Monek Prager, the son of a rabbi, was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1929. In 1938, his family immigrated to England, where Monek became Mickey Duff. Between 1945 and 1949 (according to Boxrec.com), he engaged in 44 professional fights, compiling a record of 33 wins, 8 losses, and 3 draws.
“To say I couldn’t punch wouldn’t be accurate,” Mickey told me once. “But I couldn’t punch very hard.”
He had four knockouts in those 44 fights.
Over time, Duff became one of England’s premier matchmakers, managers, and promoters. He loved boxing and was a marvelous story-teller. One of his tales involved John Mugabi, the hard-punching junior-middleweight from Uganda.
“Early in John’s career,” Duff recalled, “I wanted to get him a fight in the United States. So I called Don King, and King matched him against Curtis Ramsey in Atlantic City [on May 2, 1982]. I brought Mugabi over. Then an emergency came up and I had to go home. I hated to do it but there was no choice. All I could do was tell John’s trainer, George Francis, to call with the result the minute the fight was over.”
“So there I was, sitting in England, biting my nails when the phone rang,” Duff continued. “It was George, telling me that Mugabi had knocked Ramsey out in the first round. Then Don King gets on the line and says, ‘Mickey, the kid’s good but we got a problem. He’s begging me to take over his carerer. He says he wants Don King to promote him, but I told him no. I said you and I are friends, Mickey, and I won’t take him on unless he lets me keep you as a fifty-fifty partner.”
“Don,” Duff countered “I didn’t know you spoke Swahili.”
“I don’t,” King responded.
“That’s very interesting,” Mickey said, “because Mugabi doesn’t speak a word of English.”
Duff had a way with words. Noting the mess that Hasim Rahman got himself into when he tried to avoid a contractually-mandated rematch against Lennox Lewis, Mickey observed, “Rahman was three smart for his own good.”
Speaking of a rival promoter, Duff said, “So many of his fighters wind up in the hospital, he should sell his limousine and buy an ambulance.”
Commenting on the sad end of Muhammad Ali’s career, Mickey opined, “Ali has nothing to be ashamed of. But the people who let him keep fighting do.”
“The problem with boxing,” he told me once, “is that common sense isn’t common in boxing.”
But the Mickey Duff declaration that stands foremost in my mind was a commentary on the sweet science. “There are no permanent friends in boxing,” he declared. “And there are no permanent enemies in boxing.”
Mickey Duff was a permanent friend. He died on Saturday at the age of 84. Boxing will miss him.
* * *
On the eve of “March Madness”, Sports Illustrated ran an excellent feature on the first-round 1989 NCAA tournament game between the #1-seeded Georgetown Hoyas and Princeton. The 16th-seeded Tigers led by as many as ten points in the second half before succumbing by a single point on the last play of the game.
Why is that worthy of mention on a boxing website?
John Thompson (Georgetown’s coach at the time) later told this author, “Before the start of the NCAA tournament, I played a tape of Muhammad Ali for the team. It was a tremendous piece, a documentary that I wanted them to see as an inspirational thing. Then, in the locker room right before the first game, I talked with them about motivation and confidence. And just before they went out on the floor, the kids put their hands together and shouted, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhh!’ Then the game started, and we came within a basket of losing to Princeton.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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