Archive for the ‘Boxing’ Category

Boxing’s Golden and Silver Gloves

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

A favorite moment each year comes when Jim Rasco, the historian of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, introduces past Hall of Fame inductees during the organization’s annual induction banquet.

That moment will occur Friday night at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena.

One past inductee who won’t be in attendance Friday is the man I wrote about yesterday, boxing luminary Ray Rodgers.

Rodgers will be in Independence, Mo., helping run the Silver Gloves national championships. He’s the first man ever to head both the Silver Gloves and Golden Gloves organizations at the same time, and he’s a member of the halls of fame for both groups.

At age 75, Ray Rodgers is on the road, working as hard as ever.

Golden Gloves has a storied history.

In 1923, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, Arch Ward, came up with the idea of an amateur boxing tournament to be sponsored by the newspaper. Each champion was awarded a miniature golden glove, which gave the tournament its name.

The list of past Golden Gloves medal winners is a who’s who of the sport.

Joe Louis was a Golden Gloves champion in 1934.

There was Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in 1960, Sugar Ray Leonard in 1973, Marvin Hagler in 1973, Michael Spinks in 1974, Thomas Hearns in 1977, Mike Tyson in 1984, Evander Holyfield in 1984, Oscar De La Hoya in 1989 and Little Rock’s Jermain Taylor in 1998 and 1999.

Rodgers, who was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Conway, was inducted into the Silver Gloves Hall of Fame in 2001, the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

The late Billy Bock, a 1996 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee who was a well-known amateur boxer and later was among the pioneers of high school baseball in the state, told the Arkansas Democrat in 1990: “If it weren’t for Ray Rodgers, there would not be boxing left in Little Rock.”

Silver Gloves is for amateur fighters ages 10-15.

Golden Gloves is for amateur fighters ages 16 and older.

Based in part on the Golden Gloves’ tie back to the Chicago Tribune, newspapers long have been among the main sponsors of amateur boxing events. The New York City Golden Gloves tournament, which has been around for 85 years, is sponsored by the Daily News.

Rodgers told an interviewer in 2008: “It has a natural attraction to kids who are basically adventuresome and want to do something no one else does. That’s a lot of it. The dynamics of it hooked me in the fifth grade, and I’ve never been out of it one day.

“In boxing, as in life and everything else, desire is half the deal. … I’m a great believer in amateur boxing. I think it’s one of the greatest sports ever devised. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. In boxing, you don’t have anybody to hand off to or to lateral or pass it off to. You’re on your own, brother.

“The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline. You can stand a kid in a corner and whip his butt with a paddle. But once he learns self-discipline and the desire to do better in the ring, that sticks with him all his life.”

Jermain Taylor is the most prominent example of the hundreds of boys (now men) Rodgers has helped through the years. Born in Little Rock in 1978, Taylor and his three younger sisters were abandoned by their father when the future champion was 5. Taylor began boxing at age 13 with Ozell Nelson as his trainer.

Taylor’s Olympic bronze medal came in 2000 and his professional boxing debut was on Jan. 27, 2001, at Madison Square Garden against Chris Walsh.

As noted in yesterday’s post, Rodgers has served as the cut man in Taylor’s corner throughout Taylor’s professional career.

Taylor once said of Rodgers: “He’s the type of guy who comes in the dressing room and makes you feel comfortable. I’ve never seen him mad, not one time, and I’ve known him since I was 12. I’ve never seen him with a mean face. He’s the type of guy who always wants to see you smiling.”

Rodgers’ father, who worked for 49 years for an oil company that eventually became part of Mobil, moved the family from Oklahoma to Conway so he could serve as a pump station engineer in Arkansas. Young Ray was already addicted to boxing at the time of the move.

Ray Rodgers’ office at the Golden Gloves Education Center, which is adjacent to the Junior Deputy baseball fields just off Cantrell Road in Little Rock, now serves as sort of a museum of this state’s boxing history.

There is, for example, a photo of Bock and Rodgers in 1959 at the state AAU boxing tournament with Miss Arkansas in between.

“We were her escorts,” Rodgers says.

Famous names in Arkansas business, sports and politics crop up as you look at the programs and bout sheets Rodgers has collected through the years. For instance, Buddy Coleman of Little Rock was the state AAU boxing chairman one year.

Rodgers delights in talking about his 14-year amateur boxing career, delivering pithy quotes such as this one: “My left jab was so good the judges thought the other guy was sucking my thumb.”

The Arkansas River Valley — from Fort Smith all the way down to Little Rock –was a boxing hotbed in those days. Rodgers tells of going across a low-water bridge to make it to a boxing tournament at Oark (not Ozark!) in the Ozark Mountains north of Clarksville.

Places like Clarksville and Coal Hill produced good amateur boxers. The Subiaco Abbey, built in 1878 and associated with the Benedictine Order, was the home of many talented boxers. Wherever amateur tournaments were held across the state, you knew the boys from Subiaco Academy would be there and compete hard.

Rodgers’ home ring was at the National Guard Armory in Conway, where he boxed for a coach known as “Slow John” Cole. Rodgers went by the nickname “Butterball.” He continued to box competitively through graduation from Conway High School and Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas.

“I had deceptive speed in those days,” Rodgers says. “I was slower than I looked.”

At age 16, Rodgers also began coaching younger boxers. In 1958, he sent his first boxer to the national Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago.

Rodgers graduated from college in August 1960, becoming the first member of his family to earn a degree. He got married two weeks after graduation and moved to Little Rock to take a job with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Rodgers fought his last fight in 1961 at the Mid-Arkansas Golden Gloves Tournament, but a lifetime of being involved in boxing was just starting.

He has worked with young boxers at various locations through the years, even using a gym that Gary Hogan, who loves the sport as much as Rodgers, once operated in downtown Little Rock.

In 1988, Rodgers raised private funds so he could transform a metal building next to the Junior Deputy baseball complex into a gym. It has been the home of the Ray Rodgers Boxing Club ever since.

In 2009, he turned the adjacent building into the Golden Gloves Education Center so his boxers would have a quiet place to study.

Rodgers has brought a number of legendary boxers to Little Rock through the years to promote the sport and help him raise money. Ali visited in 1990. Joe Frazier and Floyd Patterson also have visited the state’s capital city at Rodgers’ invitation.

Rodgers has had his share of tragedies.

In 1987, his wife Sally, a constant presence with him at boxing tournaments, died of breast cancer.

His current wife, Carole, whom he married in December 2005, now helps him run amateur tournaments.

Rodgers’ daughter Dawn battled brain cancer for 11 years before passing away in 2005.

Last year, Rodgers finally shut down his business, Mid-South Drywall.

“I’m not getting any younger,” he says.

On one wall of Rodgers’ office is a tribute to Stan Gallup, the longtime Golden Gloves executive director who died in February 2009 while accompanying the Kentucky Wesleyan basketball team (his son was the school’s athletic director) to an away game

It says “Stan Gallup, 1922-2009, Father of Modern Golden Gloves.”

Rodgers calls Gallup “a mentor.”

I happen to think Arkansas’ own Ray Rodgers has just as much a right as Gallup to that title of “Father of Modern Golden Gloves.”

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Ray Rodgers: The cut man

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Among boxers, if not fans, the cut man is a revered figure in the sweet science.

In a boxer’s corner, a cut man uses everything in his power to take care of cuts, nosebleeds and swelling.

Don’t confuse a cut man with the fight doctor, who’s neutral. The cut man will do whatever it takes to give his fighter the edge. Though athletic commissions in most states require cut men to be licensed, there’s no formal training.

The good cut men learn through years of trial and error.

The tools of their trade include petroleum jelly, ice packs, cotton swabs and gauze pads. And then there’s the enswell, the small piece of metal with a handle that’s kept on ice and used to cool the area of a bruise or cut.

Cut men create their own medications and consider the recipes to be trade secrets. Ingredients can include Avitene (used to stop bleeding), adrenaline hydrochloride (used to decrease blood flow) and other medications used for coagulation such as Gelfoam, Surgicel and Thrombin.

Clint Eastwood played both a trainer and a cut man in the 2004 Academy Award-winning film “Million Dollar Baby.”

In the classic 1976 film “Rocky,” Rocky Balboa’s cut man was played by Al Silvani, a former trainer. He also served as the cut man in “Rocky II” and “Rocky III.”

Arkansas is home to one of the nation’s most famous cut men, Ray Rodgers.

In preparing a feature story on Rodgers for the March issue of Arkansas Life magazine, I focused on his 14 years as a boxer followed by his many years as a coach and an official in the Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves organizations.

Rodgers is the national president of both Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves, the first person ever to run both organizations at the same time. I touched a little on his years as a cut man in the magazine story, but that could have been the focus of the entire story.

“I learned a lot watching some of the old-time Arkansas coaches and trainers: Bert Ramsey, Buddy Holderfield and others,” Rodgers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Jim Bailey on the eve of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. “One of my idols was Whitey Bimstein, who had a reputation as the best cut man in New York when boxing hit television in the 1950s.”

Born Morris Bimstein on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Whitey Bimstein graduated from New York City’s Public School #62 in 1910. He competed in track, baseball and basketball while in school.

His father, unhappy with the rough element on the East Side, later moved the family to the Bronx.

Though he was Jewish, Bimstein was taught to box by a priest, Father Ryan of St. Jerome Catholic Church. He was a bantamweight who boxed about 70 bouts under the name Johnny White before joining the U.S. Navy at the start of World War I.

Bimstein began training boxers and serving as a cut man following the war. He was in the corner of James J. Braddock on June 13, 1935, when the “Cinderella Man” upset Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame website notes that Whitey Bimstein was “known for his ability to motivate a fighter psychologically (with encouraging words) or physically (with a needle to a lethargic fighter’s backside or a slap to the face). Bimstein was widely regarded as one of boxing’s outstanding trainers and his expertise as a cut man during the crucial 60-second respite between rounds was second to none.”

Rodgers, who most recently was in the corner of Little Rock’s Jermain Taylor when Taylor beat Jessie Nicklow with an eighth-round TKO on Dec. 30 at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in California, now carries the reputation as the cut man whose expertise is “second to none.”

“I’ve got stuff that will hold two drops of water together,” he likes to say.

Bailey wrote: “When Rodgers was successful in keeping heavyweight Tommy Morrison’s eyebrows intact through a national Golden Gloves tournament, Morrison’s camp told him he’d be Morrison’s cut man when he turned pro.

“‘I thought it was just something nice to say, but they went through with it,’ Rodgers said. ‘I was in Tommy’s corner for every pro fight except two.’

“Cut man chores have taken him all over the United States and to Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany — even Hong Kong.

“‘Tommy Morrison was scheduled to fight Herbie Hide in Hong Kong back in 1994,’ Rodgers said. ‘The sponsors couldn’t get the money together, and the match fell through after I got there. I was on expenses so it amounted to a week’s paid vacation in Hong Kong.’”

In the introduction to a 2005 interview with Rodgers at www.doghouseboxing.com, Sean Newman wrote that Rodgers is among “the very best in the business” as a cut man.

Newman said, “In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cut man. Just as in other sports, aside from the actual competitors, most would surely state that the head coach, manager or trainer is the most important member of the camp.

“A good analogy may be that a cut man is the offensive lineman (another underappreciated profession in the world of sports) of boxing, because without a good one, chances are you will run into some trouble sooner or later. While trainers certainly play an important role in developing strategy and getting their fighter in shape, it is the cut man who is called upon in the corner when a cut or swelling occurs. It helps to have a good one when things become precarious.”

Rodgers told Newman: “I was working with kids back in the ’60s and ’70s and earlier when you didn’t have to wear a headgear and you could actually work a cut in the corner with amateurs, just like you can with pros. I got pretty good at it, and one thing led to another, and they started asking me to do it because I was good at it. There really isn’t any better way to explain it than that. But I didn’t just one day wake up and say, ‘I’m going to be a cut man.’ I just learned the trade by being a coach when we could do it in the amateurs.”

Morrison was born in 1969 in Gravette but was raised in Delaware County in Oklahoma. His older brother and two uncles also were boxers. He lost only three of 52 professional fights, and Rodgers was in his corner for most of them.

Rodgers was there for his first professional win in New York on Nov. 10, 1988, when Morrison scored a TKO in the first round against William Muhammad. And Rodgers was in Las Vegas for a scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in 1996 when Morrison tested positive on the mandatory HIV test performed by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

“His trainer called me in my hotel room and said he had something he needed to tell me in person,” Rodgers says. “I went to his room, and he said, ‘Tommy has tested postive.’ I asked, ‘For drugs?’ He said, ‘No, for HIV. He’s already on the plane and headed back home.’”

Though he would later attempt a comeback, that HIV test effectively ended Morrison’s career. Rodgers, though, has rich memories, including a Morrison fight against Joe Hipp in June 1992 at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in Reno. Morrison won on a TKO in the ninth round.

“He just got almost dismembered,” Rodgers told Newman. “He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye and still knocked out Hipp in the ninth round. That was a tough fight to work because I was trying to stabilize his head while I stabilized the cut. When I say stabilize the head, I mean you couldn’t jerk him around because his jaw hurt so bad. … I got the cut under control, and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one.

“That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later, when he outboxed George Foreman in Las Vegas for the world title, that was a highlight. I worked a lot of fights with him — 30 or 35 over almost a 10-year period.”

Other fighters for whom Rodgers served as cut man included Hector “Macho” Camacho and Iran Barkley.

When Jermain Taylor was head butted by Bernard Hopkins in the first of two fights between the men, it was Rodgers who stopped the bleeding and kept the fight going. The date was July 16, 2005. The site was the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Taylor won the middleweight title in a split decision that night. After the fight, he had 16 stitches in the top of his head.

When Iran Barkley fought Henry Maske in Germany in October 1994, it took 63 stitches to sew Barkley up after the fight. But Rodgers has never had a fighter lose because of cuts.

In June 2002, Taylor had a cut over his right eye against Grady Brewer that required eight stitches after the fight.

In June 2004, Taylor had a cut against Raul Marquez over his left eye that took 13 stitches.

Taylor won both fights.

Rodgers, an Arkansas treasure, told Newman: “Being a cut man is just something I do. I’ll fly out a couple of days ahead of a fight. That gives me a chance to rest. On the day of the bout, I go into war mode. I start thinking about a fight just like a fighter does. I’m focused, as the kids say. After the bout is over, I have postpartum depression. And I go right back to work on Monday, just like a walk in the park. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon.”

At age 75, Ray Rodgers shows no signs of slowing down.

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The sweet science

Monday, January 18th, 2010

In the early 1900s, the top three sports in America were baseball, boxing and thoroughbred racing.

All are sports I still enjoy following. But they have slipped in the past century, falling far behind football and, to a lesser extent, basketball on the American cultural spectrum.

Boxing has hurt itself at the professional level with its many competing organizations, controversies and the circus aspects that surround so many fights. The average fan of the sport becomes confused. And in his confusion, that fan turns to something else.

At the amateur level, however, boxing remains a way to a better life for some, especially African-American and Hispanic boys. Thanks to the work of Ray Rodgers, one of the top amateur boxing officials in the country, Arkansas is somewhat of a center for the sport. That’s something the vast majority of Arkansans don’t even realize.

On Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday afternoon of last week, amateur boxers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma filled the North Little Rock Community Center for the regional Silver Gloves tournament.

The state Golden Gloves tournament will be back at that location in March. Central Arkansas then will play host to the regional Golden Gloves tournament in April and the national Golden Gloves tournament in May.

I was at the community center Friday night and Saturday afternoon with my 16-year-0ld son. Even since he was a young boy, he has loved to watch fights on television and score them, seeing if he agrees with the judges. When I mentioned this to Rodgers last year, this boxing legend was excited at the prospect of finding young blood to insert into the pool of judges. So he took Austin under his arm and began training him. When Austin turns 18 in late February 2011, he will be able to become certified as an amateur judge and actually work events.

His goal, I can reveal, is to eventually be paid to fly to places like Las Vegas on the weekends and sit at ringside.

Why this fascination with boxing for a middle-class kid from Little Rock?

It can be traced to the excitement that surrounded the rise Jermain Taylor. Despite the recent bumps in the road, when we think of Jermain, most of us still have the words of Michael Buffer ringing in our ears: “The pride of Little Rock. Arkansas . . .”

Austin was age 7 when Taylor competed in the 2000 Olympics at Sydney and, frankly, was not paying much attention. But as Taylor began his march through the professional ranks, we would attend his fights at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock and what was then Alltel Arena in North Little Rock.

On the night Taylor won the middleweight championship against Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas — July 16, 2005 — I was attending the National Governors Association summer meeting with Mike Huckabee in Des Moines. Janet Huckabee, a huge Taylor fan, was determined to find someone in Des Moines who had subscribed to the pay-per-view telecast of the fight. Finally, a policeman assigned to our hotel told her: “The boys down at the fire station always buy the fights.”

So it was that I ended up watching the fight with the first lady of Arkansas and a bunch of firemen at the central fire station in downtown Des Moines. To make things even more interesting, it was Janet’s birthday, and Jermain called her from his dressing room before the fight to wish her a happy birthday.

Back home in Little Rock, my wife and two sons had subscribed to the pay-per-view telecast. They called me within seconds of Buffer announcing the split decision.

My wife and I then took both of our boys on that hot Friday afternoon to the parade honoring Taylor in downtown Little Rock.

For the rematch against Hopkins in December 2005, we were at a friend’s home to watch. When Taylor fought “Winky” Wright on June 17, 2006, Austin was playing in an AAU basketball tournament in northwest Arkansas. A father of one of the other players on the team had a satellite dish on his souped-up rig for football tailgating. So it was that we sat in the parking lot of the La Quinta in Springdale that evening to watch the fight.

From a fire station in Des Moines to a parking lot in Springdale to seats at the Arkansas matches, I had watched the Taylor fights. And, along the way, my boys had become hooked on boxing.

That kind, dedicated soul who is at the heart of Arkansas boxing — Ray Rodgers — is guiding the oldest of the two boys toward his goal of becoming a judge. I think of the hundreds of boys Rodgers has helped through the years. He’s a great asset to our state.

Now, he’s even helping one boy who has no desire to actually step into the ring.

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