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The Thrill of Meeting A Boxing Great

Biofile: Willie Pep Interview-media-1

 

By Scoop Malinowski

It’s always a thrill to watch a big fight but it’s an even greater rush of excitement to actually meet a super hero of the boxing world.

We all remember our first encounters of being in the presence of a boxing legend – mine was as a teenager in 1980 at Deer Lake with Muhammad Ali on a Sunday morning.  I had nothing coherent to say other than to just look at him in awe as he signed my boxing magazines after thumbing through them for about half a minute, apparently looking at the pictures. Still it was a priceless experience and the photo I have with Ali is as cherished as just about anything I own.

I decided to ask various people associated with boxing, in one way or another, for their first memories of meeting a big time boxing hero…

 
Dan Burke: “Twenty years ago I stayed at this palace in Panama when I was playing with the Salsa/Latin band out of New York City. I remember Roberto Duran was generous to a fault. I was able to take some good photos there with Roberto. I also saw some photos at his house of him, there was one with Duran and Sugar Ray in a restaurant laughing together. I was shocked when he told me he was friends with Sugar Ray Leonard. I said, really? He said yeah – we made millions off each other. Duran remains my favorite fighter of all time. He saw us at a hotel we were playing in Panama. After the first set someone from his entourage said he wants to meet the entire band. I couldn’t believe he was out there! I sat down next to him and he ordered an entire bottle of Baccardi rum for me when I asked for a drink. Fantastic! He also had a Salsa band of his own. He sat in with us, too. But he wasn’t much of a singer. He later called for a bus to pick us up the following morning at 9:00 am to party at his house which wound up going two days straight. We just got to bed a couple hours earlier. I vividly remember standing in the pool playing the trumpet with Roberto Duran. We actually had to sneak out of his house we were so tired, but feared we would insult him. Then Duran went to another gig of ours. Someone from his entourage got into a fight with a guy who actually pulled out a gun! The crowd dispersed and Duran jumped in front of his friend telling the guy to go ahead and shoot him. Duran dared the guy to shoot him! For a moment I thought I was going to witness Duran getting murdered in Panama. The guy with the gun ended up backing down and went away. It was unbelievable. ”

Biofile: Roberto Duran Interview-media-1

 

 

 

 

 

Philip H. Anselmo: “The first boxer? I’m not too sure, but I used to frequent Lynn Ball’s gym in Dallas, so he’s one. He fought at all different weights. He fought Nigel Benn at super-middle, then Michael Dokes at heavy. Super cool guy. I never sparred him, thank goodness, but I worked his corner when HE did some sparring [laughs]. Also, while on tour in Europe in the early 1990’s, out of nowhere, I ran into Marvelous Marvin Haggler in Milan Italy. whatta cool dude! By some weird stroke of circumstance, he was doing business in the same hotel we were staying. I dropped my stuff off in the room and bolted back downstairs, just hoping to get an autograph or something. The guy finished his meeting and talked candidly with me for over an hour! Unreal!”

Jonny Hirschbein: “I was at the premiere of ‘The Hurricane,’ the movie about Ruben Carter. As a kid, I had stolen a first edition of his book, “The 16th Round,” from a used book store and kept it ever since. I brought that book to the premiere and at the after-party. and there he was. The Hurricane himself. I approached him with the book. We were alone. And when he saw the book, he said, ‘Where did you ever find an old copy like this?’ I answered, ‘I stole it. ‘ To which he replied, ‘Then I’ll sign it. ‘ And he did. ”

Sean Gibbons: “Sean O’Grady was the first real boxer I’ve ever seen. I saw Sean O’Grady box Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez at The Forum. About 18,000 Mexicans and three white people – me, my mom and dad. Quite a memory. Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez stopped Sean in the fourth round. His dad stopped it in the corner. Sean came out and kicked butt for two rounds and then hit the wall.  He was only 17-years-old at the time. ”

John Scully: “I have been lucky enough to meet Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns several times over the years including twice in a three-week span over the course of the summer of 2005. The most memorable time by far, though, was our very first meeting. I had always looked up to Tommy Hearns. I always respected him and was awed by him because of four particular fights he participated in. The crushing of Pipino Cuevas, The skills he showed in the first fight with Sugar Ray, the warrior mentality he showed against Hagler, and the unbelievable jab-right hand he showed against Duran. You also cannot forgot how he outboxed one of the greatest pure boxers ever in Wilfred Benitez.”

“The first time I ever saw Thomas Hearns in person was in June of 1996 when I was in Jacksonville, Florida for Roy’s fight with Eric Lucas and Tommy was there, too. I always have my camera with me at fights because you just never know who you will run across at a boxing match. I walked up to him during a break in fights, figuring I would use our mutual friendship with James Toney as a way to break the ice and begin a conversation with him. I said something about James and how he used to talk about Tommy with a lot of respect. Tommy just kind of looked down at me and didn’t say anything in reply. It was like I was not even there. I know he heard me because I was less than two feet away and we were looking at each other dead in the eyes.”

“I had never met him before and I thought to myself, ‘Aww, man. Maybe he had too many fights. Maybe he doesn’t understand what I am saying. ‘ I got a little nervous. I felt kind of like I was on the spot, I didn’t quite know what to do, so I just continued talking. ‘Yeah, James always respected you when we talked. Have you seen him lately?’ I asked. Tommy just glared at me with absolutely no expression on his face. Nothing. Just a blank stare. “Now, I had just fought Henry Maske a month earlier for the world light heavyweight title and, not that long before this moment, I had been introduced to the crowd between fights along with Tommy and the other fighters and athletes and entertainers who were in attendance and for a few seconds I thought maybe Tommy saw me as a potential opponent at 175 pounds and just didn’t want to be friendly with me. Maybe he’s trying to intimidate me, I thought to myself.”

“At this point I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable because if he didn’t at least say something to me I was just going to have to turn around and walk away, leaving the champ standing there in what appeared to be a daze. I didn’t want to do that to him so I started to fool around a little bit. I know there had to be people watching all this happen. So I looked right into Tommy’s eyes and while he was staring at me I slowly got up on my tippy-toes and kind of made an Ali type of googly eyes face at him, thinking THAT would break him up and he would laugh. So there I am on my tippy-toes, making googly-eye faces right into the face of Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and he is glaring at me. Still no change of expression. At this point I am feeling sad for Tommy, thinking boxing has done him in. So before the moment gets any more uncomfortable I come down off my tippy-toes and kind of carefully, softly, pat him on the shoulder and say, ‘Well, it’s been nice talking to you. ‘ I turn to leave and take a couple steps when suddenly I hear loud laughing from behind me and as I begin to turn back around Tommy is grabbing me from behind, laughing and saying, ‘No, man I was only playin’ with you!! Let’s take that picture. ”

Seth Horowitz: “The first time I met a professional boxer was Tommy ‘The Hit Man’ Hearns. He was doing a sparring match demonstration for charity with Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace, a karate expert, at the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami. And I’ll never forget what a big smile Tommy Hearns had on his face when I saw him afterwards. What an incredible person, who nice and forthcoming he was. Boxers in action could be scary looking people. And after he was very sweet and I just remember that big smile. Left a very memorable mark on a young boxing fan. I had to be 12-years-old, tops. ”

Don Elbaum: “The first fight I ever saw was my uncle Danny who was an amateur boxer, an incredible boxer, 42 fights, all wins, 41 knockouts. And he took me to Sargent Field and I saw Willie Pep. I’m eight-years-old in Erie, PA and I just became so mesmerized watching this guy in the ring – Willie Pep. I never knew anything about boxing till I watched this fight. My uncle introduced me to him after the fight. And that’s the first professional boxer that I ever met. It was in Bedford, MA against Paulie Jackson. That got me into boxing. I met him after that, it was like, Wow. He was just an incredible boxer, his speed, his ability. The thing that stuck in my mind was that Paulie Jackson got him into a corner and in my mind, it was like Paulie threw 50-60 punches and never hit Pep with one shot. Pep just slid by and moved out and all the sudden put Paulie into the corner. And it just stuck in my mind and I figured that’s what I want to do. My uncle told me that is one of the greatest fighters ever. I was a little bit awestruck. And, incredibly, in one of Pep’s last fights he fought for me in Johnstown, PA which was also a thrill. I always kept in touch with Willie, until he passed away. ”

Aaron Pryor Jr. : “I’ve been meeting boxers since I was young. I met Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Tyson, I met everybody. Some I couldn’t even remember I was so little. I got pictures with them. I met Tyson at the end of his career, at one of his last fights in Louisville, Kentucky. I was impressed with him. He’s a very nice guy. Him and my dad were really good friends like that. When I met him I was very impressed. ”

Fred Sternburg: “The first famous boxers I ever met were Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. It was the fall of 1986 and my company was running the press conference announcing their fight, at the brand new Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. I had never worked a boxing press conference before so what a way to break in – announcing the biggest fight of the decade!”

“Both guys were great. Very professional and courteous to everyone – except each other – a miracle considering how hectic it was. Since this was THE press conference, media from around the world descended on us. Before we started we had each fighter do a live shot with the Washington, D. C. and Baltimore network affiliates, plus the networks themselves, for approximately 7 to 10 minutes each. We literally had crews lined up with three chairs in front of the cameras and I had a stopwatch to make sure everyone stayed on schedule. The two biggest names in boxing and I’m literally stopping interviews, moving Leonard and Hagler to the next set of seats and starting the routine over and over again, going the length of the room. I sweated through my suit but both fighters took their cues from me and followed my instructions like I knew what I was doing. I’ll never forget it. ”

Wladimir Klitschko: “I don’t remember who the first big boxing champ I met. I guess Muhammad Ali was the first and real one at the Olympics. Just met him, with no conversation. ”

Gary Marinoff: “I went to this Russian club in Brighton Beach. I met Vitali there and I said to him, Wow, I’m a big fan of yours, can I have your autograph? He went, Hmm, big fan. I do more than autograph. I get picture for you. Wait. Then he went into his office and he got the picture and signed it. And that was a big thing. The next time I saw Vitali was the day of his fight against Kirk Johnson. It was about ten o’clock in the morning, it was December, and it was a big snowstorm. I saw Vitali jogging in the snow by himself in ten degree weather, outside of The Garden. With the snow falling. And he didn’t give a damn how cold it was. He was jogging outside on Seventh Ave. right in front of The Garden, getting himself ready to fight that night. He was wearing shorts and a jacket in the middle of a snowstorm and he was jogging on the day of the fight. It was unbelievable. “

 

About Scoop Malinowski

Author of six books including "Muhammad Ali: Portrait of a Champion" and "Heavyweight Armageddon: The Lewis versus Tyson Championship Battle" available at amazon