Outside the Ring: Kevin Iole

By Jill Diamond on December 4, 2014
Outside the Ring: Kevin Iole
“A fighter has to be in magnificent condition. He (or she) has to be very smart and poised.”

“When I was in ninth grade, I put on a form that I wanted to be a sports writer and a guidance counselor tried to talk me out of it…”

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

I was told by a friend, a well thought-of referee from Canada that the reason the arena sells out in Montreal is because many of the fans there don’t speak English. This came after a heated discussion about the constant and brutal criticism provided by certain boxing professionals, without regard to the many competent and experienced people who participate in the sport. They take little effort in educating the public but a lot of grit in deriding those involved. Boxing is one of the most accessible sports we have. As one prominent journalist told me, all you have to do is walk into a gym, corner a willing fighter and poof, you have a column. There are some who enjoy buying into that worn,  romantic concept of corruption and bias; the cigar smoking dealmaker, the promoter’s judge, the over the hill opponent who’d take a dive for a sawbuck. I’m sure a few exist, as in any sport, but I dare say they are the vast minority. Someone once called boxing the red light district of sports. Sadly, it’s a brilliant metaphor. Boxing is primal, violent and mysterious; and the majority of times, it’s also decent, credible, and without prejudice. Boxers risk a lot more than opinion when they enter the ring. And officials are constantly scrutinized, as well they should be; however, if people wrote about umpires the way they write about officials they’d be sued. There are those who’d rather fill a column with ego than facts. So when a passionate someone reports, not with an agenda, but with a genuine desire to put on paper what he sees in the ring, he should be noticed. I will now use the man’s own words:

“I can barely believe I’m about to type this, but tonight, I’ll be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. It’s an incredible honor and one I never expected. When I was in seventh grade at St. Alphonsus School in Springdale, PA, and decided I first wanted to be a sports writer, I couldn’t have imagined where this career would take me. I’ve done what I have loved all of my adult life, and for that I’m extraordinarily thankful and lucky.”

So there are all ways to give back. And intelligent, well thought out columns that are fair and literate is number one on my list. Thank you, Kevin Iole. And here you go.

Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. Tell us about the journey?

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. I went to high school there and went to college at Point Park U in downtown Pittsburgh, where I got a degree in journalism and communication. In the interest of disclosure, I should note I had a brief stint at the U of Miami in Florida, so I am a Cane, too! Anyway, I got a job at a small daily in Pittsburgh while I was still in college. But the economy was bad and in ‘81, I took a job in Vermont. There, I met my wife, Betsy, who is a pathologist. She got a job offer in Vegas, and I followed. I was unemployed for one week before getting hired at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The rest is history!

What are the pluses and perils of life in Nevada?

As a fight writer, there can’t be a better place to live. It’s always great to sleep in my own bed after covering a fight, instead of a 4 a.m. alarm and a sprint to the airport. I love Vegas. There is a lot to do and because of the enormous growth we had from say 1990 to mid 2000s, much of our infrastructure is new. Downside is the heat. I don’t care if it’s dry or not. 110 is 110 no matter how you cut it.

Was sports journalism your first choice?

I always wanted to be a sports writer. I was in junior high and HS as Watergate was going on, but I loved papers before that even began. And I so loved sports. When I was in ninth grade, I put on a form that I wanted to be a sports writer and a guidance counselor tried to talk me out of it. I love telling stories and I love being able to present a side of a person you may not have known, or thought about. I love being a part of the action while not having to worry about getting punched in the nose.

What is it about combat sports that attract you?

It’s 1 on 1 and there is no help from anyone. A fighter has to be in magnificent condition. He (or she) has to be very smart and poised. He has to be courageous. He has to have an arrogance about him that says, I’m better than you. It’s a physical chess match and I love that combination of brains and brawn.

If you could have an in-depth, unlimited interview with anyone, who would it be?

My mother. When we’re young, we tend to be self-absorbed and not think about the sacrifices that others make on our behalf. This is year is the 30th anniversary of my mother’s passing. I’d love to ask her so many things: Why she did without so often so my brother and I could have virtually everything we wanted; how hard she had to work in her life; what she wanted to do that she was never able to do. Just to be able to talk to her one more time and see her beautiful face would be a treat for me.

The best fights of all-time?

Oh, so so many. Some of my favorites are Corrales-Castillo I, Ali-Frazier I; Ali-Frazier III, Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hearns, Bowe-Holyfield I, Holmes-Norton, Pryor-Arguello I, Foreman-Lyle; Morales-Barrera III; Morales-Barrera I; Vazquez-Marquez III; Leonard-Duran I; Graziano-Zale.

The one you’d love to see?

Mayweather-Pacquiao, of course.

Among the talent you meet, whom would you regard as role models?

Chris Byrd is a terrific human being.

Given the “bad ass” reputation that excites some fans, does giving back make a difference in popularity of the athlete? Of the sport?

Sadly, I think not. We tend to focus on what’s wrong, the sensational, and not about the good that is going on in the world. Much of the good fighters do is unknown because they don’t make a point to call the media.

Outside the arena, what makes an athlete “stand out?”

Once you become a star, you’re in the public eye constantly. You can’t go to the gas station or the supermarket, or to a restaurant, without being recognized. It can be difficult for an athlete who maybe has had a bad day to have to smile and be nice and pose and take time of the day to interact with fans. But so many of them do it, and do it so well, and the fans often don’t know they had a bad day or just found out that a loved one has cancer or anything like that. The athletes smile and sign and shake hands and are so gracious with their fans that it’s something to admire. Not all of them are that way, but there are many who are.

What charitable organizations do you admire?

I am a major supporter of the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Las Vegas Basset Rescue

Do you think BWAA should do more for boxers?

The BWAA is a professional organization designed to assist the boxing writers in doing their job. It does donate to charity at its annual dinner, but it is a poorly funded outfit that doesn’t really have the capacity to do more.

Honors?

I’ve been fortunate. I am being inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame on Aug. 9 in Las Vegas. I won the Nat Fleischer Award from the BWAA in 2006. I was named Outstanding Journalist by the Nevada Press Association in 1999, becoming the first and only sports writer to win that. I have been named my state’s Sportswriter of the Year multiple times as chosen by the National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Association.

You also cover MMA. What excites you about this sport?

I love fights and MMA is another brand of fighting. It has great finishes and knockouts and the athletes are terrific

How would you compare MMA athletes to boxers in relation to training, background and goals?

They’re remarkably very similar. MMA fighters have to diversify more and have to train boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, etc., but they’re very similar. One big difference in background is that a lot of MMA fighters come from college wrestling. There aren’t that many boxers who go to college or have gone.

The most exciting fight you’ve seen?

Corrales-Castillo I. That was a Hollywood ending. After a great fight, Diego gets decked twice in the 10th and it looks like he’s out. But he gets up and somehow knocked out Castillo. If I didn’t see it live, I wouldn’t have believed it.

If you could change the sport of boxing, how would you?

I’d love to see one league where all fighters competed under the same umbrella and then there weren’t these TV contracts or promoter alliances that block fights from being made. Beyond that, I’d convene medical specialists and examine how to make boxing safer and then would implement those regulations. I’d also like to see just one champion per weight class.

Tell me about sanctioning bodies? Life without them?

I have mixed feelings. I hate it when fighters are arbitrarily stripped of their belts or when CLEARLY undeserving challengers are named mandatory contenders, blocking fights the fans want. I don’t like their resistance to unification bouts and that they often don’t rank fighters fairly. However, it’s been proven that fighters make more when fighting for a sanctioning body belt and if anything helps a boxer make more money—I support it if it’s legal.

Boxing is a global sport, how would or wouldn’t a Federal Commission help? Who should be on it?

I don’t think a federal commission would work because, as you say, boxing is a global sport and the US government hasn’t shown it can run itself, let alone boxing. Laws are different around the world. But if there were some sort of worldwide commission to oversee boxing, I’d want Marc Ratner to be the man to run it on a day-to-day basis. He’s smart, scrupulously honest and has the respect of so many people in boxing.

In order to increase the boxing fan base, I would…?

Four things: First, I’d try to land a national television deal for two fight cards of HBO or Showtime quality a month; Second, I’d hire the best PR and marketing people available to get the word out that these fights were going on; Third, I’d press the sanctioning bodies to allow unification bouts so we get to the goal of one champion per division. Finally, I’d offer bonuses on each fight card for best KO and best performance to encourage fighters to go for it more.

When you chose a topic to write about, what are the guidelines?

There are surprisingly few, other than making sure it’s accurate and I’m not libeling anyone. But I try to get write stories that will give an insight into the person I’m talking to, as well as some explanation for why things happen. I want to be fair, accurate and, if I can, entertaining. I’d love to be first on a story, but there’s way, way, way too much of an emphasis today on being first and not enough on being right.

Do you think you influence a fighter’s career?

Not really. I mean, if I write a lot about a fighter and the other top writers do, that fighter becomes more known than maybe some of his peers, but for the most part, I don’t think I have a role in influencing anyone’s career.

Have you ever regretted or retracted an opinion? Ever wish you’d gone further? Would you share a story?

Of course I have, many times. I’ve written thousands of stories in my lifetime and I’m human. Humans make mistakes. I never do anything out of vengeance or animosity, ever. I’ve never consciously used my position to take a shot at someone I have had a problem with or whom I don’t like. But there have been times when I wish I took the other side or felt I was flat wrong in my first opinion. There is power in storytelling.

Tell me how reporting can be used to improve the sport?

If you know of abuses going on and can write about those, it can make a difference. In 2005, two boxers died in Nevada in fights I’ve covered. They were fighters numbers 6 and 7 that I saw die in the ring in person. After the last two, Martin Sanchez and Leavander Johnson, I wrote a series of news stories about fighter safety in the newspaper I was with at the time. I wrote a column making recommendations and I’m happy to say that many of my recommendations were implemented by the Nevada Athletic Commission. That makes me feel good, that I did something to improve the sport. There are countless ways that kind of thing can be done.

How important is marketing to an athlete? To a sport?

It’s critical, especially in an individual sport like boxing. I know a lot of times, fans will tell me I write too much about Mayweather or Pacquiao, but that’s because Mayweather and Pacquiao are by far the most popular fighters. I want people to read what I write, so I try to write about what they’re interested in. There is a great lack of attention to PR and marketing in boxing. There aren’t nearly enough people out there like Fred Sternburg and Kelly Swanson who do brilliant work on behalf of their clients.

Anything you’d like to add?

I want to thank all the fighters over the years who have opened up and shared intimate details of their lives with me and allowed me to tell their stories.

Make a wish.

OK, Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao, May 2, 2015, MGM Grand Garden. Given that’s probably impossible, I wish that Muhammad Ali would be cured of his Parkinson’s and live many more happy, healthy years.

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Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. nicolas 10:14pm, 12/07/2014

    Was perhaps Mr. Iole’s tongue in his cheek?

  2. nicolas 01:55am, 12/05/2014

    I had been critical as many of us were in regards to Jill Diamond’s interview with the younger Sulaiman, but this was a very good article, and gave food for thought. I agree with some of Mr. Iole’s comments, but his one regarding giving prize money for the best ko and best performance, the first one really bothered me, about best KO. So if a fighter is pummeling another fighter, he should not perhaps turn to the ref like some have, and say come on ref, but go for that KO so that he can pick up that prize money. I guess then when Lupe Pintor knocked out Johnny Owen’s back in 1980, which ended the life of Owens, he probably had the best KO of the night, and should have gotten extra prize money for the knockout. Perhaps there is an error here in the article as it has come out, but I myself kind of found that suggestion sort of obscene.

  3. bikermike 04:51pm, 12/04/2014

    I’ll look forward to Jill Diamond’s articles ...Nice read !!

  4. bikermike 04:48pm, 12/04/2014

    ....I just never tire of watching Duran kick the ever loving snot out of leonard
    DOO -RAN   DOO -RAN

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:40pm, 12/04/2014

    The Editor put up this photo as a sort of pop quiz and it looks like Eric and Pete get the bonus points! I’m still here in night school languishing in the back row….no points for me….is it break time yet…..did I fall off to sleep…..what’s all this drool doing on my desk…..forget it…. I’m baling early because I know the roach coach gets here in five minutes and I need my churros and cafe!

  6. Pete The Sneak 12:17pm, 12/04/2014

    @ Eric…LOL…He sure does resemble Gorilla Monsoon, dosen’t he?...Great Catch…Jill, always look forward to these interviews. Very concise, interesting, informative and easy to read…Please keep em coming…Peace.

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:44am, 12/04/2014

    Is that all he saw in that fight? Hollywood ending! That’s one KO loss that Castillo sure as fuk didn’t deserve…..Weeks should have stopped the fight the second time Corrales spit out the mouthpiece…..turning your back and spitting out the mouthpiece…..two universal signs of surrender or just plain quitting or in this case gaining an unfair advantage…...great recuperative powers or not (especially with the additional bogus recovery time) Corrales cheated and a one point deduction just didn’t get it!

  8. Eric 07:54am, 12/04/2014

    Is that Gorilla Monsoon?

  9. Kid Blast 07:20am, 12/04/2014

    Outstanding job, Jill

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