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Thomas Hauser and Others Remember Dave Wolf at 75

Thomas Hauser

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Dave Wolf

This week marks a bittersweet milestone. Dave Wolf would have been 75 years old on August 24.

Dave died ten years ago, on December 23, 2008. As I wrote at the time, he was passive-aggressive, anti-social, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He also did as good a job of managing Ray Mancini as any manager ever did for a fighter and performed managerial magic on other occasions for the likes of Donny Lalonde, Duane Bobick, Lonnie Bradley, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Donnie Poole.

The legendary Jimmy Cannon once wrote, “The fight manager wouldn’t defend his mother. He has been a coward in all the important matters of his life. He has cheated many people but he describes himself as a legitimate guy at every opportunity.”

Dave was the antithesis of that. His first question was always “What’s best for the fighter?” rather than “What’s best for me?”

He had as full an appreciation of boxing and its traditions as any person I’ve known. Beneath his gruff exterior, there was a warmth about him that led to his being embraced by those who knew him best. And he’s assured a slice of immortality because of his accomplishments in the sweet science and as the author of Foul: The Connie Hawkins Story, one of the best books ever written about basketball.

Recently, I asked some people who knew him what comes to mind when they think about him today.

Jon Wolf was Dave’s brother.

Gina Andriolo met Dave in the 1970s while she was working for a small newspaper in Brooklyn. Later, she represented Dave as his attorney. Eight years after they met, they were married. They separated after four years of marriage.

Toby Falk and Dave were high school sweethearts. Decades later, they reunited and lived together in Dave’s apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan from 1989 until his death in 2008.

Teddy Atlas trained two of Dave’s fighters, Donny Lalonde and Donnie Poole.

Ray Mancini was Dave’s signature fighter.

Ray Leonard fought Donny Lalonde, another of Dave’s fighters.

Seth Abraham and Lou DiBella knew Dave in their capacity as executives at HBO.

Bruce Trampler was a matchmaker for Bob Arum during Ray Mancini’s glory years with the promoter.

Promoters Russell Peltz and Artie Pelullo worked with Dave on several fights.

Ron Katz and Don Majeski have been matchmakers, advisers, and jacks-of-all trades in boxing for decades.

Al Bernstein, Larry Merchant and Jerry Izenberg knew Dave through their roles in the media.

Harold Lederman (HBO’s “unofficial ringside judge”) was judging fights officially when Dave was in his prime as a manager.

Randy Gordon was editor of The Ring when Ray Mancini was at his peak as a fighter.

Mark Kriegel wrote what is widely regarded as the definitive biography of Ray Mancini.

Craig Hamilton managed several fighters and is the foremost boxing memorabilia dealer in the United States. He dealt extensively with Dave in the latter capacity and helped Dave’s family liquidate his memorabilia collection after Dave’s death.

Some of their memories follow:

Jon Wolf: “My father had severe back problems that limited his mobility. Dave was six years older than I was, so when I was a boy, he played the role of father in teaching me to do things like riding a bike and playing baseball. He took me to the NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium when I was twelve years old. It was freezing cold, and Dave kept missing parts of the game to get up from our seats and go get hot chocolate for me to keep me warm. I played basketball in high school. Dave was in journalism school at Columbia by then and came to all my games. He’d sit in the stands and shout instructions. There were times when it was like he was coaching the game.”

Gina Andriolo: “I was young when I met Dave, and I was very impressed. Right away, I could see he was one of the smartest people I’d ever known. He was very intense in his interaction with people. He could be brusque and combative. He always let people know where they stood with him. He liked being alone. And he loved sports; all sports, not just boxing. Dave could watch curling on TV and be happy.”

Toby Falk: “Dave was creative, intellectually curious, very intense, stubborn, determined. He was a private person, not at all social. He had no interest in talking with most people. Every now and then, he’d go to an opening at the Museum of Modern Art with me because he loved me, but it was a chore for him. If he bonded with you, he really liked you. But there weren’t many people who fit into that category. He’d stay up into the wee small hours of the morning watching old fights on television. But it wasn’t just boxing. It was all sports. His idea of a beautiful summer Sunday was to sit inside and watch a baseball game on television.”

Jerry Izenberg: “He was a very good writer. That’s what stands out in my mind. People remember that he wrote Foul, which was a very good book. But he also wrote some very good magazine articles.”

Al Bernstein: “Dave wrote one of my favorite books and one of the best sports books ever written. It was about Connie Hawkins, who’d been banned from playing in the NBA, and it broke new ground for what a sports book should be. Beyond that, Dave did what managers are supposed to do. He worked hard and maximized every opportunity for his fighters. I liked him a lot.”

Bruce Trampler: “I’ve never dealt with anyone who did his homework the way Dave did. He was one of the most conscientious, dedicated, well-prepared managers ever. I spent hours on the phone with him going through every detail of every fight again and again. Every conversation turned into a cross-examination. He was always asking questions and taking notes. He was painstaking in his preparation at every level. I give him the highest marks in every category that has anything to do with managing a fighter. He could be an annoying bastard and he was a complete pain-in-the-ass to deal with. But he was doing his job as he saw it, and he was one of the greatest managers ever.”

Ray Mancini: “Nobody – I mean, nobody – paid more attention to details than Dave. When I fought Alexis Arguello, Dave got Top Rank to agree that I’m going to leave the dressing room after the national anthem ends. If Arguello isn’t in the ring and the fight doesn’t start seven minutes after I’m in the ring, I’m leaving and Arguello has to wait for me to come back. That’s fine with me because, as a fighter, I don’t want to stand in the ring and get cold waiting for the fight to start. And everyone knew that Dave was crazy enough to take me out of the ring if Arguello was late. I loved it. I fought Ernesto Espana outdoors in a football stadium in Warren, Ohio. The day before the fight, Dave went to the stadium and stood in the ring at the same time of day the fight would start. Then he said, “Okay, this will be Ray’s corner and this will be Espana’s corner.’ He was making sure I had as much shade in my corner as possible and Espana was facing the sun. As a fighter, you love stuff like that.”

Lou DiBella: “He was a stand-up guy. For a guy without much charm, he was colorful in his own way. He was a guy who knew how to sit back and watch and figure out what was going on. He understood the strengths and weaknesses of his fighters. And unlike too many managers in this miserable business, he recognized that he had a fiduciary duty to his fighters and acted like it. There were never any side deals that the fighter didn’t know about.”

Mark Kriegel: “Dave was trained as a journalist. He was a story-teller, and that’s part of what a great manager does. He understood why Ray Mancini mattered, and he was able to tell the story in a way that people understood. He went from being a journalist to a producer, and he was great at it. I never met him, but I can’t think of another manager I would have liked to have met more.”

Randy Gordon: “Dave would come up to my offce at The Ring to look at old Ring magazines. This was before the Internet and Ebay, so it wasn’t easy to find them. He’d sit there and read, and then we’d talk about what he’d read. I learned a lot of my boxing history from those conversations. Some people thought Dave was on the weird side, different, strange, whatever word you want to use. But I enjoyed him as a fight guy, and I knew how much he cared about his fighters. He poured his heart into them.”

Don Majeski: “It’s easy to move a great fighter. Some fighters are so great that you don’t really have to manage. You just point them in the right direction and ask for more money. A great manager gets the most out of the least. Dave got people to treat .200 hitters like they were .300 hitters and .300 hitters like they hit .350. He made Ray Mancini, who was good but not great, into an iconic fighter. Bob [Arum] gave Ray the exposure, but it was Dave who gave Bob the product. He made millions of dollars for Donny Lalonde, who was an okay fighter. He got Ed “Too Tall” Jones onto CBS. He always looked after his guys. He never wanted one of his fighters to be an opponent. He was one hundred percent for his fighters. He was a great boxing guy.”

Craig Hamilton: “Ray Mancini was a likable white Italian-American fighter with a crowd-pleasing style. Any competent manager could have made good money with Ray, although probably not as much as Dave did. But look at the job Dave did for Lonnie Bradley. Lonnie was a black kid out of Harlem who was a competent fighter with a quiet personality. Dave maneuvered him to a winnable title fight [for the WBO middleweight belt against 13-and-6 David Mendez] and then got him a half-dozen title defenses against guys who weren’t very good.”

Teddy Atlas: “There were some things Dave did that I took issue with in terms of our relationship. But I recognized his gifts and his ability to move a fighter. He was a smart guy. He knew how to play the game with the sanctioning organizations and was willing to play it. He loved playing the game. I think he enjoyed the maneuvering and getting to the kill more than the success of it. And he made money for his fighters. A fighter can be successful in the ring and not make a lot of money. Dave made good money for the fighters he managed. His talent was to take a fighter who was okay and make it appear to the world that the fighter was better than he was, maybe even great. He knew how to build a fighter and capitalize on it when the fighter won. He was a master at developing a storyline for his fighters and having it resonate with the press. He was difficult; some would say crazy. But he did the job for his fighters.”

Ray Mancini: “Dave was a control freak. That was his thing. He was doing it for me, but he wanted total control and we had our battles. Sometimes I had to tell him, ‘You work for me. I’m the fighter.’ Then he’d get hurt and sulk and say things like, ‘I guess you don’t need me anymore.’ If he got a bug up his ass about something, he wouldn’t talk to me for a while and he wouldn’t return phone calls. He was a complicated guy.”

“Gina Andriolo: Dave approached boxing like a three-dimensional chess game. Regardless of the immediate issue he was dealing with, he was always looking three moves down the road. He had an amazing capacity for detail and kept meticulous records on everything. Every detail mattered. Most fight managers go to their fighters’ weigh-ins. Dave would find out when the scales were being calibrated and send me to make sure they were calibrated right.”

Harold Lederman: “Dave knew boxing; no question about it. He was a great boxing guy. But he was a tough guy to deal with when it came to officials. He was always arguing he didn’t want this referee or that judge to work his fighter’s fight. He never argued that he didn’t want me, but there were a lot of guys he didn’t want. And he argued long enough and hard enough that he was usually able to get rid of the guys he didn’t want. That’s one of the things that made him a great manager.”

Jon Wolf: “Before one of Ray Mancini’s fights in Las Vegas, Dave told everyone in the entourage, ‘No one is to gamble until the fight is over.’ He didn’t want anyone leaving whatever good luck we might have on the casino floor or bringing any kind of bad luck in. That same trip, Dave sent me downstairs to buy copies of all the newspapers they had so he could read what was being written about the fight. I had four nickels left over after I bought the papers. So I put a nickel in a slot machine, and five dollars worth of nickels came out. I played a few more nickels with similar results and went back upstairs with the newspapers and a bucket full of nickels. Dave took one look and asked, ‘What the f*** is that?’ I explained, and he told me, ‘Get rid of them.’ So I took the nickels downstairs, found an old lady who was playing the nickel slots, and said to her, “Excuse me, ma’am. I just won these and God told me to give them away.'”

Artie Pelullo: “Dave was a strange quirky guy, very opinionated. A lot of people thought he was a pain-in-the-ass to deal with, but I never had a problem with him. He came to me with Lonnie Bradley, and we did a couple of fights together. He wasn’t the kind of guy you went to a bar with for a couple of drinks and light conversation. But you could make a deal with him and his word was good. I liked him.”

Seth Abraham: “Dave didn’t care much about pleasantries and what I would call conventional business practices. Several times, he came to meetings at HBO wearing shorts. It wasn’t important but it was unconventional and it sticks in my mind. He was very perceptive and very bright. He always presented his case well. And as best I could tell, he was always honest with me. If you’re in boxing, you have to learn who the honest people are and who are the dishonest people. As a TV executive, I did business with both. And I can honestly say, I never had any integrity issues with Dave.”

Russell Peltz: “I didn’t know Dave well, but I don’t think he liked me very much. I say that because, one time, I wanted to make a match with one of his fighters and Dave told the fighter he didn’t trust me. What had happened was, a few years earlier, Dave was managing Duane Bobick and wanted a comeback fight for Bobick after he’d been knocked out by John Tate. I offered him George Chaplin as an opponent and told Dave that Chaplin couldn’t fight, which I believed was true. So Bobick and Chaplin fought in Atlantic City, Chaplin knocked him out, and Dave never trusted me again.”

Gina Andriolo: “He loved his fighters. He believed in his fighters. And he looked after his fighters in every way. His philosophy was, a fighter should get in and out of boxing as quickly as possible with as little damage as possible and as much money as possible. God, he fought for his fighters. I remember, one time, Dave got particularly angry when a promoter who shall remain nameless sent him a contract he didn’t like. It wasn’t what Dave thought they’d agreed to. I was doing Dave’s legal work at the time. He was shouting at me, ‘Call that m*********** up and tell him no f***ing way. He can take his contract and shove it.’ So I called the promoter up and – I was being tactful – I said, ‘Dave has a slight problem with paragraph 4(B). Is there any way we can change it?’ And Dave started screaming at me, ‘That’s not what I said. I said tell him he’s a m*********** and he can shove his contract up his ass.’”

Ray Mancini: “There were times when I said to myself, ‘This guy is out of his mind.’ Some of the things he asked for from promoters bordered on the ridiculous. Dave could take years off a promoter’s life. Lots of managers threaten to call a fight off. When Dave threatened to call a fight off, the promoter knew he might.”

Ray Leonard: “My best memories of Dave Wolf are from when I fought Donny Lalonde. He truly believed in Donny and the other fighters he worked with. We were cool with each other. What stands out most with me is that there was always respect between the two of us.”

Gina Andriolo: “There were always enormous piles of old newspapers and boxing magazines all over the apartment. Sometimes, that was a source of conflict between us. I’m not talking about a reasonable number of papers. I’d ask, ‘Why do we have to have ten-year-old newspapers stacked in the kitchen cabinets?’ But Dave needed them there to be happy. And he knew where every piece of paper was. God forbid I should move a piece of paper and he couldn’t find it.”

Jon Wolf: “Dave and I shared a bedroom when we were young. One time – I was three or four years old – my parents came home and Dave had built a wall in the bedroom out of chairs and whatever other furniture he could move so I’d stay on my side of the room and leave his toys alone and not knock his blocks over or mess up whatever game he was playing.”

Toby Falk: “There were piles of newspapers and magazines all over the apartment; thousands of magazines going back for years. In what I suspect was a major concession, he’d let Gina put flowery wallpaper in the kitchen when they were married. But he covered it over with fight posters as soon as she moved out.”

Craig Hamilton: “Dave’s main thing as a collector was fight programs, which a lot of people aren’t interested in because they don’t display that well. He had a solid fight program collection; Johnson-Jeffries and some other good ones. He wasn’t much of an autograph guy. He had a few good on-site posters, including one from Ali-Frazier III in Manila, and a lot of Ray Mancini stuff that had some value because Ray has a following, particularly in Ohio. But for someone who was obsessed with collecting, Dave’s collection wasn’t that good. Most of the rest was garbage. Dave had thousands of magazines that were virtually worthless. I’m not talking about old Ring magazines from the 1920s and 30s that are worth something. I’m talking about magazines from the 1970s and later that you can’t give away. Maybe a hospital will take them. They were stacked all over his apartment – in piles on the floor, on shelves, in closets, every place imaginable. There were piles and piles of magazines – three, four feet high – blocking access to bureau drawers and file cabinets. And they hadn’t been dusted in years. You could see that from the cobwebs. Obviously, they had meaning to Dave. They were very personal for him.  But it wasn’t the place you’d bring a woman on a first date if you were trying to impress her. God bless Toby; I don’t know how she put up with it.”

Larry Merchant: “In a game that rewards individual initiative, Dave was a guy who jumped in, did his thing, and did it well. He was one of the more interesting characters in a business full of characters.”

Toby Falk: “Both of us had been married and divorced twice, so we didn’t feel the need to get married again. But we lived together for almost twenty years. He wasn’t well for much of our time together. There were complications from diabetes and some other problems. When he was fifty-five, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He didn’t fear death. He just didn’t want to be incapacitated or linger. He was cremated, so I can’t say he’s turning over in his grave over what’s happening now in America. But Dave was anti-authoritarian and very politically aware. And he hated injustice. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he’s very upset by Donald Trump.”

Ray Mancini: “Dave showed how the job should be done. He battled for everything for me. There were things other managers let happen to their fighters that Dave would never have let happen to me. What he did for my career, I can never thank him enough. I loved him. I loved him dearly.”

And a note in closing . . .

Dave and I became friends in his later years. I don’t use the term “friends” lightly. We had lunch together on a regular basis and talked often about people and events that had shaped us. As I wrote when he died, “Much of Dave’s anger stemmed from the fact that he hadn’t learned to read in a meaningful way until the age of twelve and thus had been labeled ‘dumb.’”

When Dave was young, dyslexia and other reading disabilities weren’t understood. The fact that he was able to surmount them to write Foul was remarkable in itself.

It was extraordinarily painful for a young boy with a high IQ who was sensitive in many ways to be labeled “dumb.” One way Dave dealt with the pain was to construct a hard exterior that served as a protective shell. Explaining that to me over lunch one day, Dave told me a story.

Once, when Dave was in grade school and the teacher briefly left the classroom, one of the boys started teasing him in front of the other children, saying that Dave couldn’t read.

“I can read,” Dave said.

“Prove it,” the boy countered. Then he went to the blackboard and wrote something in chalk. “Prove you can read. Read this.”

So very laboriously, Dave read aloud: “Dave . . . Wolf . . . is . . . stupid.”

More than a half-century later, Dave remembered that moment very clearly. And it still scarred him.

Photo: Dave Wolf with Donny Lalonde and Teddy Atlas. Photo undated but circa 1986.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be 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.

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Shawn Porter Explains Why He Isn’t in Over His Head Against Errol Spence Jr.

Bernard Fernandez

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There sometimes can be a thin line separating child abuse and a demanding parent’s version of tough love. Twenty years or so ago, the way Kenny Porter elected to draw out the athletic excellence and mental fortitude he imagined existed within his grade-school-age son Shawn might have been misinterpreted had their relationship drawn the scrutiny of a case worker for Summit County Children Services in the Porters’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Not that Kenny ever laid a hand on Shawn in a brutal or excessive way, but an equivalent level of treatment might have been looked upon negatively by a child protective care professional objecting to the kid routinely being thrown into the deep end of the pool to fend for himself, or more to the point onto football fields where he was regularly required to compete against bigger, stronger and older boys not disposed to take it easy on the little guy.

“It’s how I grew up. It’s how my dad raised me and it’s where I come from. We were never allowed to shy away from any challenge and that’s how I lived my life,” Shawn Porter, now the WBC welterweight champion, said of his upbringing under Kenny, a relentless daily grind which also helped other would-be child athletic prodigies (like two-time Olympic gold medalist and current WBC/WBA/WBO lightweight titlist Vassiliy Lomachenko) rise to giddy heights while those made of less resilient stuff (see former USC and Los Angeles Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich, profiled by TSS on Jan. 14) psychologically unraveled to the point they wanted nothing more than to cease trying to constantly please a parent for whom a merely good effort was never good enough.

“I was 10 years old playing football against guys who were 12 and 13 years old,” continued Porter (30-2-1, 17 KOs), who will be asked to tackle another herculean task Sept. 28 when he takes on the heavily favored IBF 147-pound titlist, Errol Spence Jr. (25-0, 21 KOs) in a unification showdown to be televised via Fox Pay Per View from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “It doesn’t sound like that big a deal now, but back then when you’re 10 going up against preteens it is a big deal. So even at that young age my dad has always challenged me and made sure I not only put out my best but I was going against the best. I’m 31 now and this is 100% familiar territory because it’s where I come from.”

Although Shawn Porter now resides in Las Vegas, a tough town in a glitzier sort of way, his formative years were spent in northeast Ohio, a gritty, blue-collar region where working men in hard hats and dingy dungarees made their livings in steel mills or, more specifically to Akron, the factories that led to the Rust Belt city being labeled the “rubber capital of the world.” Porter likes to note that Akron also is the hometown of NBA superstar LeBron James, who as a child and adolescent also regularly went up against older boys, although in LBJ’s case he was nonetheless the taller, stronger, faster and more dominant player on just about every court he ever set foot upon.

Unlike youth-league football, where apparently age and size differences were sometimes overlooked in the leagues in which Shawn participated, amateur boxing required him to compete against kids more or less his own proportions. But there was still a way for Kenny Porter to ensure that his boy continued to test himself in trials by fire against those whose physical capabilities and potential seemingly dwarfed his son’s. A natural welter now as an adult, the 5-foot-7 Shawn Porter bulked up to an above-his-weight-class 165 pounds to throw down with future middleweight world titlists Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade and – talk about a relative David and Goliath matchup – undisputed cruiserweight champ Oleksandr Usyk, the 2018 Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Year. Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) is 6-foot-3 and makes his heavyweight debut on Nov. 12 in Chicago against Tyrone Spong, with the celebrated Ukrainian likely to be in the 215-pound range, or maybe even a bit higher.

So how did Porter fare in the land of the larger? Better than many might expect.

“I have wins against Jacobs and Andrade,” he said. “Me and Andrade were 1-1 in the amateurs. The last time we fought we were 165 pounds and I beat him. The experience is there. The experience against taller, bigger opponents is there.”

None bigger in retrospect, of course, than Usyk, whose skill set, southpaw stance and high ranking on almost everyone’s current pound-for-pound list are close approximations of Spence, if Spence were being viewed through a magnifying glass.

“I fought Usyk at 165 pounds back in the day when we were about 20 years old,” Porter recalled with obvious pride. “I beat him.”

Given his history, it seems somewhat odd that Porter, who has slew more than his share of fire-breathing dragons both in the amateurs and in the pros (most notably Danny Garcia), is such a significant underdog against Spence. Unless the betting line shifts in a major way, Spence will go off in the neighborhood of -800 (meaning you’d have to bet $800 to win $100) while Porter is +450. Not that a Porter victory would be considered an upset along the lines of Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson or Andy Ruiz Jr. over Anthony Joshua, but still…

Porter, not unexpectedly, does not consider Spencer, who comes in with advantages of three inches in height and 2½ inches in reach, to pose a physical mismatch for him, be it by scale or tools.

“Looking at Errol Spence, I don’t think he’s a bigger guy than me,” Porter reasons. “I don’t think he’s one of the bigger guys in the division. I think that he’s been matched up against guys who have made him look a lot more powerful and bigger and stronger than he is.

“I’m comfortable with the knowledge of what I can do. Errol’s really good, but I think I match him speed for speed, quickness for quickness, power for power. The big question that needs to be answered the night of the fight is can he handle my aggression, my punch output? We’re banking on his not being able to handle my pressure and some of my other attributes.”

Spence has expressed the opinion that Porter is a “dirty” fighter, or something akin to a rule-bender if not exactly a rules-breaker, which to Porter sounds very much like he is getting into the Texan’s head where the seeds of doubt are sown.

“Errol is very driven and competitive, I get that,” Porter said. “I think he may be trying to psych himself up into thinking he can (become the first fighter to knock out Porter). If he can’t handle my pressure then you will find out real soon, if that’s what’s working for us, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll be rough, we’ll be hard, we’ll be rugged. We’ll keep the pressure on him and we all know pressure bursts pipes.

“I think he’s in trouble. The world is about to be shocked. I know how it feels to prove people wrong. I know what it feels like to do the impossible, things that people don’t expect you to do.”

Doing the impossible is an instinct that has been bred into Shawn and nurtured almost from birth by Kenny, who, as his son’s manager and trainer, remains his most ardent proponent and closest confidante. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, but this is one father-son relationship in boxing that has deepened rather than divided.

Errol Spence Jr. might not the highest mountain Shawn Porter ever has been tasked to climb. It remains to be seen if he is the steepest and most hazardous.

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Canelo and Krusher Kovalev Meet at Union Station in L.A.

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES – About 113 years ago a historic heavyweight world title fight took place near Union Station, the location where Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev announced their light heavyweight world title fight on Wednesday.

Back in 1906, a middleweight named Tommy Burns moved up in weight and defeated Marvin Hart at Naud Junction Pavilion for the vacant world heavyweight title. It’s the exact location where Philippe’s Restaurant resides, 200 yards away from the L.A. train station.

Funny how history sort of repeats itself.

Canelo Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) the middleweight world champion moves up two weight divisions to challenge WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) on Nov. 2, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions and Main Events card.

The Mexican redhead already conquered the super welterweight, middleweight and super middleweight divisions. Now he wants to add light heavyweight to become a four division conqueror for Mexico.

One who knows the significance of making the attempt is Bernard Hopkins, the East Coast chief for Golden Boy Promotions.

“There are very few fighters who have accomplished 160 to 175 and been successful. As you know, you’re standing and hearing from one right now,” said Hopkins who accomplished the feat in 2011 and then lost to Kovalev in 2014. “I have a personal feeling about making history because I’ve been there and done that and now it’s Canelo’s time. I understand what it’s like to be in there with the Krusher.”

Down the Block

History has seen this act before down the block from Union Station where the press conference took place. The actual arena that housed the heavyweight world title fight between Burns and Hart and also Burns’ title defenses  against Fireman Jim Flynn and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien in the early 1900s has long been gone and replaced by the restaurant famous for French dip sandwiches.

If you know your boxing history, you would also know it was Burns who would later fight Black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in 1908 and lose in Australia. Johnson fought about eight times in Los Angeles and held the actual heavyweight title until 1915.

Now it’s Alvarez’s turn and the popular Mexican fighter dares to be great and challenge Kovalev for the light heavyweight title.

“I think this is a big test for me in my boxing career because this is one of the best fighters in the world in boxing right now. I’m happy and I am excited,” said Kovalev who is being trained by Buddy McGirt.

The tall Russian light heavyweight just recently defended the WBO title and seemed to be losing when he rebooted and retired Anthony Yarde with a left-handed blow in the 11th round last August 24 in Russia.

But this is another test entirely and though he is the bigger fighter, he maintains this is a tremendous challenge.

“This is the biggest fight in my life. If I win it’s my legacy,” Kovalev, 36, said. “If I lose I get experience.”

Alvarez, 29, is several inches shorter in height, but known for his vicious body punching. He wants this fight because it appeals to him to be among the greats in both Mexican history and boxing history overall. His last fight was a decision win last May over another taller fighter, Daniel Jacobs.

“This is important to me,” said Alvarez, who previously won the super middleweight world title last December against Britain’s much taller Rocky Fielding. “I like challenges.”

It’s a challenge that others have made throughout boxing history, including Sugar Ray Leonard who was in attendance. Alvarez also wants to be a four division winner like fellow Mexicans Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, and Jorge Arce.

“Canelo hopes to become the fourth Mexican to win a world title in four divisions,” said Oscar De La Hoya, the CEO of Golden Boy. “One big difference (between Canelo and the others) is that Canelo is at a higher weight class. And this opens the possibility for many more matchups, and bigger opponents with strong punching and star power. When talking with Canelo about his career goals, he said he wanted to make history and fight the best.”

Its Alvarez’s overall fighting skills versus Kovalev’s punching power and physical advantages.

Kathy Duva, whose company Main Events promotes Kovalev, was ambivalent about the matchup.

“Canelo, you may have bit off more than you can chew, but that’s okay. Great fighters are not afraid to challenge themselves. And win or lose, history will reward you for taking a risk,” said Duva.

Risks are what make prizefighting shine.

Ryan Garcia

Another who looks to shine on the same boxing card will be Ryan “The Flash” Garcia who appeared in the press conference with a huge smile, despite warring with Golden Boy head honchos this past weekend.

When asked if things were patched up with his promoter Garcia responded, “What do you think? Can’t you see how happy I am?”

Unknown to reporters at Union Station, Garcia signed a new contract with Golden Boy Promotions that allegedly makes him much wealthier. He will also be fighting Romero Duno who was the subject of public arguments when Garcia refused to fight him without renegotiating the contract. The original opponent for last Saturday’s fight card at Dignity Health Sports Park – Avery Sparrow – was arrested and unable to fight. Duno and others were mentioned as possibilities through social media sites and a public war ensued between De La Hoya and Garcia.

Things were resolved this week.

“This fight week was exhausting,” admitted De La Hoya about the verbal skirmish with Garcia. “Boxing is like a marriage, you have your little scuffles.”

Garcia was signed to an extension which De La Hoya said makes him one of the richest prospects. The Victorville native trains in San Diego with Alvarez and trainers Eddy Reynoso and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso.

“We’re all good,” said Garcia beaming with happiness. “I get to fight the guy I wanted to fight most in Romero Duno.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose (pictured left to right: Canelo Alvarez, Bernard Hopkins, Ryan Garcia, Oscar De La Hoya, and Sergey Kovalev)

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Holmes-Spinks I: The Grassy Knoll for Boxing’s Conspiracy Theorists

Bernard Fernandez

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Holmes-Spinks-I-The-Grassy-Knoll-for-Boxing's-Conspiracy-Theorists

The most enduring of American conspiracy theories involves a gunman who may or may not have existed and may or may not have been on a grassy knoll in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the subject of numerous speculative books and movies, all of which involve some individual’s ironclad take on what happened, why it happened and who was involved in making it happen, will always be grist for the mill for those still dissecting that national tragedy. More than a few of those arguments dispute the Warren Commission’s official conclusion that presumed killer Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own and not in concert with unidentified, shadowy figures.

On a more recent and lesser scale, a raft of conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the alleged Aug. 10 jailhouse suicide of multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whose list of celebrity acquaintances includes two presidents of the United States and even a member of the British royal family. As was the case when nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald before he could go on trial, conspiracy theorists on all sides have conjectured whether Epstein’s suspicious death was actually a hit and, if so, ordered by whom?

Boxing, with its blemished past dotted by nefarious power brokers and decisions that sometimes defy logic, also has provided conspiracy junkies with ample material to analyze and debate. Olympic boxing, often characterized as a cesspool of corruption, immediately comes to mind. So does the Sept. 10, 1993, majority draw in which WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker, whom almost everyone without an official scorecard saw as the clear victor, was obliged to settle for a dissatisfying standoff with crowd favorite and Mexican national hero Julio Cesar Chavez in a bout that drew a live crowd of 60,000 or so in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Although Whitaker retained his title on the draw, he and his outraged supporters were convinced the outcome was predicated more on the WBC, headquartered in Mexico City, exerting behind-the-scenes influence to ensure that Chavez came away with his undefeated record still intact. Irrefutable truth is often difficult to pin down in such matters, but the 55-year-old “Sweet Pea,” who died after being struck by a car on July 14, went to his grave believing he had been cheated out of a deserved triumph that would have further embellished his Hall of Fame legacy.

Given its historical implications, what is arguably the grassy knoll of boxing remains the Sept. 21, 1985, pairing of long-reigning heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and undisputed light heavyweight titlist Michael Spinks, who was attempting to become the first (or maybe not) 175-pound champ to move up in weight and capture his sport’s most prestigious and lucrative prize.

Spinks – who came away with a razor-thin and controversial 15-round unanimous decision — was bidding to do something no other light heavyweight had ever done, although there are those who cite Tommy Burns, who outpointed heavyweight champ Marvin Hart over 20 rounds on Feb. 23, 2006, as the first 175-pound titlist to accomplish the feat. In any case, since Burns, 13 light heavyweight champs had tried and failed in their bids to become king of the heavyweights, a list that included such ring legends as Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster.

Given the fact that the 35-year-old Holmes was making his 20th title defense and was widely considered as one of the best heavyweight champions of all time, he was installed as a prohibitive favorite over Spinks, who was not only bucking tradition but the perceived limits of his own body. Even respected Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, noting that Spinks had weighed in at 199¾ pounds – heavier than such legendary heavyweight champions as and Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano ever did for title bouts – went a bit overboard in writing that the challenger looked “like a blowfish” and that his weight gain was accelerated by a 4,500-calorie-a-day diet that might be “all right for a guy getting ready to play Henry the Eighth.”

But Spinks’ bulking-up process was not the result of having scarfed down a bunch of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and doughnuts, but rather the calculated machinations of New Orleans-based fitness coach and nutritionist Mackie Shilstone, whose then-unorthodox methods would soon gain wider acceptance but then were seen by the boxing establishment as, well, somewhat bizarre.

“We have a scientific, unique program that is secret – a program that was developed specifically for Michael, using techniques that would be revolutionary for boxing,” Shilstone said to the bemusement of hidebound traditionalists.

Spinks, whose walking-around weight between light heavyweight matches was usually 10 pounds or so above the division limit, said he was already familiar working with Shilstone – to shed unwanted pounds.

“Mackie had already helped me lose weight to get down to light heavyweight,” Spinks said when contacted for this story. “He told me that if I wanted to fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship, he could help me put the weight on the right way. And that’s what he did. He also said he wouldn’t take anything from what I already had, in terms of what I did well as a light heavyweight, that I still would be able to do all that as a heavyweight. He was right, too. I was as fast as a heavyweight as I was as a light heavyweight.”

Unlike Conn, Moore, Foster and other light heavyweight champs who made no secret of their ambition to storm and conquer the heavyweight division, Michael admits to initially lacking the burning desire to replicate the feat of his older brother and fellow 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, who dethroned WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali via 15-round split decision in a monumental upset on Feb. 15, 1978. Leon had always been naturally larger than Michael, never weighing less than 194 pounds for any of his first 23 outings as a pro. The mere notion of moving up to heavyweight seemed unlikely and more than a bit risky to Michael, who figured he would continue to do what he’d already been doing, which was to dominate all comers at light heavy.

It was Butch Lewis, who promoted both Spinks brothers, who determined that Michael going to heavyweight was not only doable, but highly advisable financially.

“Butch told me I could fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship,” the younger Spinks recalled. “I was, like, `What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and you can beat him.’ I said, `You really think so?’ And he said, `Absolutely.’

“Butch (who was 65 when he died of a heart attack on July 23, 2011) had faith in me, so I took that and ran with it.”

Maybe what bottom-line Butch had was absolute faith in the economic realities of boxing, which always hold that heavyweight champions are vastly better-compensated than their light heavyweight counterparts. Consider these numbers: Michael Spinks’ purse for his final light heavyweight defense, an eighth-round stoppage of Jim MacDonald on June 6, 1985, was a relatively paltry $100,000, a pittance compared to the $1.1 million contract he signed to challenge Holmes.

Say what you will about the flamboyant Lewis, who was noted for wearing a tuxedo and bow tie but no shirt on fight night, but his steering of Michael Spinks’ career was a case study on how to milk the system for every available dollar. It was Lewis who made the bold call, after Spinks had followed up his stunner over Holmes by outpointing the “Easton Assassin” on another close and controversial call, a 15-round split decision in the rematch seven months later, to hold Spinks out of the heavyweight unification tournament being put together by HBO Sports president Seth Abraham and promoter Don King. In doing so Spinks passed on a potential $5 million payday against eventual tourney winner Mike Tyson, but he was paid about the same amount to defeat the formidable Gerry Cooney, putting into motion a series of events that led to his June 27, 1988, megafight with Tyson in Atlantic City. OK, so Spinks didn’t make it through the first round, but he received a career-high $13.2 million for what proved to be his final fight and only professional loss, a pretty nice parting gift when you get right down to it.

Holmes had his own potential date with destiny in that first clash with Michael Spinks. Were he to win, it would be his 49th consecutive victory without a loss, matching the record set by Marciano – ironically, against Archie Moore and, even more ironically, 30 years to the day after The Rock knocked out the Ol’ Mongoose in the ninth round in what turned out to be his final fight.

In the lead-up to the fight at The Riviera in Las Vegas, for which members of the Marciano family were invited guests, Holmes seemed to chafe at constantly being compared to a beloved fighter who had died in a crash of a small private plane on Aug. 31, 1969. “I’m not fighting Marciano,” Holmes complained. “He’s dead. I never knew him. I’m fighting for Larry Holmes, for me, for what I can do for my family.”

To Holmes, who was no stranger to the seven-figure club and who was down for a $3 million purse, there was a racial component to the constant comparisons to Marciano, who was white, much in the same manner that black baseball great Hank Aaron was the target of unfair and sometimes cruel criticism as he neared the sacrosanct record of 714 career home runs set by Babe Ruth. When Aaron passed Ruth by homering for the 715th time on April 8, 1974, the feat was celebrated by many Americans and baseball fans in general, but not by everyone.

Members of the Marciano family, who ostensibly had been summoned to congratulate Holmes in the event of his making it to 49-0, celebrated when the close decision for Spinks – by margins of 143-142 (twice) and 145-142 – was announced. That did not set well with Holmes, who felt such a display was disrespectful to him and, additionally, was the wrong call historically as long-reigning champions such as himself usually got the benefit of the doubt in close fights.

“I was robbed,” Holmes, in announcing one of his several retirements from boxing that didn’t stick, said at the postfight press conference, suggesting that alleged conspirators in influential places who finally had brought him down can “kiss me where the sun never shines,” which meant “my big black behind.”

Nor was Holmes any more disposed to be gracious to Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother and the foremost keeper of the “Brockton Blockbuster’s” eternal flame. “You are freeloading off your dead brother,” Holmes told Peter, tossing in the zinger that “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”

Months later, after the heat of the moment had long since cooled down, Holmes, in most instances a respectful and thoroughly decent man, offered a public apology to anyone he might have offended with his earlier intemperate remarks.

“I’m sorry for what I said, for the way things came out,” Holmes told a Boston reporter. “I don’t want to take anything away from Peter or the Marciano family. I haven’t slept for two months thinking about this.

“I’ve reached out to Peter Marciano. I’d like to get together with him, either in his town or mine (Easton, Pa.). There must be something that can be done to make this right.

“I have no hard feelings against Rocky Marciano. He was one of the greatest fighters of all time. His 49-0 record speaks for itself. If I hurt Marciano’s family, I regret it.”

What Holmes did not back away from, not then and not now, is his belief that he deserved to win both of his fights with Michael Spinks, with the first loss a thinly veiled and successful attempt to keep him from sidling up alongside the sainted Marciano.

“There was no doubt about it,” he said of a decision he still regards as a cold slap in the face. “I knew what they were going to do to me. I knew if I didn’t knock him out, I wasn’t going to get the decision.” Nor is he alone in that contention, just as there are Spinks partisans who are just as insistent that the judges got it right.

Asked if he thought then, or does now, that he did not receive all the credit he was due from Holmes and his other persistent proponents of the conspiracy theory that refuses to die, Spinks said it shouldn’t matter at this point. The record book indicates he won, so that should be that.

“It was a close fight, but I did think I won,” he reiterated. “There’s no animosity between me and Larry. We get along. He’s not really sore about it anymore. At one of his golf tournaments that I attended, he took the microphone and said something about how he’d lost to me, but that wasn’t all bad because he made so much money for losing.”

What Holmes wants to make clear more than anything is that he wants to forever bury any hint that race is or should still be a part of the discussion. He said there was too much of that in the past, and still too much now. He pointed out that Gerry Cooney, the white guy against whom his high-visibility fight was neatly divided into opposing racial camps, as well as Spinks have been regular participants in his charity golf tournament.

“Half of my family is white,” Holmes pointed out. “I’m not a racist. I don’t have anything against white folks or anybody else. My son is getting ready to be married in a couple of weeks to a white girl. My daughter is married to a white guy.

“I didn’t really care about racial s— then, and to this day I don’t care about it. Gerry Cooney is my friend. Now, I didn’t like the decisions in my fights with Michael Spinks, but you can’t dwell on that. You got to move past that.”

Which might be one man’s way of saying that any lingering ghosts on that figurative grassy knoll overlooking a boxing ring where a fight took place 34 years ago should finally be allowed to just fade away.

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