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Articles of 2005

Jack “Kid” Berg: This Is The Guy




Listening to Bernard Hopkins attempting to outdo Howard Eastman with apocalyptic descriptions of his early life in the ghetto, I was reminded of my friendship with the late Jack “Kid” Berg, unofficial light-welterweight champion of the world in the early 1930s and first conqueror of the legendary and previously unbeaten Cuban, Kid Chocolate.

I am sure Hopkins’ upbringing was as hard as he says, but equally certain that in his own early life Berg suffered privations that Hopkins could not hold a candle to. Moreover, in the three years of our rather bizarre friendship, I certainly never heard Berg complain about it once. Born Judah Bergman in Odessa, Russia, in 1909, the son of a Rabbi, Berg emigrated to London’s East End as an infant. He lived in a tenement with no hot water, bathroom or heating and had little, if any, formal education to speak of. Gentile gangs attempted to beat the daylights out of him on a regular basis. Living an independent, urchin life straight from the pages of Oliver, Berg survived by picking pockets and removing men’s hats by stringing cotton across streets at head level. Berg would retrieve the hats and the men, grateful and unsuspecting, would tip him a shilling.

Berg showed me around that tenement in the late 1980s, when it was inhabited by Bangladeshi families. Apparently a statue of him has now been put up nearby, but I have not seen it. He made his professional debut when just 14 years old, at a time when boy boxers were commonplace and the hero of Jewish and indeed British boxing was Ted “Kid” Lewis, from whom Berg took his moniker. Many of his early bouts took place at backstreet venues with names like Premierland and Wonderland. Berg also showed me round what remained of Premierland, by then a disused warehouse in London’s City district with weeds growing out of its window frames.

Berg could not believe the state it had got into, nor that Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis was not still around somewhere nearby. A highly intelligent and, it has to be said, crafty man when necessary, almost like an 80-year-old Just William character when I met him, Berg was in a certain amount of denial about his age, and tended to think he was still 25 years old, particularly when it came to women.

Berg was barely 20 when he snapped the long unbeaten run of Kid Chocolate at the Polo Grounds in Harlem in June 1930, in what was a huge, if forgotten, fight. He received a purse of $66,000, a massive payday at the time, and one that set him up for life. The junior-welterweight title was not widely recognized, however, and in Berg’s biggest opportunity, a challenge for the world lightweight title against Tony Canzoneri in Chicago Stadium in April 1931, he gave perhaps the worst performance of his career, losing in three rounds and barely landing a blow. In truth, quite apart from the obstacle of the formidable Canzoneri, Berg was severely weight-drained, the lightweight limit by then a step too far for his 5ft 9in frame. That is what the record books say, anyway. I am not so sure about that figure for his height. Jack was quite vain about it and had concealed insteps inside the Cuban heels he wore.

He was quite something to look at. After retiring from boxing, he became a movie stuntman, working mainly in Westerns. This gave him a wardrobe for life, and he was seldom without a bootlace tie. He smoked cigars incessantly – Optimos that were sent to him from New York.

All his defeats apart from Canzoneri, Berg put down to the effects of womanising, which he believed weakened his legs, but which he said he couldn’t resist. He was particularly defiant about his defeat by Billy Petrolle, who had him down seven times – but only because, Berg insisted, “I was messing around with this particular broad.” Most of his big fights took place in the United States, and he had a penchant for the American vernacular. He finished boxing in 1946 at the age of 35, with an extraordinary record of 157 victories (with 61 knockouts), 26 losses, and nine draws. Known for his prodigious punch-rate, Berg’s moniker was “The Whitechapel Windmill” or, in America, “Whirlwind.”

He was managed by Frankie Jacobs and trained by the late Ray Arcel, that most distinguished and honourable of trainers, who saw off the Mob in the form of Frankie Carbo et al and regarded Berg as almost a son and his favourite fighter, even though Arcel trained many other champions, including Roberto Duran. Berg had arrived in his custody off a boat from England in 1928, when he was 18 and, according to Arcel, “Looked like a little girl.” Arcel was soon disabused of such notions. “Not only could he fight,” Arcel once recalled. “But he thought he was God’s gift to the ladies. You had to watch him like a hawk.”

I first met Berg through a publican and former professional bantamweight named Gary Davidson, who used to run the Thomas A’Beckett on the Old Kent Road, a famous boxing pub in South London and very much in fight game territory. Davidson was one of the good guys, which is saying something in life, let alone in boxing. Tragically he was taken prematurely by motor-neurone disease while barely in middle age, but at great expense had made the Beckett into a worthy shrine to the Noble Art. The last time I looked it was empty and virtually derelict, but then it was thriving.

Davidson had commissioned a giant painting of all Britain’s world champions, and Berg was the only one I didn’t recognize. Davidson soon put me right, saying, “With no disrespect to the others, that is the greatest fighter this country has produced.”

Most of my meetings with Jack started off at his large house in West London, where he lived with his wife Morya, a striking-looking woman, and ended up somewhere in Soho. Despite his age Berg was still an active driver in his little red car, which he drove extremely aggressively, indeed specialising in curb side confrontations. Shortly before I met him, he had been arrested for chinning another, much younger motorist, but turned up in court in a borrowed wheelchair and was let off.

Berg’s favourite place in Soho was Kettner’s, now part of a pizza chain, but in Berg’s gallivanting days a renowned brothel. Its change of usage seemed to have passed him by, leading to some interesting exchanges. I became so engrossed in Berg’s extraordinary story that I travelled to Cuba on his behalf to find Kid Chocolate, who was rumoured to be alive after years of being presumed dead. For a time there had also been a Kid Chocolate impersonator in a Chicago bar, who was rumbled when one of the real Chocolate’s former opponents walked in and asked him if he knew how to stop a punch. This “Kid Chocolate” demonstrably didn’t.

After a few days in the ruined but beautiful streets of Havana, having employed several street kids to help in the search, I was led to the house of the actual Chocolate, real name Eligio Sardinias, who at 79 was a year younger than Jack. He was a rum-sodden alcoholic but obliging, and one could not help feeling for him greatly – professional boxing had of course been banned by Fidel Castro, and Chocolate had been backed by the now despised “Americanos.” He was an unwanted symbol of an unwanted past. He lived in appalling squalor but in the same large house that his ring earnings had bought – for years it housed a famous gym, and Sugar Ray Robinson, a friend, was pictured training there in the 1950s.

Before the rum got to him Chocolate talked lucidly and remembered Berg well, but said a Cuban named Kid Charrol was the best boxer he had met. He showed me what remained of his old gown, in brown silk with “Chocolate Kid” inscribed on the back. A few weeks later he was reported dead, news which astonished Berg when I told him. “He was only a young man,” he remarked.

I also accompanied Berg to New York for the 90th birthday party of Ray Arcel. There, among a stellar cast that included Holmes, Graziano, Zale, LaMotta and Pep, as well as contemporary champions such as Breland and McGirt, Berg stole the show with an emotional speech about how much Arcel meant to him. On the way out, I was collared by an octogenarian former fighter who, pointing at Berg, announced, ‘Forget all the others. This is the guy. This guy is really the one.’

Coincidentally there was a musical named “Legs,” about the ‘30s gangster Legs Diamond, playing on Broadway at the time. Berg knew Diamond well, having once been threatened with death by him for attempting to chat up Diamond’s girlfriend at the Harding Hotel, where Berg lived one floor beneath Mae West. “We had to do a lot of fast talking to get out of it,” was Arcel’s recollection. Berg had also been au fait with Harlem nightlife, and was a regular at the Cotton Club, whose benefactor, Owney Madden (played in the movie by Bob Hoskins) had been a big Berg fan.

Perhaps unwisely, I agreed to Berg’s repeated requests to go to Harlem to inspect the Polo Grounds, even though I knew they had been demolished long ago. First we overshot and landed in South Bronx, then back in Harlem were accosted by a street gang that were disbelieving when I explained that Berg had been a former fighter.

“Oh yeah, how many KOs you have?” asked the gang leader. “Quite a few,” Berg said.

“You want me to try it?” After that the gang could not have been more helpful amid the bleak housing project that had once been the site of the Polo Grounds, even pointing out some remaining steps upon which Berg said he was convinced one of his cornerman had been stabbed on the way to the ring to face Chocolate.

I also took Berg to the Roseland Dancehall and paid 25 bucks to a rather beautiful 60-year-old Latin woman so she would dance with him. However, Berg abandoned her after one dance, saying she was too old. Then we went to Gallagher’s steak restaurant, where there was a picture of Berg up, and he showed his pick-pocketing skills were still in tact by removing the watches of about a dozen members of the Puerto Rican police force who were on a training exercise in New York. They were not pleased, even when Jack gave the watches back.

After we got back to England I began managing a fighter named “Sweet C” McMillan whom Berg took great interest in, declaring him to be the “new Kid Chocolate.” He took even more interest in a Jewish fighter called Gary “Kid” Jacobs from Scotland, a useful welterweight apparently named in the tradition of Kid Lewis and Berg. Jacobs’s management did not know what they had let themselves in for by adopting this marketing strategy. Berg trailed him like a protective bloodhound, saying “Gary is the new me.” Once in the gym when we were there, Jacobs, who was sensible enough to play along with it, asked Berg if he had any specific tips. “Lay off women before a fight,” Berg replied. “Just remember what happened with me and Billy Petrolle.”

In his last year or so Berg moved to the Essex coast. Morya died before him. So did Ray Arcel. To the end he followed his usual routines. He remained friends with Kid Lewis’ son, Morgan, to the last, believing he had a protective duty towards him, and still went to Soho. Some regarded Berg as something of a pest, but I felt the opposite. He was someone who resolutely refused to countenance the banality of ordinary life, and was determined to live a mythic one, visiting again and again its landmarks. He himself had established them, after all.

Berg was a great admirer of the young Mike Tyson, saying, “Mike’s a rough boy, like me.” He fervently believed Tyson had “come looking for him,” in a benign way, while on a British promotional tour in 1987. Maybe he had. As such, it is likely Berg would have approved of Bernard Hopkins, another “rough boy.” Berg’s was quite a life. And one I feel Hopkins would appreciate, too.


Articles of 2005

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




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

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights





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




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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