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50 Years in Boxing: Philly’s J Russell Peltz Shares His Golden Memories

Bernard Fernandez

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When he was a 22-year-old kid embarking on a boxing journey that might have ended almost as quickly as it began, J Russell Peltz – with big dreams and not-so-deep pockets — never considered issuing anything as portentous as a mission statement. But if he had, it might have read something like this:

You know what the secret is to surviving as a boxing promoter? Making good matches. It’s that simple. If you want to make a good match, you make a good match. If you want to get your guy a guaranteed win, pair him easy. But don’t charge your customers $50 or $75 to watch that garbage.

Peltz said that for a story I did for the Philadelphia Daily News in November 2012. Making good, competitive and entertaining matches has always been the touchstone of his remarkable longevity in a cannibalistic sport which tends to devour those not smart enough or tough enough to survive in the long term. But while Peltz has known both flush and lean times, adapting as necessary at junctures along the way, the guiding principle of Philly boxing’s onetime “Boy Wonder” has never changed. It is why he has been inducted into seven Halls of Fame and outlasted a host of competitors who sought to knock him off the local throne upon which he remains firmly ensconced. He said he still gets as much of a charge from seeing a dandy scrap as he did when, for his 14th birthday, his father took him to his first live fight card. What young Russell – the J in his full name, as was the case with the S with former President Harry S Truman, stands for nothing — saw that night left an indelible impression. Somehow, some way, he would make the fight game more than an avocation, but his life’s work.

Peltz’s first foray into the business end of boxing came on Sept. 30, 1969, when middleweight Bennie Briscoe needed just 52 seconds to dispose of Tito Marshall at the Blue Horizon, the main event of a card that included such young, future Philly legends as Eugene “Cyclone” Hart and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. It was an astounding debut for Peltz, with a standing-room-only crowd of 1,606 jamming the 1,300-seat arena.

There would, of course, be some whiffs along with the home runs before Peltz evolved into an entrenched, iconic figure in his hometown’s fight scene. Both the hits and the misses have contributed to making him who and what he is, the sum total of his five-decade love affair with the sweet science to be celebrated first at an invitation-only Golden Anniversary Reception on Thursday, Sept. 26, at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, preceding an eight-bout fight card at the same site on Oct. 4. Dubbed “Blood, Sweat and 50 Years,” that show – topped by a six-rounder pitting Victor Padilla (5-0, 5 KOs) of Berlin, N.J., by way of his native Puerto Rico, against Romain Tomas (8-2, 1 KO) of Brooklyn, N.Y. — will be staged by Raging Babe Promotions’ Michelle Rosado, a Peltz protégé. In addition to her mentor being the guest of honor, Peltz also is serving as matchmaker, a role for which he has justifiably gained much distinction.

It also might be the last time Peltz acts in that capacity, an indication that, just possibly, his 50-year anniversary in boxing might mark the beginning of the end of a storied career which he has been contemplating for some time. In that same November 2012 Philadelphia Daily News story in which he issued his ersatz mission statement, Peltz dropped hints that nothing, not even his involvement in boxing, can last forever.

“At points in the last five years, I’ve thought about retiring,” he said then. “I think about it now. I’m certainly not going to be doing this when I’m an old man. I don’t want to be doing this when I’m an old man.

“Really, I don’t know how much longer I’ll go on. Maybe I’ll get out when I’m 70 or 71. But whenever I think about quitting, I become involved with a fighter (who piques his interest).”

And now? Peltz turns 73 on Dec. 9, hardly an old man in terms of his energy and enthusiasm, but he is inarguably a senior citizen according to the Social Security administration.

“I don’t think I’ll be making matches after Oct. 4,” he said when contacted for this story. “I don’t have the temperament to do it anymore. I can’t tolerate the mentality of a lot of the fight people in Philly who don’t want to fight other Philly guys. That’s what made Philly the fight town that it was.

“I go around the house screaming and Linda (his wife) says, `I know why you’re screaming. You’re making matches again. You said you weren’t going to do it. When you do it, you’re impossible to live with.’

“I think what I want to do is to advise fighters, maybe manage fighters. Some of these kids today deserve their own careers rather than being served up as cannon fodder for top prospects for Top Rank, Golden Boy, Eddie Hearn and PBC.”

If Peltz does in fact hew to that somewhat altered philosophy, it would in some ways represent his coming full circle. Despite whatever misgivings he might harbor about professional boxing as presently constituted, he has always gotten an adrenalin rush from identifying and nurturing young fighters who remind him of the twentysomething firebrand he used to be. For all his musings about stepping aside, it would stun no one if he elected to keep on keeping on in the manner of Top Rank founder Bob Arum, an occasional associate who is 87 and still active, or his dear, departed friend Don “War a Week” Chargin, a licensed promoter in California for a record 69 years who was 90 when he passed away on Sept. 28, 2018. Chargin was another staunch proponent of the concept that fans deserved real fights, tough fights, and not setups designed to make protected house fighters look better than they probably are.

But regardless of what the future holds for Peltz, the past 50 years make for an improbable tale even in a sport where improbable tales are more the norm than the exception. It starts even in advance of the Briscoe-Marshall bout that the golden anniversary celebrants will cite as his official launching point.

Then a sports writer for the now-defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Peltz had been squirreling away portions of his salary for the express purpose of establishing enough of a nest egg so that he could take the plunge. Toward that end, he says he spent “countless hours” in the Blue Horizon office of building owner and veteran fight promoter Jimmy Toppi, pestering the older man with questions about how to make his dream of doing what Toppi did a reality.

Two weeks before Briscoe-Marshall, Peltz resigned as a full-fledged member of The Bulletin sports staff, although he did keep his hand in as a one-night-a-week, part-timer as a hedge against possible disaster on fight night.

“I had saved up about $5,000, which was a lot of money back then for someone my age,” Peltz recalled. “The woman who became my first wife asked me, before we got married, ‘What makes you think you can do this?’ I told her it’d take me about six months to blow the five grand, but then I’d have this great scrapbook to show my kids one day about the time their daddy was a boxing promoter.”

Not that he completely went through his savings, but Peltz – whose contingency plan was – gulp – to go back to sports writing if the grand experiment came a cropper – hit some dry holes after Briscoe-Marshall. He was obliged to seek and receive a loan of between $2,000 and $3,000 from his dad, Bernard, to help underwrite his second year as a struggling fight promoter. It also didn’t help that Peltz’s wife, he said, absolutely hated boxing and was providing no moral support on the home front.

“I told my father that if I couldn’t pay him back by the end of the season, I’d just go back to the newspaper business,” Peltz said. “I was making $7,500 a year at The Bulletin. My first year putting on shows at the Blue Horizon I cleared $4,600 from September through May. But in the summer of 1970, I accidentally found out that Bennie Briscoe’s contract was for sale. I knew that was my ace in the hole after I asked my brother-in-law (Arnold Weiss) to buy Bennie’s contract, which he did.”

But even that ace in the hole –- Briscoe, who three times fought for the middleweight championship of the world and appeared 45 times in all on Peltz-promoted or co-promoted cards – might not have been enough to keep Peltz’s nascent operation moving forward. What was needed was some positive publicity, which he got from then-Daily News sports writer Tom Cushman.

“If it hadn’t been for Tom Cushman, I never would have made it,” Peltz noted. “I met him when he came east to cover Temple  (Peltz’s alma mater) in the All-College (basketball) Classic, which they held every December in Oklahoma City. I was there covering for The Bulletin and The Temple News. We got friendly. So when I decided to become a boxing promoter, Tom, who by then was at the Daily News, thought it was really cool that a 22-year-old kid would do that. He gave me a load of good press, even more than I got at my own paper.”

There would be other puzzle pieces that fell into place at precisely the right moment. Now reasonably established if not exactly getting rich doing shows at the Blue Horizon and The Arena in West Philly, Peltz got his shot at the big time – or what seemed to be the big time – when in 1973 he was approached about becoming the director of boxing at the 18,000-seat Spectrum, home of the NBA’s 76ers and NHL’s Flyers.

“I got a call late in 1972 from Lou Scheinfeld at the Spectrum,” Peltz recalled. “Monday nights were dark there and it was costing them money to have nothing going on. I met with the Spectrum people and they hired me for a salary against a percentage of the profits. The first year we ran 18 shows and lost money on 16 of them. We were hemorrhaging money, and it had nothing to do with Monday Night Football in the fall.

“Allen Flexor, who was the Spectrum’s vice president and comptroller, asked me to go to lunch, ostensibly to fire me. We talked for a while and I said, `If I can get the Philly guys to fight each other, I can turn this thing around.’ He basically said `OK, we’ll give you some rope and see what you can do.’ I put up signs in all the gyms in the city about a meeting to be held at Joe Frazier’s Gym on such-and-such a night in December. I wanted all the managers and trainers to come to that meeting, and 50 to 60 of them showed up. I said, `Look, the Spectrum has the Sixers, the Flyers, concerts, Disney on Ice, the circus. They don’t need us. Unless you guys start fighting each other, we’re going to go back to The Arena, and I know you don’t want to do that.”

Given the depth and quality of Philadelphia fighters at the time – a mother lode of talent with Briscoe, Hart, Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Jeff Chandler and other main-event-worthy locals – it was a plan that could not have failed. But it might have, had not one influential dissenter passed away unexpectedly.

saad

left to right: Bob Montgomery, Harold Johnson, Peltz, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Jeff Chandler

“If Yank Durham (Frazier’s manager and trainer) hadn’t died in September of ’73, we would have had big problems because he was against Philly vs. Philly,” Peltz continued. “But Eddie Futch took over after Yank died and he knew the value, coming from the Olympic Auditorium (in Los Angeles) when all those great Mexican fighters fought each other. Eddie said, `Let’s make Willie the Worm against Cyclone Hart,’ which was a monster show with a turnout of 10,000-plus. From the beginning of 1974 until the end of ’78 the Spectrum was as big as (Madison Square) Garden and the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Everybody wanted to fight at the Spectrum, and everybody did.”

But when the casinos in Atlantic City opened later in the decade, that siphoned from the Spectrum’s fan base to the point where the fight dates diminished, along with the massive crowds. But, Peltz says, wistfully, “Those last five years there were wonderful. I got a bonus every year.

“When Briscoe fought (Marvin) Hagler, it was a 10-round fight and we had a crowd of 15,000. It wasn’t for some bulls— title, either. We had good fighters and they weren’t afraid to fight other good fighters.”

There were occasional missteps for Peltz, too, which probably was to be expected. “A lot of good fighters slipped through my fingers,” he said, citing Hagler and Buster Douglas as two he might have signed to promotional deals before their price tags exceeded his budget. “You learn as you go, but you never stop making mistakes.”

So, if he had to choose his single best moment in boxing, and the worst experience, what would they be?

“You always fall in love with your first fighter,” he said of his continuing devotion to Briscoe, who was 67 when he died on Dec. 28, 2010. “That’s never going to change.

“My most memorable moment was Bennie’s fifth-round knockout of Tony Mundine on Feb. 25, 1974, at the Palais de Sport in Paris. “Mundine, an Australian, was like the heir apparent to (middleweight champion Carlos) Monzon. He was a certified star, who had beaten Emile Griffith and Max Cohen in Paris.

“I saw Reg Gutteridge (a British sports journalist who was doing color commentary for the telecast) in the hotel lobby before we left for the arena. He said, `I don’t get it. Mundine is the toast of Paris. He can name his price to fight Monzon. Why would he tune up with Briscoe?’

“It was a monster fight, as big as it could be without it being for a world title when world titles really meant something. Just a magical night. I was shooting film from the top row and when Bennie finally got him out of there, the camera was shaking because my hands were shaking.”

Another significant plus, both on the professional and personal levels, was Peltz’s marriage to second wife Linda, who understood she would have to share her husband with boxing and hasn’t minded it at all. It’s amazing what domestic tranquility can do for a fight promoter’s peace of mind at the office and at ringside.

“We started dating in February of 1976,” Peltz said. “Her first fight was the rematch between Briscoe and Hart, which drew 12,000 people to the Spectrum. She sat with me in the first row.

“Everybody loves Linda. People say, `How bad can Russell be? Linda married him.’  And there’s no doubt she’s smoothed over a lot of things through the years. She brought together some people in boxing I just couldn’t talk to, just like she brought together some estranged family members I hadn’t spoken to in years.”

The giddy highs of Briscoe over Mundine, and spousal bliss, were countered by what Peltz said remains his greatest disappointment in boxing, even more painful than the horrendously unjust decision that went against Peltz’s fighter, Tyrone Everett, in his Nov. 30, 1976, challenge of WBC super featherweight champion Alfredo Escalera at the Spectrum, a split decision that remains high on the list of boxing’s most outrageous heists.

“The low point of my career had to be my relationship with ESPN when I was hired to be their director of boxing (in October 1998),” Peltz said. “It was just a scam, a setup. I lost most of my power pretty quickly. At first I thought, `After all these years of making good fights, it’s finally paid off. They’re hiring me because they know I’m going to make more good fights.’

“Three or four months into the deal the people who hired me moved on to ABC and I was left to deal with the ol’ boys club which essentially turned me into an errand boy. I hung in there until the fall of 2004, but after six to eight months it was just agony. I got blamed for a lot of bad fights that were on ESPN I had nothing to do with.”

Peltz needn’t worry about any blame he might have received when weighed against the credit he has deservedly gotten. Seven Halls of Fame are proof enough that he has done far more right than wrong, and that some Boy Wonders can age gracefully with their place in history forever secured.

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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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