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Articles of 2005

“Irish” Bobby Cassidy: Fighter, Trainer, Father, Mensch

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As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, it seems only fitting to chronicle some of boxing’s most colorful Irish or Irish-American boxers. This week’s profile is of “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, a perennial middleweight and light heavyweight contender from Levittown, Long Island, New York, who campaigned from 1963-80 and compiled a 59-16-3 (27 KOs) record against some of the best fighters of his generation. Currently a fight analyst for this web site, Cassidy has also worn many other hats during his whirlwind career. Besides being a highly rated boxer, he is renowned raconteur and highly respected trainer. However, at different points of his life, he says, he was a “world-class drunk, scammer, bookmaker, gambler and racketeer.”

This is his story.

Long before anyone ever heard of Gerry Cooney, Howard Davis or Buddy McGirt, it was Cassidy who put Long Island on the fistic map. Hailing from blue-collar Levittown, Cassidy, the son of alcoholic parents, planned to enter the New York City Golden Gloves as a 19-year-old in 1963. But a labor strike at the New York Daily News, which sponsored the tournament, resulted in the Gloves being cancelled that year. With no amateur experience whatsoever, Cassidy turned pro and went undefeated (with one draw) in his first 18 fights. His first loss was a squeaker of a decision to Billy Collins Sr.

“Boxing was the only thing that ever gave me any confidence,” Cassidy, now 60, emotionally recounts. “I had a pretty rough childhood, and all of my confidence was beaten out of me by an abusive stepfather. When I started street fighting, I realized there was something I could do well.”

Cassidy had no childhood memories of his natural father, but says his stepfather, who was Italian, hated him for many reasons, not the least of which was his Irish blood. “It was a strange family dichotomy,” said Cassidy whose brother and sister also incurred separate but unequal wrath. “My mother and stepfather were always drunk. They would each watch their own favorite TV shows in different rooms of the house, then come out and do battle during commercials. At some point the children would always get beaten. My mother actually liked to see me get beaten more, not because she disliked me more but because I could take it.”

His son, boxing writer Robert Cassidy Jr., says the major turning point in his father’s life is as happy as it is sad. “His stepfather, a cookie salesman, was an alcoholic who used to beat him unmercifully,” said Robert. “He was a very angry guy. When my father was a teenager, he turned the tables on him. My father was about to be attacked, so he picked up a garbage can and hit him over the head with it. I think he went from prey to predator at that moment. That action unleashed his anger, and he became a master street fighter. And that gave him the only real identity he ever had.”

As naturally talented as Cassidy was, few, if any, breaks came his way during his whirlwind 17 year career. He fought over 500 rounds, and took over 400 stitches, in such diverse locations as Sweden, Italy and Johannesburg, as well as in many of the dank clubs that were still flourishing throughout the United States during that era. He lost close decisions to local heroes Gypsy Joe Harris in Philadelphia and Luis Rodriguez in Miami, even though he had put both of them on the canvas. He even battled to a draw with Sweden’s Bo Hogberg in Stockholm. But he also stopped his red-hot local rival Bobby Bartels in front of more than 20,000 people on the undercard of Joey Giardello-Dick Tiger at Madison Square Garden in October 1965, and had his picture taken with Yogi Berra afterwards.

In 1969, with his popularity at its apex, Cassidy opened a bar, appropriately called Bobby Cassidy’s Neutral Corner, in Hempstead, Long Island. Knowing nothing about genetic pre-dispositions to alcoholism, he wound up becoming a problem drinker himself. Around this time he lived in a neighboring town from the bar and kept receiving mail for a man named Ed Cassidy. One morning in the local coffee shop he was approached by a fellow he had seen on the street many times. The man, an obvious alcoholic who had seen better days, walked over to him, introduced himself as his father, and strode away nonchalantly. He lived only two doors away from his son.

“Like I said, there was always a strange dichotomy in my family,” explained Cassidy.

By 1974 Cassidy was rated in the light heavyweight top ten, and matched with number one contender Jorge Ahumada on the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier II undercard at the Garden. The winner was guaranteed a shot at world champion Bob Foster. By that time Cassidy’s bar had closed down, and he was supplementing his modest boxing earnings as a bookmaker and collector. Cassidy had been arrested for bookmaking and his marriage was on the rocks. He was drinking with intensity and the fight had been in question right up until the opening bell. Never was Cassidy more unprepared for a big fight, and he was stopped in three. While Ahumada celebrated his upcoming title shot, Cassidy drank himself into a stupor at a midtown bar.

Over the next three months Cassidy’s drinking intensified. Even a drunken driving arrest didn’t slow it down. He finally reached the abyss on April 25, 1974, when he knocked out a 6’6”, 350 pound bouncer named Big Dave, as well as two of his cohorts, at a Levittown bar called the Sherwood Forest. Because Big Dave was the sergeant in arms of the local Hells Angels chapter, the story quickly took on a life of its own. Although Cassidy was told that he was chased on foot for miles, and eluded police by hiding out in yards and woods, he doesn’t have any recollection of the incident.

What he does remember is being on his hands and knees the next day, pleading with God for help for him and his two sons, Robert and Chris, who is now as renowned a photographer as Robert is a journalist. He got sober that day, and has not had a drink since. Once he stopped drinking, Robert, who says his dad was always an involved but distracted parent, became a superb single father.

“I realize now that as a young kid I understood certain things that other kids didn’t, like what the terms juice, shylock, vig, and quinella (a type of horse bet) meant,” he said. “But I never viewed my father as a gangster. He was at all of our Little League games, and always in the first row of the bleachers at our basketball games. He took my brother and me to the movies every Friday night. I never attached any stigma to his activities. All my friends thought he was a great guy. After games he’d take us for ice cream, and he’d even get something special for anyone who hit a home run.”

Robert says that his father told him that as a youngster he had never played team sports, so his participation in his sons’ activities made him feel as if he too was part of a team. But most importantly, his father was a local icon and his sons liked nothing better than going to his fights. In the cloistered world of Levittown, having Irish Bobby Cassidy for a dad was not much different than having Mickey Mantle for a father anywhere else.

“It was like living a fantasy,” said Robert. “But that fantasy came crashing down when I saw my father dropped by Christy Elliott in the first round (in June 1977, when Robert was 12 years old). That fight made me realize just how difficult a sport boxing was. My father won the fight, but it had quite an effect on me.”

By the time Cassidy retired, five victories and two and a half years later, he says “my cuts were popping up during the pre-fight instructions.” With little else to do, he immersed himself in what he knew best: the rackets. As a shylock, he once had over $150,000 on the streets. “I gave up drinking, but embraced racketeering,” he says unashamedly. “I have an addictive personality, so everything I made I was gambling away. I always had money coming in. Who’s not going to pay Irish Bobby Cassidy? But I was a good-hearted shylock. I’d give a guy a miss (allow a skipped payment) at Christmas time. Nobody does that.”

By the middle of the decade Cassidy was co-training Donny Lalonde for his multi-million dollar payday against Sugar Ray Leonard. His end would have been at least $150,000. However, the closest he got to the fight was reading about in an upstate prison, where he was serving 18 months for falsifying loan applications and possession of forged instruments.

“That was one of many breaks that seemed to elude my father,” said Robert. “He fought all those years and never got a title shot, then trained his first champion and missed out on the big payday.”

Visiting his father in jail was as painful for Robert and Chris, as it was for their father having them see him there. “My image of my father had always been of him wearing his green robe and shorts, with Irish Bobby Cassidy emblazoned across them,” said Robert. “Seeing him in an orange jumpsuit with his ID number stenciled across the shirt was pretty difficult.”

“I was so embarrassed and humiliated, and there were times we all cried like babies,” said Cassidy Sr. “I was as humbled as a person can be. But there was also a lot of anger, too. What I went to jail for, very few people actually do time for. I think there was some political motivation behind my incarceration.”

Entering the state prison system as a 44-year-old white man in 1988, Cassidy said he had few peers. Word didn’t get out right away that he was a former fighter, so he was forced to prove himself when he received his first care package from home. “Some big guy says ‘that’s my package,’ and I said ‘you ain’t getting nothing,’” recalled Cassidy. “Things got heated, and we came close to fighting. I stepped right up and he backed away. Word got around that I was a former fighter, and things got better after that. People started calling me Old Man.”

As miserable as his prison experience was, Cassidy said it helped him put life’s priorities in order. “Everyone should do one to three,” he jokes. “Your life is very regimented, you’re told when to do everything. But it gives you time to think, and makes you appreciate everything more.”

After his release he trained such notable boxers as Godfrey Nyakana and even took Lonnie Bradley from his pro debut to the WBO middleweight title. He is currently hoping to form an alliance with Buddy McGirt, who is now training fighters at his facility in Vero Beach, Florida, but wants to open another gym in the New York metropolitan area as well.

“Boxing is what I do, and who I am,” said Cassidy. “It’s what I do best, what I should be doing with my life. More than anything else, I’d like to train fighters full time. I have a lot of knowledge to impart to them. I know what makes them think, what makes them scared, and what makes them successful.”

In the meantime, he spends as much time as possible with his children, and dotes on his two grandchildren. Although he says the demons from his past sometimes send him into funks, he is a high-energy man living in relative peace.

“He’s a helluva amazing guy,” said Robert Ecksel, the content editor of this web site. “He’s one of those characters who throws off light instead of absorbing it.”

“The way I grew up, I never dreamed about being anything or anybody,” Cassidy said. “Once I discovered boxing, I became a perennial contender when there was still just one champion. At one point, I was the number one contender when that really meant something. I’m not proud of all that I’ve done, but even though I never got a title shot, I’m proud of my boxing career.

“And I’m proud of my children,” he adds. “Ninety percent of kids who come from backgrounds like mine inflict the same damage on their children. I went the opposite way, bestowed the love on them that I never got, and they turned out great.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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