Charley and the Talent Factory

By Mike Casey on November 8, 2012
Charley and the Talent Factory
After Rocky’s first try out, Goldman told him, “If you done anything right, I didn't see it.”

The messiahs have long gone and the bible seemingly has been replaced by a cheap instruction card containing a few handy bullet points…

Charley Goldman was such a tiny man that people used to think he was Rocky Marciano’s mascot when they entered the ring together. It didn’t matter to Charley, who was very comfortable in his skin. He had already proved himself one of the best trainers in the business and he was a very useful fighter too back in his youth.

Goldman, standing just over five feet tall, had been a bantamweight socker in old New York for fourteen years between 1904 and 1918, crossing gloves with all-time greats Frankie Burns, Johnny Coulon and Kid Williams, and going the distance with that murderous hitter from Baltimore, George (KO) Chaney.

While Marciano bridled increasingly at the demands made of him by manager Al Weill, Charley Goldman would be forever revered by The Rock. It was Charley who taught him how to box, how to move and how to hit with maximum effect.

Great fighters have always had great trainers. Jack Dempsey had Teddy Hayes and Jimmy DeForest. Joe Louis had Jack Blackburn and Mannie Seamon. Marciano had Charley Goldman, but that last combination marked the slow burn-out of a fantastic era whose magic and quality we will probably never see again.

So proficient did Rocky become at learning his lessons that he could quickly spot those who hadn’t. Writer Jimmy Breslin told of the day when Marciano was watching a film of Tony DeMarco going after Carmen Basilio. Rocky suddenly saw something and shouted, “Run that part over – I want to show you something.” He had spotted DeMarco throwing a left hook and then following up with a right before first moving his feet into position. The right missed Basilio by a good foot.

“I don’t know what they ever taught this kid,” Marciano said. “See how bad he missed that punch? He didn’t step in. The first thing Charley Goldman ever taught me was to always figure a guy to be going away from you when you punch.

“I was only a four round fighter and I knew that. And this kid here is a champion of the world at the time they took this film. He doesn’t know the first thing about how to use his feet. It’s a crime he never had Charley Goldman to teach him.”

It’s a crime that Charley Goldman and the other great trainers of boring’s golden age aren’t around these days in the era of instant stardom, half-learned lessons and meaningless soundbites from inept cornermen. The messiahs have long gone and the bible seemingly has been replaced by a cheap instruction card containing a few handy bullet points.

In 1961, Charley was fidgeting about in the lobby of the Hotel Westbury in Toronto, not sure of what he had to do or whether his services were even required. Floyd Patterson’s heavyweight title defense against Tom McNeeley was just a few short hours away.

“I was supposed to help train McNeeley or something,” Goldman told Jimmy Breslin. “But I’m not even going to work in the corner. They only brought me around as a publicity stunt, being that I trained Marciano.”

Breslin asked Charley if he had done anything at all for McNeeley. “Well, in Boston I had to take him in the hotel and try to show him how to put his feet. He don’t know how to balance himself. But I couldn’t get it done in a hotel.”

Breslin suggested that it was a little late in the day for McNeeley to be learning how to position his feet. “It’s too much for me to understand,” Goldman said. “I mean, I ain’t the smartest guy in the world, but I know that if you’re going to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, the least you could do is learn how to fight first. This fellow don’t even know how to stand on his own two feet. I just hope he doesn’t get hurt bad.”

Tom McNeeley was knocked down eight times before Patterson’s hand was raised.

Poignant

Where Have You Gone Charley Goldman screams the poignant title of chapter six in Mike Silver’s excellent book, The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science. Therein, Mike discusses the “finer points” of boxing with Tony Arnold, a former amateur and professional boxer from 1949 to 1957, and Bill Goodman, a licensed cornerman with the New York State Athletic Commission from 1957 to 1966.

Here is what Bill Goodman says: “It all started to break up in the mid-1950s. The better trainers died off, got freezed out, got disgusted or just gave it up. They lost interest. The people who knew how to teach the finer points were disappearing, and there was nobody to pass it on to the next guy.

“The types of trainers that have been around for the past 25-35 years are not of the same caliber as the old timers. They can teach boxing but they cannot teach the finer points of boxing. I emphasize that wording – the finer points of boxing.

“For example, fighters have become more susceptible in recent years to cuts caused by unintentional head butts. To avoid that situation, a right-handed boxer should always have his face turned slightly to the right when he leads off with a left jab so that his left ear, not his face, is angled toward the opponent. You’ve always got to show the smallest target that you can. As you move in, your opponent will naturally drop his head and if you are facing him incorrectly sooner or later you will butt heads.”

Now here is what Tony Arnold tells Mike Silver about throwing the left hook properly: “When you throw a left hook your left foot and hip has to be turned with the punch all with the same motion. It is your shoulder and upper back muscles driving the punch – not your hand. Your hand is just the delivery. You extend your hand as little as possible and you’d be surprised how much power you can generate into a short punch by just turning your body. That’s what was taught and that’s what I learned. The old time contenders learned how to execute a punch and could throw a good left hook.”

What Charley Goldman knew – what all the great trainers knew – were those little gems of wisdom that are quite obvious when pointed out but so easy to miss. When the crouching, awkward Arturo Godoy returned to his corner after the first round of his first fight with Joe Louis in 1940, Goldman told Arturo to crouch still lower. “Put your nose down like you was smellin’ the floor and punch up at the fella.”

So effectively did Godoy punch upwards for the next fourteen rounds that one of the judges gave him the fight by a 10-5 margin.

The diligent and wonderfully talented lightweight, Lou Ambers, was a great favorite of his manager Al Weill and certainly benefitted from the boxing intelligence of Charley Goldman. When Lou was training for his return title challenge to the fading Tony Canzoneri, Goldman imparted some precious advice.

“Pugilistically speaking, Canzoneri’s washed up. But you got to make him work early. Keep him on one breath all the time. When he takes a breath go right in on him and keep him holdin’ that breath while you punch. He’ll fall apart. Don’t let him start takin’ big deep breaths or you’ll be in trouble. No breaths at all or little short ones. That’s how to fight him.”

Lou Ambers was a great student as well as a great fighter. He did as Charley told him and beat Canzoneri to win the world championship. Lou did his work for the Canzoneri return at Madam Bey’s famous training camp. With typical enthusiasm, he described his daily routine.

“I’d get up in the morning about seven o’clock. I’d run about three or four miles, come back, take a shower. Nine o’clock I’d have my breakfast – a couple of eggs, not fried, broiled, and maybe some bacon and some other things they had, and then I’d take a walk, lazy around the room awhile, read or do something. At about ten o’clock I’d take a little hike for myself.

“After I took that hike I came back and I’d go up the stairs and lay down, try to sleep for about an hour. Then I’d get up about one o’clock. I’d come down and go to the gym and start training. I’d train for about an hour, an hour and a half, sparring, punching the bag, skip rope and all that stuff. I’d box two or three rounds, then I’d punch the heavy bag maybe one or two rounds, then I’d punch the small bag, then I’d jump rope one or two rounds.

“I’d do all together about ten, twelve rounds, then take my shower, get a rubdown, and I’d call it quits that day. Every night nine o’clock I went to bed.”

Rounded

The great trainers of that era made their fighters as rounded as they could possibly be and brought them along at the right pace. Everything was meticulously planned to bring the boxer to his optimum physical and mental peak in time for the fight. The truly special fighters – the ambitious, the thinkers, the innovators – would then supplement that knowledge with little ideas and habits of their own.

Jack Johnson almost resented Mother Nature for making his left arm weaker than his right, so he worked tirelessly on his left arm to balance out the differential as much as was possible. Rocky Marciano relieved the tedium of roadwork by throwing a football with his left arm. Rocky credited that little exercise for significantly improving the strength and power of his port side

Harry Greb played a lot of handball, which added even greater versatility to his gifts of hand speed and being able to hit an opponent from seemingly impossible angles. Just recently I wrote an article about Harry and got an interesting response from historian Chuck Johnston, who knows a thing or two about this old game of ours.

Here is what Chuck told me: “Luckett Davis, a prolific compiler of boxing results and records who looked through an enormous amount of newspapers on microfilm, told me in a letter that Harry Greb did quite a bit of roadwork and played a lot of handball to keep in shape. He added that nine miles of roadwork at a time wasn’t unusual for Greb. While Greb didn’t spar much, Luckett speculated that this didn’t hurt him because he fought so frequently.

“Luckett thought that playing lots of handball may have enabled Greb to land telling blows despite throwing punches from all angles. When mentioning Greb throwing punches from all angles, Luckett brought up Rocky Marciano’s tendency to do the same thing, adding that the Rock certainly had much more punching power.

“I asked Luckett about comparing Aaron Pryor and Greb in terms of their fighting styles, adding that this didn’t mean that I thought that Pryor was as good as Greb. Both Pryor and Greb were extremely aggressive fighters and high volume punchers with tremendous stamina. Even though Pryor was far from being the most fundamentally sound boxer, Luckett said that Greb had a more unorthodox fighting style than Pryor.

“Opponents found it very difficult to land punches in bouts with Greb, especially when trying to punch to the head. As a result, it was thought by some that opponents would have more success punching to Greb’s body.”

Forgotten

It might not be known by some of today’s boxing fans that Nat Fleischer, founder and editor of The Ring magazine, was also a very competent referee and judge. Fleischer reminded us back in 1927 that in the eternal triangle of manager, promoter and trainer, it was the trainer who got the least amount of recognition. That fact still holds true today, yet a trainer who knows his business is arguably the most important cog in the wheel.

Fleischer was scathing of poor trainers and their inability to take into consideration the physique and constitution of the man they have in hand. “They hold to certain stereotyped rules, which they indiscriminately apply, both to him of sedentary habit whose training should be entered upon very gently and carefully, and to him, who, accustomed to much outdoor exercise, is already half fit.

“At the same time they keep working their patient as if he were a piece of mechanism till the training becomes so wearisome and monotonous that a pleasurable interest in the preparation is impossible.”

From Teddy Hayes to Jack Blackburn and Mannie Seamon, from Whitey Bimstein to Charley Goldman and Eddie Futch, the great trainers got to know the physical and mental capabilities of their fighters and how best to prepare and improve them. Conditioning was merely the first step in that process.

Technical flaws were found and corrected from the beginning and not allowed to become habitual. Offensive and defensive tricks of the trade were instilled into pupils, whether pertaining to footwork or being able to punch correctly and with the maximum economy. Slipping and ducking, riding and rolling with punches would be thoroughly taught by a trainer of Charley Goldman’s ability. Feinting and body punching were regarded as other essential requirements of a boxer’s portfolio of skills.

Golden prospects were brought along at a sensible pace and not rushed into fights against dangerous opponents. The noble art of hitting without being hit was the order of the day.

Tommy Loughran, the great light heavyweight champion, was almost obsessive in his quest to make himself an impossible target for his opponents. Loughran had wall-to-wall mirrors to study himself, various diagrams for footwork, and analyzed every single move and punch in constant preparation for his opponents and their styles, strengths and weaknesses. To master slipping and rolling, his trainer Joe Smith would throw fast punches at Tommy’s face while Loughran stood near a wall.

Some of the great trainers were almost amateur physicians in their great knowledge of the human anatomy. Nat Fleischer regarded this as a crucial advantage:  “The trainer should be able to analyze the weakness of his charge and to correct any deficiency in his make-up. If the fighter’s chin is weak, by a process of exercises the trainer can remedy that defect. Improper breathing and incorrect exercises should all be curbed and the right method installed before the boxer prepares for his professional career.

“That is why the trainer plays an important part in the development of a young boxer. In him is entrusted the future of this charge and if he is not qualified to handle him, then he will be the means of ruining the prospects of a promising boxer. A stockbroker cannot become a trainer overnight and the trainer could not qualify as a broker without preliminary experience.”

Magic

Charley Goldman, with all his magic, with all his vast experience and with liberal shots of dry humor, guided the rough diamond that was Rocky Marciano to the top of the mountain with almost saintly care and patience. After Rocky’s first gym try out, Goldman told him, “If you done anything right, I didn’t see it.” In fact wise old Charley had seen plenty. He just didn’t want Marciano to know it yet.

Allied to Goldman’s knowledge was Rocky’s ability to think on his feet and learn quickly. One day when he was lifting weights and barbells, a weightlifter told him, “If I was you, I’d be careful. You’ve got to know what you’re doing with these things. If you don’t you could get muscle-bound. Lifting weights the wrong way could ruin a guy like you for boxing.”

Marciano never lifted weights again. Harold Johnson and many other great fighters were sworn off them by their trainers. Weights were a no-no then and they should be a no-no today. They ruin a boxer’s suppleness and certainly don’t improve his athleticism.

When Rocky was still raw and impossibly awkward, Charley Goldman frustrated him by not allowing him to spar for five days. Goldman instructed the youngster to work the heavy bag, shadow box and skip rope, but no sparring. When Marciano protested, Charley said, “You got so much to learn, it ain’t funny.”

As Rocky labored, Goldman would note down the technical faults. He did plenty of writing too. It was a question of where to begin? Marciano lacked proper punch leverage, he was right hand happy, didn’t have anything in the way of a left hook and he couldn’t fire combinations. He was wild, off balance and couldn’t position his legs correctly. But the kid had one important building block – he could hit. So began Goldman’s steady program of education.

Rocky couldn’t get enough of being tested in sparring sessions. He had some furious sessions with the promising Cesar Brion and big slugger Gene Gooney. Charley was seeing signs of improvement all the time, but he needed to teach his charge how to fight on the inside and how to develop a damaging left hook. Further lessons in leverage, footwork and balance would gradually increase Rocky’s already gifted power.

The one thing Goldman couldn’t cure was Marciano’s crude overarm right, which amused other trainers who kept asking Charley what the hell kind of punch it was. Again, Goldman had recognized something. He had recognized that while that peculiar punch would have been the death of most other fighters, it was a uniquely effective weapon in Rocky’s armory. The blow kept knocking other guys dead, so why worry about it anymore? Charley famously christened the punch “Suzi Q”.

At the peak of his training powers, it was as if Goldman had his own little radar secreted in the famous and omnipresent little derby hat that he quite probably wore in bed. Archie Moore would say that he needed no more than thirty seconds to assess another fighter. Goldman could do likewise.

Before Marciano’s winning fight against Carmine Vingo, Charley said, “Vingo’s young and tough and the kid can punch. But he fights flat footed and stands up straight. If he don’t make no changes, he’ll be all right for Rocky.”

The glory days passed rapidly and suddenly they were gone. When Jimmy Breslin caught up with Charley Goldman around 1964, the little magician was a man out of time. He was training the tall Florida prospect Tony Alongi, who had a decent career and drew with Jerry Quarry and George Chuvalo before retiring from the game in 1967.

But Tony Alongi was no Marciano and no Jerry Quarry either. Goldman was worried about the kid’s long neck: “He only has a size sixteen collar. You know them fighters with long necks and them long pointy chins. They cost you more for smellin’ salts than they do for food.”

Tough

Goldman was in his late seventies and had led a tough life in an eternally uncertain profession; but even as he struggled to remember the names of some of the kids in the gym, he saw what many others had yet to see.

He saw that the golden times were over and the talent pool was beginning to dry up fast. Even the rough diamonds like Rocky Marciano weren’t coming down the trail anymore, hitching rides on trucks and walking for blocks in the hot sun to get to the gym. Life had become easier and young men were no longer so hungry. The ace trainers of yore, little Charley’s brothers, had died or gone grumbling into their retirement.

Somebody once asked Charley Goldman why he had never married, since he quite obviously had a keen eye for the ladies. “I prefer my life a la carte,” he replied.

Too many trainers and fighters these days settle for a set menu, the house wine and a good little wife who tells them they’re never wrong.


Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Copyright © Mike Casey

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  1. Beaujack 09:58pm, 11/25/2012

    Wonderful article Mike as usual… i along with my dad first saw Rocky Marciano ko the much taller Carmine Vingo MSG in 1949…Prior to the bout I saw Vingo fight on our 12” TV screen ko’ing a few guys. Vingo could hit. In the first round Carmine hit the smaller Marciano with an uppercut
    that almost lifted rocky off his feet, but Marciano shook the punch off and proceeded to batter Carmine battering ram-like punches until the
    6th round when Vingo absorbing bombs collapsed to the canvas. I still recall one of Vingo’s legs twitching violently as he lay on his back…
    Medics came ,put vingo on a stretcher and took him to thge hospital one block away…Everyone of us in the audience silently feared for Vingo’s life, but after months in the hospital ,he survived but needed a cane to get around…
    I would also see Charley Goldman at Stillman’s gym training his fighters.
    Charley looked like a leprechaun with a cigar stuck in his mouth in the gym.  I would see Goldman, along with Whitey Bimstein, Freddie Brown,
    Chickie Ferrera, and other great trainers of that time plying their craft…

  2. cnorkusjr 08:02pm, 11/12/2012

    “Life has become easier and young men are not so hungry” pretty much sums it up here in the 21st century.

    Great insight, Mike. It’s tough to say Goldman had complete control of Rocky early in his career. Someone slipped up in 1950 when Rocky was suspended 30 days for fighting his brother, Louis, who fought under an assumed name as an amateur so he can get ring time in up in Maine. Hard to believe Goldman was on board for that one. Rocky said later on, “It was the most embarrassing moment in his whole career.”

    Love the attached training clips below the article. Thank You.

  3. Henry 07:13pm, 11/12/2012

    Great article and true.  The Golden age of boxing ended with the retirement of Rocky Marciano.  Today all we have are weight lifters pretending to be boxers.

  4. Mike Casey 12:58am, 11/12/2012

    Thanks, Pug - greatly appreciated!

  5. pugknows 01:52pm, 11/11/2012

    MOST ENJOYABLE AND INFORMATIVE READ. THANK YOU MIKE

  6. Bobby Franklin 10:09am, 11/10/2012

    Fantastic article. People today haven’t have a clue about what the great trainers were all about. They were true professionals, professors of a fine art. It is sad that art is lost forever. I am saving this article and keeping it in my copy of Mike Silver’s “The Arc of Boxing”. This history has to be preserved, and thanks to people like Mike Casey and Mike Silver, it will be. I just hope more and more people read this.

  7. pole 07:59pm, 11/08/2012

    thanks

  8. Tex Hassler 05:32pm, 11/08/2012

    It is no secret that when great trainers passed off the scene truly great fighters failed to develop. We have absolutely no trainer with Goldman’s skill alive today. Boxing today is a different sport than it was 50 years ago and it will probably never return to the days of men like Greb, Tunney, Joe Louis and many other greats of the past. It is not the fault of trainers or fighters today, there are just not the vast number of fighters today to match the competition of past years. Lots of fights produce both great fighters and trainers. An unbeaten record today proves just about nothing as many unbeaten fighters have not fought good competition and thus have not been tested to the extent they actually had to learn their trade. If you are a boxing fan and you have not read every word of Mike Silver’s truly excellent book, “Arc of Boxing”, you have lost a lot of knowledge about boxing as it once was.

  9. Mike Silver 04:20pm, 11/08/2012

    Beautiful tribute to a great teacher.

  10. Mike Casey 08:44am, 11/08/2012

    Thanks, gentlemen. Yes, Dan, priceless stuff from Rose and thanks for your input. Broadway Charley Rose was some character!

  11. jofre 08:20am, 11/08/2012

    Mike, what a terrific and informative article about one of boxing’s greatest trainers.
    Several years ago, Mike Hunnicutt and I were discussing famous trainers for an article he was writing for the IBRO Journal.  Charley Goldman was a big part of that discussion as was Charley Rose. Rose was quoted in an article on how the art of infighting was practiced in the gyms on a daily basis in the early 1910’s. “Fighters back then fought two and three times a week and couldn’t afford to get busted up. So every day they practiced how to fight on the inside – how to move in and out of clinches.” He stated, “Every fighter was taught how to edge their left or front foot towards the right, or edge their right foot forward and over to the left, while simultaneously sloping their head towards the right or left so that if the two fighters hit heads, they would come in contact with the side of the skull from the ear up which is pretty solid. Even if the skin did break, it wouldn’t affect anything as vital as eyesight. Every fighter practiced these maneuvers in the gym daily until it became habit.” This practice led to better defensive fighters that were less likely to get cut. Charley Goldman was a proponent of this.

  12. the thresher 06:47am, 11/08/2012

    Rocky was a very fine athlete as a young kid. He was coordinated and strong. Of course, he was a good baseball player as well.

    He was an anomaly in that he was ring savvy, built like a billy goat with sloping shoulders and a strange neck. Goldman must have been a genius to make Rocky what he became.

    These days, I’d compare Garcia as a modern-day Goldman.

  13. Bob 05:49am, 11/08/2012

    Fantastic tribute to a great trainer and a colorful character.  The anecdotes written here were priceless. Thanks for the great read.

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