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Stillman’s Gym, 1947. Rocky Graziano was cutting figure eights in front of a drumming speed bag with a Chesterfield perched on his lip. It was lit, but that was damn-near expected at smoky Stillman’s—it was damn-near appreciated too, given the stench the joint was famous for. An eleven-year-old boy sauntered up to the fighter wearing a matching sneer. His name was Joe Rein and he was playing hooky. After a while, Graziano looked down.

“Why ain’t you in school?” he said.

“—Why ain’t you!”

Graziano, Joe recalled, “roared with laughter” and hoisted him up on his shoulders. He was introduced to a gallery of kings and contenders, and before the stars were out of his eyes he was on a first-name basis with all of them.

Jake LaMotta was introduced to him by Willie Pep. “Kid, you have hands like mine,” LaMotta said. “You gotta learn to go to the body.” Small-handed and short-armed Joe was taught to slip rights and lefts on both sides to land unexpected counters. “Most fighters are predictable,” LaMotta said.

Some of what Joe learned was anything but predictable. Gym wisdom warns against crossing your feet in the ring though Sugar Ray Robinson himself told him that was a myth. Fighters “should cross their feet sometimes,” he said, “to move more easily.” Robinson also showed him a trick to maximize the power of the left hook. He positioned the kid, who was a right-hander, into the southpaw position to throw a right hook, doubling it up to the body and head. He instructed him to throw his left hook the same way, “as it comes,” and not to worry about it being textbook. His own left hook was really a half-uppercut, Robinson said, and a slow motion YouTube review of just what it was that tipped over Gene Fullmer affirms it.

Joe “Old Bones” Brown kept the wolves away. When managers came around looking for meat to feed their prospects, Brown wouldn’t let the kid in the ring. “He wouldn’t let me get smashed at Stillman’s,” said Joe. Brown thus did a favor to posterity; he helped preserve the golden memory of someone destined to become the golden era’s greatest ambassador in the 21st century.

Sixty-six years after he was introduced to the greatest fighters who ever lived, Joe was logging-on and introducing them to a generation of fans whose parents weren’t even born in 1947 and who lived thousands of miles from the site of long-gone Stillman’s Gym. Joe was a regular on eastsideboxing.com’s forums since August 2004. He posted 5,919 times under the name of a movie star from way back named “John Garfield.”

It was no idle choice. Garfield, born in New York City, was a corner kid who found refuge in boxing and friends in low places. He made his bones in local theatre troupes, moved to Hollywood, and took New York with him. In other words, he never went soft. Garfield reached his peak of fame during the Red Scare and was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. He refused to name names and his career took a dive because of it. Joe idolized Garfield for this working class loyalty, for that old-school cool.

In 1952, Joe was fifteen and feeling it. “Makes me cringe at whatta A-hole I mustta looked like, Springs,” he said. “Amboy Dukes to my toes, DA haircut, Tony Curtis spit curl; high rise, chartreuse pegged pants (12-inch cuffs, 32-inch knees —think MC Hammer), saddle stitching, and pistol pockets. I walked two blocks before my legs moved!”

John Garfield had a fatal heart attack on May 21st 1952 and was buried twenty miles north of the city in Westchester Hills. But Joe wouldn’t let him die.

He sent me a publicity shot of himself doing his best Garfield impression in 1958 and another altogether different one in a gym in the 1970s. “You’re Lon Chaney,” I quipped about his different looks. He replied: “In ’60, Springs, I worked on a low-budget anti-Castro feature in Florida with Lon Chaney, Jr. and Jake LaMotta. Chaney was such a falling-down drunk, he never left the set after a day’s shoot, just collapsed in bushes with a bottle, and that’s the way we found him the next morning.” I thought that was something until he told me he was flashed by Jane Wyatt of “Father Knows Best” fame. The first time I watched Blast of Silence (1961), an obscure film noir by fellow Brooklynite and Rein-look-a-like Allen Baron, I called him up excitedly. Joe must have thought I was cute. “I worked on that film!” he said and reduced me yet again to stunned silence. Another time I told him I was a sucker for easy-listening music and Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over.” His response? “Studied with Ed at the John Cassavetes Theater workshop in New York in the early 60s.”

Joe was never boastful, never a name-dropper; and, like his idol, he never compromised a trust. He would share stories matter-of-factly and at times with a twinkle in his eye because he knew they were sure to entertain.

Entertainment was on his mind when he moved out to Los Angeles in the 1970s. Like Garfield, he took New York with him. He produced commercials for an advertisement agency, taught writing classes at UCLA, and kept his hand in boxing. He was a fixture at the Wild Card Gym and wrote fly-on-the-wall articles for The Sweet Science that are classics. He sat ringside for Manny Pacquiao’s debut at the MGM Grand in 2001 and became one of his earliest American believers. By his own admission, he “needed Cruise shoes to be taller than Manny” but he became for him what he was for so many others —an encourager. Ten years later, Joe had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t get around much anymore. Pacquiao found out and reached in to ask him to sit ringside at Pacquiao-Marquez III, again at the MGM Grand. “There are a million people banging on his door,” Joe said. “It’s just amazing.”

Joe always could spot talent. “You’ve got the goods,” he’d say. When he said it to me in 2009, I listened. I sat down and typed an essay spurred more by his confidence than my own, and sent it to him. He took it like it was the start of something grand and brought it to Michael Woods, editor-in-chief of TheSweetScience, and with that, my life got better. The second boxing essay I wrote was a tribute to my new friend’s golden memories. I called it “1949: The Perfect Storm of Pugilism.” I should have called it “A Love Letter to Joe Rein.”

My encourager never let up. “Words are precious to me,” he would say, and barring a hospital stay, he never failed to call or email within hours after my latest essay was published. I grew to rely on it. I went and bought a vintage desk phone just to hear him better when he called. “You rolled-up-sleeves ‘n settled for nothing but your best,” he’d tell me. When I wrote “The Fourth God of War” I told him that my choice for background music was “The Summer of ’42” on a loop. Joe wrote back: “‘The Summer of ’42’ has special meaning for me: The author, Herman Raucher, was my youth-camp counselor in ’47.” I threw up my hands. The last fight I covered thrilled him (“like a Friday night in the 40s when Graziano headlined the ol’ MSG… Bless you!”), which thrilled me.

He was the consigliere in my ear for every major decision I’ve made over the past five years. Despite being housebound, Joe was a guiding spirit behind the TransnationalBoxingRankings and helped navigate what he called “shark-infested waters.” When Teddy Atlas mentioned my name and endorsed the new rankings on Friday Night Fights last August, Joe said he “nearly broke the lease cheering so loud…”

I told him he’d always be Seneca to my Nero. “Who ya callin’ Sanka?” he shot back.

He loved my 2010 Camaro. Two years ago I sent an email to members of the Boxing Writers Association of America encouraging them to read my series on Cocoa Kid and vote him into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. On the subject line of the email to Joe I wrote “A Camaro for a vote for Cocoa Kid.” His reply: “That you think you can bribe me is OFFENSIVE! Ya can take the Camaro ‘n STICK IT in my garage.” He got a package from Boston on his next birthday. “Told my wife ta run if the package is ticking,” he wrote back. He opened it to find a matchbox-sized Camaro. He roared. “Gonna get a thimble of water,” he said, “and polish it up.”

My mother went in for high-risk surgery soon after that and Joe was right there, a loyal friend. Knowing I’m Catholic, he sent along a prayer to Mother Mary. “Your mom’s gonna be OK,” he said. When he spoke, I listened, and as usual, he was right.

Joe’s health took a turn for the worse over the past year and he became more introspective. Not long ago, he shared some sentiments that he always tried to live by. One of them put something in my eye: “Friendship isn’t about whom you have known the longest. It’s about those who came and never left your side.”

Boston, November 7th 2013. I hadn’t heard from my friend in some weeks and my calls went unanswered. Early in the morning, something told me to go and pray for him. He always told me “trust your instincts; your gut’ll tell ya,” and I always listened, so I stopped the car he fancied (in the name of religion, which he didn’t), in front of the Mission Church on Tremont Street. I climbed the stairs and made my way toward the altar in pre-dawn shadows beneath the statues. I wrote “Joe Rein” on a petition, folded it, and put it in the basket nearby. I whispered the Memorare and lit a candle.

They told me Joe died later that morning.

I cried.

…..

After this essay is published on The Sweet Science, I’ll half-expect the phone to ring, like it always has. But there will be only silence—an unfamiliar, aching silence. My plan is to rent a John Garfield movie, old-school cool, and reminisce.

I won’t let him die. None of us should.

 

 

 


Photograph on main page taken by Juan C. Ayllon in 2008. Photograph at top taken in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s, and appears courtesy of Joe Rein’s daughter, Kimley Maretzo.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com .

 

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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