t’s no secret that the world of professional boxing has its share of characters. In fact, one of my chief inspirations for breaking into the world of sports writing came from reading stories by great boxing scribes of yesteryear, writers like A.J. Liebling, whose narratives wove a veritable tapestry of colorful individuals tied together by their passion for the sweet science.
On Nov. 21, covering local phenom Pee Wee Cruz’s latest bout in Queens, I got the full “fight” experience. My biggest takeaway from the night, however, was the fact that, despite the action in the ring, some of the most intriguing stories in the boxing world take place outside of it.
Sitting in the press section for a prizefight is unlike anything else I’ve done during my tenure here at the Review. The majority of my work at the paper is done covering high school athletics. Over time, I’ve gotten used to that routine; setting up shop on the sidelines, taking copious notes about yardage or assists, maybe a brief conversation with a colleague from another publication to inquire about a certain team’s defensive schemes—all pretty basic stuff.
But sitting in press row on Friday night? That was, well, different.
For starters, the term “press” was applied liberally. Our three rows of foldout seats on the stage next to the ring were filled, sure, but not by your usual press types. Ex-fighters, like Iran Barkley and Junior Jones, friends and family of the promoters, and even a few current fighters had a home in the “press box”—a nice place to watch a fight, I must say.
But the writers? It was the writers who stood out.
Given boxing’s dip in mainstream popularity, most newspapers no longer have someone on the “boxing beat.” Of all the New York rags, the Daily News—with its sponsorship of the New York Golden Gloves, is probably one of the last few vestiges of fight reportage in the print media. So essentially, this responsibility to report on, and promote, the fight game, has fallen to the online journalists, and it’s a duty they take on with aplomb.
One gentleman, a dead ringer for Stacy Keach with a feathered cowboy hat, announced his arrival to the press area by joyfully tossing fists of Bazooka bubble gum to the fans gathered at ringside, went, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the moniker “Bazooka.” Another middle-aged writer, donning a Navy captain’s hat and with no fewer than eight gaudy boxing glove necklaces hanging outside his sport coat, was similarly cheered by in-the-know fight fans in attendance as he took his spot on the stage.
These two guys knew everyone, from the referees to the promoters, to the ex-fighter luminaries and seemed to be minor celebrities themselves in this odd, small corner of the sports writing universe. Everyone had a scoop for these guys, be it about an upcoming fight or a potential ring return of a long-faded veteran.
Now, while the idea of say, wearing a tri-cornered hat and handing out Snickers bars at a Harrison football game might seem odd for a boring, traditional sportswriter like myself, I can’t help but realize what these guys are doing serves a valuable purpose in the boxing world.
They’re reporters, sure, but they’re also fans. They are doing their best to drum up publicity for a sport that has seen its fan base erode steadily over the last 50 years.
If that means making the occasionally odd sartorial choice, so be it. It’s good to know that someone out there is still on the boxing beat.
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