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The Beast of Stillman’s Gym, Part 1

Springs Toledo

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The Beast of Stillman’s Gym

PART 1: CROSSROADS

In the years after World War I, a ghostly lodge of southern terrorists reemerged as a movement with real clout. By 1924 it was at the peak of its power and Texas was the most infested state in America with 170,000 Ku Klux Klansmen armed and organized, every one of them a member of the Democratic Party. Republicans, the Grand Old Party of Lincoln (and then-President Calvin Coolidge) often failed to even muster a candidate for state and local elections.

Like a cactus before the setting sun, fascism cast its lengthening shadow. Dissent wasn’t stifled so much as stomped to protect the interests, real and imagined, of white Protestant Texans. Those guilty of morals violations were taken from their homes and flogged, beaten, shot, or left blind-folded with placards leaning against their broken forms. “Undesirables” were ordered out of town. At Sour Lake, a justice of the peace was tarred and feathered as was a U.S. Marshal in Brenham who later resigned. The governor spoke out publically against the Klan on Independence Day in 1921 and the Klan responded with warnings posted right there on the grounds of the State Capitol.

To black Texans scattered throughout the arid landscape in the early 1920s, it was a reign of terror. Lynch Law was ever-present and selectively applied: Between 1900 and 1924 nine whites were lynched compared with 171 African Americans, and the latter were almost invariably mutilated before and after death by mobs. Simply being friendly toward white women could mean permanent disfigurement if your skin was dark. Neither respectability nor age made any difference. A dentist was mutilated for “associating” with white women. Two bellboys were snatched within two weeks in the same city, beaten, and held down while the letters “KKK” were burned into their foreheads with acid.

These atrocities were committed with impunity because the machinery of government –-the legislature, city halls, the courts, law enforcement–- was infested. When a thousand members marched in full regalia through Dallas carrying torches and waving banners like a conquering army, city authorities added to the spectacle by extinguishing the lights. In 1923, the KKK even managed to deliver one of their own into the United States Senate.

President Coolidge was no friend of the Klan. In 1924 alone he granted Native Americans full citizenship, gave a speech at the Catholic Holy Name Society in Washington, and stood, however stiffly, at a podium in Howard University where he declared the “progress of the colored people on this continent” as one of the “marvels of modern history.” He unsuccessfully urged a Democrat-dominated Congress to pass anti-lynching laws and appointed black men to federal positions. Emmett J. Scott, Secretary-Treasurer at Howard University thanked him for the “great encouragement” he was bringing to the twelve million African Americans who suffered “persecution by a hooded order which seeks to exclude them from the privileges of American citizenship.” “They know Calvin Coolidge,” Scott wrote. “They know his traditional friendship and they know of his distinguished services in behalf of their race.”

In Victoria, Texas on January 24th 1924, a black auto mechanic welcomed his second son into the world. The infant was given the name Calvin Coolidge Lytle.

The city of Victoria is thirty miles north of the Gulf of Mexico at the intersection of three highways. That fact and its equidistant location from four major cities earned it a nickname: “The Crossroads of South Texas.” For George W. Lytle and his wife Virginia, it was good place to raise a family.

Calvin’s playpen was his father’s auto shop. He was tinkering early and probably scolded regularly for coming into the house with greasy hands. After school and on Sundays, he was a barefoot newsy hawking the Victoria Advocate. He didn’t have to worry about his turf because his big brother, whose name was Loyal, held rivals in check. There was one fight Calvin had when he was eleven: “The kid was a lefty. I was a righty. He gave me such a licking I decided if I ever got into another fight I’d fight like him. So I turned around. I bat left-handed. In football I pass with my left-hand. I’m left-handed all the way now.”

South Texas was far from idyllic for African Americans, but the diminished influence of the KKK, which can be traced to the year of Calvin’s birth, cut the tension in half. Not unlike any other American family, the Lytles huddled up as the Great Depression fell on the country and business slowed to a crawl at the shop. The family of four went on relief and soon became a family of three. On October 22nd 1936, Virginia Lytle died after a common accident became something worse. Calvin was all of twelve years old.

Records show that Loyal Lytle enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1941. When Calvin turned 17 in January, he became eligible to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC, one of the most popular of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, operated between 1933 and 1942 and was intended for unmarried, unemployed young men from families on relief. Between April and September, Calvin was a member of Co. 2873(C) with the “C” standing for “colored.” He lived in a segregated barracks at Ascarate County Park in El Paso and worked 40 hours a week doing heavy, unskilled and semiskilled labor outdoors for $30 a month, with $25 of that being sent home. After September, he returned home to live with his father.

On December 1st 1941, his father died.

Calvin turns up in San Antonio as the ward of a county judge named C.W. Anderson (whose name is now attached to a loop on the San Antonio freeway). He got a job, or Anderson pulled strings and got him a job as a soda jerker. It was a plum of a position, particularly for a black teenager in Texas. Those weeks or months that Calvin wore that black bow tie must have been a high point, flipping scoops of ice cream into malts for tips, and girls.

On March 8th 1942, he found himself standing in a Navy recruiting station in Houston. Pearl Harbor had been attacked and American men hoisted up the flag, beat their plowshares into swords, and went to war. Calvin didn’t have much of a choice. His enlistment papers reveal that Judge Anderson signed him up to become a messman in the naval reserves. They reveal more than that. Calvin wrote “serve my country” as his reason for enlisting. It’s a boiler plate answer that required no thought and that was probably transcribed. He scrawled the names of four men as character references, all of them black and from Victoria, two of them mechanics like his father, and none of them known by him for more than a year. There was no one else he could find in his life.

Reading his application for enlistment seventy years after he completed it is enough to make one feel oddly anxious for him. Confused, alone, and about to be sent headlong into something he was completely unprepared for, he was anxious for himself. His handwriting tells it all. The careful script, clumsy with mistakes that he took pains to correct, reveals a nervous hand. It looks like the work of an undereducated man writing his will.

Calvin was shipped off to the messman training center in Norfolk, Virginia. Eight weeks of boot camp included immunizations, gas mask instruction, swimming lessons, and training to properly polish shoes and silverware and set white officers’ tables. Calvin wore a bow-tie again, though it was a step down from the soda fountain. In the United States Navy, African Americans could expect to be nothing but mess attendants and mess attendants were nothing but servants on the lowest rung of the ship’s pecking order.

He was stationed at the U.S. Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone from the end of May until the beginning of August 1942. He’d get a lousy two day pass, and would do what many sailors did –-swagger into a kit kat club and stagger out with rum on his breath and a good time girl on his arm. Calvin’s sexual experiences may or may not have earned him accolades from other messmen; they definitely earned him the “burn.” Contracting venereal diseases was common enough to become proverbial. Enlisting in the Navy, the saying went, was “to be sent out a sacrifice and come home a burnt offering.”

When he wasn’t on what might loosely be called active duty, he played baseball. One rainy day, he found his way into a boxing gym. A 6-foot white man was waiting around for a sparring partner when a coach spotted Calvin and invited him over to see if the gloves fit. They fit just fine. “I just tore into the guy. He was in no condition. I could see that,” he recalled in an interview a few years later at Stillman’s Gym. “I knocked him down with a left to the solar plexus and a right to the jaw.” The white man got up and proceeded to give Calvin, who had never boxed before, his first lesson in leather-pushing. “He started to get me,” he would later admit, “and hurt me a little.”

As he climbed out of the ring, the surprised coach walked up to him.

“You know who you were in with?” he said, “That was Billy Soose!”

Billy Soose was the former middleweight champion of the world. Calvin was signed up for the Navy boxing team on the spot. He remembered that it was a Thursday; on Sunday he had his first three-round, two-minute bout and scored a knockout.

Boxing was the only credit on his ledger. His tour of duty was fixing to be about as pleasant as the clap. While researching his book The Messman Chronicles: African Americans in the U.S. Navy 1932-1943, Richard E. Miller was warned that many veterans would deny that they served as “lowly messboys.” Deprived of the chance to prove themselves in battle, the vast majority of black sailors had to contend with daily humiliations instead. American prejudice could be rabid in the forties, but in the confined society of a ship it was magnified, particularly when southern officers and soldiers were involved. Messmen generally coped by keeping a low profile and preserving their dignity as best they could, though a few played the role of the smiling ‘Sambo’ servant in hopes of having an easier time.

Calvin rebelled.

Nine days after being transported for duty to the naval air station in British Guiana in September 1942, he was in the brig. He spent five days in solitary confinement for disorderly conduct. In December he was “absent from duty” for six days and ended up back in the brig. In March he stole a Navy truck. The commanding officer took away his liberty for two months as well as $32 of the $42 he earned during that time. In April he earned five more days solitary confinement on nothing except bread and water for “Neglect of duty”; in May he earned another month’s restriction for “Falsehood.”

In June he was transferred. During his new assignment on board the U.S.S. Surprise, he was disciplined for shirking watch duty, profane language, insubordination, leaving ship without proper authority, theft, and possession of another man’s liberty card and “a lewd picture.” All told, he was at captain’s mast for disciplinary issues no less than eight times. By November 1943 he was locked up at a U.S. Naval receiving station in New York and awaiting a summary court martial. The problems didn’t end. Calvin was in a U.S. Naval Hospital for twenty days for a medical issue that was “the result of his own misconduct.”

When his enlistment expired in March 1944 no one complained; least of all him. The court martial’s sentence stipulated that he be given a “bad conduct discharge” and further stipulated that he “IS NOT recommended for reenlistment. IS NOT recommended for Good Conduct Medal. IS NOT entitled to mustering out allowance.” Understandably, Calvin didn’t want to go back to Texas and face Judge Anderson. There was nothing left for him there, nothing and no one, and so he formally requested permission to disembark in New York. Permission was granted. With his head in a sling, Calvin was furnished with civilian clothes, handed his discharge certificate, and sent on his way.

“The navy mess attendant,” said one veteran, “had to be a fighter. He had to fight the Germans and the Japanese at sea, red necks in every port, and ignorant Negroes who wanted to insult him for being what he was when he got home.” Calvin managed to make a bad thing worse. After two years in the service, he managed to forfeit almost all of the privileges granted a navy man. He would receive no pension to help him along while he lived and no cemetery plot to help him along when he died.

He drifted over to Brooklyn and got a job at a garage near King’s Highway. As the son of a mechanic, he would have been comfortable in greasy coveralls with a rag sticking out of the pocket. Boraxo soap and gasoline fumes would have reminded him of home, of those all-too-brief better days when the Lytles were together, when he wasn’t alone. He hadn’t been working there long when the familiar bell announcing the arrival of a patron became a fortuitous one. During the conversation that followed, Calvin mentioned that he boxed a little and wanted to get back into it. The patron told him that he had a friend who managed fighters and took down his name. Calvin must have been pleasantly surprised when he received a phone call and then a visit from Bernie Bernstein, who operated out of Sammy Aaronson’s office over on Broadway.

Bernstein took Calvin over to the fabled Stillman’s Gym and threw him in the ring with a professional middleweight –-“just to see if he could really fight.”

____________________________

The most remarkable breed of boxers is called “natural fighters.” One of them will surface at the center of the boxing universe in PART 2 OF “THE BEAST OF STILLMAN’S GYM.”

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Graphic: Messmen serve a meal to junior officers on board a cruiser during World War II. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, U.S. National Archives.

Henry Peck Fry’s The Modern Ku Klux Klan pp. 185-189. “Lynching in Texas,” by David L. Chapman, thesis, 1973. Emmet Scott’s letter quoted in an essay by Alvin S. Felzenberg entitled “Calvin Coolidge and Race: His Record in Dealing with the Racial Tensions of the 1920s” (1988). U.S. Census report, 1920, 1930; Telephone interview with Ellen Choyce, October 2011; Texas Death Index, 1936,1941; James Wright Heeley’s Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal offers details about where CCC Co. 2873 was assigned before WW II. “Needed Some Exercise –Mauls Ex-Champ” and “Bert Lytell, The Black Streak of Lightning in Gloves” from The Ring, circa 1940s, courtesy of Douglas Cavanaugh. An invaluable resource for this essay was “The Negro in the Navy: First Draft Narrative” prepared by the Historical Section of Naval Personnel, and Black Submariners in the United States Navy, 1940-1975 by Glenn A. Knoblock. Michael E. Ruane’s interview of Lanier W. Phillips in the Washington Post, 9/20/10 accurately depicts the Navy’s treatment of African American messmen during World War II; statements regarding the navy mess attendant as a “fighter” quoted in Richard E. Miller’s The Messman Chronicles: African Americans in the U.S. Navy 1932-1943 pp. 280-281. The military service record of Calvin Coolidge Lytle was obtained from the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, in St. Louis, MO through the Freedom of Information Act. The Ring spotlighted Bert Lytell in the December 1944 issue and this was kindly provided by Alister Ottesen for use as a resource.

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

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 115: Macho, Freddie and More

David A. Avila

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Camacho me and Mia

“Macho.”

That single word is how Hector Camacho presented himself when introduced. It was the only word needed for the three-division world champion from Puerto Rico who was raised in Harlem, New York.

The first time I met Camacho was in a dark and packed Las Vegas nightclub in the MGM where he was a guest of Oscar De La Hoya back in March 2001. Though it was difficult to see, when Camacho was introduced, I could see the large gold medallion with the word “Macho” in letters six inches high.

Showtime network will be presenting a documentary called “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” on Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on Showtime. It sparks memories of how a fighter in the lower weight classes grabbed the attention of the boxing world.

Camacho was more than flash or words, he was an electrifying boxer who stood out in the 1980s, an era dominated by the “Four Kings” Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Oh, and also a guy named Mike Tyson.

The fast-talking Camacho was a phenomenal fighter who swept aside opponents with his blinding speed and shocking power. It was against Los Angeles-based fighters like Refugio Rojas and Louie Loy that I first read about his exploits. Both were knocked out.

A third Southern California fighter John “Huero” Montes was thought to be the one to give Camacho a real challenge. The fight was televised to a national audience in February 1983. At the time I was watching it on a tiny black and white television and at 1:13 into the first round Camacho unleashed one of those lethal uppercuts and Montes was out-for-the-count.

Camacho arrived that day.

From that point on few could withstand the speedy southpaw’s blinding charges. Six months later he stopped Mexico’s Bazooka Limon to win the vacant super featherweight title.

One fighter who heard the final bell was Freddie Roach who could take a punch and knew a thing or two about fighting southpaws.

“I liked fighting southpaws,” said Roach via telephone. “My dad taught me early to keep my foot on the outside and lead with right hands.”

Roach had never lost to a southpaw. The winner that day between Camacho and Roach in Sacramento, on December 1985, was supposedly going to fight Puerto Rico’s heavy-handed Edwin Rosario.

Using his surefire method of fighting southpaws, Roach managed a knockdown of Camacho with the help of his foot. But it was not enough.

“He was very difficult. Lot of people raved about how fast his speed was. You didn’t really realize until you got into the ring with him,” said Roach. “I wasn’t the slowest, but wasn’t the fastest. I just couldn’t keep up.”

Despite using roughhouse tactics against the lefty speedster, Roach said that Camacho invited him to dinner after the fight.

That pretty much explains Camacho, a talented and big-hearted guy.

Last Stages

The last time I ran into Camacho was at the Pechanga Resort and Casino when he and Mia St. John were about to fight on the same boxing card in 2009. He was much heavier but still able to defeat middleweights.

How good was Camacho?

He defeated two of the Four Kings when he beat Roberto Duran twice and stopped Sugar Ray Leonard by knockout when they fought in 1997. Yes, Leonard was 41 and had not fought in six years, but this was Sugar Ray Leonard.

“I didn’t think he would ever beat Leonard,” said Roach.

Neither did Leonard.

“I just felt that I was a bigger man. I was smarter, stronger, all those things, but the first time he threw a punch, it was like, Pow! And I said, ‘Wow, that hurt,’” said Leonard about their encounter. “I tried the best I could to just go the distance. When he was at his best, he was a thing of beauty.”

What I remember after Camacho beat Leonard was how sincerely apologetic he was after the victory. He could talk the talk and walk the walk but inside he remained the kid from Harlem who was given extraordinary talent. And he was humbled by it.

Roach remembers their dinner together after their fight.

“That night he took me out to dinner with his friends and said you fought a good fight,” said Roach adding that Camacho was a very likeable guy. “I saw him along the way in his career.”

Roach, who would later train another astoundingly fast southpaw named Manny Pacquiao, said he never fought anyone again as talented as Camacho.

“You hear rumors of drug problems and training problems. But when he fought me, he was in for 10 and I tried every trick in the book but it didn’t work. He was in a higher class than I was,” Roach said. “He was one of the best fighters in the world.”

Don’t miss this Showtime documentary next week.

Jacobs and Rosado

Speaking of Roach, the famous trainer will be working the corner of Gabe Rosado (25-12-1, 14 KOs) when he meets Daniel Jacobs (36-3, 30 KOs) on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s Philly versus Brooklyn.

Rosado has long proven to be a real professional who keeps adding elements to his fight game. Paired with Roach he has further developed under the guidance of the Southern California-based trainer. Plus, Rosado can plain fight.

Jacobs, a former world champion, has proven to be an elite middleweight and looks just as comfortable as a super middleweight.

Expect the kind of prize fight they used to show in the Golden Age of boxing in the 1950s when you had guys like Johnny Saxton fighting Denny Moyer. It should be that kind of battle of wits and skill. I’m looking forward to it.

Photo: Hector Camacho, David Avila, and Mia St. John. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Muhammad Ali Biographer Jonathan Eig Talks About His Book and the Icon Who Inspired It

Rick Assad

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Muhammad-Ali-Biographer-Jonathan-Eig-Talks-About-His-Book-and-the-Icon-Who-Inspired-It

Given the breadth and depth of Muhammad Ali’s 74 years, it isn’t very easy to capture the complete essence of the man.

Dozens of books have been written about the three-time heavyweight champion including Jonathan Eig’s 2017 biography, “Ali: A Life.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he would one day be known around the globe as a world-class boxer, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and cultural icon.

Like so many others, the Brooklyn, New York-born Eig became intrigued by Ali.

“I loved Ali as a child. He fascinated me. He was outspoken, radical, yet so very loveable,” he said. “And, of course, he could fight! I was astonished to realize, around 2012, that there was no complete biography of Ali, even though he was probably the most famous man of the 20th century.”

Eig, currently at work on a major offering about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., added: “I had read lots of Ali books, including [David] Remnick’s “King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero,” and [Thomas] Hauser’s “Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times,” and [Norman] Mailer’s “The Fight” – but those were not complete biographies,” he pointed out. “By 2012, enough time had gone by to put Ali in historical perspective. Also, there were plenty of people still alive to tell the story. I did more than 500 interviews, including all three of Ali’s living wives. I wanted to write a book that would treat Ali as more than a boxer. I wanted to write a book that would show the good and the bad. I wanted to write a big book worthy of an epic life, a book that danced and jabbed half as beautifully as Ali.”

Given Eig’s exhaustive research, what previously unknown tidbits about Ali did he come across?

“I learned thousands of new things. I think even hardcore Ali fans will find new information on almost every page,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter and 1986 Northwestern University graduate. “I discovered things Ali himself didn’t know. I discovered Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, for example. Ali didn’t know that! I read Ali’s FBI files, as well as those of Herbert Muhammad, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. I interviewed Ali’s childhood friends. I found MRIs of Ali’s brain. I counted the punches from all of his fights. I measured how those punches affected his speaking rate. Ali’s wives also confided in me things I never knew. I spent four years working on this book, and every day delivered revelations.”

Over the years, Ali, who posted a 56-5 ring record with 37 knockouts, seemed to mellow with time which helped ingratiate him to an even wider audience. How was this possible?

“People change. They grow. It’s hard to stay radical as you get older and richer,” said Eig, who has written five books including three that deal with sports. “The late Stanley Crouch had a great line about Ali. He said young Ali was a grizzly bear. Ali in the ’70s was a circus bear. Ali in his later years was a teddy bear. We all loved the teddy bear. We wanted to hug him and love him. But it was the grizzly bear who we should remember first. It was the grizzly bear who shook up the world.”

Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram covered nearly the entirety of Ali’s career which spanned 1960 through 1981 and included a three-year period, 1967 until 1970 when he wasn’t allowed to box after being convicted of draft evasion because he refused induction into the armed forces.

In Kram’s book, “Ghosts Of Manila,” the author asserts Ali was essentially a pawn of the Black Muslims.

What’s Eig’s take?

“I love Kram’s book, but I think it’s dangerous to question anyone’s religious faith,” he said. “Ali was a true believer. The Nation of Islam took advantage of him at times. But does that mean he was a pawn? I don’t think so. He knew what he was doing. He made his own choices. One might argue that the NOI did more for Ali than Ali did for them.”

Ali wasn’t perfect and that included his fondness for women. As a Muslim, how did he hurdle this?

“He didn’t reconcile it – except to acknowledge that humans are human, they are flawed,” Eig said. “The thing I love about Ali is that he said he was the greatest, but he never said he was perfect. He talked to his wives about his weakness. He even talked to reporters about his flaws – his weakness for women, his disdain for training, his poor handling of money. He knew who he was and he never tried to be anything else.”

Eig, who has also penned “Luckiest Man: The Life And Death Of Lou Gehrig,” and “Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” went on: “We’re all complicated, right? Ali was no more complicated than you or me, but he let the whole world see his complications – his racial pride and his racist behavior toward [Joe] Frazier, his love of women and his cruelty to his wives, his generosity with his money and his stupidity with money,” he said. “I don’t think Ali was different, just more open, more willing to let us see everything.”

Ali’s battles with Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are legendary, but his two fights against Sonny Liston are filled with question marks, such as were they fixed?

Ali claimed the title on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and then faced Liston 15 months later in Lewiston, Maine, where he knocked out the challenger in the opening frame.

In Eig’s mind, were these two bouts on the level? “My hunch is that the first fight was legit. Liston quit when he knew he couldn’t win,” Eig said. “The second fight is more suspicious. Liston’s flop was pathetic. Bad acting! But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. As an aside, Liston’s wife said Sonny had diarrhea before the fight, which might have given him one more reason to throw it.”

Still, Ali in his prime was a sight to behold. “Ali before the exile, in my opinion, was the most beautiful boxer of all time. His combination of speed and power and ferocity was thrilling, elegant, frightening and marvelous,” Eig said. “Was he the greatest heavyweight of all time? Maybe, maybe not. Was he the most breathtaking? To me, yes.”

Early in Ali’s career his braggadocio was off-putting to many. But much of it was showmanship.

“One of the Greatest” doesn’t sound as good, does it? If we’re only discussing his action in the ring, Ali was one of the greatest,” Eig said. “But that’s like saying Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest trumpet players without considering his voice, his charm, his improvisational skills, his smile. In and out of the ring, Ali was the greatest in my book.”

For so many, Ali was many things. What traits in the man does Eig admire? “I love his fearlessness, his honesty, his insatiable appetite for people,” he said. “He was so very loving. But he could also be narcissistic. He wanted everyone to love him, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the feelings of others – including his wives and children. He turned his back on friends like Malcolm X and Joe Frazier when it served his purposes.”

While Ali could be polarizing, he had his legion of supporters including Howard Cosell, Jerry Izenberg, Robert Lipsyte, Larry Merchant and Jack Newfield.

“You could add Mailer, [George] Plimpton, and so many others to that list,” Eig noted. “Those men were lucky enough to spend time with young Ali and to bask in the great warmth of his sun. He was great to reporters. He was the best story they ever covered. And unlike most celebrities, he really paid attention to them.”

Eig continued: “I only met him once, six months before he died, and I envy those reporters who got to know him and got to see him at his best. I think those who knew and loved Ali became his disciples,” he pointed out. “Ali’s friend Gene Kilroy told me over and over that he thought Ali was like Jesus, that people would be studying his words and drawing inspiration from his life for centuries to come. That’s the feeling he gave to those with whom he spent time.”

Ali was a boxer, but so much more. How does Eig see him? “I think Ali will be remembered as one of America’s great revolutionary heroes – one whose courage went far beyond sports. Like Jackie Robinson, like Martin Luther King, like the abolitionists and suffragettes, he loved America but refused to accept its shortfalls,” he said. “He fought to make his country live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence. He will also be remembered as an important world figure, one who united Africans, Americans and Asians, one who helped Americans better understand Islam and helped people of Islamic faith around the world better understand America.”

In Ali’s last quarter century, he was almost universally loved. This is a far cry from being labeled a draft dodger.

“Ali was always a spiritual man, but in his later years I believe he clarified and deepened his spirituality,” Eig said. “He became more focused and more thoughtful.”

When Eig turned in his manuscript, what was his immediate thought? “I wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be done,” he said. “I had so much fun writing this book I wanted to work on it for the rest of my life. I knew I would never find anything more fun to work on.”

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The Peculiar Career of Marcos Geraldo

Ted Sares

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The-Peculiar-Career-of-Marcos-Geraldo

 If you play word association with retired boxer Marcos Geraldo, you might come up with “chinny,” or “easy work.” But if you did, you would be wrong.

This extremely active Mexican boxer fought out of Baja California but was a staple in Nevada and Southern California and was 38-12 before he ventured outside these regions

Many saw Geraldo as easy work because of the 21 KOs he suffered but what they missed was the fact he had 50 KOs of his own and that made him an ultra-exciting type of fighter–and it guaranteed him plenty of marquee events. If you didn’t get Marcos, he was likely to get you. That translated to bringing in fans. He also was an active fighter and fought, for example, 12 times in 1972 alone. He also toiled 25 times at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas—yes, 25 times—and he went 21-4!

Along the way, Geraldo (who at various times was the middleweight and light heavyweight champion of Mexico) did battle with four Hall of Famers — Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Virgil Hill — several world champions, and numerous title contenders. (Michael Nunn, another stiff opponent, could someday become a member of the Hall as well.)

As his career progressed, the level of his opposition became stiffer. Listed in the order of appearance, these are the records of some of his opponents at the time that he fought them: Peter Cobblah (48-46-5), Angel Robinson Garcia (138-80-21), Armando Muniz (32-6-1), George Cooper (49-4-3), Sugar Ray Leonard (21-0), John LoCicero (15-3), Marvin Hagler (48-2-2), Caveman Lee (13-2), Thomas Hearns (33-1), Fred Hutchings (20-1), Ron Wilson (71-33-7), Prince Mama Muhammad (29-1-1), Michael Nunn (7-0), Tony Willis (9-0), Chris Reid (14-0-1), Virgil Hill (16-0), Jesus Gallardo (16-1), Antoine Byrd (6-1-1).

Whew!

In 1979, Geraldo went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard which surprised boxing buffs though Ray had previously been extended by others.

The following year he gave Marvelous Marvin Hagler all he could handle while losing a unanimous but close decision in a surprisingly tough thriller.

Hagler (May 1980)

Hagler pressed the action in-close but surprisingly was met with strong counterpunching. Both did plenty of shoe shining. First Hagler; then Geraldo. It was tit for tat and the fans roared their approval. What won the fight for Hagler was his stamina and harder punching which enabled him to tire the tough Mexican, but he never managed to break him down.

The scoring was Duane Ford 97-93, Art Lurie 97-94, and Chuck Minker 97-95.

The fans at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas gave both fighters a standing ovation as they raised each other’s arm up in a marvelous (no pun intended) show of mutual respect. The media framed it it as a “great” fight. It defined “fan–friendly.”

Geraldo had stopped Bomber John LoCicero before the Hagler fight, but was KOd in round one by both Caveman Lee and Thomas Hearns subsequent to Hagler. And then he was stopped much later by Michael Nunn and Virgil Hill.

His final slate was 71-28-1 — 100 bouts put him in rarefied company. Also, seven of those 21 KO losses came in his last eight fights.

After a very close review of his career, the word association that could more appropriately fit might be “incongruity,” or “action, or “resilient,” or even “peculiar.”

Sadly, he was always one big win away from entering the top tier.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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