PART ONE OF A TWO-PART SERIES — On June 6, 1948, the storied Marigold Gardens in Chicago was filled with cigar smoke, boxing being a bastion of political incorrectness and all. The smell of sweat, beer, cheap cigars, and Italian sausage mixed with an occasional whiff of perfume provided a comfortable, if pungent, setting for this eleven-year-old, as my dad thought it was time we enjoyed our first live professional fight together. It was between tough Chicagoan (by way of Estonia) Anton Raadik and slick Tommy Bell. Anton won by late TKO. As his arm was being raised in victory, he winked at me. A chill went down my spine. I was hooked and I have been feeding my addiction ever since. This was no poetic rite of passage; this was plain old manly stuff. I was in it—hook, line and sinker.
Here’s what others remember about their first live boxing show and the attendant impact. For purposes of overall brevity, there was a need to do a bit of editing, but hopefully nothing was lost in their engaging recollections. The respondents are listed alphabetically.
RUSS ANBER (elite trainer, cornerman, and the face of boxing in Eastern Canada): October 2, 1979. The Montreal Forum. Eddie “Hurricane” Melo takes on Ali Perez in the main event. Melo had become the darling of Montreal fight fans and had only one loss in his 16-fight pro career, that coming in his previous fight, a 12-round decision in a FOTY candidate vs veteran Fernand Marcotte. What was remarkable about his meteoric career was that Melo, who turned pro when he was only 17 years of age, had only been a pro for 15 months and had already had 16 fights including a 10 and 12 rounder vs Marcotte. In the co-feature, my then new friend and mentor Vinnie Curto took on New Jersey’s Marciano Bernardi in an 8 rounder. Wow! Here I was in the fabled Montreal Forum working my first ever professional corner with Vinnie Curto. I was 18 years old and had only dreamt of this moment. The thrill I felt that night is still as fresh in my mind as the moment I lived it.
MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI (TSS writer) Growing up in Cleveland there was not a lot of big time boxing. So in 1997 I convinced my dad to make the 10-plus hour drive to Foxwoods in Connecticut for the HBO card headlined by Ike Quartey against Jose Luis Lopez. I was in my seat well before the first fight of the night which was between veteran slick boxer Willy Wise and journeyman Mike Rios. That was my first taste of live boxing and I still remember that bout in vivid detail. The sound and snap of the punches sitting there in the arena live was completely different than on television. Wise dominated the action and broke down Rios, ultimately earning a fifth round TKO in a contest that will always have a place in my memory bank.
JOE BRUNO (former New York Tribune sportswriter; author of more than 45 crime-related books, including true crime, novels and screenplays): My first fight live was at Madison Square Garden on October 10, 1963. The main event was Joey Archer against Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (pictured). Archer won a split decision, and I didn’t think the fight was that close. Archer basically boxed Carter’s ears off for nine rounds. But in the 10th, Carter knocked Archer all over the ring, but was unable to knock him out. At the time, Carter was ranked #1 middleweight in the world by the WBA and Archer was ranked #6. I was just 16 years old and had tickets in the cheap seats upstairs. After the main event, there was a walk-off bout. I snuck down to the ringside seats, and I was in there in the second or third row to watch a first-round knockout. I was hooked on boxing right there.
DINO DA VINCI (promoter): I was around six years old and I accompanied my father to the Rhode Island Auditorium, although memory says it may have been known as the Providence Auditorium at that specific time. Don’t recall any of the fighters that evening, but do recall my father commenting on my return home that I was interested in every product that the vendors walked by with, or as he put it, “he had his nose in every basket.”
JULIE DIAMOND (boxing writer and boxing official): My first pro fight was Tyson/Spinks in Atlantic City. It’s was also the first time I met Ali, who was sitting front and center. The fight itself took less time than it will for me to write this. And it was clear, from the look in Spinks’ eyes, once down, he was not getting up. As an afterthought, the most interesting part was the pounding we heard just before Tyson entered. Bam! Bam! Bam! I later found out that it was an enraged Tyson hitting the lockers as he walked through the dressing room into the venue.
BERNARD FERNANDEZ (lifetime member of the BWAA and TSS mainstay): Most of the fights I watched while growing up in New Orleans, with the exception of a few amateur cards at St. Mary’s Italian Gym in the French Quarter (where future Hall of Famer Whitey Esneault groomed the young Ralph Dupas and Willie Pastrano), were on TV’s “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” which I would watch alongside my father, onetime welterweight Jack Fernandez. As best as I can recall – and, really, every fight fan should always remember his or her first time – the first pro fight Dad and I attended together was welterweight contender Jerry “The Boxing Barber” Pellegrini’s ninth-round stoppage of Freddie “The Hungarian Freedom Fighter” Martinovich on July 10, 1967, in Municipal Auditorium, avenging a split decision loss two months earlier. Whenever I’m back in the New Orleans area now and am in need of a haircut, I make the 80-mile round trip to Slidell, La., to get a trim from Jerry, who has become a friend.
JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO Digest; TSS New England correspondent): The first live fight was the 1993 Holyfield-Stewart rematch in Atlantic City. The fight was lame. The experience was legendary. I carpooled with two friends from Brockton, Edwin Ayala and Peter Gaskins. We had regular seats up in the crowd but I had to get closer, so I told Ed I was going to walk around. He came with me. Everybody was there. I ran into Riddick Bowe, the world heavyweight champion. I asked him for an autograph. He said no. He asked me how tall I was. I told him. Then I led us backstage. We saw ex-Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney and took a group photo with him. John John Molina’s management team asked us to take a picture of them after he won on the undercard. A future US President strolled through the area by the dressing rooms and I snapped a quick shot of Donald J. Trump. We jumped into Vinny Pazienza’s entourage for his ring walk to fight Lloyd Honeyghan but got scared we’d end up in the ring so we broke it off but never returned to our seats; instead meeting to watch the main event on the floor, close to where Holyfield’s Olympic teammates and other fighters were gathering. Pernell Whitaker signed the back of my ticket. Michael Moorer got testy about being photographed. We still have all of these pictures and the great memories of our trip. Impact? I’m a boxing writer today.
LEE GROVES (author, writer and CompuBox linchpin): Strangely enough, the first live boxing show I ever saw was also the first I ever covered. It happened on September 12, 1987 at the Holiday Inn in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The six-bout card was supposed to be headlined by Troy and Lloyd Weaver, two of the triplet brothers of onetime heavyweight champ Mike Weaver, but they couldn’t do it because they were also committed to fight in Atlantic City just six days later. Because the span between fights was too small for the New Jersey commission, they were forced to choose and they chose New Jersey. So there were co-main events featuring a pair of local fighters in separate bouts. Ernie White scored an upset sixth-round TKO over area favorite Tommy Hays, while Gary “Kompac Kid” Traugh stopped John Robinson at 2:30 of round one in the other co-main. My extremely detailed fight report ran in the January 1988 issue of The Ring and it had my byline at the bottom. Every time I stared at that byline I couldn’t help but be amazed that my name was printed inside The Ring. That’s a heck of a concept for a 22-year-old fresh out of college. That article was the first step in what would become a 20-year odyssey that concluded with my being hired full-time by CompuBox, which made me, for the first time, a full-time “boxing person.” And I thank God every day for the chance to live out my dream, a dream that started with the first live card I ever attended.
HENRY HASCUP: (historian, collector, and head of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame): It was the very first pro boxing show at Ice World in Totowa, New Jersey. Lou Duva ran several amateur shows, having boxers from New Jersey going against boxers from other countries, such as Italy, but they really were Italian boxers who lived in South Jersey. After several shows they made the announcement that several of the amateur boxers will be making their pro debut on May 2, 1978. I remember local boxers like Scott Frank, Guy Casale, Kevin Smith, Richard Roy and Nino Gonzalez fighting on that show. I also remember my feet were frozen because there was ice under the plywood at ringside. But I enjoyed every minute!
MIGUEL ITURRATE (former MMA matchmaker, writer, and senior archivist at The Boxing Channel): My first live fight was Tito Ortiz vs. Wes Albritton. The early UFCs were very raw, and that one in 1997 was in an old War Memorial type of building in Augusta, Georgia. There were probably 2000 people in the building and the very first fight was Ortiz and Albritton. Albritton got smashed very fast, and Ortiz would disappear for a few years before reemerging at the UFC Brazil as John Lober’s cornerman. Old UFC history as Tito went on to craft a Hall of Fame career. Once I caught the buzz of live fights, no matter MMA or boxing, I could not get enough.
Coming Next in Part 2 (L-W): Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and others share their recollections.
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