Super boxing publicist Debbie Caplan-Paz heads a strong list of women honored including boxing manager Jackie Kallen, promoter Lorraine Chargin and current and former world champions.
The feisty blonde publicist Caplan-Paz is the very first “Woman of the Year” honored by the World Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday, March 30, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Commerce Casino.
Just like so many boxing champions, Caplan began her foray into boxing at a very young age. She was still in pigtails and only six years old when her quest for fire began in 1972 when two fighters posed for photos at the L.A. Zoo. She would not be denied.
“Chango Carmona was going to fight Mando Ramos for the title and I was working for Aileen Eaton of the Olympic,” said Bill Caplan, father of Caplan-Paz and a super publicist in his own right. “Debbie was in her blonde pigtails and ran over and climbed the fence to be in the picture with Chango Carmona…the picture ran worldwide.”
Some women are meant to be movie stars and others are meant for domesticated households, but Caplan-Paz knew in her heart that she yearned for the sports world, especially the world of professional prizefighting.
“I always wanted to be there, I love it,” she says of pro boxing.
Though she literally grew up in a boxing family, Caplan-Paz wasn’t allowed to attend a boxing card until age of 12. After that, forget it. Who could stop her?
“I grew up with the legendary Alan Malamud,” says Caplan-Paz of the late writer who covered boxing for both the L.A. Herald-Examiner and the L.A. Times. “I thought it was the coolest thing.”
As she grew a little older it was common to see Bill Caplan’s little daughter manning the turnstiles and blocking gatecrashers with her tiny frame.
“She was the bouncer at our shows. She was a tough little girl at 13,” said Papa Caplan who promoted shows in the San Fernando Valley. “Nobody got past her.”
The first pro boxer she helped was former East L.A. boxer Paul Gonzalez who won the Olympic gold medal in 1984.
“He was the first fighter I worked with. He’s such a good guy,” she said.
It soon became obvious that she wanted to do something in the boxing game despite all of its seediness and political machinations. Her first contract job was to work for the promoters guiding the career of young Olympic gold medallist Oscar De La Hoya.
“It was my first job without my dad,” said Caplan-Paz, who worked the shows held at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1993. “I’ve known him since he was 19.”
Who knew that De La Hoya would become the richest boxer in the history of pro boxing?
Later she worked with Top Rank and still later worked with now defunct America Presents. Caplan-Paz soon earned a reputation of being one of the savviest public relation specialists in the sport.
Ironically, people compare Caplan-Paz to Kallen who is also being honored on Sunday.
“Jackie Kallen was so open and giving of her time,” said Caplan-Paz, 41. “I was a young 20 something struggling and she was just so incredible. She was always willing to help me.”
Another person who proved a great teacher is former heavyweight champion George Foreman, who regained the world title while Caplan-Paz watched the magnificent feat happen in 1994.
“It was one of the coolest things to witness,” said Caplan-Paz whose dad worked as the publicist for that fight and is also a close friend of the great fighter. “George winning the title again is my favorite moment in boxing.”
It was Foreman who showed Caplan-Paz by example that all journalists should be valued as important to the cause of boxing.
“George showed me that writers have a job to do, just like fighters,” Caplan-Paz said. “I saw how he respected that.”
When Golden Boy Promotions began, Caplan-Paz worked with that fledgling company and with Top Rank until the third match between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera led to the now famous “Cold War” between the boxing companies.
From 2004 until 2007 the two biggest boxing companies warred with each other over every match up, world title opportunity and potential clients. The war was truly on and Caplan-Paz was forced to choose sides.
She chose Golden Boy Promotions because Top Rank was loaded with publicists and she liked being involved in a new adventure.
“That was brutal,” said boxing writer Carlos Arias of a Southern California daily newspaper the Orange County Register. “Debbie and her dad Bill had to separate. I think it was tougher on them than on Top Rank and Golden Boy.”
The Caplans survived the promotional Cold War by keeping their business talk away from the dinner table.
“It really was tough on us not working together any more because of the Cold War,” said Caplan-Paz. “It wasn’t like he tried to fish information out of me. We really respected the business end and we have to protect our clients.”
Eventually the Cold War ended and now talks between the big dog promoters has maintained a somewhat uncertain détente.
Under Golden Boy Promotions Caplan-Paz has emerged as a powerhouse publicist in pro boxing.
“Working with Richard Schaefer has been great,” Caplan-Paz says. “He really believed in me too.”
Caplan-Paz has relished it all.
“I really love boxing,” said Caplan-Paz.
Shane Mosley – “Shane is truly one of the best men I ever worked with. He’s just good-hearted and a completely dedicated father, husband and friend. He deserves every ounce of his success. He’s such a good man. Every fighter has to have a bit of meanness in him outside of the ring. I’ve just not seen that in Shane. He loves to please everybody. I wish he was a little selfish but he’s so giving and considerate. He’s truly just a good man.
James Toney – “He’s hilariously funny. He has just so much energy he can’t sit still even recuperating from injuries. Even before a big fight like against Evander Holyfield he’s walking around. He always wants people around him. He’s very social and very, very funny. In the 90s he would disappear and I would find him. He used to call me Colombo. I would find ways of finding him. Before I didn’t like him. But when I was asked my Bob Arum to work with James I couldn’t say no. We immediately clicked.
De La Hoya – “I’m so proud of him. Watching him on his journey in this business has truly been amazing. He probably had it a lot more hard than other fighters right out the gate. People were hard on him and that frustrated me. So watching him come onto his own and give back I’m really proud of him. It’s what you wish for in every fighter.
Lorraine Chargin “Promoter of the Year.”
Lorraine Chargin and her husband Don Chargin have promoted pro boxing for more than 50 years.
“I love boxing,” said Chargin, whose husband Don Chargin brought her into the sport more than 50 years ago. “Lots of good people in boxing.”
Chargin always yearned to discover the world, meet people and learn as much as possible about life. While still a teen she worked as a model, waitress and an advertising rep. Soon she found her way to California and never looked back.
“I wanted to see the world,” said Chargin who has 13 brothers and sisters.
Chargin’s brother was a U.S. Marine stationed in California. Gleefully she packed up and moved to the sunny state and worked at any job available including the telephone company, greeting card factory, gas station and as owner of a hat-check business.
“I never learned to type,” she said. “I just thought there had to be something else in life.”
In California she met her future husband Don Chargin in 1957; he was involved in boxing promotions up and down the state. Eventually he began making boxing matches at the Olympic Auditorium for the late promoter Aileen Eaton.
“She was my real mentor,” said Lorraine Chargin about Eaton. “She was a good lady and believed that life was not free.”
At the famed Olympic Auditorium the husband and wife team of Chargins helped propel boxing to greater heights and sold out crowds on a weekly basis.
A friend remembers that time fondly.
“Don Chargin became the matchmaker at the Olympic so she (Lorraine) helped Aileen Eaton with the duties. Aileen was the boss and I’m sure she was a big influence,” said Don Frasier, a boxing publicist and promoter who’s known the Chargins since the 1960s. “It’s hard to say who is the more successful.”
From working the ticket office to managing the historic boxing building, Mrs. Chargin learned everything boxing entailed.
“I absorbed everything,” she says.
Today, both Chargins continue to promote boxing shows throughout California.
“I do all the grunt stuff,” says Lorraine Chargin, whose favorite moment in boxing was watching one of their local Sacramento fighters win a world title in France. “Loreto Garza was not supposed to win and he won the championship. He was such a sweetheart guy.”
Though they had planned to retire to their home in Cambria, superstar boxer Oscar De La Hoya asked for the Chargin’s help for his boxing company Golden Boy Promotions.
“Now we’re busier than ever,” Chargin, 77, says. “We’ll probably never retire.”
Kallen began as a publicist then moved into the men’s only club of pro boxing when she became the manager of James “Lights Out” Toney in the 1990s. Now she promotes both boxing and mixed martial arts. It wasn’t an easy road.
“There were a lot of chauvinistic men that tried to freeze me out,” remembers Kallen, 61, whose life was made it to a motion picture Against the Ropes and starred Meg Ryan. “It was just a question of gritting it out.”
The Beverly Hills-based promoter is receiving the Aileen Eaton Award as a pioneer for women’s role in pro boxing.
“I always heard about her,” said Kallen about the late Eaton. “People always compared me to her. It’s a great honor.”
Kallen still manages fighters and is moving into the world of mixed martial arts. One of her former fighters Bridgett Riley is also being honored.
Former boxers Bridgett “Baby Doll” Riley and Lucia Rijker will be awarded for their contributions to the sport of boxing. Also, current champions Elena “Baby Doll” Reid, Layla McCarter and Carina Moreno will be honored as well.
For tickets and information (323) 697-2786. The event begins at 2 p.m.