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Requiem for a Heavyweight Gatekeeper: A Contrite Farewell to Leroy Caldwell

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Leroy Caldwell passed away during the second week of February at a hospital in Las Vegas. He was 77 years old.

The local papers and TV outlets made no mention of it. Neither did the leading boxing journals. Like many journeymen boxers before him, Caldwell died in obscurity. But as journeyman go, Caldwell had quite a resume. He fought five men who held a world heavyweight title – George Foreman, Gerrie Coetzee, Pinklon Thomas, Trevor Berbick, and John Tate — and six others who were world title challengers: Earnie Shavers, Cleveland Williams, Oscar Bonavena, Ron Lyle, Joe Bugner, and David Bey.

No, Caldwell didn’t win any of these fights – and, truth be told, his efforts against Bonavena and Bugner were desultory — but his setbacks, in the aggregate, were the product of extenuating circumstances.

As the “B side,” Caldwell was constantly fighting in his opponent’s backyard where the deck was stacked against him. He out-boxed European heavyweight champion Jose Manuel Urtain on Urtaini’s turf in Bilbao, Spain but received only a draw. The same thing happened when he fought the tough Canadian Trevor Berbick in Winnipeg; another draw.

It didn’t help that Leroy, although well-muscled, was on the small side for a heavyweight. More often than not, he carried less than 205 pounds on his six-foot-one frame. Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams out-weighed him by 30 pounds, George Foreman by 32 pounds, Big John Tate by 40 pounds.

Also, since Caldwell was constantly taking fights on short notice, he rarely the luxury of training for a specific opponent. He stayed in shape, by and large, by working as a sparring partner.

He sparred with many of the men that he eventually fought and also touched gloves with Tim Witherspoon, Tony Tucker, Michael Dokes, Frank Bruno, and Bonecrusher Smith. Over the course of a career that spanned 22 years, he likely earned more money as a sparring partner than he did in his actual fights. His largest purse, by his recollection, was the $19,000 he received when he opposed Gerrie Coetzee in Johannesburg.

Caldwell spent his boyhood in New Orleans. His parents, he said, had 23 children between them. Needless to say, times were tough. On occasion as many as 15 people resided under the same roof with him.

Caldwell had no amateur bouts. His first pro fights were on the Gulf Coast club circuit. For a time he fought out of Chris Dundee’s fabled 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. Bruce Trampler, the future Hall of Fame matchmaker, fresh out of college, was also there, serving as an intern under Chris’s brother Angelo, the famous trainer. In 1972, Trampler accompanied Leroy to Madrid and to London for bouts with Gregory Peralta and Joe Bugner, matches spaced seven-and-a-half weeks apart. (Trivia time: Later that same year, when Caldwell fought Earnie Shavers at Newton Falls, Ohio, Bruce Trampler was the referee!)

In 1974 or 1975, while living in Milwaukee, Caldwell got into an altercation with a policeman who came to arrest him for stealing a package of lunch meat from a grocery store. The gap in his boxing timeline – he missed all of 1975 and 1976 – was a residue of this incident; he was incarcerated.

News of Caldwell’s passing brought back memories to this grizzled reporter.

Late in his career, Caldwell fought Jeff Shelburg at Las Vegas’ long-gone Hacienda Hotel. I was there with several of my friends.

A stocky, short-armed heavyweight from Salt Lake City who had knocked out 19 opponents while building a 22-3 record, Shelburg had been the subject of a recent feature story in a local weekly rag called SportsBook. The story said that someone had invented a contraption for measuring the force of a punch and that of the dozens of boxers that had been tested, Shelburg had the best score.

Armed with this information, I was prepared to chunk it in on Jeff Shelburg if I could find a willing taker. Inside the arena, someone overheard me extolling Shelburg’s credentials and a bet was consummated at even-money. Back in those days, a $40 wager was a big bet for me and, as I recall, I wagered $50. I was showing off. I didn’t want my friends to think I was a piker.

Ignoring the Lopez brothers, Ernie and Danny, who were raised on the Ute Indian Reservation, only two top-shelf boxers ever came out of Utah: Jack Dempsey and Gene Fullmer. Dempsey grew up in Colorado and West Virginia, but he represented Salt Lake City as he was climbing the ladder and met his first wife in a Salt Lake City whorehouse. Fullmer had two left feet but was tough as nails. Sugar Ray Robinson knocked him out cold in their second of four meetings, but Fullmer won the series 2-1-1.

Of course, I didn’t know all this at that time; I was a greenhorn; a foolish greenhorn. Jeff Shelburg may have packed a hard punch, but as I learned to my dismay, he was a typical Utah fighter. “Shelburg could never get untracked against the veteran Caldwell, who jabbed and moved and used his superior boxing ability to rack up a one-sided win,” wrote Review-Journal boxing writer Royce Feour.

I ran into Leroy about 12 years later and, ironically, we were in Utah. This was the first and last time that I ever spoke with him. More precisely, he spoke to me.

I was in Utah to perform the duties of a ring announcer at a kickboxing show at the basketball arena of Dixie State College in St. George, a town about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The promoter was pals with a number of individuals in the Las Vegas boxing community and two carloads of boxers – some active, some retired – made the trip to St. George.

There were a number of “notables” in their ranks – I don’t remember them all, but Roger Mayweather comes quickly to mind – and I had them stand up and take a bow during the course of the festivities.

Leroy Caldwell was there too and he let me know about it at the conclusion of the show. “I was on TV more than all those other guys put together. Why didn’t you acknowledge me too?’, he said to me, his carriage less indignant than disconsolate.

An oversight on my part? Not exactly. I knew that he was there. He had been retired for some time now and I just didn’t consider him noteworthy. And that was my bad; shame on me. I hurt his feelings and in the ensuing years, whenever I saw him, I remembered that one-sided conversation in Utah and rued that I had been so inconsiderate.

Caldwell stayed involved in boxing after he retired. He made himself useful in the gyms around town and picked up odd jobs as a cornerman. He was a trainer, yes, and arguably a very good one, but he was never the primary voice in the comer of a big-name boxer. And the money that dribbled in was barely enough to keep his head above water.

In August of last year, a longtime friend of Caldwell, a former club fighter named Johnny Jackson, started a GoFundMe page for Leroy. Caldwell, he said, had major medical bills and although Leroy’s wife had a job, they were facing eviction. Caldwell staved off homelessness, but the fund fell far short of its $10,000 goal.

When Caldwell was last seen at the Mayweather Boxing Club, he was in a wheelchair. However, it was plain that he still had all of his faculties. “He was one of my favorite people to talk to,” said former WBC super featherweight champion Cornelius Boza-Edwards who helps run the place.

“When I heard that Leroy was in the hospital, I went over to see him, just to chat with him for a little while,” said Boza-Edwards. “But his wife, who I never met, had put a no-visitors rule in place and I wasn’t allowed up to his room. That was the first time that it dawned on me that Leroy might be seriously ill.”

“Leroy was a good guy,” said everyone I talked to about him since I learned of his passing. “He was in my corner helping [trainer-manager] Luis [Tapia] when I won my first title [against Sandra Yard at Colorado’s Sky Ute Casino in 2000], recalled Layla McCarter. “I will never forget how happy he was for me. Looking back that made it even more special.”

In researching this story, I stumbled on this item in the Oct. 4, 1979 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

“Heavyweight Mircea Simon of Torrance, silver medalist at the 1976 Olympics while representing his native Romania, was announced to have fought journeyman Leroy Caldwell of Las Vegas to a draw in Thursday night’s featured bout at the Olympic Auditorium.

However, in reviewing the fight, the California State Athletic Commission discovered an error in the tabulations. Recalculated, the scoring shows Caldwell the winner of a split decision.”

This story ran seven days after the fight. The correction never went into the record books. At boxrec, Leroy Caldwell’s final record is listed at 27-31-6. It should be 28-31-5.

We called it to boxrec’s attention and hopefully they will fix it. True, it wouldn’t bump Leroy’s record above .500, but here was a journeyman who was used and spit out by the boxing establishment (and disrespected by one unnoteworthy ring announcer) and it seems only proper to set the record straight.

Arne K. Lang’s third boxing book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” has rolled off the press. Published by McFarland, the book can be ordered directly from the publisher or via Amazon.

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Seasons Beatings from Philly where Local Fighters of Note are in Action This Weekend

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Seasons Beatings from Philly where Local Fighters of Note are in Action This Weekend

Tomorrow night (Friday, Dec. 8) begins a nice stretch of live boxing in the Philadelphia area after a relatively quiet fall schedule. These shows will wrap a bow on the 2023 fight schedule for the Delaware Valley with a slate of shows already scheduled for the early part of the upcoming new year.

This sudden boom, well overdue, is good for the Delaware Valley, for its fighters and its fight fans. So, while these shows aren’t large-scale, they are a great way for fight fans to learn about fighters they may see competing on those larger shows in the future.

Let’s look at what exactly fans are in for with the final shows of 2023.

Friday, December 8th – Wind Creek Events Center, Bethlehem, PA (Kings Promotions)

Jesse Hart (29-3) vs. Jeyson Minda (14-7-1) tops a massive 11-fight card. For years now, Marshall Kauffman’s Kings Promotions has put on successful shows in the Philadelphia region. Not only do they hit the mark from a commercial standpoint, but his shows always have entertaining fights where the result could go either way and this show should be no different.

Jesse Hart (pictured with Jarrett Hurd) finds himself somewhat in limbo in the sport. Staying active and keeping his tools sharp is crucial for Hart to continue to keep his name out there and work his way back into the rankings.

A powerful fighter who often finds himself in engaging battles, Hart’s three defeats happened against only two fighters — Gilberto Ramirez (twice) and Joe Smith, both former world champions. Since his last setback in 2020, Hart has won three fights on the local scene while enduring some setbacks outside of the ring due to hand injuries. Released from his contract with Top Rank, Hart finds himself in the position where his name and pedigree (he’s the son of former middleweight standout Eugene “Cyclone” Hart) coupled with a string of quality victories could open the door to another crack at a marquee name in the super middleweight or light heavyweight division.

Former super welterweight king Jarrett Hurd (24-3) takes on Tyi Edmonds (14-5). In his most recent fight back in March, Hurd returned to the ring after a long absence and was shockingly stopped in the tenth round by Armando Resendiz.  Against Edmonds, Hurd looks to prove that he still has elite-level abilities as he too tries to work his way back to the top. A much-needed victory would start that process while a third defeat in a row, especially if it’s physically taxing, would all but mark the end of having his name mentioned anywhere near the division’s best.

Julian Gonzalez (11-0-1) is a talented Kings Promotions fighter who packs a punch, especially for a super featherweight. The 22-year-old Reading, PA native continues his growth against Texas journeyman Juan Antonio Lopez (17-15-1). If successful, Gonzalez will set himself up for a bright 2024 that should see him face quality fringe contenders as well as other prospects which will lead to bigger fights down the road.

Saturday, December 9th – Showboat Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ (Champions Sports and Entertainment)

Philadelphia fan favorite Joey “The Tank” Dawejko (26-10-4, 14 KOs) is staying busy in the twilight of his career. He’s 3-0 thus far in 2023 which includes two exciting victories over Colby Madison (their first fight, a bruising tiff, will most likely be the 2023 Philadelphia Fight of the Year). On Saturday he returns to the ring to defend his WBC USA heavyweight title in an 8-round battle vs. Jesse Bryan (21-7-2, 16 KOs) of Jefferson City, Missouri. This fight headlines a nine-bout show by CSE which is trying to revive boxing on the boardwalk.

In the co-main, Glassboro, NJ native Derrick Webster (29-4-1) will take on the always durable Cleotis Pendarvis (22-19-2) in an 8-round battle of super middleweights.

Liverpool, NY super lightweight Bryce Mills (13-1, 4 KO) looks to add to his 7-fight winning streak when he battles the durable Tackie Annan (15-10) in a fight scheduled for six rounds. Mills has continued to grow his fan base in the northeast by taking part in action-packed fights from the opening bell. His fans tend to travel well and Saturday looks to be no different as a large contingent of his fans are expected to turn up in Atlantic City to support their young charge. It also helps that Mills, like Dawejko, has teamed up with Hall-of-Fame promoter J. Russell Peltz to help guide his professional career.

Edward Donovan (7-0), a super welterweight prospect from Limerick, Ireland, puts his undefeated record on the line when he battles tough Jetter Burgos (6-1, 5 KO) from the Bronx, NY. Puerto Rican lightweight Joey Borrero (11-1, 9 KO), along with super middleweight prospect Cali Box (2-0) from Franklin Township, NJ, will appear in separate fights.

Date TBD– 2300 Arena, Philadelphia, PA (R&B Promotions)

Tevin Farmer (32-5-1) and Patrick Okine (21-6-2) were slated to meet in the main event last Friday, Dec. 1, on a show at the always-fun 2300 Arena. At the last minute, the show was postponed. An e-mail announcing the unfortunate postponement stated that the show would be rescheduled soon. While a new date has yet to be locked in, all signs point toward the show coming to fruition at the close of 2023 or early in 2024.

A former IBF world super featherweight champion, Tevin Farmer was set to make his third appearance of 2023 as he continues to shake off the ring rust that formed after a much-needed break and continue his push toward becoming a two-time world title-holder. It’s crazy to think, but it’s already been more than three full years since Farmer lost his title to Jojo Diaz in January of 2020.

Farmer, who had a late start in the sport, turned pro without the glitz and glamour that accompanies a highly decorated amateur, but fought his way to the top, beating the odds to achieve his life’s dream of championship glory. His break from the sport following his defeat to Diaz was needed to reenergize him from both a physical and mental standpoint.

In Okine he will find himself in the ring with a sturdy opponent that has faced some of the top contenders in and around the lightweight division. “I wanted Tevin [Farmer] to stay active and keep sharpening his tools and Okine provides that opportunity for him,” stated Alex Barbosa, the promoter/matchmaker. “Okine is always tough and comes to win, which is just what Tevin needs at this point of his career.”

With the lightweight division having had a changing of the guard at the top in terms of the championships, Farmer, 33, just may get that second chance at the top of the mountain. And if he continues to stay active while racking up solid victories, it may come sooner rather than later.

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The IBHOF Class of 2024 includes Ricky Hatton, Michael Moorer, and Ivan Calderon

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The IBHOF Class of 2024 includes Ricky Hatton, Michael Moorer, and Ivan Calderon

The International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum in Canastota, New York, has unveiled its newest class of inductees. The Class of 2024 includes Ricky “The Hitman” HattonMichael “Double M” MoorerIvan “Iron Boy” Calderon and Diego “Chico” Corrales (posthumous) in the men’s Modern category; Jane “The Fleetwood Assassin” Couch and “La Guerrera” Ana Maria Torres in the Women’s modern category; trainer Kenny Adams, manager Jackie Kallen, and publicist Fred Sternburg in the Non-Participant category; journalist Wallace Matthews and broadcaster Nick Charles (posthumous) in the Observer category; Luis Angel Firpo (posthumous) in the Old Timer category and Theresa Kibby (posthumous) in the women’s Trailblazer category.

The inductees will be formally enshrined during the annual Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. The 2024 event, a four-day jamboree, commences on Thursday, June 6.

The IBHOF is located at Exit 34 of the New York Thruway. Hours of operation are Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Biographies on the Class of 2024 can be found on www.ibhof.com

Fred Sternburg was previously honored with the Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award by the Boxing Writers Association of America, an honor bestowed upon him in 2004. Rick Folstad interviewed Sternburg for a story that appeared on these pages in December of 2005.

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Ebanie Bridges Poised to Defend Her Title and Boost Her Brand in SanFran This Weekend

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Ebanie Bridges opposes late sub Miyo Yoshida on the undercard of Saturday’s Matchroom card in San Francisco featuring the WBC lightweight title fight between Regis Prograis and Devin Haney. It’s doubtful that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the show (Prograis vs Haney is a compelling match-up), but it’s a stone-cold lock that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the weigh-in. It goes at 1 pm Friday at the Chase Center and is open to the public.

This is all Bridges’ doing. She can fight more than a little, as Damon Runyon would have phrased it, but is best known for turning up at weigh-ins in lingerie so sexy that Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn averts his eyes to keep from blushing. Others can’t keep their eyes off the 37-year-old, well-endowed Australian and on Friday the paparazzi will crash the scene to capture images that will be all over the internet within hours.

This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Former opponent Shannon Courtenay, who saddled Bridges (9-1, 4 KOs) with her only defeat, chastised her for selling their fight for the wrong reasons and disrespecting the sport. Her most recent opponent, Shannon O’Connell, called her a skank and other terms of derision unfit for a family newspaper.

Bridges stopped her in the eighth round in what is her most gratifying win to date. “She made it personal,” says Ebanie. “It felt good to make her eat her words.”

Bridges, who set a withering pace, was making the first defense of the IBF bantamweight title she won with a comprehensive 10-round decision over Argentina’s long-reigning Maria Cecilia Roman. Shannon O’Connell, a fellow Aussie, entered that bout on an 8-fight winning streak that included hard-earned decisions over Australian standouts Taylah Robertson and Cherneka Johnson.

So, although Bridges vs O’Connell was contested in Leeds, England, it was something of the culmination of an Australian round-robin tournament, and it would be Ebanie Bridges that emerged as the Queen Bee.

Bridges has a platform on Only Fans. Known for its “adult” content, the web site is also a place where B-list celebrities go to monetize their fan base by promising a closer look into their personal lives. For attractive female celebs, that usually means displaying more skin that can be found in generic publicity photos, but well short of hard-core. Current Only Fans performers include recording artist Cardi B, actress Denise Richards, the former spouse of Charlie Sheen, actress Drea de Matteo, best known for portraying Adriana on “The Sopranos,” former “Baywatch” sex symbol Carmen Electra, boxer Mikaela Mayer, and former Miss USA Shanna Moakler who shares a daughter with Oscar de la Hoya.

Women that profit from cheesecake, to use an old word for racy photos, aren’t known for having the brightest bulbs between their ears but Bridges, despite embracing her nickname, the Blonde Bomber, doesn’t fit the stereotype. She’s no bimbo.

Ms. Bridges has two college degrees, an undergraduate degree in math and a master’s in secondary education. In her spare time, she finds solace in playing the piano and in drawing, a skill that she inherited from her father, a painter and commercial artist.

In her drawings, she is partial to British soccer coaches and athletes, in particular boxers. Some of her photos are embedded in her smart phone. These, I can attest, are very good. There was no mistaking her drawing of Sugar Ray Robinson. It ranked right up there with Stanley Weston whose illustrations adorned the covers of 57 issues of The Ring magazine.

Bridges is her own best publicist. It’s an attribute she shares with UFC superstar Conor McGregor.

It comes as no surprise to learn that they are well-acquainted. Bridges and McGregor sat together at the first fight between Katie Taylor and Chantelle Cameron. She is a spokesperson for the latest product that McGregor is pushing, Forged Irish Stout, a brand of beer that debuted at the Black Forge Inn, the Dublin pub that McGregor owns.

“I love Conor,” she says, “he’s lovely,” a rather odd adjective to apply to a man who once attacked a bus with a metal barricade at a UFC media event in Brooklyn, injuring three people.

“He’s great for my brand,” says Bridges of McGregor, “and I’m great for his brand.”

Like it or not, this is the new world order. This reporter is old enough to remember when colleges and universities had football teams. Now they have football franchises, which isn’t quite the same. A franchise requires a well-oiled marketing department to enhance the value of the brand.

Bridges got her first crack at a world title (the WBA version held by Shannon Courtenay) after only five pro fights against opponents who were collectively 12-25-5. Her opponent on Saturday, Miyo Yoshida, sports a 16-4 record and is coming off a loss.

This is fodder for critics of female boxing but, make no mistake, Bridges would be a tough out for any female bantamweight in the world and she has paid her dues. She had 30 amateur fights after previously training in karate, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. (In fairness to Matchroom’s matchmaker, he salvaged Saturday’s date for her, securing Yoshida after three previous opponents fell out.)

Looking ahead to 2024, Bridges envisions fighting England’s Nina Hughes, the WBA belt-holder, and then Denmark’s Dina Thorslund who owns the other two meaningful pieces of the bantamweight title. A match with Thorslund (currently 20-0, 8 KOs) with all four belts on the line would be a blockbuster and, by then, should it transpire, the Blonde Bombshell would undoubtedly be one of the most well-known boxers in the world.

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