Sad news for NY-area boxing lifers, as the popular promoter Cedric Kushner, arguably a “B+” tier dealmaker with inarguably an grade “A” personality, died on Thursday, from a heart attack.
The fight-maker had a fondness for heavyweights, and was himself one, before undergoing surgery to downsize his frame. Kushner, age 66, was in ill health the last several years after a stroke, but friends in the fight game will recall his times in the sun, such as when his guy Hasim Rahman flipped the script and downed champion Lennox Lewis in a 2001 clash.
Kushner, born in South Africa, trod a well worn path, from the music promotion business to the sweet science. Both have low barriers to entry, where a man with XL dreams and a gift for persuasion can hack out a pathway to success. His boxing path started in 1984, or so, and he brought some flair for decibels and flash to the sport. In 2000, you would see the man and his sort of walrus-y facial hair, looking the tiniest bit glum, presiding over a show filled with B grade heavies at the Hammerstein Ballroom, in NYC, with dancers cavorting here, cigars and massages being smoked and indulged in there.
Kushner would back a Monte Barrett, or a David Tua, and get them wins, and hope they kept winning, so that they could be maneuvered into a title crack. He’d also be a figurehead to young fight game folks, who’d look up to him for wisdom and odd and delightful anecdotes. Aris Pina, of CompuBox, publicist Greg Juckett, folks like this are now laid low with the sad news…
He’d get into the big picture now and again, for sure, and early on, tasted limelight when he advised South African heavy Gerrie Coetzee, who gloved up against Larry Holmes in 1984. His all-time roster stacked up quite nicely with contemporaries over the decades. He world with and for “Irish” Teddy Mann, Marlon Starling, John Collins–Kushner worked the Illinois region for a spell—Robert Allen, Oliver McCall, Axel Schultz, Shane Mosley, Angel Manfredy, Shannon Briggs, Joel Casamayor, Ike Ibeabuchi, younger Peter Quillin.
Reporters enjoyed Kushner for his availability, and ability to fashion a decent quote, as when he said about Don King in 1988, “I used to have two pit bulls. They were too mean, so I had to get rid of them. The only difference between those dogs and Don King is that Don is much more vicious.”
That desire to give a show an extra spark made him a real-deal promoter; he brought boxing to the Apollo Theater in 1997, and was constantly looking to come up with an angle, a hook, a concept. Some recall his 2002 stab at a revamp, “ThunderBox,” which featured three round bouts and rap acts interspersed throughout. Was it a case of using tasty bbq sauce to mask past its prime beef? That could be argued, but it has to be said that Kushner knew the role of promoter was often to make the best of a bad proposition. His “Heavyweight Explosion” series often entertained to a degree greater than the sum of the parts would predict.
His stress level grew in 2000, and 2001, when he testified that he had to pay to play ie give money to an IBF exec to insure decent treatment of his fighters and took rival Don King to court, labeling him a racketeer. This guy who stopped out in sixth grade, in Cape Town, and then tried his hand as a merchant marine, before putting together shows for Fleetwood Mac and the Stones and the like, yes indeed, he packed a lot of living in.
2001 was a colorful year, as King swooped in and snagged Rahman. Kushner attended to some of the upheaval with a 2003 gastric bypass surgery. “I can’t stress enough how good I feel just a month after the operation. From an elephant to a greyhound, is what I say. For the first time in years, I’m optimistic about my life,” he told Thomas Hauser.
Ced, Uncle Ced as pal Lou DiBella called him, spoke at a groggy pace and didn’t have a face that screamed state of joy. But he dug what he did, big time. “I’m probably one of the few people who goes to work and doesn’t look at his watch to see if it’s time to go home,” he said to Bobby Cassidy in 2005. “I look at my watch to see what time other people go home. I’m happy. I’m doing what I enjoy.”
And it wasn’t the work that was everything to him. “Boxing guys were his family,” DiBella told me. “His family was his boxing family.”
Ced was sort of like the ribald uncle, who turned you on to whiskey at a semi-inappropriate age. DiBella recalled when he started at HBO, coming over from a law firm and met Cedric for the first time.
Would you like to take a ride to Atlantic City with me, he rumbled, in a Hitchcockian tenor, to still 20-something DiBella.
Why not, Lou said.
Ced snored some of the way there–he was well over 3 bills, with that walrus ‘stache–and they got to AC. On a seedy side street Ced saw someone he knew. “Driver, stop the car! Mary Anne,” he called out, from the window of the stretch limo, to a gal who was no stranger to a concrete hustle. “Mary Anne! How is your mum?”
This is 1990, this Harvard law grad has a dropped jaw…
“She’s much better, thanks for asking, Ced!”
Lou collected himself, asked what that was all about.
“Her mum was sick. She’s a person too!”
Well curated recollection, because it spoke to Kushners’ different sides, and the intermingling of the facets of personality and behavior we all possess, but in our fight game sphere, is often better tolerated and even appreciated than in mainstream society.
We all enjoyed Kushners’ perseverance and imagination, as when he staged a fight card in the Hamptons, in 2002, to try and bring some sweaty buzz to that meeting ground for the idle riches.
Ced soldiered on, without excessive grumbling, though his vessel was pulling a mutiny on him. David Tua proved to be a long-standing money-maker for Ced, who in 2005 acknowledged thew ups and downs he’d experienced.
“Life isn’t always fair,” Kushner said to Hauser. “And boxing rarely is. But I keep plugging along.”
The plugging included health battles, such as a 2011 spinal surgery…and we saw Ced less and less at local shows. Close pals visited him, and checked in with a man they knew loved the sport, and loved, and treated them, like family.
Ced will be sorely missed.
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