Boxing: muhammad ali

Boxing essay contest open to young writers

August, 23, 2012
Attention young writers who want to write about the sweet science. There is an essay contest, the Ali-King Essay Contest, running now. It is sponsored by Sartonk Designs, and open to writers aged 17-22 living in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.

Sartonk, based in N.J., is the originator of the modern boxing belt.

Each winner will receive an original Sartonk award, designed specifically for the contest, and two tickets to the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame Banquet, while the first-place winner will receive a $300 award, the second-place finisher will receive $200, and the third-place contestant will receive $100.

Essays should be between 500 and 1,000 words in length. They should be in 12-point font, double spaced, and Word documents (no PDFs please). The name of the writer should be included on the first page of the essay.

Participants are to write an essay on ONE of the following topics:

1. Autobiographical
Recent times have seen a number of books and movies devoted to the lives of specific boxers. This is an industry filled with many compelling struggles. What does boxing mean in your life? Is boxing a metaphor for life? Why or why not? Do you relate to any boxers from previous generations? Write about the role boxing plays in your life and whether or not what you learn in the ring applies to who you are outside of it.

2. Ali and King
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a beacon of hope in American history as a leader and practitioner of nonviolence. Muhammad Ali achieved greatness in an explicitly violent sport. King drew from his Christian heritage, Ali from his devotion to Islam. Although these men may seem like opposites, they do, in fact, share similarities. Write about the historical significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Muhammad Ali, comparing their characters, principles, and accomplishments.

3. The Role of Champions
From the early history of boxing (when the first Americans began fighting British fighters) to modern times, in which many minority communities are inspired by their champions, boxing has appealed to people of different backgrounds. Consider people like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Julio Cesar Chavez, Many Pacquiao (or anyone you relate to) as you write about the role that champions play in inspiring people in their respective communities.

4. Women in Boxing
The last couple of decades have given us many outstanding female boxing talents. The 2012 Summer Olympic games for the first time include women’s boxing. Discuss the significance of the increasing role women play in the sport of boxing.

The winners will be selected by a committee of judges. All winning essays will be published on

Participants must submit the application form online. Essays are to be uploaded to the application form. Completed applications must be submitted by midnight, October 1, 2012. Go to to learn more about judging criteria.

Now ... float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, write your butt off and win some money!

Is Victor Ortiz a quitter?

June, 26, 2012
This new information age allows a lie, or just a super-straightforward opinion which seems plausible but doesn’t hold up beyond half a news cycle, to travel to every corner of the world. It can be re-tweeted a few thousand times. It can ultimately settle in as truth. The problem is, what appears as truth in the fog of a fight can shift to a falsehood, or merely become a matter for debate.

Victor Ortiz, who "quit" on his stool after Round 9 of his fight against heavy underdog Josesito Lopez on Saturday night in LA. The fight was seen on Showtime, and the Twittersphere blew up after Ortiz, complaining of a broken jaw, said, "No mas." The reaction was swift.

"He’s a dog" and "Got no heart" were two of the most common 140-characters-or-less takes.

Harsh. But to be expected. There is a warrior’s code that is accepted by practitioners when they get their license. Quitting is an option, but only if you are willing to pay the price and wear a scarlet letter for giving in when the going got tough. Fighters are a cut above, we like to think, and can withstand mental and physical abuse better than we mortals. If they don’t, then we sometimes become irked, and petulantly try to yank them back into our sphere of regular Joes.

But Victor Ortiz has a track record. There is evidence that has piled up in his disfavor. So critics were ready with knives out when he chose the easier way Saturday.

He’d uttered a "no mas" in 2009, telling a ref he didn’t want to continue after he began to get the worst of it against Marcos Maidana.

Ortiz, who grew up in a hellacious situation, kicked to the curb by his parents, had Maidana down once in the first and twice in the second. But Maidana didn’t cave in. He persevered. Ortiz, also on the deck in the first, was knocked down early in the sixth. "You OK, son? Let’s go," the ref said. Left eye almost shut, cut over his right eye, Ortiz was not OK. Mentally, he was at his breaking point. He shook his head to indicate "no mas," and turned away from the ref, who halted the scrap. It took him two years to erase the stain. He did so in a thriller win over Andre Berto. But the stain re-appeared on Saturday.

As the tenth round was about to begin, Ortiz said he didn’t want to continue. His jaw was broken, he told trainer Danny Garcia. It didn’t compute to the crowd. Ortiz had maybe won the previous round, though Lopez had scored with power shots -- probably one of them a jawbreaker -- in the last 20 seconds.

He quit on his stool, announcer Gus Johnson screamed. Wiseman analyst Al Bernstein told viewers to consider that Ortiz perhaps had an injury not apparent to us all.

Indeed, he did. His jaw was fractured in two places, and needed a titanium plate and screws to stitch it together. Ortiz had surgery to repair the busted bone on Sunday. But on Saturday, he'd had heaps of abuse piled on him by fight fans, and yes, even fighters, who dismissed him as a quitter. The victor Lopez took a shot at Ortiz, saying, "Victor has no heart."


Harsh. But if anyone is "allowed" to go there, it is Lopez.

Me? I tend to think Ortiz has heart, merely for persevering when his dad left his family, and then his mom followed suit, leaving him in the care of an older sister. But does he have the sort of heart that will be noted when his legacy is discussed in coming years? No, he does not.

Ali fighting on with a broken jaw against Norton is frequently cited when The Greatest is brought up. Ortiz not doing so will be part of his history book. That's my opinion, but I think overall it is best left to the men in the arena to weigh in on this subject. More so than us sideliners.

Check back to see what Paulie Malignaggi thought about Ortiz' decision to stay on his stool.

Foreman: Stevenson was better than Ali

June, 18, 2012
The press in Cuba doesn't enjoy the same freedom ours does, so when word emerged that boxing star Teofilo Stevenson had died on June 11, I wondered how much of what would emerge would be truth and how much would be propaganda.

I turned to Bobby Cassidy Jr., a writer-filmmaker-playwrite living on Long Island. He created the documentary, "A Fighting Chance," which delves into the Cuban boxer experience.

Since I couldn't dig up much stuff on Stevenson after he left the ring, I asked Cassidy to fill in the gaps for me.

"Basically, he was living the life of a celebrity, as much as you can live that life in Cuba," Cassidy told me. "He was treated like a rock star. He drank a lot. People waved at him and honked their horns all the time when they saw him. He held some perfunctory positions with the boxing team. He would travel often with the team. But he was more of an ambassador for the sports programs and for the revolution.

"I asked him how come he didn't train fighters, like so many of his contemporaries did. He said, with a smile, 'I've spent enough time in gyms.' Castro loved him. He was Fidel's favorite athlete because, really, he was the face of the machine for so long. He was the first Cuban athlete to become an international star under Castro."

And just how good was he? In his heyday, how would Stevenson have fared against the top dogs on the 70s, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman?

I posed the question to Foreman. "Stevenson was better than all of us," the Hall of Famer declared. "He took his time like a pro. Then he came at you. He had the best right hand in amateur history. He never turned pro ... a shame. He'd have kept the heavyweight title the same way he did in the amateurs."

Rest in peace, Angelo Dundee

February, 1, 2012

He was the best-known trainer of the era, linked for all days to the greatest boxer the world has ever known. Angelo Dundee, at age 90, died early Wednesday evening of a heart attack in Tampa, Fla.

His family released a statement regarding the man voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992: "Angelo died surround by family and friends. He was happy to have celebrated Ali's b-day and he still had much to do but led an extraordinary life. He can now join his beloved wife Helen."

Dundee, born Angelo Mirena in Philadelphia, trained 15 world champions, including the inimitable Muhammad Ali, to whom he was unrelentingly loyal to, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jose Napoles, Jimmy Ellis, Carmen Basilio and Willie Pastrano.

He learned the trade, after a stint in the Army, by soaking up knowledge from the sages at Stillman's Gym in NYC, men like big brother Chris Dundee, Chickie Ferrera, Charlie Goldman, Freddie Brown, Whitey Bimstein and Ray Arcel. He hooked up with young Cassius Clay after Clay won gold in Rome in 1960, and impressed the budding star because he didn't pursue him like all the others did. It was very nearly love at first site for those two, and their marriage is one of boxing's most powerful unions.

He attended Ali's 70th birthday celebration in Louisville a few weeks ago and, as always, spoke glowingly of The Greatest. He was ever upbeat, always looking on the brightest of sides, always looking forward to working with this or that up-and-comer. It was once said of Angie, "Ask him about Hitler, he'll find something nice to say."

Dundee didn't resort to hard words or slapping faces to get his guys cookin.' "When you're working with a fighter, you're a surgeon, an engineer and a psychologist," he'd say, and as a psychologist, he was superb. His admonition to Ray Leonard -- "You're blowin' it now, son, you're blowin' it!" -- after Round 12 of his 1981 fight against Thomas Hearns lit a fire under his kid, who stopped Hearns in the 14th.

Yes, fighters knew that when Dundee shifted into a more dramatic mode, it was no joke. He was not prone to cheap dramatics, or showboating at the expense of his fighter.

He was still referring Ali as "The Kid" 10 days ago, bless his soul, and in a phone interview with me, he chuckled when he recalled that Ali was asking about his love life.

Speaking of which, Angelo lost his beloved wife, Helen, in December 2010. She'd been ill with cancer for some time, and finally passed on at age 85. They were married for 58 years.

I was stunned, and quite sad when I got the news of Dundee's death. But I was quickly cheered by the knowledge that Angelo believed with his whole big heart that he would be reunited with Helen when his time here was finished.

I told him on the phone last week that I would make it a resolution to get on the phone with him as often as I could, looking forward, because he was better than Prozac at lifting you up. Any fool could learn from Dundee on how to view life. As far as good souls go, Angelo Dundee was the greatest.
You have to love the man. If you spend any time at all talking to Angelo Dundee, the 90-year-old cornerman who entered the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and is still training fighters today, you have to love the guy. If for no other reason than he still calls Muhammad Ali “the kid.”

I chatted with Angie…sorry, I can’t help myself, to give myself an injection of insidery coolness, I call him “Angie” sometimes..the other day, and as always, I left the call feeling a surge of admiration and a bit of a hit to my ego. Because the worldview of Dundee is so sunny, so positive, most all pale by comparison. I sure as heck do...

Dundee told me he went to a 70th birthday party at the Ali Foundation in Louisville last Saturday, and it was a blast. “The party was great,” he said. He said the temps there reminded him how Ali would always, no matter where they were, ask Dundee to find them a gym, so he could get a sweat going. “You couldn’t sweat in Louisville, it was 20 degrees,” said the sage, who lives in Florida.

“This kid---he’s talking about the 70 year old Ali, by the way—“had so much love for the sport, for training. He was the first guy in the gym, and the last guy to leave. He loved to train. In any town we’d look up a gym and he’d fight his friends.”

Seeing Ali today is always something of a shocker. To contrast his apparent frailness with the vibrant character who entranced us with his physical and vocal boldness for decades can be a downer. Did Dundee expect the fighter, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, in all honesty, to make it to 70?

“I thought he would beat Parkinson’s, that’s how much gumption, that much drive he has,” Dundee said. “Doggone it, it takes its toll. Freddie Roach has it, Michael J. Fox, they’re still doing well but they’re little guys. You do better when you’re smaller. Ali’s so big. But he fights so hard."

They still have a good deal of that magic intact. Ali is still an ace chopsbuster, Dundee reports.

“He asks me how how my sex life is doing,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve only known the kid for 54 years. We never had a beef, we never had a contract.”

Shame on me, shame on the media for not talking to Dundee every damn day. His outlook is so instructive, and the nature of the relationship he and Ali had and have is a blueprint to be followed in all walks of life. Loyalty, decency, humor, a relationship built on a foundation of trust and a handshake. Love stands out as the main glue here.

"Ali is the best thing to happen to the human race," Dundee said, in closing.

Amen, I say...

Foreman: "Ali and Frazier didn't hate each other"

November, 10, 2011
Joe Frazier tried again against George Foreman on June 15, 1976, in Long Island. He sensed he was in the backstretch of his pro career, and tried to tweak a few things to restore the smoothness of his ride. In the re-do, Frazier didn't get demolished as rapidly, losing in a TKO5 at the Nassau Coliseum. But the experience cemented his sneaking suspicion, that it was time to exit the stage. "It's time for me to put it on the wall and go boogie, boogie, boogie," he said in Sports Illustrated. "The whole doggone game was a highlight, a lot of fun, and if I had the chance to do it again, it still would be a lot of fun." Foreman has fond memories of that bout.

"Frazier was all defensive," he said. "But what surprised me more was before the match at the weigh-in he had not a bit of hair. It threw me off a little bit. I thought he was crazy."

Frazier danced more than he had before, figuring maybe Foreman would chase him and punch himself out. "I had fallen for the Rope a Dope against Ali (on Oct. 30, 1974). Joe thought it would work again."

Foreman didn't fall for the Frazier strategy but he did fall for Long Island.

"It was like "Leave It To Beaver" land. I fell in love with Long Island. The fans at the Coliseum were pro Joe, Foreman recalls, but did cheer Foreman after he did his thing.

After the match, Foreman talked with Frazier's family, and was moved by how tight they were. "It was his number one asset, the dearness of his family, his sister and brother. Every year after I got closer with him, and stayed in touch." Foreman said Frazier was more upset he lost to Ali in Africa than he was.

Foreman also sheds some light on Frazier's apparent bitterness towards Ali. "They didn't hate each other," he said. "It was like the bad brother picking on the tender-hearted brother." Foreman said he comes from a family with seven kids, and has ten himself. He sees Ali and Frazier like siblings who just can't help but spar. They squabble but the love is still there. "Ali loved Joe," Foreman said. "Frazier was a source of life for Ali."

But what about Frazier's occasional outbursts at Ali over the years, when he'd mock his Parkinson's as payback from God?

"He was just saying what people wanted to hear," Foreman said. "When you're about ten years out of the ring, you like to read about yourself, you're in the paper."

Joe Frazier hated Muhammad Ali

November, 8, 2011
He was a Philly guy through and through, but New Yorkers are anti-parochial when it comes to respecting a superior talent who combines exquisite skill with maniacal desire to persevere in the face of disaster. New Yorkers respected, if not loved, Joe Frazier, who died at age 67 on Monday night in Philadelphia, KO'd by liver cancer.

Frazier was that sort of guy. You only had to watch a round of the guy in action in one of his three battles with Muhammad Ali to know he epitomized the concept of the prizefighter as a resolute warrior who is willing, beyond what would be accepted by any mortal soul, to taste pain and punishment in exchange for a chance at doling it out, and achieving victory.

He could be as ruthless with his word choice as he was with that left hook. In his 1996 autobiography he wrote this of Ali, who directed infamous insults and racial taunts toward Frazier in the '70s: "Truth is, I'd like to rumble with that sucker again -- beat him up piece by piece and mail him back to Jesus. ... Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren't going so well for him. Nope. I don't. Fact is, I don't give a damn. They want me to love him, but I'll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the Lord chooses to take him."

Frazier wasn't much for forgive and forget. But that trait is closely tied to the stubbornness he showed in the ring, when he'd bob and weave -- he was as active with his torso in defense as any fighter you'll see -- and eat a few jabs on the way in while looking to unload his bomb, his jawbreaker left hook.

It was a package deal with Joe, and if you got that, it was easier to understand and forgive comments like, "It would have been a good thing if he would have lit the torch and fallen in. If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in" after Ali made the world cry when he lit the Olympic flame prior to the opening of the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

There is a tendency, an overwhelming one, for writers and analysts to present the best face of the man who dies. They steer clear, much of the time, of the negative bullet points on the life's résumé. It isn't honest journalism, and it's something I've never understood, as the person in question cannot be offended. Of course, there are friends and family to consider, during a fragile time; of course consideration should be given to them. But to properly put a man's life in context, it is disingenuous to gloss over the behavior that kept Frazier from approaching the sainthood that Ali enjoys.

He was what he was. An athlete who showed stunning resolve in times when most men would crumple in a heap. And yes, when he said stuff about Ali like, "He's got Joe Frazier-itis. He's got left-hook-itis," his reputation took a hit.

But maybe that was undeserved. Frazier, while Ali was in exile for refusing induction into the armed services, loaned Ali cash on a couple occasion. And Ali paid him back by going over the line from trash talking to careless character assassination when he called Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and tried to lobby blacks to see him as a water carrier for whites.

Knowing that, does it not make you better understand Frazier's frustration and his callous outbursts?

Ali often gets a free pass for his trash talking, as people will argue he was simply doing it to sell tickets. But when the arena was already sold out, was there still a need to say, "Ninety-eight percent of my people are for me. They identify with my struggle. ... If I win, they win. I lose, they lose. Anybody black who thinks Frazier can whup me is an Uncle Tom"? There was not.

New Yorkers pride themselves on telling it like it is, dispensing truth when maybe conventional wisdom calls for something else. For that reason, Joe Frazier probably had a few more fans in NYC than he did in some other regions, where civility 24/7 is the preferred default setting.

Frazier was as relentless as they come

November, 8, 2011
Joe Frazier, as relentless a pugilist as you'll ever see, died a bit before 9 p.m. ET Monday. As was his way, he didn't quit; liver cancer took him out. He died at his home in Philadelphia, age 67.

Born in 1944, Frazier won a gold medal for the U.S. at the 1964 Olympic games, and held the world heavyweight championship for several years. But, truth be told, he had something of an inferiority complex, and toiled in the immense shadow of Muhammad Ali for much of his life.

He beat Ali at Madison Square Garden in March 1971, in "The Fight of the Century," or just "The Fight," yet still sat in the sidecar while Ali's awesome charisma and magnetism radiated and attracted attention. Fair? Maybe not, as Frazier was the man who -- with the most famous left hook in recorded history -- sent Ali, then 31-0, to the canvas in Round 15 of The Fight.

Frazier's hold on the WBC title was firm and true with the win over Ali, and he defended it twice, against Terry Daniels and Ron Stander. He then gave George Foreman a crack. In January 1973, Frazier hit the deck six times as Foreman punished him with his bolder fists, lifting him clear off his feet with uppercuts that threatened to make Frazier a man of NASA, to send him skyward. When Arthur Mercante halted the scrap at 2:26 of Round 2, typical Joe, he gave no signal, sent no telepathic message that he wanted to quit. He was ready to fight to the death.

When informed of Frazier's death, Foreman said to ESPN New York, "The one and only. The most consistent human I've ever known. Smoking Joe Frazier!"

Frazier and Ali got it on again, at Madison Square Garden, in January 1974. The buildup to this one got ugly, with Frazier losing it over Ali's taunts. He couldn't channel his seething fury into a victory, as Ali scored a UD.

Maybe Frazier's best days were in the rear view, but he told the fight world he was still relevant by beating Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis, before signing on for another clash with Ali. It took place in October 1975, in Manilla, and it is perhaps sad to note that this fight, a loss, is Frazier's signature fight. But then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing, because he exemplified courage in the face of adversity, resilience and perseverance in abundance as he sought to convince trainer Eddie Futch to let him fight on after a thoroughly draining Round 14.

Futch pulled the plug, as Ali himself was telling trainer Angelo Dundee to cut his gloves off. Frazier probably never got over falling short on that occasion and he let bitterness seep into his soul. In a 2009 documentary looking at the Thrilla, Frazier betrays his animus, and implies heavily that Ali's physical decimation at the hands of Parkinson's came compliments of a vengeful God.

"Whatever you done when you a young man, it comes to bite you in the butt when you get older," he stated, then adding. "And said. God marks it down."

This is not attempt to tear the man down so soon after his passing, know that. Frazier's feelings toward Ali are not without merit, in my opinion. Frazier had taken a chance when he backed Ali during Ali's exile from the sport for refusing induction into the U.S. armed forces. His animosity toward Ali was part and parcel of his personality. His ire was his competitiveness in another form. When he was no longer able to make his body perform the way it needed to in the ring, his competitive nature didn't have the outlet it needed, and that ate away at him.

Eight months after Manilla, a heavier Frazier, head shaved to connote a menacing presence, succumbed again to Foreman. This time he hit the deck twice, and lasted to the fifth round, but the end wasn't near, it was here. He was 32. He'd need to be reminded that the body doesn't have infinite mileage when he tried a comeback in 1981. The eternal credit to his adopted hometown of Philadelphia met Jumbo Cummings in Illinois, and was gifted a draw. His final record stands at 32-4-1 with 27 KOs.

But wins and losses are besides the point when you ponder Frazier's legacy. His determination, his burning desire to go forward, to leave every ounce of what he had to give in the ring, placed him in the top 1 percent of any boxer, in any era. That is no small compliment. God no doubt will mark it down.

Rest in peace, Smokin' Joe. You deserve some.

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Welcome to the Fightblog

September, 7, 2011
You either "get" boxing or you don't. It isn't like olives, where you can periodically taste one to see if it appeals to you.

Either you see the upside to two people in shorts punching each other in the head, or you don't.

I do.

I have since I was still leaving teeth under my pillow to get a payday from the tooth fairy.

Back then, it was Muhammad Ali, who I immediately took a shine to. I immediately sized him up as a stellar sportsman, and even more potent entertainer. As a kid I left the movie theater in Massachusetts shadowboxing in the streets after seeing "Rocky," and marveled at Marvin Hagler's menace when he ruled the middleweights in the 80s.

My fixation on the sweet science -- or, as I prefer to call it, "the savage science," because let's be honest here, the sweetness can get lost in the spray of blood and sweat ricocheting off the face of the fighter who just ate a vicious uppercut -- cemented itself in 1990, when heavyweight Buster Douglas shocked the world, but not himself, when he upset Brooklyn's Mike Tyson.

Boxing is a metaphor for life, and I identify with the guy who is fighting off the ropes, one eye shut, his trunks stained with blood, receiving more than he's giving. If he can plug on, so can I, and so can you.

That's where I'm coming from. So ... where's this blog going to? What can you expect to see in the NYFightblog? Admittedly, I am equally if not more so fascinated with the stories behind the athletes, what makes them tick, what circumstances they've overcome to get where they are, than the technical X's and O's of boxing.

You'll learn who the best and brightest fighters are in the New York area, discover the ones to watch for the future, read about the fights that take place in the region and the backroom battles between the power brokers who put them together.

So there will be a focus on the characters in boxing, and also Mixed Martial Arts, because after all, this is the Fightblog. MMA isn't legal in New York, but it's only a matter of time until it is. I'll have the trusty Flipcam with me, so I'll post videos you can watch at work when you're supposed to be working. I won't neglect the old-timers, either. Just because your hair is gray, it doesn't mean I don't want to hear what you have to say. (And I will keep crappy rhymes to a minimum.)

One more thing: you will see in the Fightblog the stories you want to see. My email address is You tell me what you want more or less of.

And away we go.