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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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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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