Dallas in New Haven, Connecticut, in October 1950. He went to work for many years at the post office, and lost his wife Louise about three years ago. Now living in the Rockaway section of Queens, he is in relatively good health and content with his past and present.
“I never got hurt in the ring and I never got beat up much by life,” he said. “I really look forward to those Ring 8 meetings. Unless my blood pressure is up, I never miss one. For me, it’s like a trip to the past.”
Anyone interested in making a tax deductible contribution to Ring 8 can send it to:
Veteran Boxers Association, Inc.
2-03 Borden Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101