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What’s My Name / Muhammad Ali: The Moment

Thomas Hauser

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I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about Muhammad Ali over the years and viewed a lot of additional film footage that wasn’t incorporated in them. The images tend to blur. But there’s one moment in What’s My Name / Muhammad Ali (the two-part HBO documentary that premieres on May 14) that stands out in my mind.

Ali and Ernie Terrell are being interviewed by Howard Cosell six weeks before their heavyweight championship bout in Houston.

“I thought Ali and I had a relationship as friends,” Terrell told me years ago. “When you’re a fighter coming up, you deal with lots of people, and for me Ali was one of them. In 1962, we sparred together in Miami. In fact, for about a week, we shared a room. I was getting ready to fight Herb Siler, and he was on the same card against Don Warner. Both of us won, and afterward I was getting ready to take a plane home to Chicago. He had this big red Cadillac and offered to drive me as far as Louisville, where I stayed overnight at his parents’ house until I could catch a bus to Chicago in the morning.”

But that was then. Four years later, Ali’s world had changed.

 “The way the name thing started,” Terrell told me, “I didn’t consciously decide to call him ‘Clay.’ What happened was, when we signed to fight, the promoter told us, ‘You’ll both have to be in Houston two weeks ahead of time and complete your training there to help the promotion.’ He asked me, ‘Is that all right with you, Ernie?’ And I said, ‘It’s all right with me if it’s all right with Clay.’ I wasn’t trying to insult him. He’d been Cassius Clay to me all the time before when I knew him. I didn’t mean no harm. But when I saw that calling him ‘Clay’ bugged him, I kept it going. To me, it was just part of building up the promotion.”

To Ali, it wasn’t “part of building up the promotion.”

The exchange of words between Ali and Terrell in What’s My Name / Muhammad Ali starts shortly before the fifty-minute mark of Part One. It’s fascinating because of the anger – even rage – visible in Muhammad’s face and body language. Ali was known to voice angry words in those days. This was something more.

“I’d like to say something right here,” Terrell said. “Cassius Clay has –”

“Why do you want to say ‘Cassius Clay’?” Ali interrupted. “Why do you got to be the one of all people, who’s colored, to keep saying ‘Cassius Clay’?”

Things escalated from there.

Ali wasn’t playing.

Ali: “You’re making it really hard on yourself now. Why don’t you keep the thing in the sport angle? Why don’t you call me my name, man?”

Terrell: “Well, what’s your name? You told me your name was Cassius Clay a few years ago.”

Ali: “My name is Muhammad Ali, and you will announce it right there in the center of the ring after the fight if you don’t do it now.”

Terrell: “For the benefit of this broadcast; him, all right?”

Ali: “You’re acting just like an old Uncle Tom. I’m going to punish you.”

Now Terrell was angry and stepped forward into Ali’s space. That sort of thing didn’t happen when fighters were interviewed years ago.

Terrell: “Wait a minute. Let me say something. You ain’t got” –

Ali: “Back off of me.”

Terrell: “Don’t call me no Uncle Tom, man.”

Ali:  “That’s what you are, an Uncle Tom.”

Terrell: “Why you gonna call me an Uncle Tom?”

Ali: “You heard me. Back off of me. Uncle Tom.”

At that point, Ali gave Terrell a two handed shove and the fighters had to be separated. For real.

The HBO documentary then moves to Ali and Terrell in the center of the ring with referee Harry Kessler giving them their final pre-fight instructions. Ali wasn’t one for staredowns. But he gives Terrell one here, and not for purposes of intimidation or show. His anger is bubbling near the surface. This time, he’s the one who leans forward into Terrell’s space. Both fighters decline Kessler’s instruction to shake hands. Instead, Terrell reaches out with his left glove and pushes Ali away.

The bout that followed was ugly and brutal. In the early rounds, Terrell suffered a fractured bone under his left eye and swelling of the left retina. From the eighth round on, he was virtually helpless. From that point on, Ali taunted him mercilessly.

“Uncle Tom! What’s my name! Uncle Tom! What’s my name!”

“By the fourteenth round,” Tex Maule wrote in Sports Illustrated, “Terrell could no longer control his tormented body. Instead of reacting normally to a feint, he flinched instinctively with his whole being, and when he ventured to lead with his left, his recovery into a protective crouch was exaggerated and somehow pitiful. It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty.”

Jerry Izenberg, who was at ringside that night, later told me, “’What’s my name!’ It wasn’t a question. It was a demand. Ali was determined to make Terrell say it, and the fight was absolutely horrible. If Ali was an evil person, that’s the kind of person he would have been all the time. Somebody really pushed the wrong button that night because it was a side of him so out of character that, to this day, I find it hard to believe it was him. It was evil. Ali went out there to make it painful and embarrassing and humiliating for Ernie Terrell. It was a vicious ugly horrible fight.”

What’s My Name / Muhammad Ali captures the antecedents of that moment.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at all Times– 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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Joey Giardello vs. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Fight That Never Was

Arne K. Lang

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Today (Wednesday, Oct. 23) marks the 55th anniversary of the aborted fight at the Las Vegas Convention Center between Joey Giardello and challenger Rubin “Hurricane” Carter for the middleweight championship of the world.

How’s that again?

Most folks with an interest in boxing history are aware that Joey Giardello once fought ‘Hurricane’ Carter. Many know that the fight was held in Philadelphia. And the most fervent boxing aficionados can probably pinpoint the month and year, December of 1964, Dec. 14 to be exact. But few people know that this fight had been orphaned, leaving the principals stranded in Las Vegas, as it were, scrambling for a new date and venue.

It’s odd that there’s been virtually no mention of this fact in stories about the Giardello-Carter fight because had the fight had gone off as scheduled, the post-fight life of Hurricane Carter may have taken a different path. Considering what lay ahead for him, it’s hard to think of another aborted fight that commands such a compelling “what if?”.

The Las Vegas fight was promoted by an organization called the Silver State Boxing Club. The face of the club was matchmaker Mel “Red” Greb. A Caesars Palace craps dealer, Greb had learned the business of boxing in his native Newark beginning as a teenage “go-fer” for Willie Gilzenburg who had the boxing and wrestling concession at Newark’s premier indoor sports venue, Laurel Gardens.

For a world title fight, the Silver State Club needed a partner to share the expenses and risk. They partnered with Telescript, a fledgling company that had acquired the rights to exhibit the fight at closed-circuit outlets. But Telescript, to Greb’s great dismay, was all smoke and mirrors. The company was contractually obligated to kick in a portion of the required $55,000 bond, but the helmsmen kept stalling and eventually Greb had no recourse but to bail out. On Monday, Oct. 19, four days before the big event, a crestfallen Greb told the media that the show was canceled. The gate receipts alone wouldn’t be sufficient to cover his nut.

In those days in Las Vegas, it was normative for the principals in a nationally important fight to show up three weeks before the event. The showroom or ballroom at the casino where they stayed was converted into a gym for afternoon workouts. The workouts were open to the public and the fighters were expected to fraternize with high rollers.

Joey Giardello, being the A-side guy (and the white guy) got to stay on the Strip. He and his entourage stayed at the Thunderbird. They sent Hurricane Carter downtown to the far less toney El Cortez.

According to stories in both local papers, Carter looked sensational in his workouts. He ran off several sparring partners.

One could attribute this to pre-fight hype, but hype that is especially thick is invariably layered on an underdog and Hurricane Carter was the favorite. The local bookies had it 7/5 that The Hurricane would snatch away Giardello’s title and the price was expected to drift higher.

A Snapshot of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

In 1964, Hurricane Carter was 27 years old. To say that he had a troubled past would be an understatement. He had been convicted three times for muggings and had already spent 10 years of his life behind prison walls.

Carter was good copy for sportswriters because he was extremely well-spoken. “I regret that I was a contumacious child,” he told New York Post reporter Milton Gross. He had charisma that accrued from his menacing appearance. He was one of the first prominent athletes to shave his head bald, cultivated a Fu Manchu moustache and a thick beard, and perfected Sonny Liston’s malevolent glare.

Carter turned heads with first-round knockouts of Cuban contender Florentino Fernandez and world welterweight champion Emile Griffith in a non-title fight. Aside from those spectacular triumphs, his best win was a split decision over George Benton, a tough fighter from Philadelphia who would go on to become a prominent trainer. Benton owned a win over Giardello.

But Carter’s 20-4 pro record was unexceptional for a man accorded a title shot and three of those losses had come against marginally skilled opponents. Giardello’s boosters disparaged Carter as a frontrunner, a boxer who loses his courage when he fails to take his man out quick.

A Snapshot of Joey Giardello

Giardello was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and raised in South Philly. His birth name was Carmine Orlando Tilelli. The name “Giardello” came from a phony ID, an ID loaned to him by an older boy, the cousin of a friend. It was Joey’s passport out of his hoodlum-infested neighborhood, allowing him to join the Army at age 15. The pseudonym stuck.

Prior to joining the Army, Giardello had served four-and-a-half months in a juvenile reformatory. He was the alleged ringleader of a gang of teenagers that busted up a gas station.

Giardello’s 10-round fight with Detroit’s Henry Hank in 1962 was named The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year. But his performance in this fight was out of character as Giardello wasn’t a hell-for-leather fighter. To the contrary, he was something of a cutie; a crafty technician.

His career was a lesson in perseverance. He had 105 fights under his belt when he got his first title shot. It came against Gene Fullmer in Bozeman, Montana, a regional site advantage for Fullmer who lived on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. In a lusty match, Fullmer retained his title with a 15-round draw.

Three years later, after upsetting a faded Sugar Ray Robinson, Giardello was granted another title shot, this coming against Dick Tiger in Atlantic City. They had split two previous meetings, but Tiger, born in Nigeria, was installed a 7/2 favorite.

Counter-punching effectively, Giardello won the title, prevailing by an 8-5-2 margin on the scorecard of referee Paul Cavalier, the sole arbiter. There were only two internationally relevant world sanctioning organizations, the WBA and WBC, and both now recognized Joey Giardello as their champion.

When the Giardello-Carter fight finally came to fruition at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the deck was stacked against The Hurricane. The Pennsylvania Commission, yielding to a protest from Giardello’s camp, forced Carter to shave off his beard so that he could not use it as an abrasive in the clinches. And although Carter hailed from Paterson, New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, he would be in hostile territory. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Giardello.

In the 1999 movie “The Hurricane,” filmed in black-and-white to capture the flavor of the era, Carter pounds Giardello from pillar to post only to be robbed of the decision by racially biased judges who deliberate 35 minutes before reaching their decision.

Carter is portrayed by Denzel Washington. He’s brilliant, but the movie is garbage. Fourteen of 17 ringside reporters scored the fight for Giardello who did especially well in the late rounds. (Giardello sued director Norman Jewison for libel and received an undisclosed sum in a case settled out of court.)

Hurricane Carter had 15 more fights, winning eight, before he was locked away in Rahway State Prison for his involvement – perhaps we should say alleged involvement — in a particularly heinous crime, a triple homicide at a Paterson bar and grill. He spent 19 years at Rahway, all the while maintaining his innocence, and became a cause-celebre, inspiring three books (the movie was based on his autobiography “The 16th Round”) and a Bob Dylan song. He died in 2014 in Toronto where he was being treated for prostate cancer.

Joey Giardello lost his title in his next title defense, losing a 15-round decision to four-time rival Dick Tiger, and retired in 1967 with a record of 98-26-8. In retirement, he held several private- and public-sector jobs and became known for his charity work, particularly for children with learning disabilities. (Joey’s son Carman, the youngest of his four children, was born with Down Syndrome.) He died in 2008, three years before a statue of him by the noted sculptor Carl LeVotch was unveiled in his old Philadelphia neighborhood.

Nobody seems to be on the fence when it comes to Hurricane Carter’s guilt or innocence. He was twice found guilty in jury trials, but both verdicts were overturned on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. “Twice Wrongly Convicted of Murder” appeared in the headline of his obituary in the New York Times, but there are some folks who will always believe that justice would have been better served if his captors had thrown away the key. Regardless, the “what if?” question will never disappear.

What if Carter’s fight with Giardello had been staged in Las Vegas as originally planned? Keep in mind that Carter would have been favored. How would his life have changed going forward if the fight hadn’t imploded, the casualty of a bad marriage between a local promoter and a feckless TV partner?

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 70: Golden Boy vs Top Rank, US vs UK and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 70: Golden Boy vs Top Rank, US vs UK and More

Several riveting battles take place this weekend, two in the American southwest and another in the United Kingdom. Each card presents world title fights that titillate the fancy of pure boxing fans.

Deep in the Coachella desert another world title takes place as WBO light flyweight titlist Elwin “La Pulga” Soto (15-1, 11 KOs) defends against Filipino challenger Edward Heno (14-0-5, 5 KOs) at Fantasy Springs Casino on Thursday Oct. 24. The Golden Boy Promotions card will be streamed by RingTV.com.

The last time Mexico’s “The Flea” Soto entered the ring he upset Puerto Rican slugger Angel Acosta with a knockout in the last round. As we have mentioned many times before, Mexico versus Puerto Rico is a matchup that never fails to provide action and drama.

This time it’s Mexico versus Philippines and though it’s not as prolific, these two countries still get their antlers up when they face each other. Manny Pacquiao really started the ball rolling when he went through a murderer’s row of Mexican fighters in the early 2000s, or did we forget?

Pacman beat Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, at least twice each and established himself as a legendary fighter. And he’s still fighting.

Heno, 27, fights out of Manila and is making his American debut. It’s also his first confrontation with a Mexican fighter so it should be interesting especially with a world title as the prize.

A couple of other solid fighters highlight the card including Jonathan Navarro a super lightweight from East L.A. who had back to back impressive wins over Damon Allen and Manuel Mendez. Navarro works out of Riverside with Robert Garcia and is moving up the ranks. He fights Levis Morales (17-5-1) in an eight round contest at Fantasy Springs.

Also on the Golden Boy card are Ireland’s undefeated welterweight Aaron McKenna and Mexico’s undefeated super welterweight Raul Curiel.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. PT and the fights begin at 5 p.m. PT.

Top Rank vs Golden Boy

On Saturday Oct. 26, in Reno, Nevada, the Silver state, former amateur rivals Shakur Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs) and Joet Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs) face off for the vacant WBO featherweight world title. ESPN will televise.

Three years ago Stevenson emerged from the Rio Olympics in 2016 as one of the more electrifying performers on Team USA, but he didn’t win the gold. Gonzalez was one of the American boxers that did not make the team. Both have been very familiar with each other for years.

Gonzalez also has a sister, Jajaira Gonzalez, who competed for the American team going to the Rio Olympics who is good friends with Stevenson. There will be no surprises in this fight. They know each other well.

Stevenson, 22, arrived from the Olympics with blistering speed and height to go with his boxing skills. When he first entered the pro ranks he was all speed and no punch. But that has changed. A lot of amateur coaches like to preach that speed is power. No, it is not. That’s why certain speedy boxers from the amateurs don’t quite make it in the pros.

Lately, the power has arrived and Stevenson has stopped five of his last seven opponents. He can punch.

Gonzalez, 26, always had a pro style and it’s a primary reason he did not make the Olympic team. But in the prize ring he’s evolved into a force, especially after escaping with a win over Mexican tough guy Rafael Rivera a year ago in Los Angeles. It was a pivotal win that made Gonzalez an even better fighter, a fighter with purpose and a tint more meanness in the ring. He’s stopped three fighters in a row including the talented Manuel “Tito” Avila.

This fight is also worth noting for another reason: it’s Top Rank versus Golden Boy and when they put their fighters against each other they usually result in explosive results. How can anyone forget Jose Carlos Ramirez versus Antonio Orozco? Expect the same in this fight.

London Calling

Scottish fighter Josh Taylor (15-0, 12 KOs) meets American slugger Regis Prograis (24-0, 20 KOs) in a battle of the southpaws at O2 Arena in London, England on Saturday Oct. 26. DAZN will stream the title clash early 11 a.m. Saturday morning if you live in the Pacific Coast.

Anytime you put lefties versus lefties expect the fight to end with a knockout. Both Prograis and Taylor are hard hitting southpaws with run-them-over tendencies. Neither is a fancy Dan.

Taylor, 28, looks and fights like he does collections at night for local Glasgow mobsters. He’s not shy about taking blows to give blows. He also can be elusive if he desires, but usually prefers a dog fight. Ask Ivan Baranchyk a Russian fighter who ran into him in Glasgow. The Scottish pugilist out-muscled the muscle.

Prograis, 30, prefers to slug it out rather than box it out. If this were a movie, he would be Doc Holliday in the film Tombstone who says, “I’m your huckleberry.”

The Louisiana prizefighter has ties to Hollywood and is co-managed by director Peter Berg and his frequent collaborator, actor Mark Wahlberg. Maybe after this fight Berg can remake the Tombstone movie so that Prograis can play Doc Holliday.

This fight has taken several turns before it finally was nailed down.

Surprisingly it has not been received with the excitement it deserves. This ranks up there with Kostya Tszyu versus Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya versus Shane Mosley, or Miguel Angel Gonzalez versus Julio Cesar Chavez. All were super lightweight or welterweight fights that electrified the fans when they took place.

It’s guaranteed to provide excitement.

Another added factor will be the lefty component. When lefties fight lefties it creates a puzzle that neither are accustomed to facing. Whoever figures out the conundrum –which usually means whoever lands a right hook first– will win the fight.

Both Taylor and Prograis are tough guys. They each have speed, strength and power to end each other’s night with a single pile driving blow.

Don’t miss it.

Hollywood Swinging

The return of Serhii “El Flaco”Bohachuk (15-0, 15 KOs) finds the Ukrainian slugger facing a tough test in veteran Tyrone Brunson (28-7-2, 25 KOs), a Philadelphia super welterweight who has fought elite fighters in the past. They meet on Sunday Oct. 27, at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, Calif. on the 360 Promotions fight card. It will be streamed on the promotion’s web site and on the Facebook page.

Bohachuk, 24, trains with Abel Sanchez in Big Bear and has quickly proven to be a very solid boxer who can deal with technical fighters, or handle bombers in crazy exchanges.

Brunson, 34, competed in the recent television boxing show The Contender and lost to eventual champion Brandon Adams by knockout last year in Los Angeles. But he has a win over Kermit Cintron so he knows what he’s doing in the prize ring. He also went the distance with Caleb Plant four years ago.

Doors open at 3 p.m. First bout begins at 4 p.m.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 4 p.m. Tiara Brown (8-0) vs Vanessa Bradford (5-1-2); Mykquan Williams (15-0) vs Tre’Sean Wiggins (11-4-2).

Thurs. RingTV.com 5 p.m. Elwin Soto (15-1) vs Edward Heno (14-0-5).

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Kendo Castaneda (16-0) vs Stan Martyniouk (20-2).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Regis Prograis (24-0) vs Josh Taylor (15-0).

Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Erickson Lubin (21-1) vs Nathaniel Gallimore (21-3-1); Robert Easter (21-1-1) vs Adrian Granados (20-7-2).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Shakur Stevenson (12-0) vs Joet Gonzalez (23-0); Mikaela Mayer (11-0) vs Alejandra Zamora (7-3).

Sunday www.360Promotions.us  5 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (15-0) vs Tyrone Brunson (28-7-2).

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Making Boxing Safer, A Call to Action: Part Two

Ted Sares

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The tragic passing of Patrick Day emphasized once again that measures must be taken to make boxing a safer sport. I reached out to a mix of trainers, ex-boxers and writers for their suggestions.

Weigh-in reform (covered in Part One) was a common refrain. Others emphasized the need for more consistency in the standards of regulatory bodies. Brain scans and more responsible work by cornermen also received multiple mentions.

Dr. Margaret Goodman has been a long-time advocate for a federal boxing commission. In the meantime, says Dr. Goodman, “we need uniformity, uniformity, uniformity,” and “all commissions must recognize that one of their most important roles is to deny a fighter a license when they are no longer safe to compete –AND ALL COMMISSIONS EITHER HONOR THAT DENIAL OR PERFORM DUE DILIGENCE BEFORE LICENSING THAT ATHLETE (if they disagree).”

“The ‘medical’ side of boxing is over-complicated by the variety of rules and regulations that exist across the multiple boxing organizations and is complicated further still by yet more differences across ‘national’ bodies (Nevada, NY, BBBofC etc.),” says Harry Otty, who notes that it will take a while to get everyone on the same page. “A short-term solution,” says Otty, would be to insist on more thorough medicals prior to the fights. Said medicals should include scans for pre-existing brain bleeds (the technology for this now exists in the form of a hand-held scanner)….“An annual brain scan (for those organizations who insist on it) is only good for the day it was done, so a monitoring system needs to be introduced. The more cost (and time)-effective the better.”

Boxing historian Henry Hascup is also bullish on brain scans. “Start when they first begin boxing as a pro and then have them annually,” says Hascup. “They should also have them after a tough fight just to see where they stand! In the gyms, some of these fighters have wars against each other. I know it’s entertaining, but it’s not good for the fighters in the long term. There should be a medical person of some kind to oversee this!”

In this same vein, Dr. Goodman says all fighters should be required to undergo an MRI at least yearly and adds that all commissions should institute adequate PED testing using only accredited labs.

Cornermen and Ring Officials

 Henry Hascup believes that more education is needed for trainers. “Right now all you need is a few dollars and you can work the corner,” says Hascup. “In the amateurs they have to go through a clinic every couple of years, why not in the pro’s where it is so much more dangerous!? They should be educated on what to look for before working a corner!”

Boxing manager, advisor, and noted attorney Anthony Cardinale makes this observation: The corner is in the best position to see that the boxer is not performing and reacting properly- gets slower, doesn’t execute combinations correctly, isn’t avoiding punches he would normally avoid- and should be in the best position to realize that there is no way to win the fight but by some prayer of KO punch, and when that happens the corner must stop the fight.”

Cardinale acknowledges that many trainers do stop the fight when this occurs, but says it doesn’t happen often enough. “The cornerman/trainer has developed that drive and tends to believe that their boxer can come back, recover, and win in a fight even when it may not be reasonable to do so,” says Cardinale. “So my humble suggestion is to have a neutral observer monitoring the fighter/corner who is able to call a halt to the fight or to at least have a doctor examine the fighter and consult in deciding if the fighter should not continue. Usually there is a commission representative in each corner – but they only enforce commission rules regarding the conduct of the bout. Why not engage someone that has the skill, background, training, and integrity to do both jobs?”

St. Olaf University philosophy professor, trainer, and writer Gordon Marino also emphasizes the importance of a responsible corner: “I think many if not most of the deaths of late could have been avoided if rather than risk the death of a fighter refs and corners would risk the wrath of the crowd and stop hopelessly one-sided fights, a la Eddie Futch in Ali-Frazier III.”

Author John Raspanti, the lead writer/editor for MaxBoxing, recommends expanding the role of ringside physicians: “Most of boxing’s serious injuries are caused by an accumulation of blows over the course of a fight. If a bout is a tough one, the ringside physician should start monitoring and physically checking the fighters as early as round three. Personally, I think ringside physicians should be able to call a fight in ALL states, not just some. Perhaps bring back the standing eight count, though some very zealous referees might interrupt the flow of fights.”

A somewhat related recommendation comes from TSS writer Matt Andrzejewski: “…We strongly need to consider implementing a modified open scoring system where if a fighter is down by a certain number of rounds certain people are notified. This includes the referee, doctor, member of the commission and the fighter’s corner. This may be cause for a fighter to not take further unnecessary punishment.”

Other suggestions that have been tossed out over the years include mandatory headgear, reducing the length of championship fights from 12 to 10 rounds, and shortening rounds from three to two minutes. None of the respondents found merit in these proposals.

Reducing the number of rounds or the duration of rounds “fundamentally changes the sport in a way that could negatively affect the bottom line financially and aesthetically,” says Lee Groves.

As for headgear, TSS mainstay and 2019 IBHOF nominee Bernard Fernandez and the noted trainer and former world title challenger John “Iceman” Scully both thought it would seriously erode fan interest, unquestionably killing the sport in the words of Scully. And Lee Groves questions whether headgear actually would make the sport safer. “….it may absorb the initial shock of the fist but the additional weight on one’s head could cause an even more damaging swivel of the neck that would further jar the brain.”

“One suggestion that would have potentially helped situations like Patrick Day’s would have been a thicker and more forgiving canvas,” continues Groves, “but making a canvas absorbent enough to minimize the shock of his head striking the floor would, in turn, make it disadvantageous to boxers who rely on movement and advantageous to the big punchers because they’d be able to better dig in their toes and generate maximum power. And if big punchers are better able to enhance their power, then they would, in turn, inflict more of the kind of life-threatening trauma we’re trying to avoid.”

While the aforementioned Scully is strongly opposed to headgear, he thinks improvements can be made with respect to gloves. “I do believe it would be safer if they would stop making gloves that are designed to transmit force,” he says. “Everybody in the game knows that there are certain gloves that really hurt and do more damage than others. Cleto-Reyes, for example. Horsehair gloves should definitely not be in the mix. I believe that if you had professionals wear 12 oz or even 14 oz gloves with foam padding, you’d see a lot less injuries. And the fact is you would see better fights because guys wouldn’t be so leery of the big punchers with the 10-ounce horsehair gloves on.”

Author and boxing historian Mike Silver, covering familiar territory, points the finger at “clueless” boxing officials. “The level of incompetence of so-called ringside physicians, trainers, chief seconds, commission officials and of course horribly incompetent referees is breathtaking. Unless things are changed more fighters will die. In fact more are dying proportionally (number of active boxers) than ever before because boxing safety is all cosmetic and stupid and controlled by clueless officials. Everything needs to be reviewed and revised from length of bouts, structure of boxing gloves, too much tape on hands, drug use, especially the lack of defensive skills among today’s fighters…..”

Bernard Fernandez, who has studied this issue extensively, would remind us that there are pros and cons to many well-intentioned reforms: “More extensive pre-fight physical examinations? Some tests are cost-prohibitive, especially for small promoters….Referees instructed to more quickly stop bouts once a fighter gets in any kind of trouble? We would never have thrilled to the late-bout heroics of back-from-the-brink action heroes like Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti.”

“Unless or until we are ready to throw out the baby with the bath water,” says Fernandez, “we aficionados might just have to cope with occasional pangs of guilt that linger just a bit longer with each event that goes horribly wrong. The same might be said of ardent fans who follow the NFL (CTE is real), mixed martial arts, bull-riding in rodeos, race-car drivers, etc. All these sports have the fan bases they do because there is an element of risk involved for participants. Does that make those of us who watch or report enablers? Does it make highly paid athletes solely or mostly culpable for whatever injuries they incur?

“So many questions, so many opinions, but so few answers. I wish I had some that would have a positive effect, or any effect. Unless, of course, the heartfelt offering of prayers for the health and well-being of those who are bold enough to step inside the ropes actually do have an effect.”

My own feelings regarding a call for action start with effective weight control and secondarily periodic brain scans. It’s pretty plain that when the goal of weight-cutting is to have an ultimate size advantage over your opponent, something bad can occur. Reform in these two areas can be implemented without endangering fan interest in the sport.

It’s something to ponder.

A hearty thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to this story,

Postscript: Heaven just gained a new angel. Fly high Patrick Day; fly strong.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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