December 31, 2016

R.I.P. Ali, Pryor, & Obermayer: For Whom The 2016 Ten-Count Bells Tolled

Lost Greatness
By Jeffrey Freeman

The year that wasn’t started off slowly last January, gaining little momentum as the months passed by, terminating in December with 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins being knocked out of the ring in his "farewell bout" by an obscure Long Island laborer named Joe Smith Jr. The "Executioner" of boxing was nearly executed.

Along the way, the unthinkable, the event of this year or any other.

The death of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.

It’s been more than six months since the passing of the GOAT and our dwindling boxing community is still deeply mourning the loss of Ali; a once-in-a-lifetime boxer, American, and man. If it’s true what some fans and media are saying about the decline of boxing in 2016, Ali’s network televised funeral procession in Louisville, Kentucky served as a tragically apt metaphor for that very morbid notion.

Are things really that bad today? Ali’s funeral was seen by some keen insiders as boxing’s funeral.

Care to argue with them after this past year?

We now ring a final, memorial ten-count for those in the world of boxing lost in 2016:

Ali & Bingham
Muhammad Ali: On June 3 in Scottsdale, Arizona, in these United States of America, the first born son of Cassius and Odessa Clay passed away at the age of 74. Afflicted with Parkinson’s cruel Syndrome, Ali’s silent suffering is now finally over. We shall remember him not just as the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time but as one of the greatest human beings to ever share his vision of life with humanity. Ultimately, Ali’s greatest fights were fought and won outside of the ring in a struggle for equality and human dignity. Ali defeated not only Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, but the U.S. Federal Government itself. As memories fade and the sound of Ali’s voice grows ever more faint, we will recall his faith, courage, and compassion for all he came in contact with. As a postscript to Ali’s passing, his friend and photographer Howard Bingham departed on December 15 in Los Angeles.

Bingham was 77.

Aaron Pryor: "Hawk Time" ended on October 9 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The former junior welterweight champion was 60-years-old when he left the neon world he once set ablaze with a windmill boxing style reminiscent of the great Henry Armstrong. Best remembered for a pair of knockout victories over Alexis Arguello, Pryor will almost certainly also be remembered for drinking from a "special" bottle, one "mixed" by his infamous cornerman and trainer Panama Lewis in 1982. Born into a life of pain, that wasn’t the only dark bottle Pryor drank from. At the time of his death though, Pryor was living a sober life and working with troubled youth, teaching them to box. In the end, Pryor’s turbulent high life was one of recovery and redemption.

The "Hawk" soared, crashed, and rose again before sailing home.

KOJO in action
Jack Obermayer: Known affectionately as "KOJO" to readers, Jack Obermayer was a very special boxing writer. A Vietnam War Veteran, father, grandfather, and good friend to many, Jack, 72, succumbed to liver cancer last June in New Jersey, approximately six years after receiving a much needed liver transplant that extended his life. As a new fight scribe on the beat in 2011, I was lucky enough to have a press row seat right next to Jack in New Hampshire for a "Fight To Educate" charity boxing card. As a long time reader of Obermayer in "The Ring" and in Bert Sugar’s "Boxing Illustrated,” I was working right next him, learning from the best, and making a new friend. What I didn’t know then was that I was witnessing the first leg of Jack’s post-transplant comeback to fight writing. Known for his relentless travel and attention to detail, Obermayer covered 3,514 shows in over 400 cities and towns in 49 states. One of those small towns was Skowhegan, Maine. Jack had never been but he’d heard good things about the old diners up there. On May 11, 2013, it was my great honor to carpool with and work alongside "KOJO" for the successful pro debut of Mainer Brandon "The Cannon" Berry.

Chacon was loved by all, even "Boom Boom"
Bobby Chacon: Before there was Arturo "Thunder" Gatti to electrify fight fans with inhuman resolve, there was Bobby Chacon. A human highlight reel of featherweight fisticuffs, "Schoolboy" Chacon engaged in some of boxing’s most memorable title bouts in the 1970s and early 80s. Singer Warren Zevon thought so highly of Chacon (and Ray Mancini) that he sang of both by name in his 1987 hit song “Boom Boom Mancini” written about Chacon’s ill-fated challenge of "Boom Boom" for the lightweight championship three years prior in 1984.

Hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon...

In his Hall of Fame career, Chacon, 59-7-1 (47) also battled warriors Ruben Olivares, Danny "Little Red" Lopez, Alexis Arguello, "Bazooka" Limon, and Cornelius Boza-Edwards. Sadly, Chacon lost his money and his health before passing on last September 7 at the age of 64.

RIP Iron Mike
Mike Towell: Boxing is a brutal sport. Every year it produces the same grim reminder when a brave fighter is killed or badly injured in the ring. Iron Mike Towell was a 25-year-old Scottish welterweight up-and-comer with a professional record of 11-0 with 8 knockouts. His young life and boxing career were just beginning to blossom. On September 29 in Glasgow, Scotland, Towell was beaten into submission in five rounds by a Welshman named Dale Evans. Towell was taken from the ring on a stretcher and he died the following day at a hospital after being removed from life support machines. Towell suffered a brain bleed during the fatal Evans bout after complaining of headaches in the lead-up to the match. Towell leaves behind his life partner Chloe Ross and their young son Rocco.

Tony Burton: As the actor who played Rocky movie trainer Tony "Duke" Evers, Tony Burton was well known to boxing fans for his reoccurring role on the big screen in the 1976 Rocky film, all the sequels, and in 2006’s Rocky Balboa where Evers trains Rocky one more time, imploring the Italian Stallion to "start buildin’ some hurtin’ bombs" while cracking his neck in a dusty gym. What you might not know about Burton is that he was once a fighter himself in real life. In the late 1950s, Burton went 4-3-1 as a heavyweight boxer hailing from California. Knocked out in his final two bouts, Burton chose the "reel life" instead, becoming a successful Hollywood actor. Burton was 78 when he died of pneumonia on February 25.

In addition to Rocky films, Burton also appeared in The Shining and The Toy.

Alex Stewart: This London-born heavyweight "Destroyer" was only 52 when he died on November 16 from a blood clot in his lung. Seen as shy with puppy dog eyes, Stewart began his boxing career in 1986 and quickly amassed an impressive 24-0 (24) record before stepping up to challenge Evander Holyfield in 1989. Stewart was beaten by "The Real Deal" in a brutally bloody encounter in Atlantic City. The technical knockout loss turned out to be the highlight of Stewart’s career. Losses to Mike Tyson, George Foreman, and Michael Moorer further defined Stewart as being a step behind the elites but almost always right there in the mix with them on fight night.

Harlib working with The Truth Spence Jr.
Todd Harlib: In boxing, it is the cutman who stops the bleeding but sometimes keeps the information flowing. I first met the late Todd Harlib in 2015 at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Harlib was working the corner of Jermall Charlo as his charge challenged "K9" Bundrage for the junior middleweight championship. Before the bout, Harlib shared with me how Jermall and twin brother Jermell continued to push each other to greatness through the bitter competition of sibling rivalry. As my brief time in contact with Harlib continued, there were other tidbits he provided which helped me to gain content and context. I was shocked to learn Harlib passed on November 8. He was only 48. What I learned from Harlib is that when nobody else in boxing will tell you a thing because they have complicated interests to protect, it’s often the cutman, a free agent of sorts, who will share his knowledge with an eager reporter.

Kimbo Slice: Revered more for his backyard brawls and UFC cage fights than for any displays of pugilistic technique, Slice (real name Kevin Ferguson) was undefeated as a heavyweight boxer, going 7-0 from 2011 to 2013. After dropping the gloves, Ferguson found his calling as Kimbo. Slice was just 42 when his overtaxed heart failed on June 6 in Margate, Florida. During his troubled times, Ferguson somehow managed to grab a slice of the good life through his participation in combat sports. Ferguson is survived by his six children.

RIP Brown KIA in Chiraq, USA
Ed Brown: Amateur standout, 25, shot to death in a Chicago drive-by on December 4. According to reports, Brown had been shot on three other occasions before his murder. Manager Cameron Dunkin said afterwards that his prospect was a future world champion.

Jose Becerra: Mexican world bantamweight champion was 80 when he passed on August 6 in his hometown of Guadalajara. Becerra defeated Alphonse Halimi in 1959 to grab the title After being knocked out by the unheralded Eloy Sanchez in a non-title bout, Becerra retired as world champion.

Sean Curtin: Best remembered as the longtime overseer of amateur boxing in Chicago, Curtin was an Irish Jack of many trades in both amateur and professional boxing, a ring historian, and an author. Curtin died on August 11. The Army Veteran was 74.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

Originally Published on The Sweet Science