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Lloyd Price, Music, and Boxing (1933-2021)

Thomas Hauser

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Music was the lifeblood of the youth culture when I was young. I came of age during the “Golden Age of Rock and Roll” and expanded my appreciation to other eras. I’ve been fortunate in that the profession I’ve chosen has enabled me to spend time with some of the icons of my youth. Muhammad Ali heads the list. But there have been many others, including some from the world of music.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to meet Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Glen Campbell, Mary Travers, Ramsey Lewis, and others. I also spent time with Lloyd Price. Lloyd died in a longterm care facility in suburban New York on May 3 at age 88. A word of remembrance is in order.

Price was born in Louisiana in 1933 and grew up in the segregated American south. He was one of the early pioneers of rock and roll at a time when major radio stations in the United States wouldn’t play rock and roll by Black recording artists. Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis were given airtime. But “race music” was forbidden. That gave rise to a phenomenon known as the “white cover” version. A Black artist like Little Richard would write and record a song like Tutti Frutti that received limited exposure. Then Pat Boone or another white singer would release a “socially acceptable” version that might sell a million copies.

In the mid-1950s, a white disk jockey in New York named Alan Freed began playing “race music”. The time was right. The Civil Rights Movement was gathering steam. In February 1959, for the first time ever, a rock and roll song sung by a Black recording artist became the best-selling “pop 45” in the nation. The singer was Lloyd Price.

In 1952 at age 19, Price had written and recorded a song called “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” In 1958, he updated and recorded a song called Stagger Lee that dated back to 1911. Stagger Lee rocketed to #1 on the Billboard charts in the United States. One year later, Price wrote and recorded Personality which became an international hit.

What does this have to do with boxing?

Price had appeared in small clubs after the release of Lawdy Miss Clawdy. As Stagger Lee rose to the top of the charts, he was booked into the Top Hat Lounge in Louisville, Kentucky. When he arrived at the club, a tall good-looking teenager was waiting outside for him.

“I was on tour,” Price told me years later. “Ali was sixteen years old, sitting outside because he was underage and they wouldn’t let him in. When I got to the lounge, this crazy kid rushed over, saying, ‘Mr. Price, I’m Cassius Marcellus Clay; I’m the Golden Gloves Champion of Louisville, Kentucky; someday I’m gonna be heavyweight champion of the world; I love your music; and I’m gonna be famous like you.’ I just looked at him, and said, ‘Kid, you’re dreaming.’ But we got along. You couldn’t help but like him. The Top Hat Lounge was a popular place, and each time I played there, I saw him. After a while, I started looking for him and bringing him in with me. He had all sorts of questions – about music and traveling, but mostly he wanted to know about girls. There were a lot of things he didn’t know, and he asked me how to make out with girls. He was very sincere about it. I told him, ‘Just be yourself, and the girls will like you.’ Although as part of the lesson, I gave him a couple of dollars and said, ‘Always have some money. That’s the beginning of hanging out with the foxes.’”

Thus began a lifelong friendship.

“You have to remember what America was like at that time,” Price explained later. “In parts of the country, I’m being booked into white clubs. I’m being booked to do white dances. But I can’t stay at the white hotel and I have to go around to the back door if I want a sandwich. I went to some [Nation of Islam] meetings with Ali. For the first time in my life – as a grown man who was a star who had sold millions of records – I heard somebody saying, ‘You are somebody.’ The language gave you such a lift. You left feeling good about yourself. In the end, it wasn’t my thing. But I can understand how Ali got hooked.

“That’s how our friendship started,” Lloyd continued. “Then, after he turned pro, he came to New York and stayed with me at my apartment several times. Right before he fought Doug Jones, I drove him around town to publicize the fight. That was my red Cadillac he was in.”

Price was a savvy businessman. He kept the copyright to most of the songs he wrote and founded several record labels. He’s also the man who introduced Ali to Don King.

“I used to go to Cleveland because my song-writing partner, Harold Logan, lived there,” Lloyd reminisced. “I knew all the people Harold knew and, through him, I got friendly with Don. One day, I was over at Don’s place in the kitchen talking about Muhammad. Don’s daughter Debbie said, ‘I want to meet him.’ It was her birthday. She was about five. So I telephoned Muhammad and he sang Happy Birthday to her over the phone. Then Don got on and started talking. He was strictly a Cleveland man at the time. He didn’t know anything about New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. And he was into numbers, not boxing. But that was the introduction. He and Ali got together – once I think it was – and then Don went to prison. But when he got out, you could see the wheels turning in his mind.”

After King was released from prison, he prevailed upon Price to call Ali and ask if Muhammad would box in a charity exhibition to benefit the Forest City Hospital in Cleveland. Ali did it for free. History suggests that the primary financial beneficiary of the event was King, not the hospital. Later, Price was a key figure in orchestrating the Zaire 74 music festival in Kinshasa held in conjunction with the historic “Rumble in the Jungle” between Ali and George Foreman. And in 1980, he tried his best to talk Ali out of coming out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes.

“I kept thinking about a day I’d spent in New York with Ali and Joe Louis maybe ten years earlier,” Price told me. “Joe had been with me because there was a little bird singing in my band who he liked a lot, and Ali and I had been friends for years. Somehow or other, we got together and they were talking, mostly about boxing. I was listening. They got along well that day, no tension of any kind between them. Ali asked, ‘Joe, tell me something. What happens in the ring when you get old?’ He was asking about Joe’s fight against Rocky Marciano, when Joe was 37 years old with that bald spot in the middle of his head, when he got knocked through the ropes and was counted out. Joe said, ‘Ali, let me tell you something. When I was young and wanted to throw a punch, I could throw it as fast as I wanted. But when I got old, my brain would tell me to do something and my arms just wouldn’t do it.'”

“Don’t fight Holmes,” Price told Ali. “It’s over. Father Time is calling. You’ve got to hear the bell.”

lawdy

Price with Ali and Ali’s brother Rahman Ali

“You don’t know nothing about boxing and getting old,” Ali retorted. “You’re a singer, not a fighter.”

Then Price told Ali a story about going out on a national tour in 1963. As a favor to a friend who was trying to break into the music business, he agreed to let one of the friend’s groups open for him. The arrangement lasted until Price realized that the warm-up act was getting more applause than he was. So being a showman, he sent them packing with the request that his friend send him a different opening group.

“Who did you get rid of?” Ali asked.

“Some guys I’d never heard of before,” Price told him. “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. And the next opening act made me look even worse. The first night they were on, when they finished their set, there was such pandemonium that I told the band to take a ten-minute break before I went out so the audience could calm down and I wouldn’t look bad by comparison.”

“Who were they?”

“Three Black chicks called the Supremes.”

Price then called his friend (who, of course, was Berry Gordy in the process of launching Motown records) and told him to stuff his groups where the sun didn’t shine. “Just send me one guy to open,” he instructed.

Whereupon Berry Gordy sent Marvin Gaye.

“And that was it,” Price told Ali. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t know what these folks have. But whatever it is, I don’t have it.’ So I took myself off the road, bought a club in New York [that he called Turntable], and signed a fifteen-year contract to promote concerts for Motown in Manhattan. I heard the bell.”

Over the years, I saw Lloyd maybe a dozen times. The most memorable of these occasions was a night when he and Ali were guests for dinner at my apartment. After dinner, I put an old LP of Lloyd Price’s Greatest Hits on the turntable and we sang along. There were seven of us. Ali was beginning to have trouble speaking at that time in his life. But that night he sang louder than the rest of us.

The last time I saw Lloyd, he was well into his eighties, thinner than before and walking with a cane. But his voice was clear. There was a gleam in his eye. And his contagious laugh still filled the room. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to know him.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside 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 boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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The Hauser Report: Oleksandr Usyk Upsets the Applecart

Thomas Hauser

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On Saturday night, Oleksandr Usyk won a unanimous decision over Anthony Joshua at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London to claim the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles. With that victory, Usyk follows in the footsteps of Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko to become the third heavyweight beltholder from Ukraine.

Joshua has an elegance about him. Unlike some heavyweights at the top of today’s class, he seems rational and sincere when he speaks. “The world is cruel,” he told Sky Sports a year ago. “You’ve got to have a thick skin. One minute you’re on top of the world, and the next minute you’re not. That’s the name of the game we’re in.”

“AJ” has accomplished a lot in the past ten years. He won a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division at the 2012 London Olympics, became enormously popular in his homeland, and has earned tens of millions of dollars fighting. What he hasn’t done is prove himself to be a great fighter. The promise that seemed to be there after he climbed off the canvas to beat Wladimir Klitschko in an enthralling spectacle before 90,000 screaming fans at Wembley Stadium in 2017 never fully blossomed.

The Klitschko fight changed Joshua. Instead of gaining confidence from walking through fire and prevailing, he seemed to be a more tentative and vulnerable fighter afterward. Less-than-scintillating victories over Carlos Takam, Joseph Parker, and Alexander Povetkin followed. Then promoter Eddie Hearn brought Joshua to America to showcase him at Madison Square Garden against the corpulent Andy Ruiz. Shockingly, Ruiz knocked AJ down four times and stopped him in seven rounds.

Six months later in Saudi Arabia, Joshua gained a measure of revenge when he outboxed a grossly-out-of-shape Ruiz to reclaim his belts. But AJ hardly looked like a conqueror. A good jab doesn’t just score points and keep an opponent at bay. It cuts; it hurts; it shakes up the opponent. Against Ruiz the second time around, Joshua threw a stay-away-from-me jab all night. As Jimmy Tobin wrote, it was as though he’d been transformed “from wild boar to truffle pig.”

A cautiously-fought victory over Kubrat Pulev followed. “It’s easy to watch on YouTube and be confident,” Joshua said afterward. “Easy to watch from the outside. But when you’re in front of someone, actually in the ring, it’s a completely different ballgame.”

Usyk, like Joshua, won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics (Oleksandr’s was in the heavyweight division). He’d distinguished himself in the professional ranks by unifying the cruiserweight titles and had become the mandatory challenger for AJ’s IBF belt by virtue of lackluster victories over Chazz Witherspoon and Dereck Chisora.

Joshua was a 5-to-2 betting favorite. Usyk is a tricky southpaw with a 18-0 (13 KOs) professional record. But AJ has heavy hands and a devastating uppercut. Twenty-two of his 24 victories had come by knockout. His chin is suspect but Oleksandr was deemed ill-equipped to exploit that vulnerability. All one had to do was watch Usyk struggle against Witherspoon and Chisora to conclude that AJ was too big a mountain for him to climb. There’s a reason that there are weight classes in boxing.

At the weigh-in, Joshua was twenty pounds heavier than Usyk. It was, one observer opined, “a fight between a heavyweight and a wanna-be heavyweight.” The greatest threat to Joshua seemed to be Joshua.

One day before the bout, AJ was asked what would be next on his schedule after fighting Usyk. The assumption was that his next opponent would be the winner of Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder (who are scheduled to fight on October 9).

“I’ve got a rematch clause if the worst happens,” Joshua answered. “So, if I lose, I’m fighting Usyk again; the undisputed gets put on hold. If I win, I’ll fight either one of them. If Fury wins, I’ll fight Fury. If Wilder wins, I’ll fight Wilder.”

That answer was remarkable. Fighters often hype their opponent to build a promotion. But the phrase “if I lose” rarely escapes their lips.

On fight night, the atmosphere was electric. The 65,000-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had been sold out within twenty-four hours of tickets going on sale.

On DAZN’s televised undercard, Florian Marku won a split decision over Maxim Prodan. Then Callum Smith scored a scary one-punch knockout of Lenin Castillo. Next up, Sonni Martinez (a 2-and-4 fighter whose victories had come against fighters with 4 wins in 20 fights) exposed Campbell Hatton’s deficiencies as a fighter and also Marcus McDonnell’s deficiencies as a referee and judge. McDonnell’s 58-57 scorecard (he was the sole arbiter) in Hatton’s favor was disgusting. After that, Lawrence Okolie predictably knocked out an overmatched Dilan Prasovic in three rounds.

Joshua seemed to enjoy the fireworks and blaring music that accompanied his ring walk. It had been a long time since he’d fought before a large roaring crowd in England. The stage was set. Then the fight started.

For Joshua loyalists, the contest was akin to opening a beautifully-wrapped present on Christmas morning and finding bath towels inside instead of a much-desired stylish coat.

Usyk began cautiously, moving around the ring, throwing jabs like a pesky fly. AJ looked clumsy and a bit befuddled. Oleksandr’s southpaw style was giving him trouble. The proceedings brought to mind the advice that trainer Emanuel Steward gave to Lennox Lewis on the night that Lewis fought Ray Mercer. The plan that night had been for Lennox to outbox Mercer. Except the plan wasn’t working. In the middle rounds, sensing that the fight was slipping away, Steward told Lewis, “Just f***ing fight him.” Lennox did as instructed and won a narrow decision.

Rob McCracken (Joshua’s trainer) should have given AJ the same advice. When AJ went to Usyk’s body (which was hittable), he seemed to hurt him. But he didn’t do it often enough. Instead of trading with Usyk, for most of the night Joshua seemed reluctant to let his hands go and looked less interested in hitting than concerned about getting hit.

Joshua came on a bit in the middle rounds but then relinquished control again. He needed to impose his size and strength on Usyk but didn’t. He didn’t fight like a heavyweight champion is supposed to fight.

As the bout progressed, Usyk suffered cuts above and below his right eye. AJ’s nose was bloodied and there was a pronounced swelling beneath his right eye.

Usyk fought the final two rounds as though he needed them to win. Joshua fought the final two rounds like a beaten fighter and was in trouble at the final bell.

Give the judges credit for honest scoring. Their 117-112, 116-112, 115-113 scorecards were on the mark.

“This was the biggest fight in my career, but it wasn’t the hardest,” Usyk said afterward. “There were a couple of moments where Anthony pushed me hard but nothing special.”

So much for the megafight between Joshua and the winner of Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder. If the scenario that unfolded in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night seemed similar to Joshua-Ruiz I upending the planned megafight between Joshua and Wilder two years ago, that’s because it was.

The loss to Ruiz raised questions about Joshua. Joshua-Usyk answered them. AJ is a good heavyweight, not a great one.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published in October 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 boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Adelaida Ruiz Grabs WBC Silver Title in Pico Rivera and More

David A. Avila

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Adelaida Ruiz Grabs WBC Silver Title in Pico Rivera and More

Finally.

Adelaida “La Cobra” Ruiz grabbed the WBC Silver super flyweight title with an emphatic beating of veteran Mexican fighter Nancy Franco by late stoppage on Saturday night.

After waiting for most of her adult life to win a title, Ruiz (10-0-1, 5 KOs) showed off her superiority with a nonstop barrage of blows to power pass Franco (19-15-2) in front of more than 1,400 fans at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena in Pico Rivera.

Six months ago, Ruiz thought she had an opportunity to win a title against Sonia Osorio, but a clash of heads early in the fight forced a stoppage due to an ugly cut. That fight ended in the second round in a technical draw according to WBC rules.

No cuts this time.

Ruiz flashed those quick three-punch combinations and whenever Franco returned fire it was never enough. Round after round the Los Angeles fighter who could not fight for 10 years due to parenting duties caring for three children, would batter Franco to show off the ability to slip or move just out of range.

In the eighth round Ruiz did not stop after her regular three-punch combinations and delivered an intense six-punch blast of fire that had Franco reeling. It looked like the end was coming soon but the Mexican fighter survived.

Franco was not so lucky in the ninth round. Ruiz continued the assault with a nonstop barrage and Franco tried to reciprocate, but it was not an even exchange. The pure savagery of the attack by the L.A. fighter forced referee Raul Caiz Jr. to inch closer and when a blow connected flush the experienced referee stepped in and stopped the assault at 1:20 of the ninth round.

Ruiz finally could claim a title.

It was a good stoppage especially after the boxing world lost a young fighter several weeks ago named Jeanette Zacarias Zarate. She was only 18 and was unable to succumb to injuries in the prize ring. During intermission a moment of silence was given in honor of the Mexican fighter.

Maricela Wins

Maricela Cornejo (14-5, 5 KOs) returned to action with a six-round decision win over Florida’s gritty Miranda Barber (2-3) who recently fought and won by first round knockout in New York three weeks ago. Not this time.

Cornejo continues to add new elements to her game. In front of a supportive audience the Mexican-American fighter was rarely in trouble against Barber who never slowed down her attack. Though Cornejo connected often, Barber only increased her attack whenever hit with a big blow. But it was never enough against the seasoned Cornejo.

The middleweight contender looked calm and professional throughout the six round fight that pleased the loud audience that included boxing great Claressa Shields sitting a few rows away from the ring. A match between the two has been talked about ever since Shields entered the professional scene in 2016 after her second Olympic gold medal win. This could be a future battle soon. Cornejo has shown that she can drop down to 154 where Shields currently dominates.

Other Bouts

Rudy Garcia (12-0) had little trouble against Mexico’s Ronaldo Solis (4-2-1) in a winning a decision after six one-sided rounds of a featherweight clash.

Ernesto Mercado (2-0) won by stoppage in the first round after Osmel Mayorga (2-2) was floored and unable to continue after the first round of a super lightweight fight.

Tenichtitlan Nava (8-2-1) and Adrian Leyva (2-2-1) were evenly matched featherweights and it ended in a split draw.

Tyrell Washington (4-0) continued his undefeated streak with a win by unanimous decision over Rodrigo Solis (4-8-1) after six rounds in a welterweight bout.

Japhethlee Llamido (5-0) defeated Victor Saravia (1-2) by unanimous decision in a fight that was competitive in each round. Llamido was a former sparring partner for Japan’s Naoya “Monster” Inoue.

Other winners were Carlos Rodriguez (1-0) and Alejandro Reyes (4-0).

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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A Big Upset in London as Oleksandr Usyk Outclasses Anthony Joshua

Arne K. Lang

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Oleksandr Usyk gathered up all four meaningful cruiserweight belts before leaving the division. Tonight, on a special night at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he acquired three of the four meaningful heavyweight belts to add to his rich collection. In a battle between former Olympic gold medalists, the 34-year-old Ukrainian cashed his ticket to the Hall of Fame (and on the first ballot) with a unanimous decision over Anthony Joshua. There were some strange scorecards turned in earlier in the evening so it was no sure thing that the judges would get it right, but they did. Usyk won by tallies of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113.

There were no knockdowns but this was an entertaining fight with momentum shifts and the goosebumps that come whenever an underdog is acquitting himself well against a bigger man more capable of turning the tide with one punch.

Usyk, who improved to 19-0 (13) started strong. With his superior hand and foot speed, he actually looked a level above Joshua. But Usyk’s pace slowed in the fifth and Joshua started closing the gap. Usyk had a strong seventh round, but Joshua came back strong in the next stanza and it seemed as if he had more fuel in his tank and was capable of a Garrison finish. But no, Usyk closed strong and ended the match with a flourish.

Joshua, whose ledger declined to 24-2 (22), was expected to land the more damaging punches but it was Usyk, who suffered a cut around his right eye, whose punches were more damaging. At the end, Joshua’s right eye was swollen nearly shut.

Joshua’s defeat spoiled a lucrative match with his countryman Tyson Fury (assuming Fury gets past Deontay Wilder). That match will likely come to fruition someday, but it won’t be quite the mega-fight that it would have been under “normal” circumstances.

Co-Main

Lawrence Okolie drew a softie for the first defense of his WBO world cruiserweight title that he won with a smashing performance over Krzysztof Glowacki. In the opposite corner was Montenegro’s Dilan Prasovic who came in undefeated (15-0) but against suspect opposition and was out of his element. Okolie stopped him in the third round, improving his ledger to 17-0 (14 KOs).

A former McDonald’s burger-flipper who is co-managed by Anthony Joshua and trained by Shane McGuigan, Okolie decked Prasovic with a right hand in the second round and terminated the fight in the next frame with a body punch that didn’t appear to land especially hard. The official time was 1:57.

Standing 6’5 ½” with an 82 ½-inch reach, the ever-improving Okolie hopes to unify the division before moving up to heavyweight. He may out-grow the cruiserweight class before a unification fight presents itself.

Other Bouts

Liverpool’s Callum Smith, in his first fight as a light heavyweight and his first fight with Buddy McGirt in his corner, rolled back the clock to the days when he was running up a string of fast knockouts and sent Lenin Castillo to dreamland with a booming right hand in the second round. This was a scary knockout. Castillo’s leg twitched as he lay on the canvas. He was removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital where, according to promoter Eddie Hearn, he was fully responsive.

Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since losing to Canelo Alvarez in a match in which he was reluctant to let his hands go. Castillo, from the Dominican Republic, had previously taken Dmitry Bivol the distance (albeit while losing virtually every round) in a bid for Bivol’s WBA 175-pound crown. He was 21-3-1 heading in and hadn’t previously been stopped.

Chicago middleweight Christopher Ousley (13-0, 9 KOs) stepped up in class and won a 10-round majority decision over former world title challenger Khasan Baysangurov (21-2). Baysangurov, a Ukrainian, did well in the late rounds but it was too little, too late. The judges had it 95-95 and 97-94 twice.

While Ousley, 30, didn’t look especially sharp, this was good win for him. He had been working with trainer Manny Robles and Anthony Joshua is one of his sponsors. Baysangurov had won four straight since suffering an 11th-round stoppage at the hands of Rob Brant.

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