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Articles of 2004

Postcards from Uncle Al: The Boxing Cutman – Part 1

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The postcards arrived from all points of the globe — Trinidad, England, Poland. They came from small cities in the United States that she had never heard of — Scranton, Holyoke, Worcester, Bushkill. But they always came. Since Maureen Gavin was young, her father had been sending her postcards. The message was always the same. He missed her and even though he was out of town, she was in his thoughts.

Maureen’s father was Al Gavin, a boxing cutman who traveled the world with his fighters. He climbed up the steps with as many chumps as he did champs but he watched over each one as if the heavyweight title was at stake. And all those times he couldn’t be with his family, his thoughts were with them.

“My other children were older, they understood I had to travel,” Gavin told me. “Maureen was young, still growing up. She didn’t know where I was going all the time. So whenever I wasn’t in the house, I would write her a postcard.’’

On July 8, 2004, Al Gavin, 69, died at Long Island’s Winthrop Hospital from complications following a stroke. He left behind his wife of 51 years, Joyce, and his children, Barbara, Allan Jr. and Maureen.

But Al Gavin’s family included the entire boxing community. His longtime partner and friend was trainer Bob Jackson. His company was welcomed by managers, promoters, trainers and the media. He was adored by his fighters, who simply called him, “Uncle Al.”

There was a period of time in the mid-1990s during which I had the opportunity to accompany Al Gavin on the road. My father was a former light heavyweight contender who was prone to cuts. At various times throughout his career, “Irish” Bobby Cassidy trusted Gavin to stop the bleeding. When my father became a trainer, he trusted Gavin to watch over his fighters. I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. In between the fights, we sat in traffic jams, coffee shops and dressing rooms. It was during those moments that Al helped me understand the art of stopping cuts and the business of boxing.

These are my postcards, from my days and nights with Uncle Al. His spirit remains palpable in boxing corners everywhere and it lives within the fighters who loved him dearly. Therefore, this is written in the presence tense, adding a voice to that spirit.

* * *

Worcester, Massachusetts, December 9, 1994: Winter has bitten New England. The blustering wind abbreviates Gavin’s morning foray into the city.

When Gavin is out of town – be it Worcester or Vegas – he follows a routine. He wakes up by 8:00 a.m. and checks the equipment in his duffel bag. He goes out for breakfast, purchases a lotto ticket and some postcards. By now, he knows where to get items like gauze pads, athletic tape and Vaseline in many small cities across the land. He spends the rest of the day walking or writing postcards until the fighter and the rest of the team departs for the arena. In this case, the arena is a church gymnasium.

Gavin has traveled four hours from New York to work with junior middleweight contender, Godfrey Nyakana, of Uganda. Gavin thinks Nyakana has what it takes to become champion so it is worth the trip even if the fight at the Mt. Carmel Rec Center is scheduled for eight rounds. After the weigh-in, where Gavin is recruited  to work two more corners, including that of main event fighter Jose Rivera, he retreats back to the hotel. Gavin is talking with a reporter and a trainer when someone knocks on the door. The reporter answers and, after a brief, awkward silence, Genaro Andujar, asks, “Is this Al Gavin’s room?’’

He is invited into the room and exchanges a huge smile with Gavin as they shake hands. Andujar is scheduled to fight Rivera, lured into Worcester for a payday Originally from the Bronx, Andujar now lives in Lewiston, Maine. He asks Gavin to work his corner but the cutman informs him he was already working Rivera’s corner.

The first time Gavin worked Andujar’s corner was in 1992 when they had bouts at Gleason’s Gym. Then, as now, Andujar didn’t have a cutman. He suffered a terrible cut in the first round of a six-rounder. Someone from Andujar’s corner told a fan, “Quick, see if Al Gavin is in his office.”

Gavin was sitting at his desk reading the paper. He emerged with a cotton swab, adrenaline and gauze. He stepped onto the ring apron as the ringside physician was examining Andujar.  “Don’t worry Doc, I’ll take care of it,” said Gavin. He did and Andujar won the fight.

It is not likely Andujar will beat Rivera, a fact that everyone but Andujar seems to acknowledge. Gavin, concerned for the kid’s safety, begins to ask questions.

“Who is working your corner?’’

“A friend who got me a job as a carpenter.’’

“Did you train for this fight, Genaro?”

“Not really,” he answers, breaking eye contact.

“Why did you take the fight,” Gavin asks, his voice rising slightly.

“I needed the money. Christmas is coming.”

Later, Nyakana wins by 5th-round TKO. The trainer traveling with Gavin is hired at the last minute to assist the carpenter in Andujar’s corner. Mercifully, he threw in the towel in the second round and put an end to Andujar’s punishment.

When it’s over, the carpenter looked at the trainer and asks, “What did you do that for?”

[Postcard Postscript: Jose Rivera currently holds a portion of the welterweight title. Andujar lost 12 of his next 13 fights. He remains active in Lewiston, with a career record of 11-28-2.]

* * *

THE BUSINESS of blotting blood is fickle. If you stop the cut, you merely did your job. The only time a cutman really gets noticed is on the night he fails. While Gavin was penning his long-distance relationship with his children, he was also diligently building his reputation. A good cutman is an asset in any corner and Gavin’s longevity is a testimony to his talent. “If you can’t stop the flow, then you go,” says Gavin, reciting the harsh perform or be fired reality of his craft.

As a career, closing cuts isn’t a prime choice for those seeking fortunes. A 10-round fight is worth $100 and the fee descends by 20- or 30-dollar increments according to the amount of rounds the bout is scheduled, bottoming out with $20 for a four-rounder. It is a difficult way to make a living, which is why Gavin and the rest often hire themselves out to fighters who don’t have the luxury of a traveling cutman.

The real money comes with a champion. In a title fight, the cutman receives two-percent of the purse or a fee agreed upon before the contest. Gavin toiled for years without a champ. He stayed in the business because he loves fighters. He stayed busy because he closes cuts and keeps his mouth shut. Often queried by reporters for inside info, he spits out his standard line: “I don’t know nothing about that. I won’t testify in court and you can’t make me wear a wire.”

Gavin won’t talk because he is loyal to fighters and their handlers. In a sport where the only thing most participants know about loyalty is that it resides in the dictionary somewhere between liars and lunatics, it’s smart business not to bite the hand that writes the checks.

Although they monitor and control swelling, the main priority of Gavin and his clot-forming brethren is to stop blood flow from the nose, mouth, cheeks, eyelids or scalp. It has to be stopped in the 60 seconds between rounds.

The second priority is to prolong a fight if it is winnable. A good cutman is also a good con man. Sometimes, negotiating the one-more-round plea can last five rounds. It’s important to begin working a cut immediately and not just because time is short. A quick cutman can wipe excess blood from the area and get in the doctor’s way before he can examine the fighter. It’s all part of the con.

“A good cutman can save you a fight, save you a title, or even save your career,” said former WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde. “He can minimize the damage done so you won’t get cut the next time out or the time after that. And if you have a ref who is quick to stop a fight, a good cutman can be invaluable.”

* * *

Bushkill, Pennsylvania, March 17, 1995: Gavin is back on the road with Nyakana. Fernwood’s Resort, tucked away in the Poconos, has become somewhat of a boxing hotbed. Well, as hot as boxing can get in this rural part of Pennsylvania.

Top Rank, with TV time courtesy of ESPN, televises several cards a year from the resort. On this night, aging heavyweight Carl “The Truth” Williams headlines against young prospect Mevlin Foster.

A chill is still clutching Bushkill and once again, Gavin doesn’t stray very far from Fernwood’s. He doesn’t have to, the postcards are available in the coffee shop.

Gavin is a familiar face here. He is greeted by the boxing cognescenti milling about the lobby. The fight crowd seems oddly out of place among the middle age couples on third honeymoons or the young ski bunnies who occupy the rooms with heartshaped tubs. Such a regular is Gavin here that he doesn’t even get asked for a meal ticket when entering the dining room reserved for boxers.

Nyakana wins a 10-round decision on ESPN. He does not suffer a cut during the bout. But just as importantly, Joe Davone, the card’s promoter and manager of heavyweight Bruce Seldon, asks Gavin to work Seldon’s corner when he fights for the vacant WBA heavyweight title next month.

[Postcard Postscript: On April 8, 1995, Seldon stops Tony Tucker to win the WBA heavyweight title. Seldon purchases championship rings for his team and Gavin wears it proudly for the rest of his life. On August 29, 1997, Nyakana meets Verno Phillips in a junior middleweight title bout. Gavin is in his corner. Nyakana leads on points heading into the 11th round but is knocked out by Phillips. He returned to Uganda short time later and was recently elected to a seat on Kampala’s city council.] 

READ PART 2 of this series, as Robert Cassidy charts Al Gavin’s rise from his days carrying a spit bucket for the PAL boxing team to working alongside world champions such as Lennox Lewis.

Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List

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The final boxing pound-for-pound list of the year for 2004.

1. Bernard Hopkins: The top guy from beginning to end, Hopkins took care of Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in the biggest fight of 2004. Now, he'll wait for Jermain Taylor to progress a little further, or he'll go the rematch route with Felix Trinidad. Either way, Hopkins stands to earn a lot of money in 2005 and extend that all-time middleweight reign.

2. Floyd Mayweather: How long has it been since we've seen Mayweather in a meaningful fight? Certainly not in 2004, when he outpointed the difficult DeMarcus Corley. He's slated for a January outing against a no-name. Enough stalling, already, “Pretty Boy”. Fight someone we care about (preferably Kostya Tszyu), or you'll lose your #2 position sometime in 2005.

3. Felix Trinidad: “Tito” stormed back with a magnificent knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in 2004, and now hopes to capitalize on it with big money fights. He'd like nothing more than a rematch with his only conqueror, Hopkins, but he may also opt for old nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. Either way, Trinidad is sure to fight a big fight sometime in the coming year.

4. Kostya Tszyu: What a difference one fight makes. As recently as late October, the boxing world was wondering whether Tszyu was even serious about the sport anymore. We found out with a second round demolition of Sharmba Mitchell. And that made the junior welterweight division very attractive. Tszyu has several options now, including Arturo Gatti and Mayweather or even a hop up to welterweight to challenge Cory Spinks. Let's hope one of them happens in 2005.

5. Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao fought twice in 2004, and what a fight the first one was. His thrilling war with Juan Manuel Marquez was the best brawl of the year, and there is a chance that the two rivals will go at it again in 2005. If not, Pacquiao has a list full of options: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, etc. Pacquiao will fight one of them in the next year.

6. Marco Antonio Barrera: Another guy thought to be washed up when the year started, Barrera resurrected his career for the second time with a masterful victory over Paulie Ayala and a close decision over rival Erik Morales in another great fight. Barrera is obviously shooting for a return with Pacquiao, who decimated him in November 2003. Barrera says it was an off-night. Hopefully, we'll find out if that was the case.

7. Winky Wright: Winky entered the “superstar” realm in 2004 with a pair of decision victories over Shane Mosley. The first was very impressive, as Wright practically shut Mosley out. The second was closer, but proved once again that Winky was the superior fighter. He'd like a shot at Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya, but neither will happen. He'd probably be best off shooting for a name like Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.

8. Juan Manuel Marquez: After several years on the outside looking in, Marquez is finally in a position to make some money after his courageous performance against Pacquiao. He rose from three first-round knockdowns to wage the fight of his life in a fight that was ruled a draw. It would also be interesting to see Marquez against countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales.

9. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” fought another great fight against Barrera, but, again, it was in a losing cause. He has now lost two of three to his fierce rival, and probably wants nothing to do with him anymore. But, eventually, talk of Barrera-Morales 4 will come up again. In the meantime, Morales could shoot for Pacquiao or Marquez.

10. Glencoffe Johnson: The newest entry, Johnson pumped some life into boxing in 2004 with a pair of upsets of Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. Now, he's set to make some really big money in rematches with either, or a shot at old conqueror Hopkins. Either way, Johnson is better than anyone imagined.

11. Jose Luis Castillo: Castillo made some comeback noise of his own in 2004, beating Juan Lazcano for his old vacant title and decisioning Joel Casamayor for another big win. He says he wants Kostya Tszyu next, and if that materializes, boxing fans will be in for a treat. If not, Castillo vs. Diego Corrales is a great fight.

12. Oscar De La Hoya: Hard to erase that picture of De La Hoya grimacing in agony courtesy of a Hopkins shot to the ribs, but the “Golden Boy” had no business fighting at 160 pounds. He should drop down to junior middle or even welterweight again if he has any hope of regaining his past form. But 2005 could be the final year for one of boxing's all-time great attractions.

On the brink: Antonio Tarver, Diego Corrales, James Toney

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Articles of 2004

Heavyweight Joe Mesi Bringing Lawsuit

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As reported by the Buffalo News, Joe Mesi is suing the New York State Athletic Commission and the MRI center that conducted tests on the heavyweight boxer after his bout with Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi reportedly suffered brain injuries in the Jirov bout, which has left his boxing status uncertain.

The lawsuit alleges Mesi's medical records were improperly released to the NYSAC. The records, the lawsuit goes on to allege, were then released to the media, prejudicing Mesi's right to have his status reviewed by the appropriate boxing authorities.

The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages, as the extent of damages will be affected by whether Mesi is able to resume his career as a leading heavyweight contender.

Mesi hopes to have his status reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission within the coming month. The ruling of the NSAC promises to be key in whether Mesi will be able to resume his boxing career.

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Articles of 2004

The Best in Chicago Boxing Returns

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Dominic Pesoli's 8 Count Productions and Bob Arum's Top Rank Incorporated along with Miller Lite presents SOLO BOXEO DE MILLER, THE ARAGON RUMBLE, another installment of The Best in Chicago Boxing on Friday, January 14th, broadcast live internationally as part of Telefutura's Friday night professional boxing series.

The newly remodeled Aragon Ballroom is located at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. near the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and is easily accessible, just 4 blocks west of Lake Shore Drive and just 4 miles east of the Kennedy expressway. There are three large parking lots located within a 1/2 block of the Aragon Ballroom. Additionally, the Howard Street Blue Line stops just across the street. Doors will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

Headlining the action packed card is the American debut of super-bantamweight Ricardo “PIOLO” Castillo, 12-2 (6KO's) of Mexicali, Mexico as he squares off in a scheduled ten rounder against WBO Latino Champion, Edel Ruiz, 24-12-3 (13KO's) of Los Mochis, SI, Mexico. Castillo will be accompanied to the ring by his brother, World Lightweight Champion Jose Luis Castillo.

In the co-main event of the evening, one of Chicago's most popular fighters, middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 14-1 (9KO's), battles hard swinging local veteran “MARVELOUS” Shay Mobley, 7-4-1 (2KO's), of One In a Million Inc.in a scheduled eight rounder.

The huge undercard bouts include;

Carlos Molina vs TBA, six rounds, junior middleweights
Frankie Tafoya vs TBA, four rounds, featherweights
Ottu Holified vs. Allen Medina, four rounds, middleweights
Francisco Rodriguez vs. LaShaun Blair, four rounds, bantamweights
Rita Figueroa vs. Sarina Hayden, four rounds, junior welterweights

Said Dominic Pesoli, President of 8 Count Productions, “it was a terrific evening last month and our fans were thrilled to be at the Aragon to watch David, Speedy and Luciano. David Diaz's fight against Jaime Rangel was a fight people will talk about for a long time. Our commitment to our fans is to make every event of ours better than the last one. This main event is terrific, both guys are very tough Mexicans who won't take a step back.

The fans love Miguel and Mobley figures to be a very tough opponent. Him and David Estrada had a six round war last June at our show. And the undercard showcases a lot of new, younger talent that is coming out of Chicago right now. Tafoya and Holifield have both had very successful beginnings to their careers and Francisco Rodriguez comes with fantastic amateur credentials and David Diaz says he has all the talent to be a great pro.”

“We've got big plans for 2005 and this show should take up right where last months show left off. The huge crowd loved the action last time and I'm sure they'll say the same thing this time.”

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