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How To Box by Joe Louis: Part 2 – The Jab and the Hook

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In the build-up to Rocky Marciano’s first confrontation with Ezzard Charles, The Miami Herald cast an eye back to The Rock’s heartbreaking 1951 destruction of Joe Louis. In an article entitled “Louis Jab Hurt Rock, Boxing Bothers Him,” the newspaper recalled the testimony of Arthur Donovan, who refereed some twenty Joe Louis fights in his storied career. Donovan talked “half fearfully” of the Joe Louis jab and his concern that the Bomber would one day catch someone moving in, chin up and that the Champ would “break his neck.”

Everyone knows that Joe Louis is one of the greatest punchers of all time, that the unparalleled mixture of speed, power and accuracy combined to create one of the most devastating offensive machines in history, but his jab is now somewhat forgotten. Whilst YouTube and similar sights bless us with hours of boxing footage and allow a new generation to discover the ruination Louis wrought upon his opposition, these highlight packages often stress power punches and knockouts at the expense of the techniques that buy these scintillating moments—not least the jab.

Well, Louis did hurt Rocky Marciano with the jab. He hurt everyone he ever fought with the jab. Although, at 76 inches, Joe’s reach is two inches shorter than perennial peer Muhammad Ali and three inches shorter than a modern giant like Vitali Klitschko, I think it rests comfortably amongst some of the best jabs in heavyweight history. This was certainly not in question in his own time, the press labeling it “a piston of a punch,” “a brutal blow,” “Joe’s best punch” and according to the same Miami Herald article that recalled the discomfort it aroused in the era’s most preeminent referee (not to mention Rocky Marciano), “a punch that could rock a man back on his heels.”

And his left hook wasn’t bad either.

The Jab

“The left jab is seldom if ever a knockout blow,” says the 1948 British edition of How to Box by Joe Louis, “but many bouts are won by the skillful use of it. It is used to keep your opponent off balance and create opening for your more powerful blows.”

Anyone who has read the first part of this series, The Foundation of Skill, won’t be surprised to read that Joe Louis stressed disrupting the opponent’s balance as much as he stressed maximizing his own and it is indeed one of the major benefits of a busy, correct jab. Joe’s was absolutely correct and in the early phase of his career this is demonstrated beautifully in his desolation of Max Baer. Arguably his most frightening display of concentrated punching power, the fight is facilitated by Baer’s granite chin, which allows Louis to continue delivering crushing punches long after most men would have been under the care of the ringside doctor. But the jab is the punch that defines the fight.

It is also the only punch Joe throws for the first minute, underlining his technical maturity and reliance upon the punch Holman Williams drilled into him several years before. Film makes these punches appear extended or glancing, but these are the same punches that James J. Braddock described as a series of “light bulbs exploding in your face.” Louis has Baer under control from the first minute, and when Max finally throws his first punch, a leaping right hand that misses by more than a foot, Louis had already landed four jabs and a winging uppercut to the body (one count would have Louis missing just two punches the entire fight).

Moving away from the wild Baer but now sitting down even harder on the jab, Louis is clearly taking the advice in his manual to “jab through the mark, not at it, this will give you a follow-through effect.” He threw thirty-six assorted jabs in that first round and he threw them with wonderful variety mixing body blows with shots aimed at Baer’s mouth and higher on his head. He varies the speed of the jab beautifully, a skill all but lost today, he varies the power judiciously and in keeping with a wider tactical theme, for example throwing rangefinders as he begins to circle before sitting down on the snapping punches as he counters Baer‘s own jab, landing the shots that left Baer looking “like an Apache wearing war-paint” according to one writer.

Thirty-six jabs, and only a handful of other punches, but by the end of the round, Baer is all but beaten.

It is deeply ironic that what was the night upon which Joe’s jab matured to such devastating effect, he also happened to put on his first immortal power punching display. The jab is the punch that puts the “box” in “box-puncher” but Louis, as always, eclipsed his own skill with a display of violence so terrifying that it prompted Paul Gallico to write in The Daily News, “I wonder if his new bride’s heart beat a little with fear that this terrible thing was hers.”

The jab’s excellence is built primarily upon skill. It is not a punch that requires great speed to land quickly or great power to jolt the opponent. It can be the shortest punch, often travelling the shortest distance, from the lead hand to the head of the opponent boring in or from the shoulder of the fleet-footed matador trying to place the bull-rushing pressure-fighter under control. But like all punches, natural gifts help to cover shortcomings in technique. For Louis, proof of the perfection of his jab comes not on the night he met Baer, when the beginnings of his greatness were beginning to be understood, but many years later.

In August of 1951, broke and fighting only for the money, his speed and power having deserted him, a few pounds heavier than he had been in his prime, balding, trying to come back from his own failed comeback having already lost to Ezzard Charles more than a year earlier, Louis was embracing every single cliché that exists for a washed-up pug when he re-matched Cesar Brion.

At the opening bell that night, Brion bought with a brush of his shoulder what other men had paid for in blood and concussion in the previous two decades, bullying Louis back to the ropes as if he were nothing. But upon extracting himself, Louis goes directly to the jab and just like he did against Baer all those years before, he almost immediately has his opponent under control. His jab has evolved, just slightly, and he often snaps it up slightly, driving Brion’s head back a little more than the straight jab would, a heavy, thudding punch. Almost every time he lands it flush, Brion takes a step back, blinks, and thinks about the punch sportswriter Bill Corum called “the stiffest and surest jab the ring has ever seen.”

Brion tried to solve this punch by dipping deep and coming up with his own punches or showing head movement. Louis, by then a canny general, just hit him when he came up or when he stopped moving, now shooting the jab straight down the middle, his unerring accuracy and technique yet to desert him. The punch means Brion is reduced, on the outside, to throwing single shots, and even then reluctantly, as Louis tends to hit him with a jab either side. In the final round, Louis landed his first real burst of punches but he also threw twenty-six left jabs. This would leave him just outside the top ten for jabs thrown per-round in 2023. Joe Louis had a great jab, one of the best at his weight. It was so good he could beat ranked fighters with that punch alone, control ranked fighters with that punch alone. Perhaps it should not rank alongside the very, very best in the division and it seems likely that he could have been out-jabbed by the great technical giants, men like Sonny Liston and Larry Holmes, but I believe these may be the only fighters who I would rank clearly above him in this department. For various reasons of technique, accuracy, persistence, incredible variety and most of all the openings he would carve and the traps he would set with it, Louis can be ranked alongside the other jabbing behemoths in the open class, men like Wladimir Klitschko, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis.

Louis, like these men, was a fighter who could win a fight “on the jab alone.”

The Left Hook

“The shorter this blow,” says How to Box, “the better the effect.”

This is a summary of the Louis offence spoken specifically about the left hook. Joe’s hook was at its absolute best when he threw it downstairs and we are going to look at his body work in detail in Part Four, but when he went upstairs it was his shortest power punch. In his second title defense in 1938 against Nathan Mann, he proved it an unusually flexible punch, too, and it would remain the most varied and improvised finishing blow in his arsenal long after the press had begun criticizing him, in some cases justifiably, for being a “robotic fighter.” Louis fought along disciplined lines, operating almost exclusively in a given kill-zone, working to bring that kill-zone to the opponent or the opponent to that kill-zone but usually in pre-determined, technically proficient ways. Against Mann though, as the broad-shouldered challenger rushed him for the first time, Louis propelled himself sharply back and away. His left foot no longer in touch with the canvas, up on the toes of his right, Louis corkscrewed a whipcord of a hook from his loosely hanging left hand. This punch illustrates two things concerning the Louis hook. Firstly, the positioning of his jab-hand and the frequency with which he throws that punch makes it a blow he can disguise, a natural counter. Secondly, it underlines the strangest fact of all concerning the Louis left hook: he drove it with his right leg.

In Box Like the Pros, his own, more detailed manual on boxing, Joe Frazier is very clear on how the left foot should be used when throwing the punch that made him famous. It is to be kept firmly planted; it is to drive the punch; when you bring your left hip around to follow through keep the left foot planted; “adjust your balance as you follow through with the punch, move a little if you have to”; but keep the left foot planted.

Similarly, Bernard Hopkins stresses this left foot drive:

“I dip a little to the left and rotate slightly to the left, my body weight shifts from both legs to mostly the left one…as I bring the punch up I’m driving with the left leg and at the same time bringing my hips around…”

In How to Box by Joe Louis, the transfer of weight is through the right leg.

“From the proper stance…turn your body to the right, shifting your weight to the right leg, throw the left arm in an arc to the opponent’s head. Make sure to hit through the mark and not at it.”

This is not unheard of. I have been told that Ray Leonard threw and even taught the left hook right legged, or rather he was not a slave to the left leg and preferred to gain the leverage where he could. That sounds like Leonard, but it doesn’t really sound like Joe. It isn’t in keeping with Joe’s reputation for technical exactitude and this right foot pivot interested me.

Later in the second round against Mann we see Louis push through with the right foot for the hook once again. As Mann is finally baited forwards upon seeing Joe with his back to the ropes, the Champion throws out a lightning-fast softener, comes the other way with a clubbing punch to the side of Mann’s head before striking out with the punch the trap was set for, a left hook that combines the best attributes of the other two punches. Once more, Louis is turning through his right foot. Mann is stunned and almost goes to his haunches, his face an open question mark, his steps a trickling stream. It is a double blow for the men surprised by Louis, they come forwards as the aggressor into his kill-zone having landed some token punch (in this case a hard right hand) to which Joe gives ground before nearly taking the opponent’s head off with punches. And what punches! Louis still has his elbow crooked in the defensive position when he throws the first left hook, he’s throwing it across that famous and oft-quoted distance, mere-inches, perfectly disguised, impossible to see coming, the power generated in a fashion so brilliant and dynamic that they are almost beyond technically correct; that is, nobody would ever try to teach a fighter to punch in this fashion because it just doesn’t occur to most trainers that the person standing in front of them hitting the pads is the fistic equivalent of a primo ballerina. But it is perfect. The second punch was more fully born but it is still a mere forearm’s length in flight, punching all the way through the target.

Two more left hooks score the first knockdown of the fight just seconds later. Mann flapped after he felt the first one, arching back and to the side, but Louis looked like he was hitting a static heavy bag as he delivered and calmly made his way to the neutral corner. When the action resumed, Louis walked up to Mann and hit him with two more, one up, one down as the gutsy Connecticut man sagged on the ropes. The bell saved him and he wandered off to a neutral corner of his own, confused by the absence of a stool. The inevitable occurred at 1:56 in the third.

I’d nominate Mann as Joe’s best hooking performance, but it did not contain the most devastating hook he ever threw. Louis saved this dubious honour for a fighter who infuriated him personally more perhaps than even Max Schmeling, “Two Ton” Tony Galento. Employing the unfortunate language he has remained famous for, Galento (pictured on his backside) managed to find his way under Joe’s skin, before adding injury to insult by dropping him with a left of his own in the third. In the fourth, Louis sent over what may have been the punch of his career, a left hook which Joe says “started [Galento’s] mouth, nose and right eye bleeding.” There is a beautiful series of photographs in How to Box showing Louis cock and wing in that punch. We see him adjust it in flight so the knuckle part of the glove connects with the point of the chin before Louis follows all the way through, his left hand resting calmly in front of his right, Zen-like. As Galento is falling, he too is Zen-like, but for different reasons.

Also of interest: we see Louis pivoting through his right foot. Why? Perhaps it was just the way he threw them and when his trainer Jack Blackburn saw how well they worked he refused to adjust them. Perhaps Louis had a strange ambidextrousness where his left hook was concerned and like Ray Leonard he was able to generate torque with either one of his legs dependent upon circumstances; there do seem to be times when he is driving through his left.

Or just maybe, Joe Louis didn’t like the adjustment Joe Frazier describes at the end of his procedure for throwing the perfect left hook: “Adjust your balance as you follow through, move a little if you have to.” Maybe he found a better way to stay balanced. A more correct way, for him, to throw the punch. Stop—rewind that. There is no “better way” than Frazier’s way when a fighter is throwing a left hook, right?

Right?

If this question makes you uncomfortable, keep an eye out for Part Three. We’re going to talk about the right hand. We don’t have to worry about any peers butting in for that one.

None exist.

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Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

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One hundred years ago, Paris was the host city for the Summer Olympics. What goes around, comes around.

In the upcoming Paris Games, boxers will compete for medals in 13 categories. The number remains unchanged from Tokyo, but the ratio has been modified. In Tokyo, there were eight weight classes for men and five for women. The men have lost one and the women have gained one, so in 2024 it is seven and six.

Eight American boxers made it through the qualifying tournaments and will represent Uncle Sam in the City of Lights.

The U.S. boxing contingent in Paris

Men

Roscoe Hill, flyweight (51 kg), Spring TX

Jahmal Harvey, featherweight (57 kg), Oxon Hill, MD

Omari Jones, middleweight (71 kg), Orlando, FL

Joshua Edwards, super heavyweight, Houston, TX

Women

Jennifer Lozano, flyweight (50 kg), Laredo, Tx

Alyssa Mendoza, featherweight (57 kg), Caldwell, ID

Jajaira Gonzalez, lightweight (60 kg), Montclair, CA

Morelle McCane, welterweight (66 kg), Cleveland, OH

Paris, 1924

At the Paris Summer Games of 1924, boxers competed for medals in the eight standard weight classes. The competition was restricted to men. Female boxers were excluded until the 2012 Games in London where the women were sorted into three weight classes: flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight.

Twenty-seven nations sent one or more boxers to the 1924 Games. In total, there were 181 competitors. The United States and Great Britain had the largest squads. Each sent 16 men into the tournament, the maximum allowable as each nation was allowed two entrants in each of the weight classes.

The United States and Great Britain each walked away with two gold medals. The other gold medal winners represented Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and South Africa. But the U.S. team garnered the most medals, six overall including two silver and two bronze, two more than the runner-up, Great Britain.

What’s interesting is that three of the six U.S. medalists came out of the same gym, the Los Angeles Athletic Club. They were proteges of the club’s boxing instructor George Blake who would go on to become one of America’s top referees. The trio included both gold medalists, flyweight Fidel LaBarba and featherweight Jackie Fields, and silver medalist Joe Salas who had the misfortune of meeting Fields in the finals.

LaBarba and Fields were mature beyond their years. LaBarba was 18 years old and hadn’t yet completed high school when he secured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. Fields, a high school dropout, was even younger. He was 16 years, five months, and 11 days old on the day that he won his gold medal. That remains the record for the youngest boxer of any nationality to win Olympic gold.

Fields and LaBarba both went on to win world titles at the professional level. Let’s take a look at their post-Paris careers. We will start with Fields and save the brilliant LaBarba for another day.

Jackie Fields  

Jackie Fields was born Jacob Finkelstein in the Maxwell Street ghetto of Chicago. His father, an immigrant from Russia and a butcher by trade, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jackie was 14 years old.

Jackie Fields

Jackie Fields

Fields turned pro in February of 1925. Despite his tender age, he was fast-tracked owing to his Olympic pedigree. But his manager Gig Rooney blundered when he put Jackie in against Jimmy McLarnin in only his seventh pro fight. A baby-faced assassin, born in Northern Ireland and raised in Canada, McLarnin, destined to be remembered as an all-time great, was more advanced than Jackie and blasted him out in the second round.

Fields rebounded to win his next 16 fights. His signature win during this run was a 12-round newspaper decision over Sammy Mandell, the Rockford Sheik. Mandell was the reigning world lightweight champion, but because this was officially a no-decision fight, a concession to Mandell, the title could not change hands unless Fields knocked him out.

Fields’ skein ended at New York’s Polo Grounds where he was out-pointed across 10 rounds by Louis “Kid” Kaplan, a 108-fight veteran and former world featherweight title-holder. But Fields built his way back into contention and claimed the world welterweight title in March of 1929 by winning a 10-round decision over Young Jack Thompson at the Chicago Coliseum. They fought for the title vacated by Joe Dundee who was stripped of the belt for failing to defend his title in a timely manner.

The jubilation that Fields felt in winning the title was tempered by an ugly incident in the eighth round when a race riot broke out in the balcony. One man died when he jumped or was pushed off the balcony and scores were injured; “more than thirty” according to one report. Many ringsiders, to avoid flying objects, took refuge inside the ropes but the contest continued after the disturbance was quelled and the ring was cleared.

Fields made the first defense of the title against Joe Dundee. They fought at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit before an estimated 25,000.

Fields had Dundee on the canvas twice before Dundee was disqualified in the second round for a low blow. The punch was clearly intentional. Fields, to his great distress, wasn’t wearing a protective cup. Heading in, Joe Dundee was still recognized as the champion in New York, so one could say that Jackie Fields unified the title.

After a series of non-title fights, Fields lost the belt to old rival Young Jack Thompson. At the conclusion of the 15-round contest, Young Jack was a bloody mess – he would need to go to a hospital to have his lacerations repaired –but Thompson, who also came up the ladder in California rings, was fairly deemed the winner. This would be the last collaboration between Fields and Gig Rooney. The wily Jack “Doc” Kearns, who had managed Jack Dempsey and was then involved with Mickey Walker, horned right in and became Jackie’s new manager.

Kearns maneuvered Fields into a match with Lou Brouillard who had wrested the title from Thompson four months earlier and Fields rose to the occasion, winning a unanimous 10-round decision in Chicago to become a two-time world welterweight champion. It was a furious battle, wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. “[Fields] hit Brouillard with everything but the water bucket.”

After another series of non-title fights, Fields risked his belt against Young Corbett III. They fought at the baseball park in San Francisco before an estimated 15,000 on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1933.

Fields was damaged goods. He had suffered a detached retina in his right eye in a minor auto accident and there was no cure for it. Corbett III (Rafaele Giordano) was a southpaw which was all wrong for a boxer with blurred vision in his right eye. Jackie fought back valiantly after losing the first five rounds, but lost the decision. The referee’s card (6-3-1 for Corbett III) appeared a tad generous to the loser.

Fields retired after one more fight. A closer look at his final record (72-9-2, 31 KOs) shows that he had 19 fights with 10 men who held a world title at some point in their career, including six future Hall of Famers (Jimmy McLarnin, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Sammy Mandell, “Gorilla” Jones, Lou Brouillard, and Young Corbett III), and was 12-6-1 in these encounters. He was stopped only once, that by the great McLarnin in Jackie’s seventh pro fight.

Jackie Fields Post-Boxing

Fields wasn’t in good shape financially when he left the sport. His various investments were shambled by the stock market crash of 1929. For a time, he lived in Pennsylvania, first in Pittsburgh and then in Philadelphia where he was a distributor for the Wurlitzer juke box company and a sales executive with a distillery.

In 1957, he purchased an interest in a gambling establishment, the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. (Note: In Nevada, prior to 1967, public corporations were prohibited from owning or operating a property that housed a casino. Anyone purchasing one or more shares, called points, had to submit to a background check which did little to stanch the influence of the mob.)

Fields eventually sold his shares, but remained with the Tropicana in a public relations capacity. During the 1970s, he served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He passed away in 1987 at age 79 at a nursing home in Las Vegas after being hospitalized for a heart ailment. In 2004, he was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For all that he accomplished as a pro, Fields always insisted that his proudest moment came in Paris. “As I stood there, with the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, I cried like a baby, I was that thrilled.”

PHOTO: 2024 U.S. Olympian Roscoe Hill

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Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

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Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills Hotel is the flip side of a Motel 6. For the fun of it, we went to the hotel’s website and checked the rates for this coming weekend. For a party of two, the cheapest room has a base rate of $1248 per night. That’s before taxes. With taxes, the tab swells to $3,016 for a two-night stay on Friday and Saturday.

In a classy joint like this, one surmises that it would be fairly easy to rack up a $15,000 bill for incidentals if one got too frisky and broke a few things. Ryan Garcia would know.

On Saturday afternoon, June 8, Garcia was removed from the hotel in police handcuffs and subsequently charged with felony vandalism according to TMZ. By California law, any vandalism above $400 qualifies as a felony. Reports say Garcia trashed his room and a hallway to the tune of $15,000.

The boxer had been staying at the Waldorf Astoria since at least Wednesday when family members requested a welfare check, believing that he may be in some kind of distress. It isn’t known at this time if he shared the room with anyone. Reports say that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs as he was being led away from the property wearing what appeared to be a motorcycle helmet.

Garcia had been acting erratically even before he upset previously undefeated Devin Haney on April 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. His wonderful performance was tarnished by the fact that he came in overweight and was thus ineligible to strip Haney of his WBC world super lightweight title belt, and his reputation was sullied to a far greater extent when it came out that he had tested positive for a banned PED.

Since that memorable night in Brooklyn, Garcia has come to learn that his mother has breast cancer. This has apparently caused him considerable worry. “Ryan has been open about his struggles with mental health over the years, and at this time he is dealing with an immense emotional burden,” said Garcia’s attorney Darin Chavez. “The support and understanding from fans and the public are crucial as he navigates these personal challenges.”

By all accounts, Ryan Garcia, who turns 26 in August, has the largest social media following of any boxer in the English-speaking world. He is said to have 12 million followers on Instagram. While he was at the hotel, Garcia used his platform to assert that he hadn’t been paid all the money that was owed to him from the Haney fight. “Me too,” chimed in Devin Haney, which prompted this formal statement from Garcia’s promoter Golden Boy, the lead promoter of the April 30 event: “As we have always done with all our fighters, Golden Boy paid Ryan and Devin exactly what they are owed under their contracts. As with all PPV events, revenue comes in over time and additional payments will be made when more money is received. If they aren’t aware of this fact, we would hope that their managers are. Or perhaps Ryan and Devin should pay more attention to their contracts than their social media feeds.”

“The Whip”

Back in the days when the foremost boxing arena in the world was in the basement of London’s posh National Sporting Club – we’re going all the way back to the 1890s – the man whose unofficial job title was that of a whip was a key component of the operation. It was the whip’s responsibility to see that the show went on without awkward delays in the action. He lorded over the dressing room, making certain that each boxer was ready to go the moment he was summoned to the ring. It was important for the satisfaction of the patrons to maintain a seamless pace.

Boxing promoters still depend on whips today, although the name is no longer used. But if Don King employed a whip for his last show, the fellow certainly didn’t curry much sway with the talent. There were interminable delays leading up to the main event between Blair Cobbs and Adrien Broner, long recesses filled with idle chatter between panelists Tre’Sean Wiggins and Albert Haynesworth. Wiggins is a welterweight boxer who presumably has some sort of personal services contract with Don King. He was initially slated to fight on this card and when that fight fell out, he was shifted over to the broadcasting department. Haynesworth is a former all-pro NFL defensive tackle. Don’t look for him to replace Michael Strahan on those NFL telecasts anytime soon.

These unscheduled intermissions were not entirely unexpected. Adrien Broner showed up late at the press conference two days earlier where he added some sauce to the most cringe-worthy boxing press conference ever, quite an achievement considering that the bar had been set so high. Broner turned pro with the firm expectation that he would eventually surpass Floyd Mayweather Jr. in career earnings. He emulates Floyd in one regard; he moves through the world on Mayweather Time.

The most bizarre moment in this five-fight Friday Night telecast (a $40 pay-pre-view) came when the ring announcer, at the behest of King, asked the crowd to stand in solemn remembrance of Jose Sulaiman while the timekeeper hit the gong 10 times. The 10-bell memorial is a nice tradition in boxing, but Sulaiman, the former president of the World Boxing Council, passed away on Jan.16, 2014. Egads, the man’s been dead for 10 years.

The 10-round welterweight contest between Cobbs and Broner was for the “People’s Championship.” For the record, Cobbs won a unanimous decision. Scoring at home, I gave Broner one round.

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Arne K. Lang is editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science. He is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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Canastota Chronicles 2024

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I have been attending at least some part of Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend each year it has been held since 2014. Once again, I made my annual trip to Canastota for three days from Thursday until Saturday. As usual I came back home to Buffalo with memories that will last a lifetime.

Before I get started, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the big reasons I return to Canastota every year. From the folks who work at the Hall of Fame, to the volunteers, to the fans, I have made so many great friends over the years. The open and receptive nature of the Canastota people is something truly special. You feel welcome from the moment you set foot on the grounds until you leave. As always, this year I rekindled old friendships and made many new ones.

With that said, here is my personal experience from the three days I spent in Canastota this past weekend

Thursday

Kind of like a kid at Christmas I did not get much sleep Wednesday night and was up very early on Thursday. I left the house before 7:00 in the morning for the approximate  two-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo to Canastota. I was on the grounds before 10:00.

After saying hello to many people, I focused in on the ringside lectures which started around 1:00. This year I made it a goal to attend all of them and did just that.

Jackie Kallen kicked things off and talked about how she had to overcome many challenges in a male-dominated sport to get to where she needed to get in her career. She also spoke glowingly of Emanuel Steward who helped get her into the sport and guided her along the way.

Ivan Calderon was next and spoke that he was genuinely surprised to get inducted. He stated that because of his style in the ring along with having limited knockouts, he didn’t think he’d ever get the support needed to get in the Hall of Fame.

Several attendees then got on stage for the opening bell ceremony which was rung by Ricky Hatton.

Finally, the day closed out with Julian Jackson and Jesse James Leija. Both described overcoming challenges in the ring with Leija talking about how he overcame adversity to beat Francisco Bojado and Jackson describing how he found the energy to rally back against Herol Graham.

After the day’s festivities on the Hall of Fame Grounds, I headed over to Turning Stone Resort & Casino. Turning Stone hosts many events for the weekend and is a natural gathering place for those in attendance for Hall of Fame Weekend.

Since there are so many boxing people condensed in such a relatively small area there is a good chance of randomly bumping into someone in the sport. As was my luck, after I arrived at Turning Stone I took a seat in a small lounge that was unoccupied. A few moments later Ricky Hatton came walking into the same area and I got a dream chance to have a short private talk with one of my all-time favorite fighters.

Friday

Michael Moorer kicked things off Friday and though he didn’t go into a lot of details on various topics he did talk about his days at Kronk as well as his relationship with Emanuel Steward.

Jane Couch and Ana Maria Torres were next. Both discussed the challenges they faced breaking into the sport and getting any sort of recognition from the public. Couch was brought to tears while stating that she often fought without getting paid. When pressed as to why she wanted to continue her path in boxing, she responded that it was because she wanted to prove she could make it.

Butterbean was next up. He gave an inspirational talk about how he recently overcame not being able to walk for several years and rededicated his life to getting healthy again. Butterbean also spoke some about his contest with Larry Holmes and said that while he may not have liked Holmes during the build-up to the event, they have since become good friends.

The fist casting was next where the fighters have their fists molded to be housed for eternity at the Hall of Fame.

As the fist casting ended, I waited for my father-in-law to arrive to head on back to Turning Stone to attend the fights that evening. While waiting I started chatting with an individual who looked somewhat familiar to me. After talking for a little bit I got his name, Perry Ballard.

Perry was a professional boxer with a record of 27-2-1 with 20 KO’s and many fight fans may remember him for his fight with Hector Camacho that took place toward the tail end of Camacho’s career. Perry was accompanied by his son Chase to Canastota. Chase is also a professional boxer with a record of 4-1 with 4 KO’s and is currently campaigning as a featherweight. It’s these kind of conversations that I really enjoy during HOF weekend as Perry told me some great stories about his career and Chase talked to me about some of his pro fights. For a fan like me, interactions are priceless.

Saturday

It was back to the HOF Grounds bright and early on Saturday. There is a card/memorabilia show that takes place concurrent with the Ringside Lectures but I wanted to keep to my goal of attending to all the lectures.

Ray Mercer and Lamon Brewster started off the day. Mercer discussed how he recently quit alcohol and had gotten into much better shape.

Brewster spoke very eloquently about specific moments in his career. Of note he talked about his fight with Kali Meehan which was the first title defense for Brewster of the WBO heavyweight title he won from Wladimir Klitschko.  Brewster said Meehan was a former sparring partner and while they worked together Brewster had gotten to know Meehan’s family. According to Brewster when he arrived at the Mandalay Bay a few days before the fight Meehan’s family was there in the hotel lobby and Meehan’s kids all ran over to hug him. Brewster said that played on his mind when he got in the ring with Meehan and advised all boxers to never fight their former sparring partners.

Jim Lampley and Ricky Hatton were next on stage. This was certainly one of the best Ringside Lectures I have ever attended. Hatton talked about some of the partying and what made him such a popular figure in the UK. Lampley told a great story about his time at ABC working with Howard Cosell.

Hatton and Lampley

Hatton and Lampley

The referees took the stage after and this panel included Mark Nelson who answered questions regarding how he handled the recent Oleksandr Usyk-Tyson Fury heavyweight title unification fight. Erik Morales then followed and talked about various fights in his HOF career.

Finally, it was Sebastian and Gabriela Fundora’s turn to talk to the fans. While their talk was entertaining, even including Sebastian reminding everyone that he first called out Errol Spence Jr. two years ago here in Canastota during a similar talk, it was what happened afterward that stood out.

The Fundora Siblings

The Fundora Siblings

Usually after participants finish their time on stage, they head off to an area to sign autographs. As noted, the Fundoras’ were last and many people waited around to get their autograph/photo opportunity once their talk concluded. It was a pretty lengthy line and usually participants sign for a little time before heading off.

For well over an hour the Fundoras’ sat and honored every single fan request. And they did not leave the grounds until every fan that wanted to meet them did so. It was quite impressive to witness and they showed why they are such great ambassadors for the sport.

That was it for me. Another year down and already making my plans for 2025. I encourage any boxing fan who has yet to do so to make the trip to Canastota just once for Hall of Fame Weekend. I guarantee it will be an experience that will include so many memories that you will want to keep coming back to Canastota year in and year out.

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