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A Philosophy Professor and a Boxing Coach, Gordon Marino Wears Dissimilar Hats

Rick Assad

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A Philosophy Professor and a Boxing Coach, Gordon Marino Wears Dissimilar Hats

Academia and scholarship are prim and proper and generally take place in ivy-covered brick buildings.

The art and science of boxing are rough and rugged and usually situated in dank and musty gyms.

On the surface, at least, they couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Gordon Marino, a longtime philosophy professor and current Professor Emeritus and Director of the Hong Soren Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, has a different twist on the matter and actually sees an intersection between the two. In addition to teaching philosophy, Marino trains amateur boxers.

“Many would say they are antithetical. Even me sometimes. My wife [Susan] is a neuroscientist and was on the Cleveland Clinics Fighters’ Brain Health study,” said Marino, a leading scholar on Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist philosopher, who lived from 1813 to 1855. “I know what kind of damage those hurricane blows can deliver and I get sick when I see a boxer taking a beating in a contest that should be stopped. Yes, I am ambivalent about building minds up and then putting them in danger.”

The sweet science and philosophy do seem to make for strange bedfellows.

“Philosophy is about acquiring wisdom and developing the virtues,” Marino said. “Again, with proper instruction, boxing can be fertile ground for those two endeavors.”

Marino, an amateur boxer who came close to turning professional, played wide receiver at Bowling Green State University in Ohio before transferring to Columbia. He went on to earn graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago. In addition to St. Olaf, he has taught at Yale, where he was an assistant football coach, at Harvard, at the University of Florida, and at Virginia Military Institute where he was the head boxing coach.

Marino explained being a college professor is in some ways like stepping into the ring.

“This might strike some readers as puzzling, but I should also mention that philosophy is a rather violent game. Scholars work for months or years to construct a theory and then others strive to find something wrong with the theory and take it down with an intellectual uppercut,” he said. “I can tell you from experience, being on the end of one of these uppercuts can make you feel pretty stupid and for my part I would much prefer a punch in the nose to one that knocks out my intellectual confidence.”

Having gone through the rigors and challenges of being a professor has also enabled Marino, who has written about boxing for a number of periodicals including The Wall Street Journal, to fully appreciate what boxers endure.

“I would like to think being a teacher has helped me be a better boxing coach. It has made me more adept at offering clear explanations and helped me to understand that students of both philosophy and the sweet science want to learn something new all the time,” he noted. “On the other side of the coin, my experience as a trainer has improved my work in the classroom. It has strengthened my ability to take better reads on my students and to know when and how to push them.”

Marino said growing up in a volatile household in New Jersey, he was looking for an escape hatch.

“I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in what would then have been considered a fairly violent environment,” he acknowledged. “I was smacked around at home on a daily basis, so in addition to the desire to learn how to defend myself, I suppose I wanted to kick some butt.”

“I was originally drawn to the violence and opportunity to express my anger,” he said of boxing’s appeal. “Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a tough guy and to receive their red badge of courage for overcoming five alarm fears.”

“In my late sixties and having calmed down a mite, I am more fascinated today by the courage, technique, resilience and resolve of fighters,” he said. “I also feel that in order to be a good, caring human being, we need to be able to deal with internal obstacles such as anxiety and anger.”

Marino continued: “There are very few places today where we can do some sparring with those challenging moods and emotions. With the right supervision, boxing provides a workshop for dealing with these feelings. For instance, following in the teaching of (the late trainer) Cus D’Amato, one of the lessons I pass onto my sub-novice competitive boxers is not to panic about feeling panicked. And that in order to be successful in the gloved game you are going to need to use, but control your aggression.”

Lessons are learned every single day and Marino used the manly sport to his advantage.

“I am better at taking life’s punches for having been in boxing,” he said. “And if you will excuse my moralizing, it seems to me that if you can’t take a punch, you won’t be able to do the right thing in life.”

Marino used an example from today’s headlines. “Consider the people and the cops who passively watched George Floyd have the life choked out of him. For the cops other than (Derek) Chauvin, intervening might have meant losing their job, i.e., taking a punch,” he said.

Marino wasn’t done. “Know thyself is one of the first philosophical commandments and if you have some muscle for self-reflection, you can certainly learn a lot about yourself in the ring,” he added. “Of course, the bruising game has also stamped in the importance of preparation and cultivated a little more control over my emotions than I would have had if I had spent my time on the links.”

One thing that Marino admires about pugilists is they go about their business essentially solo. Boxers walk figuratively naked into the ring.

“It is a truism to say that in boxing you are out there all alone. Boxers certainly reveal something about their will,” he explained. “When the leather starts flying you will be forced to ask yourself in public, just how far you are or aren’t willing to go to win.”

“For example, it could be that in learning to box and perhaps in sparring, you recognize you are too afraid to stay in the pocket. However, having grasped that, you push yourself and develop the courage to get inside and let your hands go.”

The second step is to remain in control of yourself despite what’s happening that may scare you.

In addition to cultivating control over emotions, said Marino, “(sports like boxing) nurture affiliations – strong and intimate bonds between people.”

On the other hand, there are negatives. “Just the same, make no mistake about it, sports can also poison character, especially when your guides to boxing or whatever are blind or indifferent to the issue of character,” Marino said.

It’s been said a wise man knows his limits and seeks out others as a way to enrich oneself. For Marino, that man was legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.

“About 15 years ago, I was assigned to write an online story on Ang for Men’s Health. I went to Florida to meet with him at the South Florida Boxing Gym, where he was still training fighters. He must have been in his late seventies, but he was a ball of positive energy.”

Marino could sense the experience was going to elicit a wealth of information from a man who trained 16 world champions.

“Like Muhammad Ali, Ang had a heavyweight love for people, as well as a sparkling sense of humor. Maya Angelou once remarked, ‘that you might not remember what a person says, but you’ll surely remember how they made you feel.’ Ang made so many of us, his friends, feel special. I loved the man,” he said.

It’s something that Dundee said that still resonates with Marino. “Of course, as a coach, I pumped him for his knowledge of strategy and technique,” he recalled. “Now and again, he would give me a piece of advice to which I would have to protest. ‘Ang, I can’t use that with amateurs.’ A [Sigmund] Freud of sorts, he taught me that when you have a boxer who won’t listen, as Ali often wouldn’t, praise him for doing what you want him to do, even though he or she might not be doing it.”

Having covered boxing for 15 years for The Wall Street Journal, Marino said the stint helped him immensely as a coach.

“Every time I met an elite fighter, I would ask him or her to teach me one of their signature moves,” he said. “Sometimes they were a little guarded about this – for example, Oscar De La Hoya just told me – ‘exhale on your big punches.’ But most of them came right back with something I could bring home.”

Manny Pacquiao was extremely helpful. “Tell them to always throw six punch combos on the bag or shadow boxing, because they will turn into two punches in the ring,” explained the eight-division world champion.

Roy Jones Jr. was equally insightful, according to Marino, who asked Roy about throwing a right hand.

“Lean right, lean left, lean back right, but this time as you are leaning right, throw your right,” he said.

The late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward rendered this advice to Marino: “Don’t put too much weight on the front foot and when you throw your hook, turn your arm into a steel bar,” he said.

Mike Tyson, the youngest-ever heavyweight champion, gave Marino this tidbit: “Dip down a few times and jab to the solar plexus. The counter is, of course, a right hand,” he said. “Now, dip, load up your legs, feint the jab and fire your right. If you are lucky, the other guy will be coming in with his right and blam, good night.”

Sugar Ray Leonard forked over this gem just before Leonard’s wife kicked Marino out of the house: “When you are fighting a southpaw, feint the left hook and fire a wide right to the head,” he said.

Pacquiao, a left-hander, should have remembered this lesson before he faced Juan Manuel Marquez on December 8, 2012, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, when he was knocked out by a thunderous overhand right in the sixth round, Marino suggested.

For Gordon Marino, the path to knowledge and wisdom can be found almost anywhere, whether they’re in books, lecture halls or the squared circle.

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Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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Book Review

Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, “bastardized by the alphabet groups” and at a time when “world titles still meant something.”

“I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve,” he writes, “saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back.” He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters – particularly small promoters – survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah’s Marina and the Sands  in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

Along the way, Peltz’s office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets in his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, “The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter.”

Now Peltz has put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard. “The internet is often a misinformation highway,” he writes. “I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I’m tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do.”

Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted  was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

There’s humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall “Tex” Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, “Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds.”

And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, “He couldn’t pass an eye exam because he didn’t understand the alphabet.”

Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, “”The Blue Horizon was a fight fan’s nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters.”

That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans.”

Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to “get me six wins in a row,” Russell thought of Chandler. “I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters,” he writes. “If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager.”

That brings us to Peltz the writer.

The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

There’s also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

“It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe,” Russell explains. “I’d bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight.”

I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don’t think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it’s worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

Peltz takes pride in saying, “I was part of Philadelphia’s last golden age of boxing.”

An important part.

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

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 156: A World Title Fight in San Diego and More

David A. Avila

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World championship prizefighting returns to San Diego.

Though the port city serves as a base for US Marines, US Navy and other fighting organizations, boxing has rarely held events in its city limits. But it’s no stranger.

WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) defends against L.A. native Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs) on Friday night at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank card.

One reason boxing events are rare in San Diego lies in the simple reason it’s located a mere 20 miles from Tijuana, Mexico. It is cheaper to stage boxing shows across the border and common to see up to five shows taking place simultaneously.

A world champion like Navarrete wants to be compensated in world championship style and that means fighting on American soil.

Navarrete, 26, hails from Mexico City and has beaten back-to-back featherweight contenders from the USA in Christopher Diaz and Ruben Villa. Before that, he upset Isaac Dogboe to win the super bantamweight world title before making weight forced him to move up a division. He’s a fighting machine.

“I think this is going to be a tough fight. He is a tough opponent,” said Navarrete.

Gonzalez, 28, was raised in a fighting family and has previously fought for a world title but was unsuccessful against Shakur Stevenson. The Los Angeles native had an extensive amateur career and as a professional he’s steadily adapted to the professional style. This is his shot at the world title.

“Navarrete has a style that’s very unique, very hard to figure out, and that’s why he’s a champion,” said Gonzalez. “I’m planning on leaving Friday night with that belt.”

In a semi-main event local fighter Giovani Santillan (27-0, 15 KOs) meets Angel Ruiz (17-1, 12 KOs) in a clash between southpaw welterweights set for 10 rounds. Both fought numerous times on Thompson Boxing Promotion cards in Southern California.

Santillan has fought as the main event on many occasions and provided upsets in nationally televised events.

“It’s very special for me to be fighting here in San Diego. I grew up close by here. To all my family and friends that are coming, expect the best version of me. I’m coming with everything,” said Santillan.

Ruiz also has fought on nationally televised events and upset a fighter or two. Southpaw versus southpaw can be puzzling. It usually comes down to who has the better right hook.

“He’s a great fighter. I’m a great fighter, too,” said Ruiz.

Doors open at 5 p.m.

Mikey Garcia Returns

It’s been almost two years since Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs) last fought. He returns on Saturday, Oct. 16, to face Sandor Martin (38-2, 13 KOs) a slick fighting southpaw from Barcelona, Spain. Their super lightweight bout takes place in Fresno, Calif. at the Chukchansi Park. DAZN will show the fight.

Garcia has been one of the boxing masters and has captured world titles in four weight divisions. Very few can match his wisdom inside a prize ring. The last time he fought was on February 2020 when he defeated Jessie Vargas in a welterweight clash.

Now Garcia is back down to super lightweight. He had hoped to entice Manny Pacquiao for a big money fight, but the Filipino superstar chose another.

Martin has never fought on American soil and has only ventured out of Spain twice. He’s a big question mark when it comes to ability. Can he match skills with Garcia who has won world titles as a featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight?

We shall see.

The co-main event features WBO light flyweight titlist Elwin Soto (19-1, 13 KOs) of Mexico defending against Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez (24-3-1, 14 KOs). As most of you know, anytime Mexico fights Puerto Rico anything can happen.

Heavyweight Examination

Tyson Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder proved to be the best of the trilogy that began three years ago in Los Angeles. Anytime you see multiple knockdowns it exemplifies the fight game to its core. It’s a battle of wills and the best man wins.

Only once before had two larger heavyweights exchanged blows when seven-footer Nicolai Valuev and Jameel McCline battled in 2008. But that heavyweight match was held at Switzerland and only seen in Europe. And there was another fight between NBA size power forwards in Los Angeles that was equally exciting when Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko clashed in the Staples Center on June 2003. It turned out to be Lewis’s farewell fight and a classic.

Wilder and Fury put on another classic.

The 1990s seemed to be the last decade where heavyweight rumbles regularly took place. You had Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield torching each other with massive blows and skill to match. There was Lennox Lewis, of course, and his gentleman killer ways. And, of course, there was still Mike Tyson whose best decade was the 1980s, yet was the heavyweight with the biggest following.

In this age of social media driven world of entertainment, Fury and Wilder did participate in a lot of seemingly useless drivel. But once inside the ropes, they delivered like FedEx truck drivers on the clock.

Those old enough to remember recall the three battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Nothing tops their three clashes, especially the “Thrilla in Manilla” in 1975. If you get a chance, take a look at that savagery. Though no knockdowns were scored, it was that mesh of skill and intensity for nearly 15 rounds that mesmerized sports fans and made both fighters legends for all time.

This past Saturday, Fury and Wilder reminded sports fans that heavyweight splendor still exists. And that no other sport comes down to the basic man-versus-man in a boxing ring. The biggest and baddest slugged it out and the winner was Fury.

Boxing is the ultimate sport.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Lester Martinez (8-0) vs Raiko Santana (8-2).

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Santiago Dominguez (24-0) vs Jesus Antonio Rubio (13-4-1).

Fri. ESPN+ 6 p.m. Emanuel Navarrete (34-1) vs Joet Gonzalez (24-1); Giovani Santillan (27-0) vs Angel Ruiz (17-1).

Fri. Telemundo 11:59 p.m. Axel Aragon (14-4-1) vs Armando Torres (26-19).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Hughie Fury (25-3) vs Christian Hammer (26-7); Savannah Marshall (10-0) vs Lolita Muzeya (16-0).

Sat. DAZN 2 p.m. Mikey Garcia (40-1) vs Sandor Martin (38-2).

Sat. FITE.TV 3 p.m. Cletus Seldin vs William Silva

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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