- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Bert Sugar was a friend of mine since I met him shortly after arriving on the boxing beat in 2000. We had a lot of laughs and countless great boxing discussions over the past dozen years or so.
I called him "Uncle" Bert. And he would respond by calling me "Uncle" Dan.
And you know what? For all the time we hung out together, I never once saw him without the ubiquitous fedora on his head or a cigar -- often unlit, but there for him to chew on -- in his hand.
He also was probably the only person I know who could get away with wearing the most hideous plaid or striped pants, of which he was so fond.
But that was Bert. He stood out in the crowd and he liked it that way. He was a flamboyant, nonstop joker, even if his jokes were usually bad. But he could get away with them because just listening to him crack himself up when he told them made even the biggest groaner funny just because he was telling it.
Bert died Sunday at age 75, and the big fight press rooms -- and the hotel bars -- will never be the same. He was an accomplished author, magazine editor, historian, television and radio personality, 2005 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee and all-around man of the world, whom I was privileged to know and call a friend.
In many ways, he was boxing to a lot of people because he had been around the fight scene seemingly forever and was recognizable to millions because of his countless television and movie appearances. One joke I heard him tell a million times was that he had been around so long that he covered Cain versus Abel. He never said whom he had picked to win that one.
He usually had multiple book projects going at the same time and, as he liked to joke, the reason he had so many at once was because he could never finish any of them. But that was just his typical self-deprecating humor. For all of his hyperbole, Bert was a pretty modest guy. In fact, he authored more than 80 books on various topics and wrote thousands of articles for all kinds of publications. He was a walking encyclopedia on baseball and football, but boxing was what he knew and loved best.
When he was writing an update for his classic "The 100 Greatest Boxers Of All Time" several years ago, I was honored that he called me for my input on his list and then used some of my quotes in the book for his entry on Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez, the great former strawweight and junior flyweight champion whom Bert knew was one of my favorite fighters.
Bert was a brilliant guy and a law school graduate, but he never seemed to take things too seriously. He lived for the big fight week. In more recent years, he would come out to Las Vegas to make appearances on behalf of HBO PPV. He would do countless radio interviews to talk about the fight, and anything else he felt like. He would crack a few bad jokes and generally put everyone listening in a good mood. But after a long day of gabbing about the fight, he wasn't done.
He'd finish with his schedule and then you would undoubtedly find him holding court at the hotel bar, talking boxing -- with his fight friends and strangers, too -- although he hadn't been around for the last several major fights because of a battle with lung cancer last year. His daughter, Jennifer Frawley, announced that his death Sunday was caused by cardiac arrest.
True story: One time I went to Vegas -- I don't even remember what fight I was covering -- and it turned out that my father was going to be in town at the same time on business. So we arranged to meet one evening at the lobby bar at the MGM Grand, where I was staying.
When I arrived, I found him sitting with Bert having a drink. I thought my dad had recognized him and introduced himself because he knew Bert and I were friends. It turned out my father did indeed recognize Bert but hadn't told him who he was. It didn't matter. They started to chat, and Bert bought him a drink. It was only later in their conversation that my father told him he was my father.
That was Bert. He loved to be around people, loved to talk and joke with them. And if you could talk boxing, all the better.
So it was a sad Sunday when I realized that there would be no more talking about boxing with Bert and no more jokes so bad that they were actually funny.
I don't smoke and I'm not a big drinker, but I'm tempted to light up a cigar and make myself a martini. Bert wouldn't want it any other way. But I refuse to wear plaid or striped pants.