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THE HAUSER CHRONICLES: Ernie Morales

Thomas Hauser

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Will Walters sat on a chair in a backstage corridor at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill in New York. Three days earlier, the 34-year-old welterweight had flown to New York from California to serve as an opponent.

Walters had a 2-and-7 record as a professional fighter. In less than an hour, he’d enter the ring to face Peter Dobson, who was undefeated in four professional bouts.

There were eleven fights on the card, which meant that some fighters had been relegated to the corridor rather than sharing one of the small makeshift dressing rooms. It was hot and humid. The corridor had a concrete floor and cinderblock walls. There were no fans and little air circulation. Adding to the discomfort, a door alarm had been blaring for a half hour.

As Walters’ hands were being taped, a well-groomed 47-year-old man wearing a navy blue blazer, gray slacks, white shirt, and black tie (all perfectly pressed) watched intently.

Ernie Morales is an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission. He’s 5-feet-9-inches tall, weighs 163 pounds, and over the years has completed fourteen New York City marathons with a best time of 3:42:42. “I’m not in boxing shape,” he says. “But I am in shape.”

Morales was born on the lower east side of Manhattan on August 2, 1967. “When I was growing up,” he recalls, “it was just my mother and me. She had me when she was nineteen years old, and I lived with her until I got married in 1992. I knew who my father was. My name is Ernest Morales III. But it wasn’t a strong relationship.”

Morales’s mother was a dental hygienist. “It was important to her that I grow up right,” he says. “And she put that belief in me. But the crack epidemic was in full bloom back then, and she went through several relationships where she got involved with intravenous drugs. She tried to keep it from me, but I knew. I made a promise to myself that I would never get caught in that cycle.”

When Morales was five years old, his mother enrolled him in the Boys Club of New York at 9th Street and Avenue A near Tompkins Square Park.

“I was in the gym a lot,” he says. “Then, when I was eight or nine, they opened a boxing program. I tried it, liked it, and stayed with it. I was an average fighter, nothing great. I had 74 amateur fights; won 50, lost 24, and had one knockout. That tells you I wasn’t much of a puncher. The knockout came at a small show in New Jersey. We got into an exchange, I was scoring pretty well, and the referee stopped it. I had a good jab and I could hit you with a solid straight right. The problem was, I might hurt you with the right but I didn’t have the power to finish.”

Morales reached the semi-finals of the New York City Golden Gloves twice. The first time was in the novice 118-pound division; the second, in the open division at 125 pounds. He was never counted out during his amateur years, but he was stopped three times.

“I didn’t have that much natural ability,” Ernie acknowledges. “But boxing was a great experience for me. It kept me away from the streets at a time in my life when a lot of the kids I was growing up with were getting in trouble. I learned about discipline and how to take care of my physical health. I don’t drink. I never did drugs. Boxing started me out right.”

Morales graduated from Chelsea Vocational High School in 1985. While in school, he ran cross-country and clocked a 4:32 mile.

And he had one professional fight. That came at age twenty-one against Rene Pellot (who was also making his pro debut) at Gleason’s Arena in Brooklyn on May 26, 1989. There’s a back story on that one.

“Pellot was well-conditioned and tough with a body like Adonis,” Ernie remembers. “A year or two before, there had been an amateur show when they wanted to match us and I chickened out. I wouldn’t fight him. When it was time to turn pro, Bruce Silverglade (who was promoting the card) gave my trainer, Juan Rivera, five names and said we could choose the opponent. Juan told me ‘you choose.’ Pellot’s name was on the list. I said to myself, ‘If I don’t face my fear now, I’ll never get past it.’ So I chose Pellot. He came right at me like I knew he would. And I got cut from a head butt in the second round. But I outboxed him and won a unanimous decision.”

Meanwhile, Morales had taken the New York City Police Department qualifying examination. “I’d known from the time I was twelve years old that I wanted to be a police officer,” he says.

In mid-1989, Morales was called for duty. Trainees at the Police Academy and in the period immediately after graduation are on probation. During that time, they cannot have outside employment. Professional boxing was considered outside employment. That marked the end of Ernie’s ring career.

New York State Athletic Commission inspectors work on a per diem basis and have a variety of “day jobs.” Morales has one of the NYSAC’s more interesting resumes.

His first assignment with the NYPD was in the 25th Precinct in Harlem, initially in community policing and then in plainclothes Anticrime. That was followed by a four-year stint as an undercover officer in the Manhattan North Narcotics unit.

“I was buying drugs in Washington Heights, which was the cocaine capital of America,” Ernie recalls. “There were times when I was nervous. But I brought the same mentality to it that I brought to boxing. If you lose that nervous edge, you’re going to get hurt.”

Morales was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and spent much of the next three years in the 47th Precinct in the Bronx on a plainclothes Anticrime detail. Then he was drafted into Internal Affairs (an independent unit that investigates alleged misconduct by police officers).

“I didn’t ask for that assignment,” Ernie says. “I was told that was what I was going to do next.”

After one year with Internal Affairs, Morales was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the 44th Precinct in the Bronx. In 2002, he was selected to attend a three-month advanced training program in law enforcement at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Then he was assigned to the Bronx narcotics unit as a supervising lieutenant, a role he filled for nine years. He was promoted to captain on October 31, 2011, and transferred to the 34th Precinct in Manhattan, where he served as executive officer (#2 in the chain of command behind the precinct’s ranking officer). A similar assignment in the 32nd Precinct in Harlem followed.

Then, on August 18, 2014, Morales was appointed to his present position: Commanding Officer of Transit District 12 in the Bronx. The district covers eight precincts and forty-two subway stations. “Over a half million people pass through those stations each day,” he notes. “We have to make sure they’re safe.”

In twenty-five years with the NYPD, Morales has never fired his gun in the line of duty. Fourteen of his years on the force have been devoted to fighting drugs.

“Every promotion I’ve gotten,” he says “has felt to me like winning a world title fight.”

Morales’s work as an inspector with the New York State Athletic Commission flowed naturally from his love of boxing.

“I used to go to shows from time to time,” Ernie recounts. “Then I met [former NYSAC chief inspector] Felix Figueroa, who told me about the commission and asked if I wanted to get involved. The idea appealed to me. I was at Madison Square Garden as a fan when Billy Collins fought Luis Resto [on June 18, 1983, the night that trainer Panama Lewis removed padding from Resto’s gloves in the dressing room prior to the fight]. That night, a man’s life was ruined because of a cheater.”

Morales was hired as an inspector on August 4, 2008. On fight night, he arrives at the venue two hours before the first bout. As a general rule, he’s assigned to monitor one or two fighters. In the dressing room, he introduces himself to each fighter that he has been assigned to cover and also to the fighter’s seconds. During the next few hours, he supervises the gathering of urine samples, wrapping of hands, and gloving up, in addition to making certain that myriad commission rules are followed.

“I try to keep a calm environment,” Morales says. “I explain the rules to the fighter and his seconds and tell them how they’re expected to conduct themselves. One of the commission’s responsibilities is to make sure that, within the rules, the playing field is as level as possible. My job as an inspector is to help implement that policy. If something doesn’t look right – a gauze pad, a medication, whatever it is – I don’t just say ‘no’ and give it back to them. I hold onto it until after the show and then decide with the chief inspector what to do with it.”

In performing his task, Morales is firm but non-confrontational. He does his best to treat every fighter equally, The fact that he’s bilingual is a plus.

When the fighter leaves for the ring, Morales goes with him. In the corner, he watches to ensure that adherence to the commission rules continues. Also, during the bout, he’s a link in the chain of safety for a fighter. A good inspector knows when to signal to the referee that a fighter might be laboring between rounds or to suggest to the ring doctor that the fighter needs a closer look.

“I find it all very rewarding,” Ernie says. “It’s service-oriented and allows me to remain part of the sport I love. Felix was my first mentor. The other person who taught me a lot was [current NYSAC chief inspector] George Ward. George has a lot of experience and he’s generous in sharing it. I learned a lot by watching how George does his job.”

“Iron Will” Walters vs. “Pistol Pete” Dobson wasn’t much of a fight. Walters holds his left hand low and, to make matters worse, brings it back slowly when he jabs. That made him a sitting duck for chopping right hands that Dobson landed throughout the contest. Referee Harvey Dock mercifully stopped the bout with Walters still on his feet at 1:33 of the third round.

Morales sat with Walters in the corridor afterward.

“It’s embarrassing,” the fighter said.

“Don’t say that,” Morales told him. “To step in the ring like you just did is never embarrassing. Very few people have the courage and skill to do what you did tonight.”

“Thanks for the kind words, man. I appreciate them.”

There were six more fights on the card. Dobson-Walters was now history.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places,” Walters said, ruminating on his life. “Moved around a lot when I was a kid. My last job was as a server in a restaurant. Right now, boxing is all I do, but it’s a dirty gig. I loved boxing when I was an amateur. The whole community of fight people seemed special to me. But the way they match people up in the pros; I understand it from a business point of view. But in a perfect world, I’d be more evenly matched.”

“Probably, I’ll have a few more fights. Then I’d like to do something else. My dream would be to be a fireman. Firemen are the real heroes, but those jobs are hard to get. Maybe I could be a paramedic or something like that where I’m helping people.”

Walters’ purse for fighting Dobson was three thousand dollars. He’d traveled alone to New York and picked up two corner men at the last minute. Richard Schwartz would get a hundred dollars for serving as chief second; cutman George Mitchell, twenty-five.

“I’m bummed out that things happened the way they did tonight,” Walters continued. “But that’s the story of my life. I always seem to come up short, even if it’s just by a little bit. I run marathons sometimes. My goal is to break three hours. My best time so far is three hours and twelve seconds. Think about that. If I’d run each mile a half second faster, I’d have broke three hours.”

“I wanted to go the distance tonight. That way, maybe my next fight would be eight rounds instead of six. They pay more for eight-round fights. But what happened happened. It would be cool if Dobson becomes a great fighter some day. Then I could say I fought him way back when.”

On that note, Walters’ mood brightened a bit.

“I like fighting in New York,” he said. “The pay is pretty good and they pay your medical expenses. If I need another MRI, I’ll try for another fight in New York. And I liked the inspector. He’s a nice guy. He knows what he’s doing and where the fighters are coming from.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Vic Pasillas: An East L.A. Fighter

David A. Avila

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When East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas enters the prize ring this weekend he follows a path that many from his area have trod before. Not all were successful, but those that succeed become near legendary.

But it’s definitely not easy being from East L.A.

Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) meets Michigan’s Raeese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant interim WBA featherweight title on Saturday Jan. 23, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise live.

Once again, a fighter from East L.A. stands pivoted for greatness. Can Pasillas go all the way?

For the past 130 years, prizefighters from East Los Angeles have developed into some of the best in the world if you can get them into the prize ring. Oscar De La Hoya and Leo Santa Cruz are two who were able to duck drugs, crime, street gangs and longtime allegiances that can often mislead aspiring boxers toward deadly endings.

One of the first featherweight champions in history lived in East L.A. Solly Garcia Smith won the world championship in 1893. He was the first Latino to ever win a world title.

There are many others from “East Los” who were talented prizefighters that were sidetracked into oblivion. Talented pugilists like brothers Panchito Bojado and Angel Bojado were derailed by mysterious obstacles that East Los Angeles presents. Others like Frankie Gomez and Julian Rodriguez showed dazzling promise but disappeared.

It’s almost as if a curse hangs over East L.A. area like a blanket of smog.

Many were surefire champions. But for some reason East L.A. or East Los as it’s called by those living in the 20 square mile radius, seems to have a dark lingering spell that makes it extra difficult for prizefighters to succeed.

Back in the 1950s a supremely talented fighter named Keeny Teran was skyrocketing to fame when heroin dropped him like an invisible left hook. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were his biggest backers. Yet, not even they could help Teran.

Drugs almost took Pasillas too.

The fighter known as “Vicious” Vic Pasillas could have tripped into one of those sad stories from East L.A. you often hear about from your abuelitas. The streets can easily claim you if you let your guard down. Who is a friend and who is a foe are not often clear as the colors brown or white. It’s a potholed journey to navigate the barrio streets that look tame during the day, but ominous when the darkness arrives.

Barrio Life

Growing up with parents who were incarcerated led Pasillas to find loyalty from the vatos on the street. They treated him well and gave him protection and a sense of family, but often led to being involved in petty and major crimes.

“I moved out of the neighborhood. I had to get away from my friends. No disrespect to them but I knew that I would end up in jail,” said Pasillas who moved to Riverside, Calif. which is 60 miles east of East L.A. “Nobody knew where I was.”

One thing certain: prizefighting was his gift. All that he encountered recognized his boxing ability.

“He was always a gifted fighter,” said Joe Estrada, who would often take him to tournaments around California or in other states. “Every tournament he entered he won. He has always had speed, power, and defense. He’s always been a great boxer, but trouble was always around him.”

Gangs had always been a part of Pasillas life. He was born into gangs in South El Monte and even after moving to East L.A. it was not an escape. It was vatos locos that took him under their wing and showed him love and respect. They took care of him; some were also boxers.

East L.A. is an area much like a spider web. You can travel a quarter mile in one direction and suddenly you are in enemy turf. Gangs are everywhere. If you are an adult male you can’t simply walk outside a door without looking in all directions. It makes you razor sharp in recognizing danger. You always look out for danger.

Pasillas loved boxing and loved his friends, the big homies, but cutting off one for the other was the most difficult decision. He would train, fight, and win but then hang with the homies and end up being arrested with the rest of them.

“The cops would come and everybody would run so I would run,” said Pasillas. “I didn’t do anything, but I would get busted with everybody else for trying to evade the police.”

Things remained the same until he met his wife. The streets never had a chance. Once married he moved to the Riverside area. It was 2011 and newly married he needed to make a decision on whether to try and make the Olympic team or turn professional.

“I was ready to go to the Olympics. First, I was going to smash everybody but my wife got pregnant at 2011. It forced me to get a job at a warehouse. I was making 50 dollars a week. Pennies,” said Pasillas. “I got a call from Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank. They offered me a fight on the third Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight. That was my pro debut.”

Sadly, the streets reclaimed him again.

Reckoning

A move to northern California seemed to change things but the struggle to stay outside the grasp of the streets remained real even hundreds of miles away. Despite the dark times Pasillas still had friends and admirers.

Seniesa Estrada, who holds the interim WBA flyweight title and is poised to fight for a world title in March, remembers sparring with Pasillas when she could not find girls to spar.

“Vic was always very good. He would take it easy on me, of course, but I would learn so much from sparring with guys like him and Jojo Diaz and Frankie Gomez,” said Estrada, who grew up and still lives in East L.A.

Pasillas, 28, had more than 300 amateur fights. He lost only eight times. Anyone who ever saw him fight immediately recognized his immense talent.

“Vic is one of the best fighters I ever saw,” said Joe Estrada. “Everyone knew that when he’s in shape he can’t be beat. Just so much talent.”

That talent will be tested on Saturday when he meets Michigan’s undefeated Aleem. Whoever wins their battle will meet the winner between Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton who fight for the WBO super bantamweight title.

“I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary,” said Aleem who now fights out of Las Vegas.

Pasillas doesn’t doubt that Aleem has talent.

“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with,” Pasillas said.

It’s been an incredible up and down journey so far for Pasillas; a lifetime of dealing with hidden traps on East L.A. streets that have toppled many previous fighters now long forgotten.

Or will those same streets show the way to glittering success as former champions De La Hoya, Santa Cruz, Joey Olivo, Richie Lemos, Newsboy Brown and Solly Garcia Smith discovered.

One thing Pasillas already discovered was his own family.

“People invite me all the time to events and parties but I tell them I already have plans with my family,” said Pasillas who has a wife and two elementary age children. “I never really had a family like other people.”

Now he has his own family. Something he didn’t have during his youth due to drugs and the streets.

“It’s just a domino effect. I’m making sure I’m going to stop that s—t,” says Pasillas. “It’s going to be good for East Los. I’m a born and bred fighter from East Los.”

Sometimes the streets can break you or make you.

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Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players in baseball history, died today (January 22) at age 86.

Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs. He finished his sojourn through baseball with 755 homers, a record that stood until 2007 when it was eclipsed by Barry Bonds. He still holds the MLB career records for most RBIs, most total bases, and most extra base hits while ranking third on the list for most hits and most games played and fourth in runs scored. He was a thoughtful gracious man who inspired a generation.

Decades ago, I was conducting research for the book that would become Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. As part of this process, I interviewed many great athletes. Some, like Jim Brown, had played an important role in Ali’s life. Others had interacted with Muhammad in a less significant manner. The people I spoke with included sports legends like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson. On September 5, 1989, I was privileged to talk with Aaron.

Aaron had broken Babe Ruth’s record in 1974, the year that Ali dethroned George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world. The thoughts that Aaron shared with me – one great athlete talking about another – follow:

“I was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934. I came up with the Braves when I was twenty. And coming from Mobile, I was very shy. I wasn’t satisfied with the way things were, but I felt like I had to do something special in baseball in order to get people to listen to me. By the time Ali came along, things were a little different but not that much. My first awareness of him was when he won the gold medal. And I saw greatness stamped all over him. How great, I didn’t know. But I was impressed by his ability and his confidence.

“Being a gifted athlete, being one of the best in the world at what you do, is a great feeling. But sometimes it’s kind of eerie because you wonder why you’re blessed with so much ability. I’d go up to the plate to face a pitcher and I’d know that, before the night was over, I was going to hit one out of the ballpark. I felt that, and I’m sure Ali felt the same way. That no matter who he got in the ring with, he was better and he’d figure them out. He had all kinds of confidence. And I was the same way. The only thing that scared me was, when I was approaching Babe Ruth’s record, I got a lot of threatening letters. I’m sure Ali went through the same thing with letters from people who didn’t want him to be heavyweight champion. Most of that stuff is nothing but cranks. But one of them might be for real, and you never know which one.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be another fighter like Muhammad Ali. I’m not putting anybody else down. Maybe someone could have beaten Ali in his prime, but I’m not concerned about that. There’s just no one who could possibly be as beautiful in the ring as he was. For a guy to be that big and move the way he did; it was like music, poetry, no question about it. And for what he did outside the ring, Ali will always be remembered. When you start talking about sports, when you start talking about history; you can’t do it unless you mention Ali. Children in this country should be taught forever how he stood by his convictions and lived his life. He’s someone that black people, white people, people all across the country whatever their color, can be proud of. I know, I’m glad I had the opportunity to live in his time and bear witness to what he accomplished. God gave Ali the gift, and Ali used it right.”

I remember very clearly reading to Ali what Hank Aaron had said about him. And Muhammad responded, “Hank Aaron said that about me? I’m honored.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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