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Springs Toledo

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

“Why ain’t you in school?” he said.

“—Why ain’t you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They told me Joe died later that morning.

I cried.

…..

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

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

 

 

 


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

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

 

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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