Noted Boxing Buffs Look Back on Their First Live Boxing Event (Part 2)

An interesting array of boxing people responded to our survey. The offshoot was a two-part story. Here are the remaining responses. The irony—or maybe the evolution—of Jim Lampley’s journey that began in 1964 was a gem (what a life, indeed), as were other reminiscences.  Ernesto Morales’s mention of Whitey Bimstein triggered great memories of the Garden.

Once again, a common thread that ran through many of the responses touched on the overall ambience, especially the pre-fight atmosphere.

Enjoy and please go to our forum and share your own memories.

JIM LAMPLEY (lead announcer for HBO Boxing and 2015 IBHOF inductee): Feb. 25, 1964 in the Miami Beach Convention Center. I was 14 years old and had saved lawn mowing and car washing money for months to buy a ticket to watch my most beloved hero, Cassius Clay, face heavyweight destroyer Sonny Liston for the most coveted individual identity in sports.  My neighbors in my sandspur and palmetto bug-blighted southwest Miami tract housing neighborhood all rooted for the hulking ex-con to batter and button the Louisville Lip. In my heart I believed right would beat might. For a long time, boxing experts called Clay’s one-sided TKO win the biggest upset in heavyweight championship history. But 26 years later, sitting at ringside in Tokyo, I provided the television commentary on the upset that surpassed it. What a life.

ARNE LANG (historian, author, editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science): When I was about 14, I went to a show at the old Madison Square Garden. I have no recollection of it other than being disappointed at the poor turnout. The arena was perhaps one-third full, sucking all the energy out of the building, or at least up in my section where I was a lonely soul in the cheap seats. The first fight that is seared in my memory is the first Patterson-Johansson fight. It gave me goosebumps as I listened on the radio in my bedroom.

RON LIPTON: (world class boxing referee, former fighter, retired police officer):  I was 15 years old and went ringside for my first live fight to see my friend Rubin Carter fight the first match with the crafty Herschel Jacobs in November 1961 at the Gladiator Arena in Totowa N.J. Jacobs  outweighed Rubin and was a slick ring tactician but Carter took the decision that night. I was hooked forever and never missed one fight or prelim in the old Madison Square Garden forever after. I was always one of the first guys at the box office to get my ringside ticket.

FRANK LOTIERZO: (former boxer, writer, and lead analyst for The Boxing Channel): Tuesday night, October 17th 1967. I was 8-years-old and “Smokin” Joe Frazier was starting to be viewed as a legitimate successor to the exiled Muhammad Ali. My father and older cousin took me to the new Spectrum in South Philly to watch the first boxing event ever held there. Frazier headlined a mostly heavyweight card against Tony Doyle of Salt Lake City. Frazier dispatched the 6-4 Doyle in the second round having dropped him twice. I was a boxing junkie for three years by then but seeing a future great fighter on the way up only strengthened my love for the sport of boxing!

LARRY MERCHANT: (retired member of HBO broadcasting team and 2009 IBHOF inductee): In 1944-45, the war years, a welterweight from Montreal, Johnny Greco, fought a trilogy with Bobby Ruffin, from  Queens, NYC, at Madison Square Garden, and an uncle who had fought as an amateur took me to one of  them. I was 13 or 14 and I remember that it was a brisk back-and-forth fight and that I read in the great Dan Parker’s column in the Daily Mirror the next day that one of them had vomited in his corner between rounds. “Given up his fish dinner” is the phrase that is burned in my memory. I knew when I read it that I had to find a way to get closer to the ring.

ERNESTO MORALES (aka Gino Febus): boxing writer and former fighter who once beat Alfredo Escalera): My first fight was the Gaspar “Indio” Ortega vs Florentino Fernandez rematch at the Garden (Oct. 30, 1959). A great fight between two top rated offensive-minded sluggers. They had the crowd on their feet most of the way. I went their rooting for “El Indio” whose trainer was Whitey Bimstein, a pal of my dad from the old Bobby Gleason’s Gym. But Fernandez got a widely booed split decision. I was about eight years old. Being brought up in a boxing fanatic family I would eventually go countless fight cards. A couple of years later I attended what eventually became the most classical fight card of my childhood. It was 1962 in the St. Nicks Arena, Cassius Clay vs Billy Daniels, both unbeaten prospects. Daniels lost due to a cut eye but gave a good account of himself. The semi-final was this tall lanky, odd stringbean-looking fighter, an unknown that I expected to be kayoed in a couple of rounds. It actually was over in a couple rounds but, but It was the ‘Stringbean’ that scored the kayo. His name: Bob Foster! Little did I realize that on that night I was having the honor of watching two of the greatest fighters ever in their respective divisions.

MIKE SILVER (renowned boxing historian and author): My first was on May 22, 1959. A Friday night Gillette Fight of the Week at the real Garden–the 50th street one. For a young fan just old enough to legally enter the legendary edifice, it was a one-of-a-kind unforgettable experience—and it began before I even entered the arena. I stood outside before the bouts began (as was the custom) soaking up the atmosphere in the small crowded area under the marquee, where boxing people–fighters (current and ex), fans, managers, trainers, seconds, hangers-on, entertainers– mingled (or just watched) before the bouts began. Walking onto the main floor, I looked up and around and my eyes were immediately drawn to the center and the surprisingly large raised ring. The ropes were covered in velvet. The ring appeared to me a special place, a shrine where the greatest boxers in history had fought. I noticed the canvas was a light blue (was told it photographed better for the TV cameras). I sat 8th row ringside and was surprised at the brutality of the first prelim match, as I was close enough to hear leather gloves slap against bare flesh. The live experience was far different than watching the action on our small television. I remember there were red lights atop the corner posts that flashed when a round ended. My senses took in everything, the 10-second warning buzzer, the fans’ reactions to an exciting exchange, the advice yelled out from the audience and the occasional catcalls. Oh, the main event was a boring 10 round affair between Alex Miteff and Wayne Bethea, but it didn’t matter. This was the GARDEN and I was exhilarated just to be there

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY (elite trainer; former world light heavyweight title challenger):  The first live fight I recall was a New England welterweight title fight between Papo Figueroa and Felix Nance at the Agora Ballroom in Hartford (Editor’s note: Jan. 13, 1984). The Agora was very similar to the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia, a real old-time fight venue where many amateur and gritty club shows were held over the course of the 1970’s and 80’s. Technically the Ballroom was in West Hartford but we always considered it a Hartford venue because it was literally across the street from the Charter Oak projects in Hartford where Marlon Starling trained. Papo was defending the title he had won from Fernando Fernandez from Brockton in 1981 and it was a tremendous back and forth matchup. To this day Nance decisioning Figueroa for that title remains one of the best action fights I’ve ever witnessed live.

BRUCE TRAMPLER  (Top Rank matchmaker and 2010 IBHOF inductee):  The old (former) Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue, Frazier vs Chuvalo in July 1967. I can still recite the undercard. That night inspired me to keep on going to fights and led to a lifelong love for the fight game.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS: boxing writer, blogger and “Master of the Beltway”): May 16, 1977. Muhammad Ali defended his world heavyweight championship against Alfredo Evangelista at the Capital Centre in Largo, MD. I was in middle school and I remember my father picking me up and taking me as a complete surprise. The bout itself was relatively uneventful but the atmosphere from the event was incredible andI was hooked forever more. Two other legendary fighters — Roberto Duran and Alfredo Escalera — were also on that card. It would be almost 15 years before I would see another live show but that moment would live on always!

PETER WOOD  (boxing writer, author, and former boxer): It was March 30, 1965 at the old Madison Square Garden. Willie Pastrano was defending his light heavyweight title against Jose “Chequi” Torres and the co-feature was Emile Griffith defending his welterweight title against Jose Stable. What a memorable evening! The bright yellow fight posters in the lobby were mesmerizing—Jose Stable’s black gnarled face, in particular, fascinated me. As my stepfather handed the ticket-taker our tickets to enter the arena, the man looked down at me and said, “How old’re you?”  “Twelve.” He shook his head. “Sorry—too young.” So, I never got to see Griffith decision Stable, or Torres TKO Pastrano that evening. Someone then drove me back to New Jersey. I will never forget “seeing” my first professional prizefight.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest full power lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. Before joining TSS, he was a featured writer for BLH and Boxing.com. He is also a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

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