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For Whom The Bell Tolled: 2020 Boxing Obituaries PART TWO

Arne K. Lang

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The terrible pandemic that swept the globe in 2020 did not spare the boxing community. Looking over our list of boxing notables that left us this year, we found 10 individuals whose deaths were attributed in whole or in part to COVID-19. Their age at death ranged from 61 to 95 with a mean age of 76.2 and they represented five countries: the United States, England, Italy, Argentina, and Mexico.

On an upbeat note, the year ended without a single ring fatality. We would like to interpret this as a sign of greater vigilance by those entrusted with the responsibility of keeping boxers safe, but ruefully concede that an abbreviated schedule may have played a larger role.

Here is PART TWO of our annual end-of-year report in which we pay homage to those for whom the final bell tolled. The decedents are listed chronologically according to the date of their passing. Part Two covers July through December.

July

15 – Travell Mazion

A rising junior middleweight contender with a 17-0 record, Mazion perished when his car crossed the median and slammed into an incoming car on a highway near his hometown of Austin, Texas. He was 24 years old.

18 – Dickie Cole

A former amateur boxer, judge, and referee, Cole served the sport in several administrative capacities, most notably as the head of the Texas commission, a post he held for more than two decades. Credited with wooing big fights to the Lone Star State, he drew flack for his autocratic ways, alleged conflicts of interest (he sold insurance to boxers and promoters) and his alleged nepotism. At age 89 in Dallas of heart disease.

24 – Nazeem Richardson

“Brother Nazeem” trained dozens of fighters in Philadelphia before achieving national recognition for his work with Bernard Hopkins. He also trained Shane Mosley for three of Mosley’s biggest fights. Richardson suffered a stroke in 2008 and had been in ill health for several years. At age 56 in Philadelphia.

26 – Willie Savannah

A longtime trainer and gym operator in Houston, Savannah mentored such notables as Ronnie Shields and Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz. Evander Holyfield and the Charlo twins, among many others, used his facility, but he was most proud of his amateur program and its impact on turning around troubled kids. At age 85 of kidney failure.

August

4 – Tony Doyle

The Salt Lake City bruiser sparred hundreds of rounds with Muhammad Ali. As a pro he was 40-16-1 with the draw coming in a 10-round affair with Jerry Quarry in the first of their three meetings. “Irish Tony” reportedly defeated Joe Frazier as an amateur, but Frazier whacked him out in two rounds when they met up as pros in the first main event at Philadelphia’s spanking new Spectrum. At age 76 in Draper, Utah, where he was battling dementia.

5 – Pete Hamill

As a young reporter he took to hanging around Cus D’Amato’s Gramercy Gym where he developed a great friendship with future light heavyweight champion Jose Torres. A central character in Hamill’s 1978 novel “Flesh and Blood” is plainly based on D’Amato. Late in his life, the legendary newspaperman and author wrote poignantly of his disillusionment with the sweet science. At age 85 in his native Brooklyn.

6 – Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure

As an amateur, the Toledo, Ohio native won two National Golden Gloves titles and a gold medal as a light middleweight at the 1960 Rome Olympiad where his roommate was Cassius Clay. As a pro, he was 24-8-1 while finding time to earn a Ph. D. in counseling psychology on the GI Bill, his gateway to the quiet life of an academician and psychotherapist in Boston. For a time, he was Chairman of the Massachusetts Athletic Commission. At age 81 of natural causes.

7 – Chuck Lincoln

The older brother of the late heavyweight contender Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, Chuck Lincoln, a Korean War veteran, carved out an 11-1-1 record as a pro and then became the linchpin of amateur boxing in Portland, Oregon. Thad Spencer, Ray Lampkin, and Michael Colbert were among his students. At age 88 after a long battle with kidney disease.

22 – Sandro Mazzinghi

A two-time world champion at 154 pounds, Mazzinghi was 64-3 (2 NC) in a career that began in 1961. Two of his three losses were to countryman Nino Benvenuti, the first of which, in Milan, was Italy’s Fight of the Century. At age 81 in his native Pontedera in Tuscany where he owned a vineyard.

29 – Fritz Chervet

Hailed as the best fighter born and raised in Switzerland, the “Bernese Fly” competed from 1962 to 1976 and finished with a mark of 59-9-2. He twice fought Chartchai Chionoi for the world flyweight title, losing the first encounter on cuts and the second on a controversial split decision. At age 77 following a stroke at his home near his birthplace in Bern.

31 – Jean Baptiste Mendy

A French citizen born in Senegal, Mendy won the WBC and WBA world lightweight titles, in that order, late in a 17-year career that began in 1973. He finished 55-8-3. At age 57 in Paris of pancreatic cancer.

September

3 – Terry Daniels

Daniels showed promise as an up-and-comer on the Texas circuit, but was no match for Joe Frazier when they met on Super Bowl Eve in New Orleans in 1972. Smokin’ Joe stopped him in the fourth and it was all downhill for Daniels from that point; he won only seven of his last 33 fights. In Willoughby, Ohio, at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

10 – Alan Minter

He out-pointed defending middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo at Las Vegas in 1980 to become the first British boxer in 69 years to capture a world title on U.S. soil.  He butchered Antuofermo in the rematch, but was then butchered by Marvin Hagler in a fight best remembered for the antics of the pro-Minter hooligans who turned Wembley Stadium into a riot zone. He finished 39-9 with most of his losses the result of cuts. At age 69 after a long battle with cancer.

October

11 – Ricardo Jiminez

A newspaperman turned publicist, Jiminez boosted the careers of a slew of mostly Spanish-speaking boxers while employed by Top Rank and other leading West Coast fight factories. Hugely admired by his peers, Jiminez shared the 2006 BWAA “Good Guy” award with his Top Rank colleague Lee Samuels. At age 64 four days after suffering a stroke.

28 – Miguel Angel Castellini

Nicknamed “Cloroformo,” Castellini won the WBA 154-pound title with a 15-round decision over Spain’s Jose Duran in Madrid and lost it in his first defense to Eddie Gazo in Managua. In retirement he ran a boxing gym in downtown Buenos Aires that broke tradition by welcoming female boxers. At age 73 after a lengthy hospital stay for a myriad of health issues including COVID-19.

November

7 – Reginaldo Kuchle

He promoted hundreds of shows in Mexico during a career spanning more than four decades. A strong supporter of female boxing, he and his son Osvaldo were the driving forces behind a weekly show on the Televisa network. At age 77 of a heart attack after recovering from COVID-19.

9 – Fernando Atzori

Born on the island of Sardinia, Atzori won a gold medal in the 112-pound class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was 44-6-2 as a pro, including a 10-2-1 mark in bouts billed for the European Boxing Union Flyweight Title. In Florence at age 78 after a lengthy illness.

17 – Royal Kobayashi

A 1972 Olympian who was briefly a world title-holder at 122 pounds, Kobayashi finished 35-8 (27) in a nine-year career that began in 1973. Four of his losses came in world title fights including stoppages as the hands of all-time greats Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez, and Eusebio Pedroza. At age 71 of cancer in his native Kumamoto where he was working as a security guard.

18 – Juan Domingo Roldan

The barrel-chested middleweight forged a 67-5-2 (47) record during an 11-year career and retired to the life of a successful rancher-businessman in the dairy industry. His biggest fights were in Las Vegas where he came up short in world title fights vs Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. At age 63 in San Francisco, Argentina, the city of his birth, from complications of COVID-19.

December

18 – Frankie Otero

Born in Havana and raised in Hialeah, Florida, the boyishly handsome Otero climbed up the lightweight rankings on club shows in Miami Beach where he had 43 of his 60 fights. He finished 49-9-2 (31) with two of his losses coming at the hands of Scotland’s renowned Ken Buchanan. At age 72 of bone cancer in Hialeah where he had a successful career in real estate and dabbled as a matchmaker.

23 – Frankie Randall

A three-time title-holder at 140 pounds, “The Surgeon” etched his name into boxing lore in 1994 when he outpointed Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez who was 89-0-1 going in. Frequently on the wrong side of a controversial decision, he finished 58-18-1 after losing 13 of his last 16, including a loss on points to Chavez in their rubber match in Mexico City when he was 42 years old. At age 59 at a nursing home in his hometown of Morristown, TN, where he had a long battle with dementia.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 121: Prizefighting in 2021

David A. Avila

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Prizefighting actually dipped underground for the past nine months with professional boxers training illegally in darkened gyms behind shuttered windows and locked doors.

It still remains an underground sport.

The slow death cloud of the coronavirus led to government restrictions forbidding large gatherings especially in enclosed facilities. Boxers still train.

It was a primary reason that prizefighting among the elite was never more bare.

When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, a crowd of more than 15,000 fans witnessed the heavyweight spectacle. That took place on February 22, and it was the last hurrah in 2020.

A new year begins but the old ways of doing things are no longer in place. Those large purses are unattainable without fans, but it’s difficult to convince the prizefighters. All they know is they want to get paid with pre-2020 checks.

Very few of the top male prizefighters took to the prize ring.

One leading American matchmaker, who did not wish to go on record, said fighters do not understand that ticket sales are an important aspect of the fight game. Many prizefighters feel they are underpaid and being cheated when offered purses that fall under their pre-2020 monies.

No fans, no money.

Television or streaming app revenue is not enough without the clicking of the turnstile.

Fans are the reason that fighters get paid and without fans prizefighting does not exist.

Reality in 2021

Before the advent of television, prizefighters were paid strictly on the basis of ticket sales. The more fans a fighter could attract, the bigger the purse. When television arrived it drastically changed the landscape.

Television networks who delve into boxing bring their own budgets and cable networks like HBO and Showtime drastically changed the landscape. Instead of thousands, millions were being paid to the stars. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather were the prizefighters leading the way past $20 and $30 million dollar purses. MMA still hasn’t reached those figures. Not even close, unless they are fighting against a boxer as Conor McGregor did several years ago.

During the past three years new players arrived with streaming apps like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the boxing world. One primary advantage has been its worldwide ability to transmit boxing events. However, because not all of the world has access to high tech, those streaming apps are still in the pioneering phase when it comes to building a fan base. At the moment, television still holds the upper hand but the gap is closing quickly.

Lately, DAZN has taken to inserting sponsors logos into their live programming without skipping a beat. It was only a matter of time before they realized the capabilities of inserting commercials digitally. It’s not a new idea; it was explored decades ago by our own BoxingChannel.tv.

Still, as long as the pandemic exists and fans are unable to attend boxing cards the mega fights that drive prizefighting will not take place. The arrival of various vaccines for the coronavirus are a big plus for the sport emerging out of the underground state of boxing. But the fighters need to fight.

Tyson Fury needs to meet Anthony Joshua in a battle for the heavyweight championship and Errol Spence Jr. must fight Terence Crawford this year. Others like Teofimo Lopez are doing their part to open the eyes of fans to the new breed of prizefighters who can fight, talk and excite with their electrifying skills.

Potential stars like Serhii Bohachuk, Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Charles Conwell are catching the eye of fans and all are basically around the same weight classes. They took advantage of the openings for television and streaming spots.

Prizefighters everywhere need to understand this pandemic may last longer than you think. God forbid, but there could be another looming around the corner. It’s time to go for broke and get back in the prize ring. Time is not on your side.

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Remembering Young Stribling on the Centennial of his First Pro Fight

Arne K. Lang

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This coming Sunday, Jan. 17, marks the 100th anniversary of the pro debut of one of boxing’s most interesting characters. On this date in 1921, Young Stribling, carrying 118 pounds, won a 4-round decision over Kid Dombe in the opening bout of a 4-bout card at the auditorium (it had no name) in Atlanta, Georgia. Stribling would go on to fight for the world heavyweight title and would leave the sport as boxing’s all-time knockout king, a distinction that commands an asterisk.

Stribling’s effort against Dombe, who was billed as Georgia’s newsboy champion, made a strong impression on the ringside reporter for the Atlanta Constitution. “A young gentleman,” he wrote, “is destined to become mighty popular in the squared circle. He is Young Stribling of Macon, and a classier bit of boxing machinery hasn’t been uncovered in these parts in a good many years.” Stribling failed to stop his opponent, but left him “badly mussed-up.”

Young Stribling, born William Lawrence Stribling, bubbled into a great regional attraction. Name a place in Georgia – Albany, Americus, Augustus, Bainbridge, Rome, Savannah, Thomasville, etc. – and Stribling fought there. As the star forward on his high school basketball team, one of the best teams in the country, he never ventured far from home for a boxing match until he was deep into his career.

Many of Stribling’s fights were held in conjunction with fairs and carnivals and some others were staged in vaudeville houses. Stribling was the son of professional acrobats. As a young boy, he and his younger brother Herbert performed alongside their parents in a novelty act, a mock prizefight done up in slapstick.

Stribling attracted national attention in 1923 when he opposed veteran Mike McTigue, the reigning light heavyweight champion. The bout was held in a 20,000-seat wooden arena in Columbus, Georgia.

A New Yorker, but an Irishman by birth, McTigue brought his own referee, which wasn’t uncommon in those days. The arbiter was Harry Ertle, a City Marshal in Jersey City, famed as the third man in the ring for Jack Dempsey’s fight with Georges Carpentier, the first fight with a million-dollar gate.

“The road is a treacherous place,” a wizened old fight manager was overheard saying at New York’s fabled Stillman Gym. And Columbus, Georgia, a town situated on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and purportedly a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, was certainly a treacherous place for Team McTigue on that balmy October afternoon.

After 10 rather pedestrian rounds, Ertle called the fight a draw. But he was in such a hurry to exit the ring that he did not make his verdict clear. Rather than call the combatants to the center of the ring and raise both their arms, he merely pointed at both corners, “spreading his hands as a baseball umpire calling a baserunner safe after a slide.”

Ertle didn’t get far. He was immediately accosted by the head of the local organizing committee who upon confirming that Ertle had scored the bout a draw, ordered the referee back into the ring. “You will never get out of here (if you don’t give the fight to Stribling),” he said. “We have all the railroad stations covered.”

Ertle went back into the ring, awarded the fight to Stribling, and then three hours later in the safety of a private residence, he signed a statement saying that his original decision should stand. The incident made all the papers and made Stribling a household name in houses where folks read the sports pages.

When Stribling fought McTigue, he was only 18 years old. And he was fast growing into his body, tipping the scales for the fight at 165 pounds.

Stribling and McTigue renewed acquaintances five months later in Newark, New Jersey. In a shocker, the “Georgia Schoolboy” dominated the Irishman. Stribling won all 12 rounds in the estimation of one ringside reporter. He had McTigue almost out in the 11th and again in the 12th but reverted to clowning and let him off the hook. “It was a bad habit,” said a reporter, “that the kid picked up working the country fair circuit.”

Because New Jersey was then a “no-decision” state, McTigue was allowed to keep his title. Stribling would get another chance at the belt in June of 1926 when he met McTigue’s conqueror Paul Berlenbach at Yankee Stadium.

Boxing writers fawned over Young Stribling who seldom appeared in public without his parents; his father was his chief cornerman. His parents’ names were “Ma” and “Pa,” or that’s what condescending East Coast writers always called them.

The Stribling-Berlenbach fight, wrote syndicated sportswriter Damon Runyon, “was the most widely advertised and most eagerly anticipated event of some years in New York.” The crowd, reportedly 56,000, “attracted more political bigwigs and social and sporting dignitaries than you could shake a stick at.” And the fight, marred by excessive clinching, was a dud. It went the full 15 rounds and Berlenbach, the Astoria Assassin, won decisively (the scores were not announced).

It was back to the drawing board for Young Stribling, which meant back to the life of a barnstormer. Over the next 33 months, he had 75 (!) documented fights and lost only once, that coming at the hands of clever Tommy Loughran in a 10-round bout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That impressive run boosted him into a match with Jack Sharkey, an “eliminator” in which the winner would be one step removed from fighting for the world heavyweight title vacated by Gene Tunney.

Stribling vs. Sharkey was the last important bout arranged by Tex Rickard who died seven weeks before the bout materialized in an arena erected on a polo field in Miami Beach. It was North against South, and the crowd, nearly 35,000, was solidly against Sharkey, the Boston Gob. But Stribling came up short again in a rather disappointing, albeit closely contested 10-round affair. There was little dissension when the New York referee gave the fight to the Bostonian.

Later that year, Max Schmeling defeated Paulino Uzcudun at Yankee Stadium, setting the stage for a Sharkey-Schmeling fight for the vacant title. In the fourth round, Sharkey was disqualified after sending Schmeling to the canvas with a punch that was palpably low.

After his setback to Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling fought his way back into contention with wins over three ranked opponents after splitting a pair of suspicious fights with Primo Carnera in Europe. In fact, in a 1930 poll of 55 sportswriters by the New York Sun, Stribling was named the best heavyweight, out-polling both Sharkey and Schmeling. When the German picked Stribling for his first title defense, he was, in the eyes of many people, choosing his most worthy challenger.

Carnera vs. Stribling was the icebreaker event at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the new home of the city’s baseball team, the Indians. The bout came to fruition on the eve of the Fourth of July in 1931, two days after the cavernous ballpark was formally dedicated in an elaborate ceremony.

Stribling started fast, but Schmeling ultimately proved too strong for him. In the 15th round, Schmeling knocked him to the canvas and then pummeled him into a helpless condition, forcing the referee to intervene and waive it off. This wasn’t a great fight, but it was a quite a spectacle, notwithstanding the fact that there were a lot of empty seats. The Ring magazine named it the Fight of the Year.

This would be Young Stribling’s last big-money fight. In his final ring appearance, he outpointed light heavyweight title-holder Maxie Rosenbloom in a 10-round non-title fight in Houston. According to BoxRec, he left the sport with a record of 224-13-14 with 129 knockouts, a record eventually broken by Archie Moore who would be credited with 131.

About those knockouts: It came to be understood that many were bogus, not fictional, but rather set-ups on the carnival circuit where he padded his record against someone with whom he was well-acquainted. But there are also some curious knockouts on Archie Moore’s ledger. On Moore’s list of KO victims one finds the names of Professor Roy Shire and Mike DiBiase, popular grunt-and-groan wrestlers.

As to Young Stribling’s fistic legacy, historians are all over the map. The biography of Stribling by Jaclyn Weldon White (Mercer University Press, 2011) is titled “The Greatest Champion that Never Was.” That’s a bit over the top. The reality is that when Stribling was matched against his strongest opponents, his Sunday punch was missing in action.

You won’t find Stribling’s name on Matt McGrain’s 2014 list of the 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time. Stribling checks in at #23 on McGrain’s list of the all-time greatest light heavyweights and, with all due respect to McGrain, that also strikes us as a bit off-kilter, not giving Stribling enough credit. In more than 250 documented fights, he was stopped only once, that coming with 14 seconds remaining in the 15th and final round of his bout with Max Schmeling.

Regardless of where you choose to place him, Young Stribling was certainly colorful.

Young Stribling lived his life in the fast lane, and with him that isn’t a cliché. He loved to fly, and when he headed off somewhere in his six-seater, said a reporter, “he would take the plane off the ground in a shivering climb so steep veteran flyers gasped.” On the highways, his preferred mode of travel was a motorcycle.

Stribling married his high school sweetheart and they had three children. On Oct. 1, 1933, he left his home in Macon on his motorcycle and never returned. A head-on crash with an incoming car sent him to the hospital where he died the next day from internal injuries. Ma and Pa were there with him in his final hours, as was his wife who had given birth to a baby boy eight days earlier in this very same hospital.

William Lawrence “Young” Stribling was 28 years old when he drew his final breath. He packed a lot of living into those 28 years, including a whirlwind boxing career that took flight 100 years ago this coming Sunday.

Note: The photo is the cover photo from the October 1924 issue of The Ring magazine

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R.I.P. Boxing Promoter Mike Acri

Arne K. Lang

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Word arrived yesterday, Jan. 12, that boxing promoter Mike Acri died this past Sunday at age 63. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

Acri was from Erie, Pennsylvania, which also happens to be the hometown of Hall of Fame promoter Don Elbaum. The two often worked in tandem, most notably when they promoted the fight between Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde.

Acri promoted Ali; Frazier-Lyde was under contract to the venerable Elbaum. The bout between the daughters of the legendary pugilists, billed as Ali-Frazier IV, took place on June 8, 2001 at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York, kicking off Hall of Fame Weekend at the boxing shrine in nearby Canastota.

Mike Acri birthed the tradition of holding pro fights at Turning Stone on the Eve of the Hall of Fame festivities. The first of these shows, in 1998, pitted Hector Camacho against West Virginia journeyman Tommy Small. Camacho TKOed Small in the sixth, recapturing some of the prestige he had lost in his pussycat showing against Oscar De La Hoya.

Acri was especially proud of the Turning Stone series. “At these events, you have memorabilia people, you have past inductees, and most important, boxing fanatics from everywhere… it’s the ultimate thrill to know that my fight cards are the center of attention for the biggest boxing weekend of the year,” he told prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan for a 2005 story that ran on this site.

Acri had his best run with Paul Spadafora, the trouble-plagued “Pittsburgh Kid” who went on to win the IBF lightweight title and left the sport with a record of 49-1-1.

Spadafora fought frequently – 15 fights in all — at the Mountaineer racino in Chester, West Virginia, where Acri was the matchmaker. The little town of Chester sits roughly 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and 40 miles south of Youngstown, Ohio, cities with rich boxing traditions.

Although Acri was with Spadafora when the “Kid” was just getting started, he was best known as a rejuvenator who latched hold of fighters with name value who were cascading into irrelevancy and restored some of their lost luster while maneuvering them into a few good late-career paydays. Exhibit A was Roberto Duran.

Acri was one of the prime movers of the lucrative rubber match between Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. In his next outing, Duran was shockingly defeated by Pat Lawlor, a third-rater, and was written off as finished, but Acri extracted more mileage from the Panamanian legend, guiding him into two good-money fights with Vinny Pazienza and two with the aforementioned Camacho, interspersed with stay-busy fights that served to keep his name in the news.

Mike Acri’s last co-promotion, if that is the word, was the acclaimed Showtime documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” for which he received an Executive Producer credit. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his family and loved ones.

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