In Lieu of Flowers

By Clarence George on March 28, 2013
In Lieu of Flowers
"Do you think they'll ask me to be Bowe's sparring partner? I don't want to, of course."

When Ray Arcel died some 20 years ago, I read that admirers should skip the flowers and instead make a donation to Ring 8. I had no idea what Ring 8 was, but with Sherlock Holmes-like acumen deduced that it must have something to do with boxing.

How could any boxing aficionado worthy of the name not be an Arcel admirer? He trained some 2,000 fighters, including champions from each of the original eight weight divisions. I’m not even scratching the surface in naming flyweight Frankie Genaro, bantam Sixto Escobar, welters Jackie “Kid” Berg and Kid Gavilan, middleweights Billy Soose and Tony Zale, and light heavy Leo Lomski. And the heavies! Joe Louis’ “You here again?” was understandable, given that Arcel trained a number of the so-called bums, including Nathan Mann, Abe Simon, and Lou Nova.

In 1953, Arcel hit a mob thug in the lead pipe with his head. The trainer was involved with ABC’s Saturday Night Fight Series, which challenged mob-controlled IBC’s television monopoly. “Well, that would certainly explain the hostility,” as Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne) observed in My Cousin Vinny.

Discretion being the better part of another encounter with a lead pipe, Arcel left the fight game. But he returned in 1972 to work with Roberto Duran, staying with him until the infamous “No mas.” Arcel actually cried over it. “The whole situation was more than I could take,” he said. “It took a long time for me to get over it, if I ever did.”

Arcel left on a high note, at age 83, when Larry Holmes stopped Gerry Cooney by 13th-round TKO in 1982 in yet another successful defense of his WBC heavyweight title.

As for Ring 8, I discovered that it was a boxing association established to help boxers down on their luck, and that it had come to the rescue of Sandy Saddler and Tami Mauriello, among a host of others. This was a matter near and dear to my heart, and I gladly sent them a check in memory of the great Ray Arcel.

While not my intention or expectation, my modest financial homage was taken as payment of membership dues. I had no objection, and was delighted to receive postcards reminding me that I was entitled to attend Ring 8’s monthly meetings at Tony Mazzarella’s Waterfront Crabhouse in Long Island City, Queens.

All was well until I became convinced that I would be summoned to serve as Riddick Bowe’s sparring partner.

Riddickian, er, ridiculous, you say? Yes, mad. Quite, quite mad. I recall those fear-drenched days with a vividness at which I still shudder. I even remember the book I was reading in a futile attempt to find distraction from a psychotic fear worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe character. It was J.P. Donleavy’s stunningly narcissistic autobiography, The History of the Ginger Man, only somewhat redeemed by the author’s amusing reminiscences of Irish playwright and worldwide drunk Brendan Behan.

I was in such a state that I decided to talk with my then-girlfriend about my fear-drenched idee fixe. Riddickian, of course, since she knew little of psychology and even less about boxing. She had mastered the intricacies of ordering lobster, but that was hardly helpful in this instance. She was, however, a cuddlesome wench who bore a remarkable resemblance to 1950s movie starlet and lifelong obsession Barbara Nichols. The conversation went like this:

“Do you think they’ll ask me to be Riddick Bowe’s sparring partner? I don’t want to, of course, but how could I say no?”

“Who’s Riddick Bowe?”

Needless to say, the dread summons never arrived. My relief at not having to face “Big Daddy” is easily imagined. Perversely, however, I felt a twinge of regret at being cheated of the chance to demonstrate my God-given talent for begging for mercy, with requisite falsetto, in the middle of a ring. I hasten to add that the weight differential between relief and regret was, respectively, roughly between that of an elephant and an ant.

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  1. Clarence George 10:10am, 03/29/2013

    Irish:  In some ways, definitely; in others, definitely not.  We were engaged…until sanity reascended its throne.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:38am, 03/29/2013

    Clarence George- You were riding high with your Barbara Nichols stand in sweetie…no pun intended!

  3. Clarence George 09:17am, 03/29/2013

    Right you are, NYI.  If it weren’t for them, God knows where Emile Griffith would have wound up…the streets, probably.

  4. NYIrish 08:52am, 03/29/2013

    Great buch of people at Ring 8.

  5. Clarence George 04:03am, 03/29/2013

    Which had been the source of my fear, Mike—hurting him.

  6. Mike Casey 03:59am, 03/29/2013

    Feign enormous disappointment, Clarence, and whisper to your pals how you would have boxed the big man’s ears off.

  7. Clarence George 06:52pm, 03/28/2013

    A skill both acquired and required, Irish.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:24pm, 03/28/2013

    Clarence George-I believe you’re a man after my own heart and indeed a connoisseur of life…which reminds me…a true connoisseur is a man who can tell if a woman has a shapely ass as she walks toward him for the first time.

  9. Clarence George 04:56pm, 03/28/2013

    Scott is still with us, but she must be around 90…which I guess is right up your alley (no pun intended).

    Among the best cinematic fight scenes I know is from “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”:

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:40pm, 03/28/2013

    Clarence George-Thanks a lot…June Allyson, Elizabeth Scott and now Marjorie Main….that sucks big time…no pun intended!

  11. Clarence George 04:30pm, 03/28/2013

    Marjorie Main?!  Sorry to disappoint you, Irish, but I think she was a lesbian.

    Simon twice fought Louis for the title, if memory serves.  Another couple of tidbits for you…he was one of three Louis challengers who served as Johnny Friendly’s (Lee J. Cobb) bodyguard in “On the Waterfront.”  The other two were Tony Galento and Tami Mauriello.  Also, Simon was one of a very small number of Jewish heavyweights.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:14pm, 03/28/2013

    Clarence George-Which reminds me…in the jail break scene in Brando’s “One Eyed Jacks”...Marlon threw the most beautiful left hook to the mid-section ever filmed for the cinema when he literally lifted Slim Pickens off the floor.The punches he threw in the fight scene with Timothy Carey, the greatest American actor, were authentic as hell as well! Probably a carry over from his role as Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront”.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:45pm, 03/28/2013

    Clarence George- Here’s a couple of mind benders for you….Abe Simon KO’d by Lem Franklin in Oct ‘41….five months later in Mar ‘42 KO’d by the Brown Bomber in a Heavyweight Title fight! Even more amazing this guy KO’d Jersey Joe..or did he really….anyhooo… proving for all time that he was not just another pretty face! Which reminds me…Marjorie Main was no slouch in the rack department either.

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