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The Unfamiliar Mayweather: Forged From A Different Cloth

Arne K. Lang

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By Arne K. Lang

The name Mayweather is synonymous with boxing. For many people, the name is also synonymous with bad behavior. Brothers Floyd and Roger Mayweather and Floyd’s famous son of the same name have all had well-documented legal troubles. It’s fair to say that some folks, if asked to pick one word to characterize all the Mayweather men, would check the box marked “thug.”

If they knew Jeff Mayweather, the least well-known of the fighting Mayweathers, they wouldn’t be so quick to seize upon that stereotype. Jeff Mayweather isn’t loud or profane, doesn’t go out clubbing, has never threatened a woman with bodily harm, doesn’t make a spectacle of counting his money, and likely has never raised his fists to anyone outside the ring. He’s low-key, approachable and pleasant.

Jeff Mayweather is the baby of the bunch, twelve years younger than Floyd the Elder and three years younger than Roger. When Jeff launched his pro career, Floyd was retired and Roger, with 35 pro fights under his belt, was the reigning WBC 140-pound champion.

Compared with his siblings, Jeff was slow to get started. He was 10 weeks shy of his 24th birthday when he made his pro debut on April 23, 1988. Boxing at the professional level stayed on the backburner until he finished college. At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, roughly 50 miles from his home in Grand Rapids, Jeff majored in graphic arts.

Jeff Mayweather brought a 23-2-2 record into his biggest payday, an 8-round contest with budding superstar Oscar De La Hoya. The Golden Boy was too good for him – the fight was stopped in the fourth round – but the match gave the three Mayweather brothers an odd distinction. Floyd and Roger had also fought an Olympic gold medalist. Floyd fought Sugar Ray Leonard; Roger fought Pernell Whitaker. Jeff lost the fight but completed the hat trick.

Jeff’s career sputtered after the loss to De La Hoya. He came up short in 12 round tussles with hometown favorites Joey Gamache and Israel Cardona and finished with a mark of 32-10-5. But unlike most fighters, including most great fighters, he left the sport on a winning note.

Jeff knew going into his match with Eric Jakubowski on March 12, 1997, that this would be his final bout. The match was staged in Grand Rapids on a card that featured his brother Roger in the main event and included his nephew Little Floyd whose career was just getting started (Little Floyd, as he was commonly referenced back then, turns 40 next year).

Jeff judged that this was the perfect setting for his farewell fight. He was back in his hometown, where he had never boxed professionally. Sharing the bill with two members of his family made the event extra-special.

Jeff was a reluctant warrior. Had he been the oldest brother, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Before he turned pro at the age of 20, Roger Mayweather was an outstanding amateur. Tagging along with Roger to the gym, it was inevitable that Jeff would be goaded into giving boxing a whirl.

Jeff willingly acknowledges that he didn’t have the drive to be special that is the hallmark of all great champions. Don’t misunderstand. He was always in shape. He competed in the 132-pound division in the 1997 National Golden Gloves Tournament and as a pro he never weighed more than 139 ½ pounds. But there wasn’t the same passion for boxing that he saw in others.

“Things came too easy for me,” says Jeff. “I was good at school and I had no fears that things would be hard for me if boxing didn’t work out.”

As an amateur, Jeff crossed paths with several boxers who made quick headway as professionals – boxers that didn’t strike him as exceptional. As he watched their careers blossom, Jeff reconsidered his decision to forego boxing for a career in the graphic arts. “I wasn’t 100 percent committed to boxing,” he says, “but I knew that if I was going to give it a shot I couldn’t wait any longer.”

Transitioning from boxing to training boxers was a seamless transition. Jeff’s older brothers, to use a basketball analogy, were gym rats. Roger was forever mentoring aspiring boxers even as his career was still ongoing. Jeff upheld the family tradition.

On July 28, 2006, Sultan Ibragimov, an undefeated heavyweight from Russia, met Ray Austin at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. Ibragimov’s cornermen were old salts Panama Lewis and Stacey McKinley. Austin’s cornermen, Jeff Mayweather and Shannon Briggs (yes, that Shannon Briggs), were greenhorns by comparison.

Ibragimov had advanced to the gold medal round in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he lost a controversial decision to Cuban amateur legend Felix Savon. Expected to have little difficulty with Austin, he was fortunate to escape with a draw.

Ibragimov’s wealthy backer was none too pleased and made it known that he was in the market for a new head trainer. He auditioned five applicants before settling on Jeff.

A trimmed-down Ibragimov won his next three fights, blowing away Javier Mora in the opening round and then out-pointing Shannon Briggs and Evander Holyfield without too much difficulty. “Up-and-coming trainer Jeff Mayweather appeared to mold Ibragimov out of putty, creating a well-rounded boxer out of a brawler,” said Associated Press boxing writer Dave Skretta in his recap of the Briggs fight.

“He and I had the same temperament,” says Mayweather of Ibragimov, “and that made for good chemistry.” It helped that the Russian was fluent in English.

The final Ibragimov-Mayweather collaboration ended on a dispiriting note. On Feb. 23, 2008 at Madison Square Garden, Ibragimov failed to unseat heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, losing a 12-round decision. He never fought again, but Mayweather would soon have another champion under his wing in Panamanian featherweight Celestino Caballero. (Jeff has also tutored a few MMA fighters, notably Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal. “A lot of MMA trainers don’t know enough about the science of boxing,” he says.)

Little Floyd’s life outside the ring has been a soap opera and Uncle Jeff has played a supporting role. “For nine years there was silence between us,” he says without elaborating on what caused the rift. “But through it all, I always prayed that my nephew would win all of his fights.”

A larger rift developed between Little Floyd and his father, but that too would be patched up. Jeff has written for boxing web sites and believes that one of his articles quickened the healing process. “I mentioned that all this animosity was killing our mother, Floyd’s grandmother,” says Jeff, looking back at those troublesome days.

Asked to name his favorite active fighter, Jeff tabs Kevin Newman II who has won five straight in the super middleweight class since being held to a draw in his first pro bout. Jeff, who has no children, considers Newman his adopted son. He has been schooling him since the young man was nine years old.

Nowadays, folks meeting Jeff for the first time have a stock question for him. They want to know if his famous nephew will come out of retirement and fight again. With one more win, Floyd Mayweather Jr will overtake the fabled Rocky Marciano who finished 49-0.

We would be remiss if we didn’t ask the same question. So tell us, Jeff, what do you think?

It so happens that he feels very strongly that his nephew will never fight again. “Floyd doesn’t need to beat Marciano’s record because he set a bunch of other records that will be even harder to beat,” says Jeff. “He was undefeated for 19 years as a pro. Who can top that?”

Some folks are willing to bet that Jeff is wrong. Time will tell.

 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 91: Los Angeles Boxing Nights 1960s

David A. Avila

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A name popped up recently that shot memories of 1960s boxing nights at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

That name was Sho Saijo, a Japanese featherweight prizefighter.

The night Saijo fought Jose Pimentel for the first time at the Olympic Auditorium on February 15, 1967 was my first time watching a prize fight live. All my previous experience was amateur boxing or watching pros fight on television.

Just walking down the slanted aisles toward our seats at the Olympic Auditorium was an experience. The gray smoke drifted around the boxing ring and the smell of cigars and popcorn permeated the air. Vendors were hawking beer and other stuff and people seemed generally excited to be there.

My father was a former prizefighter and we had strong ties to Pimentel, who was a close friend of my cousin. Also, the trainer and manager of Pimentel was Harry Kabakoff, my dad’s former trainer and manager when he began fighting as a pro in the early 1950s.

We arrived a little late from our home in East L.A., so the only fight we saw that night was the main event that featured Japan’s Saijo against Mexico’s Pimentel. It was special.

Both fighters showed tremendous technique and surprising durability. They whacked each other with shocking impact with concussive sounds that left an impression on me. It was an exhibition of power that made me understand the difference between professional and amateur boxing.

It seemed every time one guy connected solidly with a booming shot the other guy returned fire with an equally impressive blow. This went on for 10 rounds and the crowd shouted each and every frame.

The Japanese fighter had four losses when he walked in against the undefeated Pimentel, but that night in Los Angeles, he convinced fans that he was equal or better than Pimentel who was the younger brother of contender Jesus Pimentel.

Finally, the featherweight clash ended and fans cheered both fighters for their electrifying performance. Two judges favored Pimentel but one judge saw Saijo as the victor. It was a split decision win for the hometown fighter, but Saijo’s performance endeared him to the knowledgeable L.A. boxing crowd. Aileen Eaton, the promoter, would bring them back again to the same venue in a month. In the rematch, Saijo was determined the victor by decision.

A year and a half later Pimentel would travel to Japan to face Saijo a third time but for the WBA featherweight world title. It ended in a knockout win for the Japanese fighter who defeated a slew of Los Angeles-based fighters along the way. Among those he defeated were Tony Alvarado, Pedro Rodriguez, Marcello Cid, Felipe Torres, Frankie Crawford, and Raul Rojas, who he defeated to win the WBA featherweight title in September 1968 at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

But the night Pimentel defeated Saijo, we met the boxer after the fights at a local late night spot on Figueroa Avenue. It was across the street from the Pantry at some place named the Limelight or Candlelighter or something. The actual name is a foggy memory.

We waited along with my cousin for Pimentel at the downstairs restaurant and he arrived with his trainer and manager Kabakoff.  When the husky manager saw my father they hugged and chatted a bit. The trainer had talked with my father about training me and asked me my weight. At the time I was about 135 pounds at six feet. But I declined. I had stopped boxing regularly and was concentrating on baseball fulltime. He said my size would give me a big advantage. But after watching pros like Saijo and Pimentel whack each other for 10 rounds, I was certain I made the correct decision.

Later, a few fighters like Ruben Navarro and Mando Ramos stopped by to say hello. It was a pretty exciting moment for me to meet all these boxing stars face to face. Watching them perform on television was one thing, but watching them actually trade blows and hear the impact was extremely impressive. It also made me have the utmost respect for all prizefighters, not just the winners and champions.

Those were different times.

Boxing Life

When I first met the late Bennie Georgino, famed manager and trainer, he would invite me to breakfast to talk boxing. He loved to talk about prizefighting in the 1950s and 1960s. He called that era a very exciting time, but claimed it was even better in the 1930s when boxing was really the king of sports in Los Angeles.

He had a point.

During the 1960s he ran a sandwich spot that he strategically located across the street from the long defunct Herald-Examiner newspaper and also walking distance to the Olympic Auditorium.

“Lots of the reporters like Bud Furillo and Mel Durslag would stop by for a sandwich,” said Georgino to me in an interview in 2000. “It was a heck of a time for boxing. We’ll never see that again.”

Georgino grew up in Lincoln Heights, a section of East Los Angeles that was primarily an Italian neighborhood back in the 1930s. He and his brother were boxers and, according to Georgino, there were boxing shows every day of the week if you include amateurs. He also claimed that amateurs got paid a small sum.

As a youth he boxed amateurs and as an adult he became involved as a trainer and manager of prizefighters. He was a close friend of Art “The Golden Boy” Aragon who was a massive gate attraction during the 1950s. Both would later own bail bonds businesses located next to each other in Los Angeles.

“Art was quite a character,” said Georgino. “You never knew if he was kidding or serious.”

Georgino later moved to Riverside, California. He was still promoting boxing shows in the state of Washington into his 90s.

Boxing in 1960s Los Angeles was a much different era.

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Remembering Hedgemon Lewis (1946-2020); Welterweight Champ, Hollywood Pet

Arne K. Lang

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Hedgemon Lewis, who came up short in three stabs at the world welterweight title but won the New York version of this diadem, died on Sunday, March 30, at an assisted living facility in Detroit. Lewis, who was 74, had health issues in recent years that made him vulnerable to COVID-19, and that vulnerability was compounded by residing in Detroit which has become one of the epicenters of the scourge. The evil pathogen sought him out and in his debilitated condition it wasn’t a fair fight.

Lewis was 72-6 as an amateur and won a National Golden Gloves title as a lightweight and AAU and National Golden Gloves titles at welterweight. He was 53-7-2 (26 KOs) as a pro. But those numbers barely tell the story of a fighter who led an interesting life and was admired by his peers for what he accomplished outside the ring.

Hedgemon Lewis turned pro in 1966 under the guidance of Luther Burgess who would be best remembered as one of Emanuel Steward’s chief lieutenant’s at Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym. Burgess, a fine featherweight in his fighting days, had been trained and managed by Eddie Futch.

Lewis was eight fights into his pro career and not quite 21 years old when Burgess brought him to Los Angeles where Futch was then plying his trade. Futch loved what he saw and Burgess left his young fighter in the care of his former mentor who was better able to “move” Lewis as the Southern California fight scene was then percolating.

Undoubtedly it wasn’t merely Hedgemon’s potential that excited Eddie Futch. The two had much in common. Both had been born in small towns in the Jim Crow South and had spent their formative years in Detroit. Moreover, a Futch Fighter was a fighter who conducted himself like a gentleman outside the ring and Hedgemon Lewis fit that mold. Futch had no tolerance for loudmouths.

Hedgemon became a staple at the Olympic Auditorium where he had 15 pro fights. When paired against a top-shelf opponent with a Mexican bloodline, these bouts drew big crowds. An estimated 4,000 were turned away when he fought Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez on July 18, 1968. The teak tough Lopez, then ranked #2 in the world, saddled Hedgemon with his first defeat, winning by TKO 9. The bout was so exciting that Lopez’s manager and chief cornerman Howie Steindler fainted during the battle and would be taken to a hospital for observation.

By then, Hedgemon had wealthy backers that allowed him to give boxing his full attention, or we should say his full attention when he wasn’t studying for his real estate license or taking classes in speech and drama at Los Angeles City College.

When Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier turned pro, they both had syndicate backing. The syndicates were comprised of wealthy businessmen in Louisville and Philadelphia, respectively. A California man named Dell Jackson put together a syndicate to back the next world heavyweight champion but with no good heavyweights available, the consortium settled on Hedgemon Lewis.

Jackson had friends in show business. The actor Ryan O’Neal, the comedian Bill Cosby, and the Broadway star and recording artist Robert Goulet hopped on board. The Hoover Street Gym, where Lewis trained and where his backers were constantly popping in to check on their investment, became a hot spot for the paparazzi. Lewis always looked good in the gym because he was a stylish fighter (which curried no sway with the legendary LA Times columnist Jim Murray who was partial to boxers of the blood-and-guts stripe; Murray did Hedgemon Lewis no favors when he described Hedgemon’s style as “mostly ballet.”)

Lewis won six straight after his setback to Indian Red, advancing his record to 28-1. The sixth was a rematch with Lopez wherein he avenged his lone defeat, winning a close but unanimous decision, but Indian Red won the rubber match, stopping Hedgemon in the 10th at the LA Sports Arena.

The top gun of the welterweight division in those days was Jose Napoles, a fighter of consummate skill who left Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power and settled in Mexico City. Napoles held both of the meaningful welterweight belts when Hedgemon caught up with him on Dec. 14, 1971 at the Inglewood Forum. Napoles prevailed in one of his toughest fights. Had he not won the final round, the bout would have been scored a draw.

They would fight again 32 months later in Mexico City and this would be a much easier fight for Napoles who scored a ninth round TKO. Between these two world title fights, Hedgemon had two 15-round affairs with Billy Backus on Backus’s turf in Syracuse, New York. Lewis won both by unanimous decision, winning the second fight by a more lopsided margin than the first.

Backus, the nephew of the great Carmen Basilio, had dethroned Napoles in December of 1970 in a fight stopped on cuts, some say prematurely. It was The Ring magazine Upset of the Year. In a better measure of their respective skills, Napoles dominated the rematch. Backus was a bloody mess when the bout was stopped in the eighth round.

The New York State Athletic Commission, in their infinite wisdom, demanded a rubber match. When Napoles refused, the NYSAC stripped him of his title. Both of Hedgemon Lewis’s bouts with Billy Backus were billed for the New York version of the world welterweight title, which was something of a joke although in an earlier day the New York version of a title had considerable cachet.

Lewis’s third stab at the world welterweight title came in what would what be his final bout. He walked away from the sport after suffering a 10th round stoppage at the hands of John H. Stracey in London.

Unlike so many fighters, he knew when it was time to say goodbye. “It’s such a strange thing when that happens to you,” Hedgemon told LA Times sportswriter John Hall, reflecting on his match with Stracey. “I trained well. I felt good. But once the fight began, it all went in an instant. Nothing worked. My legs, my hands. Suddenly I was a stranger in my own body.”

In retirement, Lewis became an assistant trainer under Eddie Futch, dabbled in fight promotions, and looked after his real estate investments. And he remained great friends with Ryan O’Neal who stayed with Lewis until the very end as other members of the syndicate dropped out.

Hedgemon Lewis was the oldest child and only boy of his mother’s five children. She raised her children alone after her husband walked out one day, never to be seen again. Lewis was very close to his mother and his sisters and when his mom took ill, circa 2002, he returned to Detroit to live out his days. Mrs. Lewis died in 2017.

This reporter first met Hedgemon Lewis in the late 1980s when Team Futch – Eddie Futch, Thell Torrence, Hedgemon, and the tyro, Freddie Roach, were training Virgil Hill at the long-gone Golden Gloves Gym in Las Vegas. In hindsight, I have come to believe that this quartet was the greatest team of trainers ever assembled. If not, it was undoubtedly the team with the best chemistry. “Everything we did was formulated around Eddie’s knowledge and techniques,” said Torrence.

The news of Lewis’s death prompted a call to Torrence. Eighty-three years young and still in-demand as a boxing coach, he had just gotten off the phone with Ryan O’Neal, informing him of the sad news. And he was kicking himself for not following through on the recent promise that he had made to himself to go visit his friend and former associate in Detroit. “And now it’s too late,” he rued.

Thell Torrence believes that Hedgemon left the sport in better shape financially than any boxer in his weight class who had a similar career. He credits O’Neal with making this possible, although when Lewis invested in a parcel of real estate, he had done his homework.

Lewis allowed himself a few luxuries. “He drove the first Mercedes I had ever seen,” said Torrence, and when he started to make good money, he moved into a fancy apartment in fancy Malibu. But he could have had many more luxuries if he had not felt an obligation to help out his family. He purchased a home for his mother in Detroit and, according to Torrence, put several of his sisters through college.

Hedgemon Lewis was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006 and into the Alabama Boxing Hall of Fame — he was born in Greensboro – last year. Health problems prevented him from attending the induction ceremony in Tuscaloosa. Two of his sisters accepted the honor for him.

To reiterate, Hedgemon Lewis was 72-6 as an amateur and 53-7-2 as a pro. And that barely touches the surface of a very good fighter who was a credit to his sport.

R.I.P. Champ.

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Don Dunphy:  Simply the Best

Ted Sares

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Don Dunphy once said, “When two or more people do blow by blow….they overtalk and emphasize too much.” He was responding in 1996 to the issue of modern television’s insistence on multiple announcers at ringside.

Don was unique. He had a clear, no-nonsense delivery, “pungent phrasing,” and just the right sense of drama (without faking it). His voice was crystal-clear with a noirish tang of his New York City roots.

Dunphy’s distinct and informative style was not limited to boxing, but boxing was his thing – his signature sport, marked by his election to ten halls of fame (Don was 90 when he passed away in 1998).

Dunphy called the blow-by-blow for more than 2000 fights, 200 or so for titles and 50, or thereabouts, for the heavyweight championship. It was his nasal-voiced staccato style that gave him unique status among announcers back in the day. (I dearly liked Jimmy Powers but I loved Don as his clear voice made following a fight an easy and enjoyable experience on the radio. Win Elliott filled in nicely between rounds.)

Don Dunphy was boxing” – Marv Albert

Don was the master of brevity. He would allow long periods of time to pass without saying anything, interjecting just enough to add to the drama and not interrupt it. He was indeed the golden voice of boxing. His announcing style was like a well-timed left hook, short and crisp.

More importantly, Don never let himself become the focus. It was never about him.

His first blow-by-blow broadcasts came in 1939, but his fame came two years later when the Gillette Razor Company began its marvelous Friday night tradition.

Here’s what Don’s son, Bob, had to say during a telephone conversation: “My father had tremendous respect for the fighters and he always knew what his role was in relation to the event. On radio broadcast that was to give a total blow by blow description of what was happening in the ring. On TV he felt it was unnecessary to repeat what the viewer could see for himself and looked to call attention to what was not so obvious. Simply put, nobody did it better.

Don was Boxing’s answer to Baseball’s Mel Allen.

Along with ring announcer Johnny Addie who never used fake or manufactured enthusiasm, timekeeper Fred Abbatiello, and judge Artie Aidala, the fans were treated to the very best. As much as Dunphy knew about boxing, he never came across as if he knew more than his audience. He made us feel that we were all enjoying the fights together.

Compared with Don Dunphy, the screamers of today are sometimes like a bunch of guys in the front row standing up on every occasion and blocking the view. Unlike these shrill announcers (some of whom have been very fine like Jim Lampley who is one of the most intelligent, humble, and accessible boxing announcers you will ever meet), Dunphy gave viewers only the information they needed. He was a host first and, as the fights unfolded, his calls punctuated the drama.

I grew up listening to Dunphy. He was very much a part of my childhood. His voice, the Gillette jingle, Johnny Addie and peripheral figures like trainer Whitey Bimstein will always be among the highlights and fond memories of my life.

Don Dunphy was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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