As the sportswriter for the newspaper, I was on assignment to cover the first professional boxing event at our local casino, and what an event it was.
Several luminaries from the fight game were there to help promote boxing in our area, including the great Sugar Ray Leonard, whose newly-formed management company served as promoter of the fight.
The ring announcer was Michael Buffer, who’s famous for roaring out his signature catchphrase “Let’s get ready to rumble!” where he would draw out that last syllable and let it reverberate for several long seconds.
Buffer’s first announcement was to introduce Angelo Dundee, best known as Muhammad Ali’s trainer, and also the cornerman for Sugar Ray Leonard. Next, Buffer introduced Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, known by fight fans as “the fight doctor” because he worked in Ali’s corner and was his personal physician.
Buffer then welcomed into the ring the great heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who was with his son Marvis. Unfortunately, Marvis is best known for that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face when he realized, oh my God, I’m gonna get killed, shortly before being knocked out in the first round by Mike Tyson.
Dressed in a beautiful suit and holding his championship belt, Joe walked around the ring taking in the love and the huge ovation. Then something strange happened. I was sitting in one corner of the ring, right beneath the platform next to the ropes, with legendary cutman Chuck Bodak, who used to stick black boxing tape all over and around his shiny bald head. As Smokin’ Joe was waving to the crowd, he slowly walked across the ring until he stood right in front of me, and then he leaned over the ropes, and in his raspy voice said, “I like your hat.”
Without a moment’s thought, I took it off and offered it to him, saying, “Here Champ, you can have it!”
He shook his head and said, “Nope, I want my own. I want a little bigger brim.”
And sure enough, the next time I saw Joe Frazier on TV, he was wearing a hat pretty darn similar to the one I had on that night.
I don’t remember all the fighters on the card that night. I’m pretty sure Hector “Macho” Camacho’s son, “Machito,” was one of them, and I think Fernando Vargas, who would go on to become the youngest light middleweight champion ever, was, too.
I say “I think” because I can’t find mention of it anywhere on the internet. Come to find out, the fight did not meet state requirements and was unsanctioned by the Association of Boxing Commissions, so it remains unrecorded in boxing annals. I checked the casino website, but they list 2004 as the year they first started presenting boxing, which was at least three years after I left the sportswriter’s job, so I know that’s not accurate. I know the news story appears in the vault of the Santa Ynez Valley News, which illustrates one reason why newspapers are so important — they serve as the public record of events.
I also know there are people in the community who were there, so if anyone would like to write me at the email address below to confirm who was on the bill or to share your experience of that mysterious and magical night, please do.
Early in the night, I had a chance to sit ringside and talk with Sugar Ray. I wanted to get some insight from him so I could help convey for our readers the artistry of the sport, and make it seem a little less savage. I asked him, “What does a punch look like when it’s coming at you,” to which he replied, “It’s the ones you don’t see that are the problem.”
Now that’s a person talking from experience.
Ron Colone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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