Category Archives: Boxing

A throwback … with tefillin

To me, boxing is a romantic sport, and partially, that’s why I love it*. Obviously, not the punching and the blood from the eyebrows and the brain damage and the hematomas, though there is a certain amount of gladiator romanticism I suppose. No, boxing is romantic because it reminds us of a great era of sports. And, I might add, a great era of sports writing.

*When people discover I’m a sports writer, the first question I invariably receive is this: so, what’s your favorite sport? I always tell them boxing, because 1) it really is my favorite sport and 2) it’s not what anyone expects you to say. Usually, they’re like, “Really?” and I’m like, “Yeah,” and then the conversation takes a different turn. Hardly anybody knows anything about boxing. Which is cool, because normally, I’d rather not talk about sports anyway.

I’ve thought about this many times, but I wonder how fantastic it’d have been to be a sports writer in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Never mind the Internet, and shorts and flip-flops to work, and anonymous comments on web sites. Give me train rides, fedoras, Western Union and (actual) letters to the editors. Yeah, I know it’s probably easier being a sports writer today (although it’s also probably more brutal as well). But it’s fun to think back to the times in which you’re grandparents went to war, came home, got married and had two kids. And then read the afternoon paper after getting home from the factory to see what Grantland Rice and Red Smith had to say.

If I had to sum up why I think boxing is romantic in 300 pages, I’d go with this: The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling. It’s got train rides and big-time fights and cigar smoke and typewriters. It’s also a time when the Jews were actually pretty good at sports. It was a time of Battling Levinsky and Maxie Rosenbloom and Lew Tendler. Jews weren’t only successful in banking and in Hollywood (and starring as the punchline in so many ethnic jokes). They were successful in the ring as well.

This, of course, was a long time ago.

On Saturday, though, another Jew – a rabbinical student, no less – will take his shot at retaining his world championship. His name is Yuri Foreman, and he’s making a name for himself (partially, because he is, in fact, Jewish). He was actually on the undercard on a fight card I covered years ago (Vernon Forrest vs. Ricardo Mayorga, part I), and he was kind of a novelty. He was a Jewish fighter who was talented but not much fun to watch. That night, he knocked out a 4-2 fighter named Will Evans in the first round. But his fights weren’t enthralling. He’s proven he doesn’t have much power (only eight knockouts in 28 undefeated fights). He’s not a draw.

Since I saw him seven years ago – in just the eighth fight of his career – his stock has risen. He beat a quality guy named Daniel Santos in his last fight to win a light middleweight world title. This Saturday, he’ll fight the most high profile opponent of his career in Miguel Cotto, once a ferocious fighter who might be on the downside of what had been a standout career. A Jew vs. a Puerto Rican in the middle of the Bronx. Does it get much more old school than that?

The fight won’t begin until about 11:15 p.m., because Foreman observes the Sabbath. Which means he can’t leave his hotel until after sunset marks the end of the Jewish day of rest. He’ll fight Cotto in right field of Yankee Stadium – another relic of the old fight game (except this obviously isn’t the same stadium where Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton and where Dempsey, Robinson, Louis and Marciano once showcased their skills)

I saw most of the Santos fight a few months back. Like most of Foreman’s bouts, he wasn’t particularly enthralling. But he’s one of my people, so I’ll watch with interest what occurs Saturday night. I’ll watch because he’s Jewish, but I’ll also watch because it’ll remind me of what I perceive boxing of the 1930s, 40s and 50s to be.

A time of romance where a Jew could be champion of the world.

Sometimes I hate boxing

Paulie Malignaggi is one of my favorite boxers to watch. He’s not well known in the mainstream. He’s got almost no power in his brittle hands. He’s a pure boxer in an age when the mainstream fan doesn’t normally like to watch purveyors of the sweet science.

Yes, I can see why you would hate him.

He’s obnoxious while promoting a fight. He wears deplorable dreadlocks in the ring. He sported ridiculous trunks last Saturday. He’s brash and outspoken and there’s almost no chance of a knockout if you happen to catch him on TV.

But I love him. I’ve never not been entertained watching Malignaggi fight. He’s an underdog whenever he takes on a top-flight opponent, and because he has very little punching power, he has to be perfect in each round to win it. Especially when he’s fighting a Miguel Cotto or a Ricky Hatton – neither of whom could dispose of him before the 10th round in their victories against him.

Last weekend, Malignaggi traveled to Houston to face hometown hero Juan Diaz, a very good boxer in his own right. Malignaggi could foresee what was to happen. He was fighting a boxer in the opponent’s hometown in front of a Texas referee (Laurence Cole) while two Texas judges (Gale Van Hoy and Raul Caiz Sr.) and an Oklahoma judge (David Sutherland) scored it. Malignaggi is a 140-pound fighter, and he struggles to make that weight. This bout was contracted at 138 1/2 pounds. It was contested in a small ring, another strike against a mover and shaker like Malignaggi.

In an interview with HBO analyst Max Kellerman before the fight, Malignaggi said the deck was stacked against him, that he fought against having Van Hoy and Caiz at ringside, that the original contract with a neutral judge had not been honored. He knew, because he’s no knockout artist, that he was in trouble. The old boxing axiom about a fighter needing to knock out his opponent to get a draw from the hometown judges certainly applied here.

Then, Malignaggi went out and fought one of the best fights of his life. And you know what? He lost. Unanimously. In the judgment of two Texans and an official from the next state over. This is why boxing sucks sometimes.

I scored the fight for Malignaggi 115-113, as did HBO’s unofficial ringside observer Harold Lederman. It was close either way, and Caiz thought so too with his 115-113 scorecard victory for Diaz. Sutherland had it 116-112. Van Hoy had it an almost unbelievable 118-110.

When he heard the decision, Malignaggi nodded, because it’s what he expected. It’s what I expected as well. The hometown fighter with the hometown judges usually gets the victory, deserved or not. Malignaggi was upset after the fight – deservedly so – and he acted like an uncensored baby in the postfight interview. The Houston crowd booed every second of his tirade.

But that’s OK. I enjoy watching him fight, I laugh when he talks trash and I hope he gets another chance on a major TV card. He’s a pure boxer, and that’s what I enjoy the most. He lost to a pretty good fighter on Saturday, yet Malignaggi continued to prove he’s world class inside the ring. But he’s a boxer, and this is what happens sometimes.

“Boxing is full of shit, man,” he yelled after the fight. “I used to love this sport. Boxing is full of shit every fucking fight.”

Yep. Sometimes, it seems that way.

Another fighter lost …

… another senseless death, another tragedy.

This time, it was Vernon Forrest (you can read a little about his bio and how he was killed in Atlanta last Saturday night right here in the AJC). And again, another boxer dies violently, tragically. A few weeks ago, Arturo Gatti was killed (allegedly by his wife, though some reports now question whether he took his own life). Now, Forrest – a good fighter, a good champion and a good ambassador to those in need – is gone.


Forrest was from Augusta, Ga., and since I worked at the Augusta Chronicle from 2002-04, I had the opportunity to cover two of his big fights. The first occurred in Indianapolis for his second matchup with Shane Mosley – Forrest won a unanimous decision – and it was the first big travel trip I made while working for a newspaper. The second happened in Temecula, Calif., where Nicaraguan crazy man Ricardo Mayorga knocked out Forrest in the third round.

Forrest hated my paper – he actually didn’t associate himself much with Augusta much after he left and moved to Atlanta – and I don’t think he thought much of me and my knowledge of boxing. I came to that conclusion when he informed me, “Man, you don’t know shit about boxing,” when I interviewed him in his hotel suite a couple days before the Mayorga tussle.

But his charity work was impressive, and many people who knew him raved about his generosity.

At one point, he was one of the best fighters in the world, beating Mosley twice and winning three world titles. Now, he’s gone. But not forgotten by those who knew him and loved him. And not forgotten by me.

That night in the hotel suite while I interviewed him, I asked him a rather innocuous question to which I should have known the answer before I began our talk. He basically chastised me for being unprepared. It was not a great interview, and most of that was my fault. But I learned a valuable lesson from him that night. Be prepared. Know what the hell you’re talking about before you go in for the interview. Don’t ask a stupid question if it’s something you can look up beforehand. It’s something I’ll always remember.

RIP, Champ.

Media credential for Forrest-Mosley II in 2002.

Media credential for Forrest-Mosley II in 2002.

Blood and guts warrior

Jan. 29, 2005, a snowy day in Philadelphia. I was in town to cover the Xavier basketball team facing one of the Atlantic 10 Philly teams. Either La Salle in glorious Tom Gola Arena or St. Joseph’s in Memorial Alumni Fieldhouse (nothing more than a high school gym, but one of my favorite arenas in the conference). I don’t remember which. It was an afternoon game, and I probably could have flown home that Saturday night. But when I made my travel plans a few months prior, I noticed the Xavier women were playing the Temple women in Philly the next afternoon. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. I would have flown him Saturday night anyway.

But I knew there would be someone keeping me in town a little extra longer, someone who would guarantee a great Saturday night, somebody who would honor me with his presence, somebody who would drag me 45 minutes to Atlantic City. His name was Arturo Gatti.


Gatti, I think I can say, is my favorite fighter of all time. So many of his matches were drop-your-jaw incredible. There were the fights with Gabe Ruelas, Angel Manfredy, two with Ivan Robinson, three stunners with Mickey Ward. Look on You Tube, and you can find an incredible Gatti moment with your first click. He wasn’t the most talented fighter in the world – losses to Alfonso Gomez (the fight that whispered to Gatti that he was through as a pro), Ward and Manfredy prove that – but he was perhaps the most fun to watch (he did win two world titles, it should be noted). Gatti would be out of the fight, on the verge of taking a rest on the canvas for good, cut over both eyes, exhausted, hurt, dizzy, probably ready to vomit. And sometimes, he’d land that one punch on his opponent that would end the fight for good. Somehow, that opponent, not Gatti, was on the mat, unable to rise. Sometimes, Gatti would resist every reason in the world to quit and start fighting back. Take this for instance. Round nine in the first Ward fight. Probably the greatest round I’ve ever witnessed in one of the best fights I’ve ever seen (edged out, of course, by the first Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo match).

That was Gatti. Full of hurt and heart, trying to land blows of his own.

That’s why I wanted to stay over in Philadelphia one extra night. So I could drive to AC in a snowstorm to watch him box Jesse James Leija. I made my way over to Boardwalk Hall, found my seat in the sold-out arena and watched Gatti light up the night. Wasn’t a great fight, though there was an exciting knockout in the fifth round. But it was a pleasure just to watch him in his fifth-to-last fight. A legend on the slow decline, but a legend nonetheless.

Gatti died last weekend, allegedly strangled by his wife while drunkingly asleep on vacation in Brazil. I felt terrible when I heard. I feel terrible right now. I’ll treasure my own Gatti memory. I’ll try not to compare every other fighter to him, my favorite. They’d all come up short, anyway. RIP to one of the best.