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For Whom the Bell Tolled: 2019 Boxing Obituaries PART ONE

Arne K. Lang

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A strong year for boxing was soured by the deaths of former ring notables and boxing personalities. In this annual year-end tribute, we acknowledge those that left us. The obits are running in two parts with the decedents listed chronologically according to the date of their passing. PART ONE covers January through May.

Jan. 2 – ALBERTO REYES – His father Cleto Reyes began manufacturing boxing gloves in the 1940s. Alberto took the company into the international market in the 1970s and Reyes gloves, originally made by hand, are now sold on five continents. Known as a puncher’s glove, Muhammad Ali used them for his rematch with Leon Spinks and Manny Pacquiao wouldn’t use any other kind. At age 63 or 66 (reports vary) in Mexico City.

Jan. 4 – MICKEY CRAWFORD – The Saginaw, Michigan welterweight fought seven times on national television during the era of the Gillette-sponsored Friday Night Fights. Crawford lacked a knockout punch but had the tools to scrape by such notables as Paddy DeMarco, Wallace “Bud” Smith, Gil Turner and Chico Vejar. He was 22-5-1 during a brief four-year career. At age 84 in Saginaw.

Jan. 13 – ADOLPH PRUITT – Born in Mississippi, Pruitt fought extensively in Honolulu where he had 21 of his 60 fights. During a 12-year career that began in 1961, he compiled a 46-12-2 record. A three-time world title challenger who competed at 140 and 147 pounds, he defeated such notables as Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado and Hedgemon Lewis. At age 79 in St. Louis.

Jan. 21 – JAN de BRUIN – A Dutchman, de Bruin was 54-10-6 in a 12-year career that began in 1942. He fought such notables as Dave Sands (L 10), Randy Turpin (L TKO 6), and Sugar Ray Robinson (L TKO 8) during Robinson’s second European tour. At age 95 in his birthplace of Rotterdam.

Jan. 24 – HUGH McILVANNEY – A ringside witness to all of the most celebrated fights during the last four decades of the 20th century, McIlvanney’s prose drew comparisons to A.J. Leibling, the highest compliment one can pay a boxing writer. The Scotland-born McIlvanney was voted Great Britain’s Sports Journalist of the Year seven times and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009. At age 84 from cancer.

Feb. 7 – ROCKY LOCKRIDGE – Lockridge won the lineal 130-pound title in 1984 with a spectacular one-punch knockout of Roger Mayweather. During his career he fought a host of great fighters, finishing 44-9 with 36 knockouts. In retirement he battled substance abuse and became homeless, a story chronicled on the reality TV series “Intervention.” A series of strokes preceded his death at age 60 in his caregiver’s home in Camden, New Jersey.

Feb. 19 – JOSE “CHIQUILIN” GARCIA – An iconic Los Angeles sports photographer who was on a first name basis with athletes from sundry sports, “Chiquilin” covered hundreds of West Coast fights, big and small, and played a central role in developing La Opinion into one of America’s foremost Spanish-language newspapers. At age 78 in Huntington Park, CA.

MARCH 1 – EUSEBIO PEDROZA – Active from 1973 to 1986 (with a brief comeback in the early 1990s), Pedroza won the WBA featherweight title in 1978 with a 13th round TKO of Spain’s Cecilio Lastra and held the title for seven years and two months, during which he set a division record with 19 successful defenses. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999, Pedroza was 62 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in his native Panama City.

March 8 – FREEDA FOREMAN – The daughter of Big George Foreman, Freeda was working for UPS in South Carolina when she was lured into boxing by the promise of big money fights with Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, both of whom had recently turned pro in the footsteps of their famous fathers. But Freeda’s heart wasn’t in it and she retired after only six pro fights, having won five. At age 52 in her Houston-area home, a suicide.

March 10 – DANNY ROMERO SR – Many of Albuquerque’s best boxers learned the craft at Romero’s Hideout Boxing Club gym. Johnny Tapia trained here during his early days, but Romero’s prize prospect was his namesake son who won world titles in two weight divisions and fought crosstown rival Tapia in a big 115-pound unification fight in in 1997, losing a unanimous decision in Las Vegas. The elder Romero, who had a liver transplant in 2005, was 63 when he passed in Albuquerque.

March 20 – JAIME RIOS – A Panamanian, Rios won the inaugural WBA 108-pound world title in 1975 with a 15-round decision over Venezuela’s Rigoberto Marcano, but lost the belt 11 months later to Juan Antonio Guzman. He finished his career with a record of 22-5-1. At age 65 in Panama City.

March 20 – PETE TORO – One of boxing’s greatest spoilers, Toro twice defeated Bobby Cassidy and also forged upsets of Ted Whitfield and Rodrigo Valdes. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, Toro, an Army veteran, was 28-13-3 in a 13-year career that began in 1960. He was 82 when he passed away in Florida.

March 21 – FRANCO WANYAMA – From Kampala, Uganda, Wanyama represented his homeland in the Seoul Olympics before turning pro in Belgium. In the paid ranks, he defeated future world cruiserweight titlists Carl Thompson and Johnny Nelson and scored a decision over ranked heavyweight Jimmy Thunder who outweighed him by 31 pounds. He finished 20-7-2. At age 51 of a heart attack in Rugby, England.

April 1 – KEITH KOZLIN – A super middleweight who competed from 2008 to 2012, finishing 7-3-1, Kozlin was a well-known personality on the New England boxing scene. At age 37 in his hometown of West Warwick, R.I., a suicide.

April 6 – OLLI MAKI – A baker by trade, born in Kokkola, Finland, Maki appeared in the first world title fight in Scandinavia, opposing featherweight champion Davey Moore at Helsinki in 1962. It was Maki’s 12th pro fight and he had no business in the same ring with Moore, but 18 months later, fighting at his more natural weight, he captured the European 140-pound title. Maki made a cameo appearance in the boxing love story “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” an award winner at the 2016 Cannes film festival. At age 82 in a Helsinki nursing home.

April 12 – RAY JUTRAS – A lifelong resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, Jutras, who stood only 5-feet tall, turned pro and compiled a 29-6 record after winning the 1962 National Golden Gloves title at 118 pounds. At age 82 of a sudden heart attack.

April 18 – PAT DWYER – A hard punching middleweight who knocked out one of his opponents in 16 seconds, Dwyer, a Liverpudlian, compiled a 38-11-2 record during an 8-year career in which he fought such notables as Pierre Fourie, Kevin Finnegan, and Alan Minter. In retirement he ran a gym and promoted small boxing shows in Liverpool. At age 72 of undisclosed causes.

April 25 – HAL CARROLL – Born Horace Carroll in South Carolina, Carroll, who fought out of Syracuse, NY, was knocked out by light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in 1971 in a bid for Foster’s world title. He finished with a record of 31-10-1, the draw coming against heavily favored Mike Quarry. At age 78 from complications of a stroke in Syracuse where he owned an auto body shop.

April 26 – OLIVER HARRISON — A well-known boxing personality in Manchester, England, Harrison, born in Jamaica, had only 10 pro fights, winning six, but stayed in the game as a trainer. He was with Amir Khan through Khan’s first 17 pro fights and also worked with such notables as Martin Murray and Rocky Fielding. At age 59 in Manchester from cancer.

May 10 – BERT COOPER – A slugger who slugged it out with many of the era’s top heavyweights, Cooper, who patterned his style after his mentor Joe Frazier, was 38-25 (31 KOs) in a career that began as an 18-year-old cruiserweight. In 1991, as a late sub, he threw a scare into defending heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield before succumbing in the 7th frame. He battled alcohol and drug problems, but his death at age 53 in Philadelphia came as a result of pancreatic cancer.

May 11 – HAROLD LEDERMAN – A third-generation pharmacist, born in the Bronx, the perpetually cheerful Lederman was called boxing’s greatest roving ambassador; his love of the sport was infectious. He judged hundreds of fights, including many world title fights, before joining the HBO Boxing broadcast team as the “unofficial scorer” in 1986. At age 79 from cancer with his family by his side at a hospice in Rockland County, NY.

May 22 – JESSE LEIJA – A featherweight, Leija was the first fighter from San Antonio to reach the finals of the National Golden Gloves tournament and was 16-11-1 as a pro, but is best remembered as the father and trainer of former WBC 130-pound world champion Jesse James Leija. The elder Leija was 80 when he died in San Antonio after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

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Re-visiting the Walker Law of 1920 which Transformed Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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One hundred years ago this week, on March 24, 1920, a boxing reform bill sponsored by Sen. James J. Walker passed the New York State Senate. The bill ultimately became law and its provisions came to be adopted by law-makers in other states, bringing some uniformity to the most anarchic of popular sports. And what better time to re-visit this transformative legislation than now, the centennial?

Prizfighting was an outlaw sport in the Empire State until 1896 when the legislature passed the Horton Law which allowed bouts up to 25 rounds with five-ounce gloves in buildings owned or leased by a chartered athletic club. New York was a beehive of world class boxing during the days of the Horton Law, but the hubbub was short-lived. A spate of fixed fights and ring fatalities sparked a cry for reform and the law was repealed in 1900.

The Lewis Law, which supplanted the Horton Law, reduced the maximum number of rounds from 25 to 10 and stipulated that no decision would be rendered. The Lewis Law also restricted patronage to members of the athletic club sponsoring the event.

The Frawley Law of 1911 re-opened the fights to the general public but otherwise left the provisions of the Lewis Law pretty much intact. The most important fight in New York during the Frawley Law days was Jess Willard’s defense of his world heavyweight title against Frank Moran at Madison Square Garden in 1916. The fight went the distance, the full 10 rounds, and Willard had the best of it although you wouldn’t know that from the official decision as there was none.

During the last years of the nineteen-teens, several boxing reform bills were presented to the New York legislature. In fact, the Walker Bill was one of four that was taken under consideration. When it finally came to pass, the no-decision rule had been struck down by a 1919 amendment to the Frawley Law that gave the referee the authority to designate the winner.

A key feature of the Walker Law was that everyone involved in a boxing match — from the lowliest spit-bucket carrier to the promoter — had to be licensed. This included managers, matchmakers, referees, judges, ring doctors; even the ring announcer. The licensees were accountable to the boxing commission, a panel appointed by the governor. The commission had the power to approve matches, assign the officials, and establish and collect fees.

The Walker Law approved matches up to 15 rounds and allowed official decisions. Two judges would determine the winner and if they disagreed, the referee would act as the tie-breaker.

Previous laws allowed prizefighting under the guise of sparring exhibitions. The Walker Law made no distinction and this took the police out of the equation. Historically, it was the Sheriff’s responsibility to determine if a bout should be stopped because it had become too one-sided; too brutal. And if, pray tell, one of the contestants died as a result of blows received, his opponent and his opponent’s chief second and perhaps others would be arrested and charged with manslaughter.

Under the Walker Law, the decision of whether to stop a match rested with the referee or the ring physician or the highest-ranking boxing official at ringside. A boxer could now fight full bore without worrying that he could be charged with a crime.

After passing the Senate, the Walker Law passed the Assembly by a margin of 91-46. It was signed into law by Gov. Al Smith on May 24, 1920 and took effect on Sept.1. This ignited a great flurry of boxing in the Empire State. By March of 1924, the state had licensed 6,123 boxers.

The Walker Law became the template that lawmakers in other jurisdictions followed when they introduced their own boxing bills. Cynics would have it that the most attractive feature of the Walker Law to those that embraced it was the tax imposed on gate receipts. In New York under the guidelines of the Walker Law, it was 5 percent.

This wasn’t too far off the mark. The drive to legalize boxing picked up steam in the Depression when state coffers were depleted and new sources of revenue were needed to cushion the fallout. By 1934, boxing was legal in every state in the union, but not in every county. Nowhere was the Walker Law adopted word for word – every politician had to put his own little spin on it, tweaking this and that – but the map of boxing, from an organizational standpoint, became less disjointed.

For the record, the first boxing show under the imprimatur of the Walker Law was held on Sept. 17, 1920 at Madison Square Garden. Joe Welling fought Johnny Dundee in the featured bout. It was the eighth meeting between the veteran lightweights. Welling won a unanimous decision, which is to say that both judges gave the bout to him (their scores were not made known). Ten weeks later, after two intervening bouts, Welling returned to Madison Square Garden to face lightweight champion Benny Leonard. This would go into the books as the first title fight under the Walker Law. Welling was stopped in the 14th round.

James J. “Jimmy” Walker spent 15 years in Albany, the first four as an Assemblyman, but would be best remembered as New York City’s flamboyant Jazz Age mayor. He served two terms, defeating his opponents in landslides, but was forced to resign before his second term expired, leaving office in disgrace. In January of 1941, at the third annual dinner of the Boxing Writers Association, Walker was honored for his “long and meritorious service” to the sport and in 1992 he would be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Walker (pictured) was a fascinating man, the big city version, in many respects, of Louisiana’s colorful Huey “Kingfish” Long. In a future article, we’ll peel back the layers and take a closer look at the man who did so much to popularize boxing.

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Think you know boxing? Then Man Up and Take Our New Trivia Test

Arne K. Lang

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Beneath his salty exterior, Roger Mayweather had the soul of a scholar when the subject turned to the history of boxing. We suspect that Mayweather, who left us on March 17, would have fared pretty well on this 15-question multiple-choice trivia quiz and we dedicate it to him.

All good trivia tests should have a connecting thread. Here the common theme is “places,” more exactly U.S. cities and towns.

This isn’t an easy quiz. We have too much respect for our readers to dumb it down. Get more than half right and give yourself a passing grade. Twelve or more correct answers and proceed to the head of the class.

Here’s the catch: To find the correct answers, you need to go to our FORUM (Click Here). There this trivia test will repeat with the correct answers caboosed to the final question.

  1. In 1970, Muhammad Ali returned to the ring after a 43-month absence to fight Jerry Quarry in this city:

(a) Miami

(b) Atlanta

(c) Houston

(d) Landover, Maryland

 

  1. Rocky Kansas and Frank Erne, recent inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Old-Timer category, were products of this city:

(a) Buffalo

(b) Hartford

(c) Scranton

(d) Portland, Maine

 

  1. The July 1, 1931 match between heavyweight title-holder Max Schmeling and Young Stribling was the icebreaker event in the largest stadium ever built to house a baseball team. What city?

(a) Detroit

(b) Cleveland

(c) St. Louis

(d) Milwaukee

 

  1. Jake LaMotta was from the Bronx, but he acquired his most avid following in this city where he lifted the world middleweight title from Marcel Cerdan.

(a) Detroit

(b) Chicago

(c) Cleveland

(d) Syracuse

 

5.  Jess Willard was called the Pottawatomie Giant because he hailed from Pottawatomie County. What state?

(a) Oklahoma

(b) Kansas

(c) Montana

(d) West Virginia

 

  1. There is a statue of former welterweight champion Young Corbett III, born Raffaele Giordano, in this California city.

(a) Oakland

(b) Bakersfield

(c) Anaheim

(d) Fresno

 

  1. Elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011, this iron-chinned bantamweight was stopped only once in 163 documented fights. Fill in the blank:

______ Pal Moore.

(a) Laredo

(b) Memphis

(c) Peoria

(d) Pasadena

 

  1. More of the same. Fill in the blank.

(a) George Lavigne, the ______ Kid            Boston

(b) Jack Johnson, the ______ Giant            Joplin

(c) Jeff Clark, the _______     Ghost           Saginaw

(d) Jack Sharkey, the _______ Gob            Galveston

 

9. In the 1930s, there was a second Madison Square Garden in this southwestern city. Future light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis had several of his early fights here:

(a) Albuquerque

(b) El Paso

(c) Pueblo

(d) Phoenix

 

  1. Match the fighter with his nickname.

(a) Max Baer                  (1) Astoria Assassin

(b) Paul Berlenbach      (2) Fargo Express

(c) Billy Petrolle            (3) Livermore Larruper

(d) Bud Taylor              (4) Terre Haute Terror

 

  1. Match these boxers with the city with which they are associated.

(a) Fritzie Zivic and Charley Burley         (1) San Francisco

(b) Johnny Coulon and Ernie Terrell       (2) New Orleans

(c) Abe Attell and Fred Apostoli               (3) Chicago

(d) Pete Herman and Willie Pastrano      (4) Pittsburgh

12. The first great prizefight in Nevada, pitting James J. Corbett against Bob Fitzsimmons, was held here:

a. Goldfield

b. Carson City

c. Reno

d. Las Vegas

 

13. On March 28, 1991, Sugar Ray Leonard headlined a boxing show at the new Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Who was his opponent?

(a) Larry Bonds

(b) Wilfred Benitez

(c) Donny Lalonde

(d) Floyd Mayweather Sr.

 

  1. Match these Hall of Fame boxing writers with the city in which they spent the bulk of their newspaper careers:

 

(a) Jack Fiske                   (1) New York

(b) Michael Katz              (2) Philadelphia

(c) Jerry Izenberg            (3) San Francisco

(d) Bernard Fernandez    (4) Newark

 

  1. Match these Hall of Fame boxing promoters with the city that served as their headquarters:

(a) Herman Taylor         (1) Boston

(b) Rip Valenti               (2) Philadelphia

(c) Sam Ichinose           (3) Los Angeles

(d) George Parnassus    (4) Honolulu

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A Chain of Fistic Violence in Southern California in the ‘70s

Ted Sares

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 The decade of the 1970’s was a great one for boxing and the Southern California scene was especially a hotbed. Throw a dart and you’d come up with a fan-friendly sizzler at the Inglewood Forum, the Olympic Auditorium, the Convention Center in Anaheim or even the Valley Music Theater in Woodland Hills. Throw that same dart at the following fighters and you would land on fighters who made the West Coast scene a special one.

Men like Danny “Little Red “ Lopez, the star-crossed Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon, Jose Napoles, the legendary Ruben Olivares, the underrated Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, Armando Muniz, Rafael Herrera (who beat the great Olivares twice), Carlos Palomino (who made one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history), Carlos Zarate, Art Hafey, Shig Fukuyama (who had that one big moment against “Little Red” in 1974), Octavio Gomez, Rudy Robles, Frankie Baltazar (who practically lived in the Olympic where he had 31 of his 43 career bouts), and Alberto Sandoval who had 37 of his 38 career fights in the Olympic Auditorium!

Many of the above were world champions; six are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

The following fights are representative of this super exciting and very violent time:

Chacon vs. Olivares (June 1973)

This one was at the Forum in Ingleside, California and the Associated Press report said it best:

“Former world bantamweight champion Ruben Olivares of Mexico ruined the perfect record of local featherweight hero Bobby Chacon, scoring a 9th round knockout. Chacon, 126, appeared strong in the first two rounds, but Olivares dramatically changed the complexion of the fight in the 3rd and didn’t lose another round. Olivares, 125 3/4, knocked Chacon down with a straight right in the first ten seconds of the 9th and then pounded the San Fernando fighter unmercifully for the remainder of the round. During the intermission, Chacon’s manager, Joe Ponce, asked referee Dick Young to stop the fight, which had been scheduled for 12 rounds and for the NABF featherweight title.”

The pin-point exchanges in the ninth were non-stop and raised the bar for ring malice; it was legal assault and battery.

The two met twice more.

In June, 1975, Olivares met Chacón who was then the WBC’s world featherweight champion. Olivares won the fight by savage stoppage in round two and became a world champion for the fourth time.

The trilogy ended in August 1977 when Chacon won a UD at the Forum.

However, the equally adored Olivares dominated the bantamweights and retired with a record of 89-13-3 with an astonishing 79 wins coming by knockout.

Lopez vs. Chacon (May 1974)

Danny “Little Red” Lopez was 23-0 when he faced off with Bobby Chacon (then 23-1) at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles in front of 16,000 screaming fans. Both fighters personified excitement; in fact, Little Red was a “Gatti before Gatti” as he often would come back in dramatic fashion to snatch victory from certain defeat.

As for drama both inside and outside the ring, no one ever topped Chacon. His career against the toughest opposition imaginable included historic fights against Cornelius Boza- Edwards and four thrillers against Bazooka Limon against whom he was 2-1-1. His name was synonymous with “Fight of the Year” but so was Danny’s. He was all heart and all action; you had to staple him down to the canvas if you wanted to keep him down. His only loss prior to the Lopez fight was against the aforementioned Ruben Olivares (71-3-1 at the time).

LA Times sportswriter Steve Springer recalled that fight in a story that ran in the Times on April 28, 1995:

“In the early rounds of that memorable night in 1974, both fighters absorbed and delivered a terrifying amount of punishment. If not for the breaks between rounds, there would have been no time to breathe. But by the end of the fourth round, having seen and survived the best Lopez had to offer, Chacon took command…Chacon maneuvered Lopez into the ropes. Lopez dropped his hands and Chacon moved in for the kill. But referee John Thomas stepped in and ended it.”

It was not quite malevolence but it was something pretty close. The fans got what they paid for and more. Sadly, Bobby would pay a terrible price, but he kept his sense of humor almost until the end. When questioned about his failing memory, he would smile that smile that would stop you in your tracks and say, “I forgot I forgot.”

Bobby Chacon, like Ruben Olivares, was adored by his fans in a special kind of way.

Lopez vs. O’Grady (February 1976)

There was never a time where I thought I was going to be anything other than a boxer…” – Sean O’Grady

Now it was Danny Lopez’s turn to prevail against the young but talented and undefeated Sean O’Grady who had run up 29 straight wins until he met “Little Red” at the Inglewood Forum. In 1975 alone, the upstart, who turned pro at age 15, fought 26 times with 22 stoppages (but mostly against weak Oklahoma-style opposition which ill-prepared him for the likes of “Little Red” who was honed on Southern California-type opposition).

O’Grady instinctively chose to brawl with the gritty and hard-hitting Lopez rather than use fundamentals and technique and while it was a good fight for as long as it lasted, the youngster absorbed serious punishment prompting his “corner” which was composed of father, manager, mentor and trainer Pat O’Grady to toss in the towel after four rounds, saving Sean for another day.

It would prove to be an extremely wise decision as the youngster would later have great success. O’Grady won the WBA lightweight title in 1981 and finished his career at 81-5 with 70 wins coming by way of stoppage, an eye-popping KO percentage of 81.4 %.

While the 70s were considered the golden age for heavyweights, serious fans and historians know that the smaller men should receive the same level of respect. They also know that Mexico’s bantamweights of the 50s were nothing less than sensational, building the platform for the chain of sizzlers that delighted Southern California fight fans in the 70s.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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