Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Quarry’

My Dinner with Muhammad Ali

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Ali and Michael.

Ali and Michael.

Active-wear apparel giant Under Armour announced Wednesday it has signed a multi-year deal with Muhammad Ali to launch a “lifestyle apparel” line next month bearing his likeness and motivational phrases. It will also use photos of the 73-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion in marketing campaigns. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Ali is one of the most recognized and celebrated figures of all time,” Under Armour noted.  There was no mention that he was also once one of the most despised and reviled figures in his home country, the USA.  Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and refused induction into the Army after he was drafted. His application for conscientious objector status based on his religious beliefs was denied. The chances are none to none that Under Armour will use one of Ali’s most motivational quotes of that period: “No Viet Cong ever called me a (n-word)!”  It would be three years before he was allowed to return to the ring and resume the career that established him as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

I was a young sportswriter in 1969 working for a leftist newspaper in New York City when I read an interview with then middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti, now regarded by many as Italy’s all-time best boxer. During the interview Benvenuti expressed his admiration for Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy and ally of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. Benvenuti liked Il Duce so much he kept a bust of him on display in his home.

So I wrote a column questioning the double standard on the part of the boxing officials who punished Ali for his beliefs while ignoring those of Benvenuti. Someone showed the column to Ali and he called the newspaper to thank me and offer an opportunity to interview him. But he had to call twice because the city editor, who answered the phone in the news room, thought it was a crank call and hung up on him the first time.

My memory of it is vivid. I saw the editor, a crusty veteran journalist pick up the ringing phone and say “Uh yellow!” in his characteristic raspy voice. That was how he always answered the phone.  Then he looked at me and said politely, “Yes, he’s here. May I tell him who is calling?” I saw his face change as he said, “Oh yeah? And I’m George Washington!” and slammed down the phone. He walked over to my desk and said, “Some guy just called for you and when I asked who was calling he said, ‘Tell him it’s the heavyweight champion of the world.’ So I told him I was George Washington and hung up on him!”

Fortunately, Ali called back and at the end of a pleasant conversation during which he asked me to explain what a fascist is he invited me to interview him at his home in Cherry Hill, NJ. A photographer friend came with me and after the interview Ali and his then wife Belinda invited us to stay for dinner. We enjoyed steak purchased from a kosher butcher and Ali commented on the similarity of the dietary laws between Muslims and Jews.

A few months later he made his return to the ring against the unfortunate Jerry Quarry, the first of several tune-ups leading up to the epic championship battle with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. The Quarry fight was held in Atlanta over the objection of Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, an unreconstructed segregationist who liked to brandish an ax handle as a symbol of defiance. But Sam Massel, Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor, was glad to have his city host the event. I remember thinking he didn’t sound Jewish when he greeted the horde of media people from around the world that descended on Atlanta to cover the event, “Welcome y’all!”

Someone at the opening press conference asked Ali a dumb question. He gave his favorite answer to dumb questions: “Howard Cosell gets paid for being an idiot. What’s your excuse?” That would be another good one to see printed on an Under Armour t-shirt or hoodie. Another that might look dashing on a track suit: “What’s my name, fool?”

Speaking of Under Armour, in doing background research for this piece I learned something I’ve wondered about ever since I first noticed their peculiar crisscross logo. It is composed of the letter “U” on top of the letter “A,” representing the company’s initials – “UA.” Who knew?

Michael can be reached at


Why I No Longer Watch Boxing

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

By Michael Kaufman
On March 24, 1962 Emile Griffith defended his world welterweight boxing championship against Benny “Kid” Paret. It was their third meeting: the “rubber match.” Griffith had won the first fight, knocking out Paret in the 13th round to win the title in January the previous year. Paret won the rematch by a split decision in September. Then, two months later, Paret made the mistake of challenging Gene Fullmer for the middleweight title. He took a beating from the bigger, stronger Fullmer before getting knocked out in the 10th round. Now just a few months later he was defending the welterweight title against Griffith.

I was 16 then, still learning the fine points of boxing from my father. I also learned a great deal from the astute commentary of Don Dunphy, the great ring announcer for the Friday night fights on ABC-TV’s “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.” During his 50-year broadcasting career, Dunphy called 200 championship fights and he was at the mike for Griffith-Paret III.

The pre-fight weigh-in had been acrimonious. The Cuban-born Paret taunted Griffith, calling him a derogatory Spanish word for a homosexual. Infuriated, Griffith had to be restrained by his handlers. The animosity carried into the ring as the two battled hard from the opening bell.

Near the end of round six Paret nearly knocked Griffith out with a multi-punch combination but the former champion was saved by the bell. The two then fought evenly for several rounds and in the 12th, Dunphy announced, “This has been a slow round,” just as Griffith was about to unleash a sudden bombardment of punishing blows. He landed 29 punches in a row, the last 18 in six seconds as Paret crumpled helplessly against the ropes. Only then did referee Ruby Goldstein stop the fight. Paret went into a coma and died 10 days later.

Some pointed an accusing finger at “boxing” for Paret’s death, but others blamed Goldstein, who, despite having been a respected veteran referee prior to the bout, never worked another fight. Still others questioned why the New York State Athletic Commission had issued a license to Paret to fight so soon after the pasting he took from Fullmer. Boxing itself lost few adherents. I continued to follow the sport, assuming Paret’s death was an aberration. As far as I knew, the main injuries to boxers were minor cuts, broken noses (like my Uncle Willie had gotten when he boxed in the Navy), and “cauliflower” ears. And every once in a while you might encounter a funny character who acted “punch drunk.” The medical condition now known as “dementia pugilistica” had yet to be defined.

Some six months after the death of Paret, on Sept. 21, 1962, heavyweight Alejandro Lavorante was knocked into a coma in the sixth round of a scheduled 10-round fight with John Riggins in Los Angeles. Lavorante died of injuries sustained in the bout 16 months later. Coming in to the fight with Riggins he had lost five of his six previous matches. In the last two he was knocked out by the young, undefeated Muhammad Ali in the sixth round, and lost via technical knockout to 45-year-old Archie Moore in the 10th. Lavorante was carried from the ring on a stretcher after referee Tommy Hart stopped the fight against Moore, who had been a great light-heavyweight champion and a contender for the heavyweight title, but was far past his prime when he beat Lavorante.

A year after the Griffith-Paret fight, as Lavorante lay dying in a Los Angeles hospital, Davey Moore defended the featherweight championship against Sugar Ramos at nearby Dodger Stadium.

“The fight had been scheduled for 15 rounds,” wrote Morton Sharnik in Sports Illustrated, but in the 10th Moore took such a pounding that his manager, Willie Ketchum, asked the referee to stop it after the bell rang for the end of the round.

Afterward, “Little Davey,” as Sharnik called him, joked with reporters in the dressing room. “Except for a bloodshot left eye, his face was unmarked. It was hard to believe that he had just lost his world featherweight championship in a savage fight.

“But no sooner had the reporters hurried out than Moore clasped both hands to the back of his head and cried out to Ketchum, ‘My head, Willie! My head! It hurts something awful!’ With that, he collapsed into unconsciousness. Ketchum called for an ambulance, and Moore was taken to White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.” He died 75 hours later.

As Sharnik reported, Moore’s death led to an outcry against boxing, with California’s then governor Pat Brown and the Pope among those calling for its abolition.
I met Sharnik when I went to Atlanta to cover Muhammad Ali’s return to the ring after Ali’s more than three-year exile for refusing induction into the Army during the war in Vietnam. Sharnik went out of his way to help a young, nervous aspiring sportswriter feel at ease in the crowded press room filled with unfamiliar faces. The fight took place Oct. 26, 1970. Ali knocked out Jerry Quarry in the third round.

Ali knocked Quarry out again in 1972. Joe Frazier also knocked him out twice, in 1969 and 1974; Ken Norton knocked him out in 1975. Quarry retired in 1983. Out of money and already showing signs of blunt force trauma, Quarry returned to the ring on Oct. 30, 1992, losing in six rounds to Ron Cramner. In the years preceding his death Quarry was diagnosed with dementia pugilisitica, brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. A progressive malady, similar to Alzheimer’s disease, it left the once-affable Quarry virtually helpless and in the care of his family. He died in 1999 at age 53.
“For a sport so bound up with physical violence, there has been an almost criminal lack of controlled, scientific exploration in the area of protecting that primary target of a fighter’s fists, the human head,” wrote Mort Sharnik after the death of Davey Moore. “If boxing is to survive…some protection must be provided for the delicate tissues of the brain….

“The promoters wail that artificial head protection is certain death at the box office, but this is hardly a consideration when the alternative may be death in the ring.” Fifty years have passed since Sharnik wrote those words. Nothing has changed.

Michael can be reached at