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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Matt McGrain

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Research on the greatest heavyweights of all time was easy. Fire up YouTube or Dailymotion, watch the career-defining fights of a given contender, compare and contrast, order and write-up, delivered.

By lightweight, things were considerably more difficult.

This is to do with a diminishing interest in boxers by size. It is literally the case that available information is reduced coextensively with the poundage of the fighters in question. By the time I was involved with the bantamweights, things had become extremely difficult, unwholesomely greedy of my time and actually rather expensive.

Needless to say, the flyweights have been even more demanding.

The temptation to cut corners was, at times, enormous, but I allowed myself only one of meaning: this list is cognitive only of flyweights who fought from the Jimmy Wilde title reign to the present day. While every one of these projects has had a cut-off, flyweight’s is the most recent, the World War I era.  Partly, this is due to the absurd difficulty in researching 1900 contenders of this size but it is in the main due to uncertainty surrounding the poundage. Flyweight was paperweight for a long time and paperweight was never better than partially established globally. Tough on Johnny Coulon, but there it is.

Otherwise, the flyweight list has been put together under the same rules as governed the others. First and foremost, it should be stated the list considers only fights that took place at flyweight or just above.  So a 108lb fighter boxing in 2017 is a light-fly but a 108lb fighter boxing in 1925 was a flyweight, because light-fly did not then exist. This is an appraisal of flyweight in the truest sense, as it existed in boxing history.

Most important in conducting these appraisals: who a fighter beat and how he beat them. Secondarily, what was a fighter’s status in his own era? Was he a lineal champion? A belt-holder? Or just a brilliant contender who amassed a wonderful body of work in his forlorn hunt for the title?

Lastly, skillset as it appears on film and head-to-head considerations, the most speculative of criteria, are taken into account.

With that out of the way, here we go, for the last time a divisional top fifty, this one more obscure, unexpected and mysterious than any that has gone before.

The flyweights; this is how I have them:

#50 – Corporal Izzy Schwartz (1921-1932)

Izzy Schwartz lost thirty-two fights.  The good news: many of these were above flyweight.  The bad news: many of them were not and he was as likely to drop a decision to an unheard-of novice as he was an all-time great monster.

What gets Schwartz over the line despite this litany of losses is two things.  First, he took some really, really impressive names in his career; secondly, flyweight rather bizarrely drops off a cliff after #49 leaving me with about twenty good candidates for #50 and no outstanding ones.

But if you’re going to compromise on your gatekeeper to greatness, it might as well be for a fighter who defeated old-time legends like Black Bill and Willie Davies, men you have either heard of or will in the course of this series. Supplementary wins over future bantamweight beast Newsboy Brown and ranked men John McCoy and Ernie Jarvis do him absolutely no harm either.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Bill and Davies both avenged themselves on the Corporal four times over but also that he was a man who never shirked a challenge.

An air of respectability rather than true wonder purveys a career that was carried out between the two world wars and saw him share the ring with a generation of great flyweights. Noteworthy for his speed, he is also a fighter who completely lacked power, scoring a mere handful of knockouts.  A powerful Schwartz would have been a wonderful thing.

49 – Little Pancho (1927-1942)

 The younger half-brother of the immortal Pancho Villa, Eulogio Villaruel Tingson was bequeathed the catchier moniker “Little Pancho” in a nod to his much more powerful, much more brilliant relation.

But Pancho, for all that he is not the best fighter in his family, was one of the best flyweights of his era.  He lost twice to the great Midget Wolgast in 1932 and a decade later was beaten by the deadly bantamweight Manuel Ortiz. In between he drifted to and from flyweight and the poundage that would become superfly, which left a rather confounded shade to his legacy – but Pancho did good work while he flitted to and from.

He also managed to meet and defeat a boxer once in the class of Wolgast, the shadow of the fighter once known as Frankie Genaro. Pressuring, harassing, and finally cutting the old man he forced him to quit after the eighth.

Genaro makes the bedrock of a fine resume, but he was unranked and basically washed up at the time of his defeat. Pancho though, picked off several other good fighters in the course of his prolonged career, including Joe Mendiola (who he bested no fewer than three times), Jackie Jurich (who holds a precious victory over Manuel Ortiz) and the colorfully named Small Montana, also a ranked fighter.

A failed single tilt at a strap underlined his limitations, a ten-round draw with Little Dado in 1940 the closest he came to that glory.

#48 – Brian Viloria (2001-Active)

Brian Viloria (pictured above on left), now a shell of his former self, still trades on the name that once bought a sigh of contentment from your hardcore purist.

Never the lineal flyweight champion, he was nevertheless arguably the best flyweight in the world for a brief period in 2012, before Juan Francisco Estrada sent him back on his heels and Roman Gonzalez finished the job by way of ninth round stoppage.

So never better than the third most impressive flyweight of his era, Viloria nevertheless did enough to creep in to the fifty, preferred to old timers like Sid Smith and Jackie Brown and near-peers like Donnie Nietes and Akira Yaegashi. Based upon his high level of operations in 2011-2012, this is justified.

Julio Cesar Miranda, a storm of pressure and gloves, represented the beginning of Viloria’s summit as he out-manned and out-fought his highly ranked Mexican opponent in a glorious slugfest. 108lb champion and pound-for-pounder Giovani Segura was dispatched that December by fast handed bunches of punches that cut and broke him before he was stopped in eight.

The jewel in the crown of his resume, however, is his 2012 destruction of Hernan Marquez. Marquez, himself a brief contender for this Top Fifty, was the world’s #1 contender when Viloria, one of America’s most underrated pugilists, ushered him from that spot via tenth round technical knockout.

Viloria is easy to hit for an elite flyweight and this cost him against the best but a combination of fast hands, great punch selection and unerring accuracy certainly forms an impressive first line of defence; quick feet spares his often poor spatial awareness; he could hit and he could certainly box.

Unlucky to run into two monsters in Estrada and Gonzalez, another era may have been kinder to him, and seen him earn a higher berth here.

#47 – Juan Francisco Estrada (2008-Active)

Juan Francisco Estrada nips in ahead of Brian Viloria by virtue of the most old-fashioned and perhaps best of reasons: he beat him.

The two met in April of 2013 in what was, for eight rounds, one of the great flyweight contests of this decade. Estrada, beautifully compact, the less expansive of the two despite his being the rangier, was a little spooked by Viloria’s layers early. The more experienced Hawaiian gave ground and countered to dangerous effect, rounding the relatively inexperienced Estrada up with virtual threats and feints.  Estrada screwed the nut and by the ninth, having split, on my card, the first eight with his opponent, began to dominate. It was a glorious combination of will and skill, burnished by one of the beautiful left hands of our time; a great jab and a honeyed uppercut that makes me blink every time I see it landed.

Estrada (pictured above on the right) drove Viloria to the very edge and only heart and experience got him to the final bell in a borderline great fight.

Giovani Segura and Milan Milendo were the other major scalps of a truncated flyweight career. Estrada has spent time at both 108 and 115lbs making his flyweight career too short to rank him any higher here but it should be noted that he emerged from his three year stay at flyweight undefeated.

#46 – Gabriel Bernal (1974-1992)

Gabriel Bernal, a southpaw out of Guerrero, is one of the least heralded Mexican champions and in many ways it is not difficult to see why. Bernal was something of a soft-touch as a championship opponent, having lost eight fights before getting his shot at Koji Kobayashi in 1984. He made only a single successful defense before running into the punching machine Sot Chitalada. His final paper record of 43-14-3 perhaps does not lend itself to the hero worship reserved for Mexico’s more admired kings.

Bernal did do two things so worthy of note, however, that his inclusion here cannot be seen as controversial. First, in 1981, he scraped past the immortal Miguel Canto over ten rounds to go 1-1 in a two fight series with the living legend. The truth is, I can’t tell you whether or not Canto inhabits the number one spot at this time, because I don’t know, but if he isn’t #1 he will be close. True, Canto had faded from the shining brilliance of his prime, but he was still a ranked fighter in the early 1980s and one that had only been defeated by two men, both champions, since 1970.

Secondly, when he did get that shot at Kobayashi and the title, he knocked the champion out in just two rounds. Nobody had done that to the Japanese since the wonderful Jiro Watanabe turned the trick in Kobayashi’s ninth fight. Bernal’s free-swinging, full-hearted attack prostrated him quite literally face-first into the canvas for the first knockdown before depositing him neatly into the prayer position for the stoppage. It was one of the most stunning knockouts of the eighties.

#45 – Dado Marino (1941-1952)

Dado Marino was another wonderful but flawed fighter out of Hawaii; he retired thirty years before Brian Viloria was born. He ruled as the flyweight champion of the world between 1950 and 1952.

An inconsistent and frequent visitor at bantamweight, when he showed the discipline to make the 112lb limit he morphed into a different animal, one that was impossible to stop and difficult even to dent, one who threw a confused and frothy tide of punches inside and out, as direct and aggressive a fighter who has appeared at the weight.

Nevertheless, he requires that juicy three calendar-year title reign in order to make the fifty. His legacy rests heavily upon two wins over Terry Allen, the Brit he wrenched the championship from in 1950 with some vicious right-handed punching in the middle rounds.

Apart from his two impressive defeats of Allen, his resume is underwhelming, a dubious disqualification win over Rinty Monaghan probably his next best. The loss of his title to Yoshio Shirai followed by a failed attempt to reclaim it mirrored his own conquest of Allen and sent Marino into retirement.

There will be more of Yoshio Shirai in coming weeks.

#44 – Sid Smith (1907-1919)

Sid Smith is most famous, if he is famous at all, for being one of Jimmy Wilde’s many victims, but that is a little unfair. Smith was a centurion of pioneer boxing, taking part in more than a hundred contests and winning eighty-five of them.

Wilde crushed him three times between 1914 and 1916, but that aside, Smith’s results against the best of his era was more than respectable. First among them are his 1913 victory over French idol Eugene Criqui, who he defeated by twenty round decision in Paris in April, and his victory, less than forty days later, over Englishman Joe Symonds, who he defeated over fifteen in his hometown of Plymouth. Smith, a Londoner, reached his beautiful peak with these two fights.

“Since the Americans have not yet seen fit to recognise [a flyweight champion],” wrote Boxing of Smith’s fight victory over Criqui, “Smith now has every right to the…championship of the world.”

Wilde would have plenty to say about that, of course, but Smith scored wins over the cream of European competition, and as intimated by Boxing, Europe was then the world as far as flyweights were concerned.

Smith deserves wider recognition than as a footnote to the career of Jimmy Wilde.

#43 – Joe Symonds (1910-1924)

Joe Symonds, as detailed above, was beaten by Sid Smith, but avenged himself eighteen months later; no rubber match was made and so the head-to-head question remains unanswered.

Neither did Symonds have more meaningful success against Jimmy Wilde, the bane of a talented batch of European flyweights, although he did make the fifteen-round distance with Jimmy, something Smith never did manage.

Symonds struggled with the brutal Percy Jones, losing a series to him on the eve of World War I, but Smith never met with Jones, making any comparison impossible.

What sets Symonds apart is his 1915 victory over Tancy Lee.

Lee was the best of Wilde’s flyweight foes, but Symonds got him out of there in the first of their two contests, staged in 1915. 5’1”, Symonds was nevertheless physical enough to find himself boxing at featherweight before his career was over and it was above 120lbs that most of his 29 recorded losses were suffered, so it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that once he got Lee on the hook he didn’t let him off. Pressure and volume brought him a priceless stoppage win over a man who had scored a stoppage against Jimmy Wilde nine months earlier.

Lee scored his revenge, but not at the flyweight limit.

It is a win that buys Symonds several spots on this list, and more importantly separates him from his old enemy Smith.

#42 – Lorenzo Parra (1999-Active)

One of the saddest sights the ring brought us in 2018 was that of Lorenzo Parra, gut spilling over his trunks, a twenty-year professional campaign behind him, seeking desperately for the spark of timing that made him memorable in the 1990s. He buckled in three rounds for a 0-0 prospect named Arsen Garibian.

Parra’s career above 112lbs has been a bad joke. When he departed the flyweight division in 2005 his record was 28-0.  His record now reads 32-18-2. He hasn’t so much tarnished his legacy as filled it with gunpowder and set it on fire.

Between 1999 and 2005, however, this was a man to be reckoned with.

Venezuelan by birth, Parra stayed home until he was 21-0, fattening his record on soft opposition, but when he landed in Puerto Rico in December of 2003, he made his mark. Eric Morel, then 33-0, himself a contender for this list, was favored to turn back the young pretender despite his burgeoning reputation as a puncher.

Parra did land a knock-down quality punch, in the third round, but through the tenth it was his boxing that marked him. Fleet and fast-handed, he out-skilled, out-moved and in the final two rounds when his engine betrayed him, out-gutted his bigger and more experienced foe.

It was a consummate strap-winning performance that marked him one of the best in the world. It was also his high-water mark. A desperately close call followed with contender Takefumi Sakata; a rematch produced an equally close result. Parra and Sakata aside, a domination of Olympian Brahim Asloum is probably his best result, another unbeaten scalp belonging to a highly ranked fighter.

After that, flyweight lost him and Parra lost the essence of what made him great. A genuinely special fighter for a two-year spell, he is neither the first nor the last to be found out by a higher weight class.

#41 – Luis Ibarra (1975-1990)

 Luis Ibarra was a rather strange and beautiful fighter, styling elements of the Panamanian but very much as a part of his own idiom. At first, his approach seems insensible; tall for a flyweight he adopted a relatively deep stance, narrowed himself over his front leg and presented his jab. He then neglected to throw his jab despite a slick moving style and instead preferred power punches to body and head, leaving himself at risk despite all that innate mobility, to the attentions of his opponent’s hook, especially to the body. His own hook was a strange punch, thrown long and short, all the while using the same fist to stir and feint and paw and prod with what surely should have been a stiff jab.

But whatever the detail, Ibarra came together in the ring as a strange and frightening proposition for some excellent fighters. Lacking power, he nevertheless threw with absolute commitment leading to a split pair with feared puncher and future world champion Prudencio Cardona when both were still serving their respective apprenticeships. Clearly, his eventual victory over Cardona seemed something of a graduation for Ibarra, for later that same year, 1979, he took to the ring with the superb Betulio Gonzalez (more of whom in part three) and over fifteen sizzling rounds he dominated the little Venezuelan and lifted an alphabet strap in the process. It was a masterful performance.

It was inevitable a fighter of his type would be found out but when the limited Tae-Shik Kim obliterated him in just two rounds in his very next defense, it was seen as something of a shock. Ibarra, too, believed there was more, and he proved it when he battled back to edge out a fighter even more special than Gonzalez when he sprang another surprise, this time over the Argentine legend Santos Laciar in Argentina. It made him a strapholder for a second time, and although the true title evaded him, Gonzalez and Laciar are two wins special enough to hang a strong top fifty ranking upon.

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Remembering Leotis Martin who KOed Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago Today

Arne K. Lang

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On Dec. 6, 1969, 50 years ago today, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought former sparring partner Leotis Martin on the stage of the showroom of the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas, a property that subsequently took the name Las Vegas Hilton and is called the Westgate today. The Sunday afternoon fight was televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell behind the mic. The match was slated for 12 rounds. The victor would be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation.

Leotis Martin, who resided in Philadelphia, was a former national Golden Gloves and national AAU middleweight champion. As a pro, he was 30-5 with 18 knockouts. But he was given scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston (49-3, 38 KOs) who had won 14 in a row, 13 inside the distance, since his second defeat to Muhammad Ali. Although Liston had defeated no one of note during this run, he had yet re-established himself in the public mind as one of the hardest hitting punchers ever.

Martin had several other things working against him. He was a small heavyweight. Liston, who came in at 220, would out-weigh him by 21 pounds. And he wasn’t a full-time boxer. In Philadelphia, he was a machinist for the Budd Company, one of America’s leading manufacturers of metal components for automobiles and railroad cars.

Martin had helped Liston train for his matches with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. When a big name fighter is matched against a former sparring partner, there is always the suspicion that a gentleman’s agreement is in effect.

Liston vs Martin played out somewhat like the recent fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz although it lasted two rounds longer.

After eight frames, Liston was ahead by two points on one of the scorecards and by three points on the others on Nevada’s “five-point-must” system. A flash knockdown of Martin in round four contributed to the imbalance.

Martin could sense that Liston was tiring, but it wasn’t apparent to those in the audience – reportedly 1,800 paid – and that made the drama that was about to unfold all the more dramatic.

In round nine, Leotis landed three unanswered combinations, one right after the other. The third was the classic one-two: left to the body, right to the jaw. Sonny Liston pitched forward, landing face first to the canvas, dead to the world. The ref counted “10” over his prone body. “He could have counted to 300,” said Review-Journal ringside reporter Jimmy Cox.

Nevada’s ringside physician, Dr. Donald Romeo, came equipped with capsules of ammonia. The first one that he broke and waved under Sonny’s nose had no effect. The second capsule brought Liston out of his slumber.

Sonny Liston was reportedly 39 years old, but was widely considered to be somewhat older than his listed age. The brutal manner in which he succumbed to Leotis Martin seemingly indicated that he had reached the end of the line, but he wasn’t done quite yet. Six months later, at the Armory in Jersey City, he butchered Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” in a fight stopped by the ring doctor after nine rounds.

That would prove to be his final fight. On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine returned to their home in Las Vegas from a 12-day holiday trip to St. Louis, her hometown, and found her husband dead in their bedroom. Rigor mortis had already set in.  The coroner’s report said Liston died from congestive heart failure, but that didn’t explain what brought on the coronary and there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he was a victim of foul play.

Leotis Martin’s triumph elevated him to #1 in the heavyweight rankings of the WBA, the sport’s paramount sanctioning body. A fight with fellow Philadelphian Smokin’ Joe Frazier was his likely reward. But it wasn’t to be.

Martin emerged from his fight with Liston with a detached retina. Back in those days, retinal detachment surgery was a hit-and-miss proposition. The most famous boxer to have his retina repaired mid-career was Sugar Ray Leonard, but that didn’t happen until 1982 and it was a far more complicated procedure than what it is nowadays. Three ophthalmic surgeons attended Sugar Ray during his two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Leotis Martin basically had no choice but to retire. His signature win would be the final fight of his career.

Martin returned to Philadelphia and to his job in the foundry and lived out his days quietly in the city’s racially diverse Mount Airy neighborhood. In November of 1995 he passed away after suffering a stroke brought on by diabetes and hypertension. He was 56 years old.

By the way, Tim Dahlberg was one of the ringside reporters. This was his first prizefight. In time he would travel the globe as the National Sports Columnist for the Associated Press and he’s still going strong today.

Reminiscing about his first prizefight with Las Vegas sports columnist Ron Kantowski, Dahlberg recalled that there was a young heavyweight on the Liston-Martin undercard that looked pretty good.

The kid’s name was George Foreman.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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There were 25 names on the Observer Category ballot sent out to those casting votes for the next round of inductions into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Voters could choose as many as five. The top two vote-getters would get in.

A range of disciplines are included in the Observer category: journalists and photo-journalists, TV executives, broadcasters, record-keepers, statisticians, cartoonists. Some of the 25 potential inductees are long dead such as Percy Dana the great photographer who was omnipresent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the San Francisco Bay area was swarming with big fights. The majority of those on the ballot, however, are still active. They are contemporaries of the electors.

This reporter had a strong feeling that longtime boxing writer and current TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez would make the cut. Induction into the IBHOF is by nature a lifetime achievement award and Fernandez certainly qualified on that count. Among those stumping for him was ESPN’s Dan Rafael who shares his picks with his readers. Rafael’s opinions circulate widely among his peers.

We guessed right with Fernandez and then had more reason to strut when the other top vote-getter turned out to be frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser.

We didn’t see that coming. Yes, we thought that Hauser was more than qualified. Considering some of the “Observers” that were ushered into the Hall before him, his induction was long overdue. But much of Hauser’s work falls under the heading of investigative reporting and he has never been shy about airing his political views so we figured that he had alienated just enough voters to ensure that he would be kept waiting indefinitely.

We miscalculated.

Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser was born in New York City and grew up in Larchmont, an upper-middle-class village roughly 25 miles north of the city in Westchester County. His father was an attorney with a small general practice in the city and Hauser followed him into the practice of law, clerking for a federal judge and then working as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm after graduating from Columbia Law School.

When Hauser got bored with the life of a Wall Street lawyer, he thought he would give writing a try and then hit the jackpot with his very first book. “The Execution of Charles Horman” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award.

Horman was a left-leaning journalist who was murdered while investigating the possible American masterminding of a military coup in Chile. The book spawned the movie “Missing” which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Costa-Gavras.

The movie put a brighter spotlight on Hauser’s book which was re-titled “Missing” and sent him off on the lecture circuit. Here’s Hauser in 1982 as depicted in a Los Angeles Times story following his talk at UC Irvine.

hauser wong

Hauser went on to write so many books that the exact number is uncertain (but somewhere north of 50). That includes works of fiction, works of general non-fiction and, of course, non-fiction books about boxing of which, at last count, there are eighteen. The opus is “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.” Harking in its design to the works of the great Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel, the book, released in 1991, won the William Hill Award for best sports book, a prestigious award in Great Britain.

Completing the book was an arduous task. Hauser interviewed approximately 200 people. He and Ali spent countless days at their respective homes and after the book was published the two went off on a book signing tour that spanned several continents.

Ali TH w book

Hauser had interviewed Ali long before they collaborated on the biography. It came when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Columbia hosting a weekly sports talk radio show on the student-run radio station. Ali was in town to fight Zora Folley at the old Madison Square Garden – Ali’s final fight before his exile – and Hauser wangled his way into Ali’s dressing room after Ali completed a public workout and taped an interview. It wouldn’t be the last time that he wangled his way into a fighter’s dressing room.

Four years later Hauser was at the newly reconstituted Madison Square Garden for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier. It was an epic confrontation, an event that Pete Hamill, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, called the most spectacular event in sports history. Hauser’s ticket bought him a seat in the last row of the mezzanine, as far away from the ring as one could be.

“Muhammad Ali” was actually Hauser’s second boxing book. “The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing,” published in 1986, looks at all the machinations that led up to the Nov. 3, 1984 match between 140-pound title-holder Billy Costello and Saoul Mamby. Hauser’s portrait of Don King jumps off the page.

Hauser’s 2001 book, “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” is noteworthy because it was published by the University of Arkansas Press which has been publishing a Hauser anthology every year since. The books are compilations of Hauser’s favorite columns from the previous year.

The books invariably include at least one dressing room story as Hauser takes the reader into the dressing room of a fighter before a fight, giving us a peek at what happens during those pregnant moments before a fighter is summoned to the ring. In the fraternity of boxing journalists, Hauser is the consummate fly-on-the-wall.

Another hat he wears is that of a reformer. Boxing has become a niche sport, he laments, and it brought it upon itself, alienating the fans with too many champions and too many mismatches rather than the best fighting the best. “Having three heavyweight champions,” he says, “is like having three Kings of England.”

One of Hauser’s most admired people in boxing is Dr. Margaret Goodman, the Las Vegas neurologist who is the co-founder and the face of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. “The most pressing issue facing boxing today,” says Hauser, “is the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs.” Hitting a baseball harder and further is one thing. Hitting a man in the head harder warrants greater reproach.

The new inductees will be formally enshrined in the Hall on Sunday, June 14, the climax of Hall of Fame weekend, a four-day event.

From our perspective here at The Sweet Science, it will be cool to see Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez on the dais together in Canastota. I wonder if we could induce them to wear a “The Sweet Science.com” tee shirt?

Probably not.

Photo (c): Wojtek Urbanek

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