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Michael Buffer: “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”

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WBO welterweight champion Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez had just fought twelve hard competitive rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Both fighters were on edge. The outcome of their fight was very much in doubt. The winner would be ranked among the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world.

As the fighters paced nervously in their respective corners, a tall slender man wearing a tuxedo stood in the center of the ring, microphone in hand. He was meticulously groomed with perfectly manicured nails, every hair in place.

The man knew something that virtually no one else knew. The judges’ scores were on a piece of paper in his hand. Millions of people around the world were waiting for his next words. He was riding on the back of a tiger that he had tamed.

Michael Buffer is boxing royalty, better-known than all but a handful of fighters in the world today. He’s the gold standard by which ring announcers are judged, having taken his craft to a whole new level. There’s Buffer, and then there’s everyone else. Before the start of each main event that he works, the crowd waits with anticipation as he builds to his trademark phrase.

Five words: “LET'S GET R-R-R-READY TO RUMBL-L-L-L-E . . .”

Those words have become part of the pageantry of boxing. It’s hard to think of a parallel in any other sport. Buffer’s presence confers legitimacy on a fight, making it seem bigger and more important than would otherwise be the case. No other ring announcer in history has done that.

Buffer was born in Philadelphia on November 2, 1944. He began ring announcing in the early 1980s to supplement his income as a model, having worked previously as what he calls “the worst car salesman in the world.” He first used the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” in 1984.

I used to watch films of old fights on television,” Buffer recalls. “In the old days, the ring announcer would introduce the important fighters who were in attendance. But that had evolved to announcing five commissioners, three sanctioning-body officials, two ring doctors. And it chilled the crowd. I wanted something comparable to 'Gentlemen, start your engines' at the Indy 500; a hook that would excite people and put some energy back into the arena. I tried 'man your battle stations' and 'batten down the hatches' and 'fasten your seat belts,' but none of them worked. Then I remembered Muhammad Ali saying, 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; rumble, young man, rumble.' And when Sal Marchiano was the blow-by-blow commentator for ESPN, he'd say, 'We're ready to rumble.' So I took those ideas and fine-tuned them.”

By 1990, ring announcing was a fulltime job for Buffer. Today, he’s a brand unto himself. Retail sales of products that have licensed the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” are near the $500,000,000 mark.

Buffer estimates that, during the last three decades, he has been the ring announcer for roughly one thousand fight cards. He has plied his trade in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Does he hope that someday he’ll be called upon for a fight card in Antarctica?

“No,” he answers after a moment’s thought. “I wouldn’t trust the runway.”

At present, he works thirty to thirty-five cards a year. By the time fight night arrives, most buyers have purchased their tickets. No one calls anyone at the last minute, saying, “You have to watch the pay-per-view tonight. Michael Buffer is going to be on.” But he’s good branding and he adds to the entertainment value of the show.

Buffer also works a dozen conventions and other special events annually, including past appearances at the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Championships, and NFL playoff games.

“I enjoy the spotlight,” he acknowledges. “It’s exciting to be there. I was very nervous the first year. Then I got used to it. I’m comfortable and confident now, so I enjoy it more. Where boxing is concerned, I root for a good fight more often than I root for one fighter or the other. There are times when I like both fighters and feel bad for the one who loses more than I’m happy for the winner. But it’s all very gratifying to me. There’s a legacy there.”

What makes Buffer so good?

Ring announcing is an under-appreciated art. It looks easy. It isn’t.

Buffer is consistent and technically sound. He has a smooth silky baritone voice that’s a gift of nature. And the camera is kind to him.

In the old days, ring announcers shouted to the crowd through megaphones.

“I’m lucky,” Michael notes. “I came along at the right time. Television and today’s technology capture what I do and the overall scene very well. I’m a performer. And I’m never fully satisfied. After each fight, I go home and watch the introductions and my announcement of the winner to see what I could have done better.”

“And most important,” Buffer continues, “I always remember that the fighters are the stars. The cheers are for them, not me. I never forget that.”

Buffer appreciates the irony of his celebrity status and also the financial rewards that have flowed from his success. He and his wife live comfortably in suburban Los Angeles in a fashionable home on one-and-a-half acres of land with the mandatory swimming pool, waterfall, and fountains. They have five dogs, three of which are rescue animals. The garage holds a Mercedes S500 sedan, Mercedes SL55AMG, Cadillac Escalade, and Bentley convertible.

Friends appreciate Buffer for his loyalty and also his sense of humor. He has a talent for celebrity impersonations, the best of which is Johnny Mathis singing the national anthem while the public address system keeps cutting out.

He also has strong feelings on a wide range of issues from politics to the less savory aspects of boxing, but keeps them private.

“I’m troubled by the way things have changed for middle class families in America,” Michael says. “It bothers me that people are finding it harder and harder to get by and too many parents are no longer optimistic that their children will enjoy a better life than they’ve had. But I’ve made a conscious decision to not speak out publicly on political issues because I think that my job requires neutrality.”

There are hassles that come with being Michael Buffer. The evolution from occasional fans with Kodak Instamatics to everyone having a cell phone and wanting a photo equates to nuisance.

“And they give their cell phone to someone who doesn’t know how to use it to take the picture,” Buffer notes. “So they have to take the picture three times.”

“I get recognized in New York more than anyplace else,” he continues. “Or at least, New Yorkers are more open about. They’ll come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re Michael Buffer.’ About three times a week, someone asks me to say ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ for them. If I’m in New York or a fight environment like a casino, it’s more like a half-dozen times a day.”

How does Buffer respond to the request?

“Sometimes, I’ll do it for children. Or if it’s red carpet stuff like the season premiere of Boardwalk Empire, I’ll do it for a video camera. Usually, I ask, “Do you have your checkbook with you?” and that ends it.’

But not always.

“Every now and then, there’s some tension. One time, I was having dinner in a restaurant. A guy came over, leaned on the table, and said, ‘Hey; you’re that guy, right?’ Then it became, ‘Say it for me! Say it for me!’ And he’s getting more and more aggravated because I’m not going start shouting ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ in a restaurant. After a while, his girlfriend came over. She’s telling him, ‘Come on, Vinny. He’s eating dinner. Leave him alone.’ So then Vinny gets pissed off at her.”

In many respects, Buffer has lived a charmed life. But there was one period of crisis.

“In February 2008,” Michael recounts, “I took the dogs out for a walk. I got home, looked in the mirror – I can’t walk by a mirror without looking; that’s the image; right? And I noticed a tiny protrusion on the side of my neck. I went to the doctor and it was misdiagnosed as a blockage in my salivary gland. ‘Suck on some lemon sours and it should go away.’ But it didn’t go away. So I went to another doctor. He dropped a light in and said to me, ‘I want you to get an MRI today.’”

“They did the MRI,” Buffer continues. “They took a biopsy. I was in New York to emcee a press conference for the Klitschko-Ibragimov fight at Madison Square Garden when I got the call. Cancer. I emceed the press conference, worked the fight [on February 23, 2008], and went home to face the unknown. This was my life, and even if I survived the cancer, I didn’t know if I’d be able to talk again. It wasn’t just my livelihood. I didn’t know if I’d be able to talk. We’re talking about my throat. I was a smoker when I was young. I told myself, ‘Well, if this is it, I’m going to do one of those anti-smoking commercials before I go. It’s not the way I want people to remember me, but maybe it will save some lives.’”

On March 15, 2008, Buffer worked the second fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Then he went under the knife.

“I got the right doctor. There was one surgery. They opened me up and took out three small tumors – squamos cells – that were attached to my tonsils along with some lymph nodes and part of my tonsils.”

One month later, Michael was in the ring for Joe Calzaghe vs. Bernard Hopkins. In 2013, he passed the five-year mark, which means that, from now on, he’ll undergo a PET-scan once a year instead of once every six months.

“I don’t know how long I’ll keep announcing,” Buffer says. “I definitely don’t want to stay too long at the dance. A while back, I thought that sixty-five would be it. But I’ll be sixty-nine in November. Things are still going well and I still enjoy it.”

On the afternoon on October 12th, Buffer was at The Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas readying for Bradley vs. Marquez. Earlier in the day, he’d gotten bout sheets for the evening’s pay-per-view fights from the HBO production team. After reviewing the sheets, he went online to Boxrec.com to supplement the information. Next, he wrote the data necessary to introduce to each fight in red and blue ink on 4-by-6-inch cards.

Then he dressed.

Buffer owns eight tuxedos. Once, he had twenty. The tuxedos share closet space in his home with two dozen suits, a half-dozen sport jackets, and fifty dress shirts.

He doesn’t own many shoes.

“I have a wide foot, so it’s hard to find a good fit.”

And he loves watches. Buffer’s collection of fifteen high-end timepieces includes Rolex, Cartier, and the like. But he’s also fond of a one-of-a-kind tourbillon watch that Azad custom-made for him.

In his hotel room at The Wynn, Buffer re-ironed his shirt.

“I’m fussy about my shirts. I usually wash and iron them myself. If I do send them to the cleaner, I touch them up when they come back. Sometimes, when I buy a new shirt, the collar button doesn’t line up perfectly. I’ll take it off and sew it back on myself so it fits just right.”

Then there’s the matter of Buffer’s ties.

“People who are righthanded tie their knot so that the bottom of the knot goes to the right,” he explains. “If you’re lefthanded, it’s the reverse. But a lefthanded knot has a better fit because it’s snug against the top button so you get a cleaner look. I’m righthanded, but I reverse my hands and tie my knot lefthanded. It takes forever, but it looks better when I’m done.”

Michael smiles.

“I know. I sound like Tony Randall playing Felix Unger in The Odd Couple.”

Buffer also cuts his own hair with a three-way mirror once every three weeks and trims his sideburns weekly.

“I grew a moustache when I was twenty-three years old and in the Army,” he admits. “But it was so sparse that I had to fill it out with an eyebrow pencil.”

At 4:30 PM, Buffer was standing at The Wynn’s south valet station, waiting for his car and driver. Michael was close to trainer Emanuel Steward, who died of cancer in October 2012. Now, every time he works a fight, he pins a campaign-type botton with Steward’s image on it inside his tuxedo jacket over his heart. The button was in place.

The car was fifteen minutes late. A half-dozen fans stopped and asked for cell phone pictures.

Buffer’s gold-and-diamond Tiffany cufflinks and tuxedo studs glittered in the sunlight, as did his rose-gold Rolex Presidential watch with diamond dial and diamond bezel. The diamonds were small, not gaudy. His style is elegance, not bling.

At 5:10 PM, Buffer arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center and made his way to his seat in the technical zone within arm’s reach of the ring apron. The fights on the card that he was scheduled to work would begin at six o’clock.

Bill Brady (chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) came over and asked if he could introduce Buffer to a friend that he and his wife had brought to the fight. Referees Robert Byrd (who would work the main event) and Tony Weeks approached to say hello. Four roundcard girls seated to Michael’s left smiled enticingly at him.

At six o’clock, Buffer walked up the steps in the neutral corner nearest to him and entered the ring. During the course of the evening, he would make that journey eight times (before and after each of four fights).

The first three fights ended in knockouts, which meant there was little suspense in announcing the result.

Then it was time for the main event. Marquez entered the ring to the thunderous cheers of his supporters. Bradley followed, greeted by boos.

“I get anxious like a fan gets anxious before a fight,” Buffer says. “It’s anticipation. Not nerves.”

At 8:12 PM, Buffer took the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.”

There were the mandatory introductions of state athletic commission officials and sanctioning body personnel, the referee and judges.

“And now, the officials are ready. The fighters are ready. Ladies and gentlemen, ARE YOU READY. For the thousands in attendance and for the millions watching around the world; ladies and gentlemen, “LET'S GET R-R-R-READY TO RUMBL-L-L-L-E . . .”

The crowd roared.

Buffer introduced Marquez first, then Bradley.

The fight began. Michael watched intently throughout, commenting on the flow of the action.

“Bradley is boxing nicely . . . Now he’s is getting countered . . . Marquez is controlling the distance between them . . . Good shot by Marquez, but Bradley rolled with it . . . There’s not much body-punching by either guy . . . The swelling around Marquez’s eye is starting to cause him problems . . . Bradley is telegraphing his right hand every time he throws it.”

It was a close fight between two highly-skilled boxers. At the final bell, Buffer rose from his chair and entered the ring. Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer handed him a sheet of paper with the judges’ scores on it. Bradley had won a split decision.

Announcing a knockout is fairly straightforward. Decisions, particularly after a close fight, are another matter.

Buffer read the commission sheet carefully to himself and organized his thoughts. Whenever there’s a split decision, the first two scores that he reads are one for each fighter. Then comes the deciding tally.

“I try to read the first two scores the same,” he says. “Then, on number three, I give it a big pause. I knew there would be a bad reaction from the crowd on this one because it was a pro-Marquez crowd and the decision could have gone either way.”

“Ladies and gentlemen; we go to the scorecards. Glenn Feldman scores the contest 115 to 113. He scores it for Marquez . . . Robert Hoyle scores it 115 to 113, and he has it for Bradley.”

A pause for drama.

“Patricia Morse Jarman scores the contest 116 to 112 for the winner by split decision . . .

There was dead silence. Buffer was holding history in the palm of his hand.

“And STILL WBO welterweight champion of the wor-r-r-r-ld, from Palm Springs, California, Timothy ‘Desert Storr-r-r-r-r-r-m’ Bradle-e-e-e-e-y.”

There was a post-fight press conference. Members of the boxing community would congregate and discuss the fight into the wee small hours of the morning. But Buffer was not among them.

Minutes after the fight ended and he’d announced the winner, he slipped out of the Thomas & Mack Center and returned to The Wynn. One could imagine Buffer as James Bond, walking into the casino and sitting down at a high-stakes baccarat game, every hair still in place. Beautiful women would stare. A casino host would bring him a martini; stirred, not shaken. Across the table, perhaps, Auric Goldfinger would be cheating.

But it was not to be. Buffer went directly to his room, ate a granola bar, drank some hot tea with honey, and went to sleep.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

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Life comes at you fast. It seems like only yesterday that I stood in a crowd of rubberneckers gawking at the artificial volcano that fronted the spanking new Mirage Hotel and Casino. After sundown, it erupted every 15 minutes, sending fireballs into the sky accompanied by a soundtrack of actual eruptions as the air was perfumed with the scent of a pina colada. In those days, late November of 1989 and beyond, the artificial volcano was Southern Nevada’s #1 tourist attraction, supplanting Hoover Dam. (The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the Strip hadn’t yet become a magnet for hordes of camera-toting tourists.)

I didn’t come to the 3,044-room Polynesian-themed resort to see the volcano. I came there to see the centerpiece of the grand opening festivities, a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the third meeting between the two gladiators. The Mirage had actually opened for business two weeks earlier, but it was a soft opening, as they say in the trade. The boxing event on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1989, was the cherry on the cake, a spectacle in every sense of the word. Celebrities were chaperoned to their ringside seats on a red carpet, mirroring the Oscars, and a mesmerizing fireworks display, better than New Years Eve, lit up the sky in the interlude between the last preliminary bout and the main event.

Leonard-Duran III was the first of 13 boxing shows at the Mirage, the last of which was staged in 1995. Thirteen isn’t many, but they included some of the biggest fights of the era, five of which – the first five – were staged under the stars in makeshift arenas built specifically for boxing. And now, with the closure of the Mirage today (July 17), another place that housed historic prizefights has dissipated into the dustbin of history.

The accoutrements were more memorable than the fight. Roberto Duran had turned back the clock in his most recent bout, unseating middleweight title-holder Iran Barkley at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but against Sugar Ray he looked older than his 38 years. Leonard was content to out-box Duran and won nearly every round. The final chapter of the Four Kings round-robin (Leonard, Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns) was a dud.

Two months after the Leonard-Duran rubber match, fringe contender James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

Tyson-Douglas was in faraway Tokyo, but the Mirage became a sidebar to the story of the fight when mischievous Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Mirage Race and Sports Book, just for the fun of it posted odds on the match. That gave the Mirage a monopoly as it would be the only property in the bookmaking universe to take bets on the outcome of the fight.

The betting line bounced around a little bit and at one point the odds favoring Mike Tyson stood at 42/1. This price would come to be etched in stone. “42 to 1” became the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.

It wasn’t lost on Mirage founder and chairman Steve Wynn that Buster Douglas would be the perfect poster boy for a gambling establishment. After all, Buster was the Joe Blow that knocked out Superman and won the big jackpot. Wynn’s attorneys succeeded in extricating Douglas from the clutches of Don King and he was matched against Evander Holyfield, a former cruiserweight champion who was 24-0 with the last six wins coming as a heavyweight.

Worldwide, Douglas vs. Holyfield was a much bigger attraction than Leonard-Duran III. The Mirage reportedly credentialed 1,200 members of the media, many from overseas.

In the days leading up to the fight, there were rumors that Buster Douglas had been lax in his training. Those rumors were confirmed when Douglas weighed-in at 246 pounds, 14 ½ pounds more than he had carried for Mike Tyson.

Counting the intermissions between rounds, the fight lasted a shade over nine minutes. In the third frame, Buster missed with an uppercut and Holyfield countered with an overhand right that landed on the temple. Buster fell to the canvas and made no attempt to rise as referee Mills Lane tolled the 10-count. As he lay there, picking at his nose, the scene was reminiscent of the famous photo of Jack Johnson lying on his back with his right arm shading his eyes from the sun at the conclusion of his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, a match that would always beg the question of whether Johnson was faking it.

Steve Wynn, who could be charming but was a perfectionist with a volatile temper, was livid. On the streets of Las Vegas, there was talk that Wynn had Douglas and his crew evicted from their hotel rooms even before the arena was locked down. If it were true that Buster Douglas was given the bum’s rush like some deadbeat inhabitant of a fleabag hotel, he would have been the first millionaire to experience this indignity. His purse was reportedly $24 million with $19.9 million guaranteed (roughly $40 million in today’s dollars).

Wynn partnered with promoter Bob Arum for the Leonard-Duran fight. For Douglas-Holyfield, he decided to go it alone, eliminating the middleman. By his reckoning, he had people on staff who were quite capable of getting all the moving parts to mesh into a coherent whole. But manufacturing a megafight is a complicated undertaking and Wynn would discover that he had over-reached. Plus, he had soured on boxing after two stinkers.

History would show that Steve Wynn would never again commit a large amount of money to host a prizefight. But this didn’t mark the end of boxing at the Mirage as Wynn owed Don King some dates as part of the out-of-court settlement that freed Buster Douglas from King’s grasp and a handful of promoters with lesser clout (e.g., Kathy Duva, Cedric Kushner, Dan Goossen) would anchor an occasional show there in a four-wall arrangement.

Don King’s first two Mirage promotions pit Mike Tyson against Razor Ruddock. Tyson stopped Ruddock in the seventh round on March 18, 1991. The stoppage by referee Richard Steele, which struck many as premature, sparked a wild melee in the ring between the opposing handlers. The sequel in June went the distance. Tyson copped the decision. Take away the three points that Ruddock was docked for low blows and Tyson still would have won.

King also promoted the last of the outdoor shows at the Mirage, a September 14, 1991 card topped by Julio Cesar Chavez’s super lightweight title defense against Lonnie Smith. In hindsight, this event was historically important.

Although Chavez was a massive favorite and the weather was oppressively hot, the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight attracted a larger-than-expected turnout of mostly Mexican tourists with deep pockets. In future years, many big fights in Las Vegas would be noosed to a Mexican holiday weekend. Chavez vs Smith was the ice-breaker.

In addition to Leonard, Duran, Holyfield, Tyson, and Chavez, future Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Jeff Fenech, Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt, and Michael Carbajal appeared at the Mirage. “Big Daddy” Bowe never headlined a show at the Mirage but had three fights here preceding his memorable trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Steve Wynn divested his interest in the Mirage in 2000 and the property became part of the MGM consortium. In December of 2021, the property was purchased by the Hard Rock organization whose parent company, as it were, is the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The transition from the Mirage to the Hard Rock is expected to take almost three years. When the renovation is finished, the property will have a new hotel tower shaped like a giant guitar. The guitar, the symbol of the Hard Rock brand, couldn’t hold the volcano’s jockstrap, but it is what it is in the city that constantly reinvents itself.

Back when the Mirage opened, the charismatic Steve Wynn was the most admired man in town. An innovator and a true visionary, Wynn melded the sensibilities of Walt Disney and Bugsy Siegel and changed the face of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn still has a large footprint in Las Vegas reflected in two look-alike five star hotel-casinos, the Wynn and the Encore, but, incredibly, he is now persona non grata in the city that once worshiped him. His fall from grace is not a proper subject for this website. Suffice it to say that Wynn, now 82, was quite the philanderer in his younger days and his recklessness caught up with him.

Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that magical night almost 35 years ago when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran formally christened the newest and brightest jewel on the Las Vegas landscape. Those were the days, my friend, and for some of us it seemed like only yesterday.

A recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling, TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History,” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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