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The Hauser Report: Filmmaker Eric Drath and More

Thomas Hauser

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Eric Drath is a very good filmmaker. The release of Macho: The Hector Camacho Story on Showtime this month demonstrates that yet again.

Drath (pictured) was born and raised in New York and interned at ABC News while attending college at Columbia. He moved to Atlanta after graduation to work for CNN. Next came a stint at a start-up network called Fox News Channel. The irony of that pairing is not lost on him. Then the sweet science entered his life.

“I wasn’t a big boxing fan,” Drath says. “But in the late-nineties, a friend invited me to go with him to some fights at Yonkers Raceway in the Bronx. We got there. There was a boxing ring and, around it, a world I’d never known. I said to myself, ‘This is so cool. I want to know more about this.'”

The promoter that night was Joe DeGuardia. In due course, Drath left Fox News to do publicity work for DeGuardia’s promotional company.

“That,” Eric recalls, “was when I learned that doing PR for a boxing promoter was, ‘Go get the van, pick up some fighters at the airport, take them to the athletic commission to get licensed, make sure they have their physicals, and send out a press release.”

Eventually, Drath started a company called RingLink which got video clips from promoters and charged the promoters a fee to transmit the clips by satellite to TV stations. Then he got a manager’s license and represented a few fringe fighters. After that, he founded a company called Live Star Entertainment that created satellite media tours for the music industry and produced TV fights for various promoters. Most notably, Live Star produced close to fifty Broadway Boxing shows for DiBella Entertainment between 2008 and 2016.

Meanwhile, Drath had begun the process of carving out a niche for himself as a documentary filmmaker. Over the years, he has worked on subjects as diverse as Theodore Bikel and Pete Rose. But it began with boxing.

In 2006, Drath met Luis Resto at the Morris Park Boxing Gym in the Bronx. Resto (a former journeyman fighter) had been a key player in one of boxing’s ugliest scandals. On June 16, 1983, he fought Billy Collins (an undefeated 21-year-old prospect) at Madison Square Garden. Before the bout, Panama Lewis (Resto’s trainer) removed some of the padding from his fighter’s gloves. Collins suffered permanent eye damage during the bout, was unable to fight again, and died in a car crash nine months later. Resto and Lewis were imprisoned for their wrongdoing. Lewis was widely seen as the more culpable of the two.

“I liked Resto’s story,” Drath recounts. “Nobody else thought it was a good idea. But I scraped together some money, put together a rough cut, and gave it to a friend who gave it to a friend while they were standing together on the sideline during their daughters’ high school lacrosse game.”

The second parent standing on the sideline was Rick Bernstein (then the executive producer for HBO Sports).

“After that, I got a phone call,” Drath remembers. “HBO made its own sports documentaries back then. But they liked it; they bought it; and they made some changes.”

Assault in the Ring aired on HBO in 2008 and won an Emmy for Outstanding Sports Documentary. Drath was credited as its co-writer, director, and narrator. Then he pitched a documentary about Renee Richards to the network. But HBO passed on the project so he sold it to ESPN which televised the documentary after it premiered at the Tribecca Film Festival in 2011. Once again, Drath was the co-writer, director, and narrator.

Two more boxing projects for ESPN followed: No Mas (2013), which focused on the second fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, and Robbed (2014), which told the tale of Ali-Norton III against the backdrop of violence occasioned by a New York City police job action.

That brings us to Macho: The Hector Camacho Story.

Macho

Initially, Drath conceived of Macho as an investigative report about Camacho’s murder in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Hector, who was involved with cocaine for most of his life, was shot four times on November 20, 2012, and removed from life support four days later. He was fifty years old when he died.

Then Macho evolved into a more complete biographical documentary with an emphasis on Camacho’s ring career. The film would have been stronger with more exposition of what it meant – and still means – to be part of the underclass in Spanish Harlem where Camacho was raised and remains an icon. But it’s put together well and has the advantage of a charismatic main character who lights up the screen when he’s on camera.

Eric directed and narrated Macho. The film’s most compelling moments deal with its subject’s post-boxing life and include poignant footage of an unrecognizably fat Camacho as he neared age fifty.

Drath is one of the few directors who has made documentaries for HBO, Showtime, and ESPN. That leads to the question of how the experiences compared with one another.

“HBO was a tight organization that didn’t want outside interference,” Drath recalls. “They bought the film and in essense said, ‘Okay, kid; you can stand outside the edit room while we finish it, and we’ll show you what we’re doing from time to time.’ Showtime is the antithesis of that. They gave me notes but they also gave me the latitude to make the film I wanted to make. I loved the process. ESPN was somewhere in between. But it was an honor to work with all three of them.”

And which of his documentaries does Drath like the most?

“I don’t have a favorite,” he answers, “I love the human element in documentaries. Each one I’ve been fortunate to make so far marks a different period of my life. And each one has that human element.”

*     *     *

Adam Pollack is an Iowa attorney who has written biographies of the early gloved heavyweight champions from John L. Sullivan through Jack Johnson. Now he has chosen to skip Jess Willard and go straight to Jack Dempsey with Part One of a projected two-volume work published by Win by KO Publications.

Jack Dempsey: The Making of a Champion follows the familiar Pollack formula of relying heavily on contemporaneous newspaper accounts and other primary sources. It’s 559 pages long and chronicles Dempsey’s life through his 1919 conquest of Jess Willard to claim the heavyweight throne. In terms of content, it’s the most detailed of the Dempsey biographies to date.

Today’s interconnected digital world enables research to be conducted more thoroughly and more quickly than ever before. That’s particularly important for Pollack who relies heavily on documents that are a century old in reconstructing the lives of his subjects. He also benefits from a community of boxing historians and fans who forward information to him.

“Writing these books is a passion for me,” Adam says. “I spend some time on them every day. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun working on Part Two of Dempsey. Once he became champion, things really took off – for Dempsey and for boxing. There’s Dempsey-Firpo, Dempsey-Carpentier, the Dempsey-Tunney fights. But my real job is as a criminal defense attorney. That’s how I pay the bills.”

That leaves open the question of whether Pollack will ever go back and forge the missing link in his chain of books by writing a biography of Willard.

“I can’t say never,” Pollack answers. “But at this point, I don’t see myself doing Willard. These books take an enormous amount of time and effort, and I have to balance that against my personal interest in the fighter. Willard had two fights of historic importance – when he beat Jack Johnson and when he lost to Dempsey. I’ve written about these fights in depth in my Johnson and Dempsey books. And Arly Allen did a pretty good job in his biography of Willard. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind. But right now, I’m at peace with not writing a Willard book.”

*     *     *

A lot of players are losing a lot of money in boxing these days. FITE is one company that’s turning a profit.

FITE is a video-streaming and ordering platform with 2.6 million registered users. It has streamed more than 3,500 events during the past five years and was a key player in the financial success of the November 28 exhibition featuring Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. When FOX Pay-Per-View began having technological issues with the December 5 fight between Errol Spence and Danny Garcia, the promotion decided that sharing a larger pie would be preferable to keeping a small pie all for itself and turned to FITE.

FITE will work with any content provider as long as the content meets its standards. It knows who the fight fans are and how to reach them. It’s user friendly and has avoided many of the technological problems that plague similar services.

Many fans (including this one) look askance at an economic model that puts boxing’s biggest fights on pay-per-view. But where it’s available, FITE is a reliable way to order events – large and small – for those who want to.

*     *     *

WBC-IBF 147-pound champion Errol Spence raised his record to 27-0 (21 KOs) with a dominant 12-round performance against Danny Garcia on Saturday night. There were questions before the fight as to whether Spence had fully recovered from injuries sustained in an October 10, 2019, automobile accident. But one had to assume that a less formidable comeback opponent would have been chosen had there been doubts in Errol’s camp about his health or what a punch from Garcia might do to the bone and tissue structure beneath his face.

Garcia (now 36-3, 21 KOs) is a tough out. But at the highest levels of competition, he’s an out. Spence gave Danny next to nothing to work with and had enough hurt on his punches to keep Garcia from challenging his narrative for the flow of the fight. Errol’s jab was effective as an offensive weapon and defensive shield. Danny’s left hook – normally the most potent punch in his arsenal – seemed to have been packed in mothballs for the night.

The judges favored Spence by a 117-111, 116-112, 116-112 margin (which was kind to Garcia, who is now 0-and-3 in fights against Spence, Keith Thurman, and Shawn Porter).

If there’s a criticism of Spence’s performance on Saturday night, it’s that (as was the case when he fought Mikey Garcia twenty months ago) he never put the pedal to the metal in an effort to finish with a knockout.

There are two prospective fights for Spence that matter now. The first would be a 147-pound title unification bout against WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford. The second would be a move up to 154 pounds to challenge Jermell Charlo for supremacy in the junior-middleweight ranks. Ray Leonard sought out challenges like that.

Photo credit: Zoom / Doug Doyle

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year in Boxing– was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

More

Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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