An old boxing writer, with time on his hands, remembers the darndest things, although, admittedly, some of the details have faded:
I do not remember what fight I was covering in Las Vegas, but I do remember a small man and his bigger companion, both well-dressed, who did not have credentials and were trying to talk their way into the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion. The smaller man said to the guard at the door, “I’m Willie Pep and this is Archie Moore. We were champions of the world.”
When the press center for Don King promotions was in the Sports Pavilion at Caesar Palace there always was a banner which quoted King as saying, “People are my greatest assets.” One day Hugh McIlvanney, the great British sports writer, looked at banner and grumbled: “Yeah, and he’s liquidated some of his assets.”
While driving through the White Mountains in Arizona with two aides, Muhammad Ali came to the one traffic-light town of Show Low, which legend says takes its name from a card game. Ali decided it was where he would train for his successful 1976 title defense against Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium, which he did until he was persuaded to move to a Catskills hotel in New York State, which was more convenient for the media. While Ali was in Show Low, about six boxing writers showed up to watch him train for a few days. What I remember is that John Wayne had a ranch nearby and there was a sign in a store, which read, “This store is guarded with two double-barrel shotguns twice a week. You guess which nights.”
Losing fighters often let the referee know that they do not think the fight should have been stopped. Heavyweight Bill Drover let everyone in Madison Square Garden know what he thought of Zack Clayton’s decision to halt his scheduled eight-round bout against Luis Faustino Pires in the final, round. After the decision was announced, Drover grabbed the ring announcer’s microphone and bellowed, “Booooooooo.”
Drover’s “booooooooo” preceded Jerry Quarry’s booboo in the main event that night December night in 1969 – a scheduled 12-round heavyweight match against George Chuvalo. In the seventh round Quarry was knocked down by a punch high on the head. He got up at “3,” then decided to take a knee. He, however, lost track of the count and was counted out with one second remaining in the round.
Harold Johnson, a former light heavyweight champion who retired in 1968, was driving a truck when he came back to fight Herschel Jacobs at Sunnyside Garden in New York in 1971. Johnson, dressed as if on his way to work, attended a press conference in Manhattan at a Flame restaurant, one of a chain that advertized steaks for $1.19. I was setting next to the 43-year-old Hall of Fame fighter as he finished a steak and asked, “Do you think I could have another one?” Johnson was stopped by Jacobs in the third round.
At the final press conference before Muhammad Ali’s decision win in a title defense against Joe Bugner at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1975, the fighters tried on gloves, which then were sealed and placed in the keeping of a commission member, who was an official at a prison. “My gloves are goin’ to jail,” Ali shouted. “My gloves in jail? Why? They ain’t done nothin’ . . . . yet!”
I was talking to Lou Duva before a press conference in Atlantic City for Vinny Pazienza’s 1968 IBF lightweight title defense against Greg Haugen, from whom he had won the championship. Haugen happened to walk by, and the rotund Duva, Pazienza’s manager, said, “The only belt you’re going to get is my belt. “Good, I can use it to tow my car,” replied Haugen, who regained the title on a unanimous decision,.
Haugen was being virtually ignored as reporters talked to Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini at a New York press conference for their super lightweight fight at Reno, Nev., in 1992. Mancini, a former WBA lightweight champion, had retired in 1986 to take up acting, but came back for one fight in 1989, a decision loss to Hector Camacho. I asked Haugen why he thought Mancini was fighting again. “Starving actor,” said Haugen, who stopped Boom Boom in the seventh round.
Boxing writers gathered for a news conference the day after George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier and became heavyweight champion in 1974 at Kingston, Jamaica. Big George, however, wanting to show that he was boss, switched the site to an area near the swimming pool at the new champion’s hotel. On the way to the press conference, a British writer was glancing at his notes, and he walked into the pool. “He picked George,” a colleague said. “Now he thinks he can walk on water.”
The strategy for Jose Fernandez when he boxed left-handed Walter Seeley in Madison Square Garden in 1972 was to throw left hooks to the body. Fernandez was doing well until he got away from the strategy in the seventh round and got picked apart by Seeley. On returning to his corner, trainer Gil Clancy bellowed, “Hook him to the body!” Replied Fernandez, “Shhh, he’ll hear you.” Seeley won a majority decision in the 12-round super featherweight bout.
Writers were standing around a hotel ballroom waiting for Muhammad Ali to work out for his title defense against Jimmy Young at Landover, Md., in 1976, which Ali won on points. Publicist Murray Goodman rushed in and urged the writers to go immediately to Ali’s suite, where he being visited by Susan Ford, the daughter of President Gerald Ford. When we got to the suite, Ali put his arm around Miss Ford and sang, “If you knew Suzie like I know Suzie.” She turned red.
Ford then went to watch the workout, where she was approached by Chris Cline, who was involved in the promotion and whose son Biff, a light heavyweight, was training for an upcoming fight. “Miss Ford,” said Chris. “This is my son Biff . . . eight and oh.” Two months later Biff was 8-1 after getting knocked out in the second round by Johnny Blaine.
One day at Deer Lake in Pennsylvania, where Ali was training for his eighth-round knockout upset of George Foreman in 1974, at Zaire, boxing writers were introduced to Mudugu Bula, right-hand man to Mobutu Sese Seko, president of the African nation. He was asked how he felt about Ali carrying on about the Rumble in the Jungle, saying things like “Howard Cosell will be boiled in oil.” Bula said it did not bother him. “After all,” he said, “You must remember Mr. Ali is an American, not an African.”