I’m back again with another survey. This time I asked more than two dozen noted boxing buffs to name the nicest person they had met in boxing. One could select a boxer, active or retired, but it didn’t have to be a boxer. It could be anyone associated with the sport, living or deceased (but not a family member and preferably not a close associate).
As in my previous surveys, I get to weigh in first. TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez has been my cornerman for more times than I can remember. His set of values stands out in a business where values don’t seem to matter much and where the moral underbelly is often non-existent. The same can be said of Iceman John Scully whose yeoman efforts to help other boxers has been so great. Jim Lampley ties Iceman for second place. I have known Jim for many years and he has always been accessible, humble, reliable, and very candid. He is also one of the brightest people I know.
Here are the other selections. Some found it easy to choose; others found it difficult. Lee Samuels got several mentions. That’s him in the photo. The respondents are listed alphabetically.
JIM AMATO (historian, writer, and collector): Easy…Alexis Arguello. I met him in June of 1998 at the IBHOF. He was such a gentleman. I asked him if he thought Alfredo Escalera deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. His answer was a quick and emphatic YES!
MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI (boxing writer): This is a tough one for me because it’s so difficult to single out one person, but what I saw Hall of Fame weekend in Canastota in 2017 spoke volumes about the character of Shawn Porter. With a line full of people, he spent a considerable amount of time interacting with everyone in line until the line literally cleared out to zero. And when I met him, he was as cordial and humble an individual as I have ever met, a boxer truly appreciative of all his fans.
DAVID AVILA (TSS West Coast Bureau Chief): I’ve been fortunate to come across several extremely nice and gracious boxers in my 30 years in the sport. Guys like Nonito Donaire, Shane Mosley, Tim Bradley and Paul Malignaggi come to mind, but the guy who truly stands out is Israel “El Magnifico” Vazquez. Once in Cancun a dozen of us were stranded at midnight. Not all of us could fit in a taxi. He offered to stay behind so I could fit in the taxi. I declined. I never forgot that act of kindness.
KEVIN BARRY (former Olympic medalist and trainer of WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker): Listen to the tapes of all those great fights over the last 40 years and the voice you will most likely hear is that of Col. Bob Sheridan who did the international feed. In my mind he’s the voice of boxing and I can vouch that he’s a lovely man. Also, Jimmy Lennon Jr’s nickname, “Classy,” certainly fits him. He’s the perfect gentleman.
JOE BRUNO (former NYC sportswriter and author of more than 45 crime-related books): The nicest person I ever met in boxing is boxing trainer/television boxing analyst Teddy Atlas. Teddy is a legitimate tough guy, but he’s a no-BS guy, and a straight shooter. That makes him a nice guy in my book. A close second was a tie between John F.X. Condon, President of Boxing at Madison Square Garden, and his PR man, Tommy Kenville.
STEVE CANTON (a Floridian, Steve has been involved in every aspect of boxing for more than 50 years): Contrary to public perception that boxing is a sport made up of “not so nice” guys, I find it very difficult to narrow the list down to only one. There’s Emanuel Steward, who I was friends with for over 40 years and Angelo Dundee, who used to say, “It cost nothing to be nice.” Juan LaPorte, Pinklon Thomas and Billy Joiner also come quickly to mind. My life is richer because of those friendships.
JILL DIAMOND (WBC/NABF supervisor and prominent voice in female boxing): Lee Samuels always makes me smile. He’s effective in his job, which isn’t easy, and does it with dignity. With me, he’d rather talk music than boxing (they’re almost the same) and it’s so much fun. I’ve never heard him gossip or say anything negative about anyone. What a pleasure to know this man. He’s simply so nice and yet effective in a business that can get nasty.
JACOB “STITCH” DURAN (cut man for Wladimir Klitschko, Andre Ward, and many others): One of the nice things about working with nice guy Wladimir Klitschko is that I got to hang out with Michael Buffer. Plus I also worked on two movies with him. He’s one of the most cordial people you will ever meet.
STEVE FARHOOD (writer, editor, broadcaster and 2017 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame): There are several colleagues at Showtime who are wonderful people, but I’ll go outside the box for this and go with James Brown, someone I’ve worked with only a handful of times. He is among the most recognizable and accomplished announcers in sports, but he seemingly has no ego, and he makes you feel as though you’re the most important person in his life. He is genuine, generous, and of course, tremendously talented. I don’t see him often, but from what I’ve heard from others, my opinion is widely, if not universally, held.
BERNARD FERNANDEZ (journalist; one of only eight lifetime members of the Boxing Writers Association of America): Nobody was sunshine and lollipops like the late Angelo Dundee. Being around the fight game’s happiest ambassador for even a minute had the effect of bringing a smile to the faces of even the most persistent grumps. Angelo would show up for the annual festivities of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s induction weekend and make total strangers feel as if he was their best friend. “It don’t cost anything to be nice,” he’d always say, and he practiced what he preached. Oh, and he was a pretty good cornerman, too.
RICHARD FLAHERTY (elite referee, now retired, and active boxing judge): The late Johnny Wood was one of the best and most respected trainers in the Boston area during the 1950’s and 60’s. He watched over his fighters like they were his own sons. As a man, he was one of the nicest, most unassuming, well-liked individuals one could ever meet. Johnny was Boston born and raised, coming from the Roxbury neighborhood and was considered the best amateur boxer to ever come out of the city during the 1940’s. Johnny passed away over 15 years ago. His funeral service was a “who’s who” in Massachusetts boxing circles. He was elected posthumously to the Ring 4 Veteran Boxers Association Hall of Fame. R.I.P. my friend!!
JEFFREY FREEMAN (TSS New England correspondent; KO Digest founder): The nicest person I’ve met in this sport is New England based boxing publicist Bob Trieger. Sometimes I call him Mister T., but I always call him Mister Nice Guy. I met Bob in press row several years ago and he’s been an invaluable resource to me ever since as an up-and-coming member of the boxing media. Mr. T is all business when it comes to good publicity for his clients (whose reputations he zealously protects), but he also finds the time to be friends with and mentor those of us lucky enough to know him and call him a friend. The nicest promoter I’ve met is Maine’s Bobby Russo and the nicest boxer I’ve gotten to know is Connecticut’s “Magic Man,” Marlon Starling.
LEE GROVES (author, journalist and CompuBox linchpin): The first name that popped into my mind within the limits given here is Bernard Fernandez, an award-winning writer, and inductee in several Halls of Fame, and one of the really good guys in the sport. I first met him during one of my many visits to the IBHOF weekend, and though I saw him as a pseudo-celebrity, Bernard’s friendly demeanor immediately broke down the walls and, over time, created what has been a terrific friendship. As I became more experienced as a boxing writer he began seeing me as a peer, and on the Sunday mornings before the induction ceremony we made it a point to meet on the Hall of Fame grounds, purchase a couple of Basilio Sausage Sandwiches and chat at one of the back tables. At first, it was just a way to pass the hours before the ceremony, but it eventually morphed into what we call the “Basilio Sausage Sandwich Summit,” an event both of us look forward to every year. He is someone I hold in even higher regard than was the case when I first met him.
HENRY HASCUP (historian, collector, and long-time president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame): Emile Griffith was always the life of the party. In all the events I have run that Emile came, he would go table to table talking to everyone, taking pictures with everyone, including every kid and old timer. He loved kids and it showed. People would come back from the IBHOF saying they had a great time and although they couldn’t get close to several old timers, there was one that would go overboard in greeting everyone. I would say, “let me guess; Emile Griffith!” They would say YES, how did you know? I would tell them because I know Emile. Michael Spinks is another who will stay and take pictures and sign for everyone as well.
JEFF JOWETT (boxing journalist): Tony Wolfe had approximately 35 pro fights in late ‘40s – early ‘50s, then became a referee and judge on the Pennsylvania commission. From the ‘70s on, Tony served in several capacities, including president of the Mid Atlantic Association of USA Boxing, which produced countless amateur and pro boxers on every level. For decades, until just a few years before the end of his life last year, Tony was dedicated 24/7 to the development of amateur boxing and giving kids a chance to box in a fair and organized safe competition. He never had a bad word, defused the most fractious situations with tact and charm, was kind and fair to everyone, and went out of his way to serve the sport without personal gain or ambition. R.I.P.
STUART KIRSCHENBAUM (former amateur boxer; co-founder of the National Association of Boxing Commissioners): The nicest person I ever met in all my years in boxing was Arthur Mercante Sr. I met Arthur in 1981 and remained friends with him until his death at the age of 90 in 2010. Not only was he a world class referee but he was a class act. He refereed over 150 world championship fights but outside the ring is where he shined. He was my mentor. In his time, he was the best at his trade and still viewed by many as without peer. As I write this I can hear his Brockton accent and see him holding court wherever he went.
JIM LAMPLEY (2015 IBHOF inductee; centerpiece of the HBO broadcasting team): In a world in which I deal often with good guys Lee Samuels and Bill Caplan and others of their stripe it is brutally difficult to choose just one. But Emanuel Steward was the closest friend I have had in adult life and the sweetest man I have ever known. So if it can only be one, it can only be my lost brother. I love you Emanuel, and this tribute won’t be the last.
ARNE LANG (historian, author, editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science): I’ve known Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels for 30 years and never heard anyone speak a harsh word about him. Even those that left Top Rank with an axe to grind will tell you that Lee is a prince of a guy.
RON LIPTON (world class boxing referee, former fighter, boxing historian, retired police officer): The nicest person I ever met in boxing has to be Muhammad Ali. I met him at the Sonny Banks fight in 1962. We stayed friends and stayed in touch until he could not speak anymore from illness. I never bought my way into his friendship by writing books about him and paying him or creating a false and transparent image of friendship by generating more income for him. Ali could see through all that stuff and mentioned it often to me in private. We stayed friends for real as buddies and as boxers, me in Rubin Carter’s camp and Ali with Angelo. He was kind to everyone.
ADEYINKA MAKINDE (author, boxing writer, and barrister): Jose Torres was always helpful and generous to me when I spoke to him on the phone regarding my Dick Tiger biography and then when I met him in person in London. Incidentally, I have contributed a short essay on his boxing and writing career for the forthcoming Cambridge “Companion to Boxing” which should be published this year.
GORDON MARINO (philosophy professor, Wall Street Journal boxing writer, trainer): I have a draw between Angelo Dundee and George Foreman. Both of these giants of the ring did not use their celebrity status as a wall to keep people away. The poet Maya Angelou once said that you don’t remember what people say but you remember how they made you feel. I never came away from my talks with Angelo or George feeling as if they were doing me a favor. The trainer and the fighter who successfully worked together in George’s second career possessed the gift of a genuine love of people. Of course, Angelo’s charge and George’s nemesis and friend, Muhammad Ali, shared this same quality in abundance
ROBERT MLADINICH: (former NYPD police detective, author, and boxing writer): One who really stands out is heavyweight “Tiger” Ted Lowry, who twice went the distance with Rocky Marciano. As a black man who served as a paratrooper in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II, he observed German prisoners of war treated better than black American soldiers. As a pro fighter, he traversed the country fighting local heavyweights, often losing close decisions and being stopped only twice in well over 100 fights. He had no bitterness whatsoever about the many injustices he experienced in his life. He worked until he was 90 years old, his last job being a school bus monitor. He was grateful, gracious, classy, unique, charismatic and an inherently decent person. He was not only one of the nicest boxing people I’ve ever met, he was one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever encountered.
EDDIE MUSTAFA MUHAMMAD (noted trainer; former WBA world light heavyweight champion): When I was getting ready to fight Marvin Johnson, Muhammad Ali extended his camp to me. I spent three months with Ali in Deer Lake and we became very close. You couldn’t ask for a better friend.
DANA ROSENBLATT (former world middleweight champion; inspirational speaker):
The nicest person I met in my years in boxing is Edwin Curet. Edwin was a junior middleweight when I was turning pro as a middleweight. We trained together at the World Gym in Somerville daily. I made my pro debut only because he was the main event on the same card in Maryland in 1992. Throughout the years I sparred with Edwin as he taught me what it meant to be in the gym with a slick, classy Puerto Rican boxer who could take a punch better than anyone I had ever seen. He sacrificed himself in the years that we trained together in a manner such that he made sure that I learned my craft even though it was at his expense. He made this sacrifice in a way akin to a mother sacrificing herself for her offspring.
LEE SAMUELS (Top Rank publicist): The nicest person is Scott Ghertner, the publicist for MGM Grand – a caring person who has helped gracefully in the biggest boxing events of our time. He is also a survivor in the recent Mandalay shooting – he was working at the event when tragedy struck – a dear friend as well.
“ICEMAN” JOHN SCULLY (elite trainer; former world light heavyweight title challenger): I have met several especially nice guys in the sport of boxing but one who really stood out to me was Diego “Chico” Corrales. I met him in Las Vegas in 2005 not long after one of his great showings against Castillo and I approached him to tell him that I was training his old amateur teammate, Lawrence Clay-Bey. We talked for quite a while and I was almost shocked at how friendly he was.
Also, I was in New York City in 2007 for a fight and one night I saw Tito Trinidad in the lobby so I went over to meet him. He doesn’t speak very good English but we were able to communicate well enough with the help of his friend. At one point I had to leave to go to the gym and I actually felt bad having to tell him because I got the impression he would have stayed there and talked to me all day if I had wanted him to. Tito was as friendly and down to earth as any famous person I’ve ever met.
MIKE SILVER (renowned boxing historian; author): The great Ray Arcel is the nicest person I have met in boxing. A true gentleman of the old school. A class act all the way. Always approachable and very patient. He was far too good for the sport that made him famous.
CARYN A. TATE (boxing writer): I’ve met a lot of nice (and a few not so nice) people in the sport. The nicest, by and large, are the fighters. I think people might be surprised at how patient and kind most boxers are. But the nicest person I’ve met so far is Andre Ward. He’s very open and approachable, has a kind and generous spirit, and is very down-to-earth.
BRUCE TRAMPLER (Top Rank matchmaker; 2010 IBHOF inductee): So many very nice people in the fight game, in fact the great majority, and I’d hate to say who’s nicer. I certainly have to mention publicist Lee Samuels, trainer and bar owner Jimmy Glenn (of Jimmy’s Corner in NYC), and Big George Foreman.
GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS: (boxing writer, blogger and “Master of the Beltway”): For me, it would be Bert Randolph Sugar! I met him for the first time during the very first world title bout I ever covered — the rematch between champion Simon Brown and Tyrone Trice. He treated me like a friend from the moment I met him through all the times our paths crossed. The fact that he was also a native of the Washington, D.C. area helped as well. I miss him to this day!
PETER WOOD: (boxing writer, author, and former boxer): It’s a four-way tie. The boxing world is full of crackpots but it’s also full of magnanimous people. Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward, Nick Charles, the first sports anchor for CNN in 1980, and Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym.
Of all the tributes, those of David Avila and Robert Mladinich especially resonated with me And Jim Lampley’s post about Emanuel Steward was, in a word, poignant.
Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels was mentioned four times. Angelo Dundee garnered three mentions while TSS’s Bernard Fernandez, Big George Foreman and Muhammad Ali each got two.
Now it’s your turn. Who’s the nicest person in boxing that you have met?
Ted Sares is one of the oldest power lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He is now making a comeback after a severe injury. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.
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