Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Six

By Peter Weston Wood on February 23, 2014
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Six
“Now Ajax was a big powerful man without much brains, just like Jack Sharkey.”

“I read this book a couple of times and I’m still in doubt about Jesus Christ,” said LaMotta. “But Jesus did a lot of wonderful things…”

I asked professional fighters to finish this sentence: “MY FAVORITE BOOK IS…” Their responses were fascinating and illuminating; sometimes surprising and sometimes just plain funny. 

If the adage, “We are what we eat” is true, then “We are what we read” might also be true.

Read the responses of these tough guys (and tough girls) and peek into the soul of a prizefighter.

1. Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney —Heavyweight Champion of the World (1926 to 1928)

o Boxing Historian Tracy Callis considers Tunney to be sixth best heavyweight; fourth best cruiserweight, and best light heavyweight of all time.
o Bert Sugar rates Tunney fifth at Heavyweight.
o Named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year for 1928
o 2001 Inductee into the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame
o Defeated Jack Dempsey (W 10 twice)
o Defeated Tommy Gibbons (KO 12)
o Defeated Harry Greb (three times: NWS 10, W 15, W 15, Draw, L 15)
o Defeated Georges Carpentier (TKO 15)
o Defeated Tommy Loughran (NWS 8)
o Defeated Jimmy Delaney (twice: NWS 10 both times)
o Won 81 (KO 48) + lost 1 (KO 0) + drawn 3 = 86 rounds boxed 597 : KO% 55.81

Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney’s Favorite Book: “Troilus and Cressida” by Shakespeare

“‘Troilus and Cressida’ (was) one of Tunney’s favorites, in part, because it involves a fight between Hector…’the king of the Trojans,’ and Ajax, whom the Greeks matched Hector after Achilles, regarded as the Greeks’ best fighter, refused to fight…In talking about ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ Tunney jokingly compared Ajax, the boastful Greek warrior, with Jack Sharkey, whose repeated challenges annoyed Tunney. ‘Now Ajax was a big powerful man without much brains, just like Jack Sharkey,’ said Tunney.” (Tunney, pp.375-76)

2. Herbie Kronowitz—Tough NYC Middleweight Contender 1941 to 1950 

o In 1947, Kronowitz was ranked tenth in the world among middleweights
o Fought Artie Levine at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The crowd of 12,000 was said to have been enthralled during the 10-round battle between the two Jewish fighters. Levine won the decision, although Kronowitz claimed that while Levine “won the decision. There was no question that I won the fight.”
o Defeated Vinnie Cidone (W 10)
o Defeated Andres Gomez (W 10)
o Defeated Jerry Fiorello (W 10)
o Defeated Sonny Horne (W 10)
o Defeated Harold Green (W 10)
o Defeated Pete Mead (W 10)
o Top Referee for 30 years - 1955-1984
o Won 55 (KO 10) + lost 23 (KO 2) + drawn 5 = 83 rounds boxed 551 : KO% 12.05

Herbie Kronowitz’s Favorite Book: “The Ring Record Book” by Nat Fleisher

“I’ve always enjoyed sitting down in a chair and thumbing through the pages of ‘The Ring Record Book.’ I like learning about all of the fighters, seeing their ring records, learning their hometowns and looking at their photos. You know, back in the day, I knew and fought a lot of those guys.”

3. Jose “Chegui” Torres—Light Heavyweight Champion of the World (Defeated Willie Pastrano TKO 9) March 30, 1965 – Dec. 16, 1966 

o Made three successful title defenses in defeating Wayne Thornton, Eddie Cotton and Chic Calderwood
o Defeated Randy Sandy (W 10)
o Defeated Don Fullmer (W 10)
o Defeated Jose Gonzalez (W 10)
o Defeated Wilbert McClure (W 10)
o 1956 Olympic Silver Medalist in the light middleweight division, losing on points to Laszlo Papp
o 1958 New York Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion
o 1958 National AAU Middleweight Champion
o New York State Athletic Commission Chairman 1983-1988
o WBO President 1990-1995
o Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997
o Author of “Sting Like A Bee” about Muhammad Ali
o Author of “Fire & Fear” about Mike Tyson
o Chairman of the New York State Boxing Commission and Supervisor for the WBO
o Won 41 (KO 29) + lost 3 (KO 1) + drawn 1 = 45 rounds boxed 300 : KO% 64.44

Jose “Chegui” Torres’s Favorite Book: “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer

“After I read this book I became a big fan of Norman Mailer and I wanted to become his friend. So I looked him up and we became friends! The same thing with Budd Schulberg. After I read ‘What Makes Sammy Run? I looked for Budd and told him, ‘I would like for you to become my friend!’”

4. Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta—Middleweight Champion of the World June 16, 1949 – Feb. 14, 1951 

o LaMotta’s autobiography, “Raging Bull: My Story,” was published in 1970
o The 1980 Academy Award winning picture “Raging Bull,” starring Robert De Niro, was based on LaMotta’s autobiography
o In 2004, “The Ring” named LaMotta the fifth greatest middleweight of all-time
o Defeated Sugar Ray Robinson (W 10)
o Defeated “Irish” Bob Murphy (W 10)
o Defeated “Silent” Gene Hairston (W 10)
o Defeated Laurent Dauthuille (KO 15)
o Defeated Marcel Cerdan (TKO 15)
o Defeated Holman Williams (W 10)
o Defeated Tony Janiro (W 10)
o Defeated Bob Satterfield (KO 7)
o Defeated Fritzie Zivic (3 times) (SD 10), (SD 10) & (W 10)
o Defeated won 83 (KO 30) + lost 19 (KO 4) + drawn 4 = 106 rounds boxed 870 : KO% 28.3

Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta’s Favorite Book: “The Case for the Real Jesus” by Lee Strobel

“I read this book a couple of times and I’m still in doubt about Jesus Christ. But Jesus did a lot of wonderful things. He died on a cross; re-erected himself and moved the rock from a cave. No wonder we’re still talking about Him. I don’t know if it’s all true, but the author does a good job describing it. He gives you the pro and con arguments…I also like reading about Edgar Cayce. The guy’s mind was incredible—his mind was like a door into another world.”

5. James “Buddy” McGirt—IBF Light Welterweight Champion Feb. 14, 1988 – Sept. 3, 1988; WBC Welterweight Champion Nov. 29, 1991 – March 6, 1993 

o Defeated Kevin Pompey (W 10)
o Defeated Livingston Bramble (W 12)
o Defeated Simon Brown (W 12)
o Defeated Tony Baltazar (W 10)
o Defeated Howard Davis Jr. (KO 1)
o Defeated Saoul Mamby (W 10)
o Defeated Joe Manley (TKO 9)
o After retiring, McGirt has become a highly regarded trainer; among those he has trained are Antonio Tarver, Arturo Gatti, Tomasz Adamak and Lamon Brewster
o Won the Boxing Writers of America Trainer of the Year Award for 2002
o Won 73 (KO 48) + lost 6 (KO 2) + drawn 1 = 80 rounds boxed 537 : KO% 60

James “Buddy” McGirt’s Favorite Book: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

“’The Grapes of Wrath’ always stayed in my mind. Great book. What made it even more intriguing was my teacher in school. He’d assign pages to read and the next day we’d discuss it in class. It was about a struggling family whose goal was to make a better for themselves. Yeah, this book’s always stayed in my mind. The grapes symbolize both plenty and renewal, and bitterness and wrath.”

6. Jack Hirsch—President of Boxing Writers Association of America

o Vice-President Secretary of American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians
o Senior American correspondent for British Boxing News
o East Coast Editor of
o Official H.A.D. (Help Against Drugs) Public Relations
o Received “Writer of the Year” Award from America’s Association for the Improvement of Boxing
o Ring 8 Board Director

Jack Hirsch’s Favorite Book: “Confessions of a Fighter” by Peter Wood

“This book, ‘Confessions of a Fighter’ is a classic—it’s raw, honest and embodies the very pulse of amateur boxing in New York City. It takes me back to my roots, my youth, when I was fighting. I know the cast of colorful characters—the New York City fighters, the trainers and the gyms—it reminds me of the deep emotions in my heart. This book punches you in the heart! It’s one of the best.”

7. Don Majeski—U.S. Boxing Agent for Sauerland Events 

o Promoter/Matchmaker
o Freelance author
o Veteran reporter & record keeper
o Former writer for “Boxing Illustrated”

Don Majeski’s Favorite Book: “A Man For All Seasons” by Robert Bolt

“This is such a beautiful book I can still recite lines from it. The writing flows and has integrity, and the main character, Sir Thomas More, is beyond admirable. He was convicted and beheaded for treason. He allowed himself to be persecuted, and later executed, rather than renounce his oath to the Pope and the Catholic Church. More became a martyr and was eventually sainted. This was a man of conscience and serves to remind us all of how rare and valuable such men are…Yeah, that was an unforgettable play. Another one of my favorite books, on a different level, is ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac.”

8. Michael Bentt—WBO Heavyweight Champion Oct. 29, 1993 – March 19, 1994 

o Defeated Tommy Morrison (TKO 1)
o Defeated Mark Wills (W 10)
o Amateur Record: 148-8
o Four-Time New York Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion – 1984, 1985, 1986 & 1988
o Three-Time Amateur Heavyweight Champion – 1984, 1986, and 1987
o Bentt won the right to fight on the Jamaican Olympic boxing team but refused when told he would have to give up his U. S. citizenship
o After retiring, Bentt became an actor; he portrayed Sonny Liston in the movie “Ali”.
o Won 11 (KO 6) + lost 2 (KO 2) + drawn 0 = 13 rounds boxed 54 : KO% 46.15

Michael Bentt’s Favorite Book: “A Neutral Corner” by A.J. Liebling

“My favorite book? Easy—‘A Neutral Corner’ by A. J. Liebling. It changed my life. He wrote about fighters and understood them. He understood me. Unlike many journalists who see fighters as one-dimensional monsters, Liebling saw fighters as they are—three-dimensional people who laugh, cry, pity, have flaws and are sometimes heroic. After I retired from the ring, I re-read ‘A Neutral Corner’ and appreciated it even more. The man paints with his words.”

9. Maurice “Termite” Watkins—Slick Welterweight Contender in 1970s & ‘80s

o Lost bid for WBC light welterweight title to Saoul Mamby in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada (L UD 15)
o Defeated Juan Hidalgo (W10)
o Defeated Arturo Leon (W 10)
o Lost to Howard Davis, Jr. & Alfredo Escalera
o Three-time Houston Golden Gloves Champion
o The 1973 Star-Telegram Texas State Golden Gloves titlist
o Won the 1973 National Golden Gloves championship at featherweight (125 lbs.)
o He was the boxing coach for Iraq’s 2004 Olympic Boxing Team.
o A feature film about his life is due out shortly
o Won 61 (KO 42) + lost 5 (KO 0) + drawn 2 = 69 rounds boxed 419 : KO% 60.87

Maurice “Termite” Watkins’s Favorite Book: “Edison: A Biography” by Matthew Josephson

“I can tell you my favorite book easy—the biography of Thomas Edison. Edison was the biggest failure of all time—but he was also one of the most successful inventors of all time. He wasn’t afraid to try, or to fail. Hey, growing up, I had a tough life, but I pulled out of it. Reading was an important part of my maturity.”

10. Lucien Rodriguez—European Heavyweight Champion (Twice) 1977 & 1981-84 

o Fought Larry Holmes for Heavyweight Title (L 12)
o Defeated Alfredo Evangelista (W 12)
o Defeated Jean Pierre Coopman (W 12)
o Defeated Lorenzo Zanon (W 8)
o Rodriguez played himself in the French feature movie “Vincent, François, Paul… et les autres”
o Won 39 (KO 21) + lost 12 (KO 5) + drawn 1 = 52 rounds boxed 349 : KO% 40.38

Lucien Rodriguez’s Favorite Book: “The Art of Boxing” by Georges Carpentier

“I’m from Casablanca, Morocco, so one of my boyhood idols is the great Moroccan middleweight, Marcel Cerdan. And I also read everything I can find on Georges Carpentier, the great French fighter who fought Dempsey and Tunney.”

11. Simona “Romagna Queen” Galassi—WBC Female Flyweight Champion March 2003 – March 2011 & IBF Female Super Flyweight Title Oct. 2011

o European Union champion in 2006
o European champion in 2003-2004-2005
o Defeated Eileen Olszewski (W 10)
o Defeated Stefania Bianchini (twice) (W 10) (W 10)
o Won 19 (KO 4) + lost 3 (KO 1) + drawn 1

Simona “Romagna Queen” Galassi’s Favorite Book: “I’ll Steal You Away” by Niccolo Ammaniti

“Ammaniti beautifully evokes the lopsided streets of a dreary Italian town. He writes beautifully about Pietro’s surprising friendship with the prettiest girl in the village. This book is about the shadow life of childhood. Read it!”

12. Rau’Shee “Nuke” Warren—2008 U.S. Olympian (in Beijing) 

o 2007 World Champion
o 2005 World Championships Bronze Medalist
o 2004 US Olympian
o Three-time National Champion
o Rau’shee is the only U.S. boxer in history to have competed in three Olympic Games
o Won 10 (KO 3) + lost 0 (KO 0) + drawn 0 = 10

Rau’Shee “Nuke” Warren’s Favorite Book: “Manchild in the Promised Land” by Claude Brown

“This is a great book about a boy growing up in the streets of Harlem, New York. It’s an honest, true, scary book.”

13. Bobby Stewart—Mike Tyson’s first Boxing Instructor at Tryon Boy’s School

o Tough New York middleweight in the 1970s
o Beat Michael Dokes in the amateurs to win The National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Championship in Denver – April 1974
o Defeated Otis Gordon (KO 4)
o Won 13 (KO 8) + lost 3 (KO 2) + drawn o

Bobby Stewart’s Favorite Book: (An old book Cus D’Amato gave him)

“The book that meant the most to me was this old book Cus D’Amato gave me. It was about different people being challenged to do things they didn’t think they could do, but they did it anyway. The book was old as dirt, the book was, and unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it. But two other books I do remember reading were ‘The Babe Ruth Story’ and a biography on Jim Thorpe—especially the Babe Ruth story. Both guys grew up hard, with very little, but both made something outta themselves. Ruth was a guy who would crawl out drunk from a saloon in the morning, and that day in a game, at home plate, would point to where he was gonna hit it—and then he’d do it! Talk about positive thinking!”

14. Leland “Sugar Man” Hardy—1983 Pennsylvania State Heavyweight Amateur Champion

o Won the 1989 Madison Square Garden “Fight of the Year” which Boxing Scene Magazine included on its list of “Top 20 Fights of the 80’s”
o Many call the Hardy vs. Padilla match the greatest undercard fight of all time
o Represented Pennsylvania in the 1983 National Golden Gloves Championship
o Entered the Wharton School of Business and the Joseph Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he gained two master’s degrees
o After his boxing career he worked on Wall Street and later became a successful business manager, representing rappers and sports stars, such as Venus and Serena Williams.
o Won 4 (KO 4) + lost 4 (KO 4) + drawn 1 = 9 rounds boxed 22 : KO% 44.44

Leland “Sugar Man” Hardy’s Favorite Book: “Uncharted Course – The Story of My Life” by Anthony Drexel Duke (with Richard Firstman)

“My favorite book is ‘Uncharted Course – The Story of My Life’ by Anthony Drexel Duke. It’s the life story of my dear friend (the namesake of Drexel and Duke Universities, and cousin of Saint Katherine Drexel), who was a part of my mother’s and aunt’s parochial school education in Philadelphia. Tony Duke, despite being born of privilege, dedicated his entire life to helping underprivileged, particularly Black, inner-city children, through his Boys and Girls Harbor Foundation. Moreover, he sat at the feet of his grandfather, Edward Biddle, (of Bailey Banks & Biddle fame), the latter who had a boxing ring at his Philadelphia mansion and who started the boxing program at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Gene Tunney, the Heavyweight Champion of the World in 1926, credits Edward Biddle with turning him into a professional fighter.”

15. Jill Diamond—WBC Championship Committee 

o NABF Women’s Division, Chair
o World Boxing Cares – Chairwoman

Jill Diamond’s Favorite Book: “Baby Shark” by Robert Fate

“I like this book for two good reasons: One—it’s about a young girl with guts who stands up and wreaks havoc on all of the bad people she meets. And two—I admire the author. He’s an Okie who told himself ‘I wanna be an author’ and he had the courage and ability to pursue his dream. He’s 71 years old and he now has three books published!”

16. Aaron Braunstein—New York City’s Indefatigable & Irrepressible “Shock Jock” 

o Boxing Promoter
o Radio Personality
o Secretary General WPBF

Aaron Braunstein’s Favorite Book: “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand

“I enjoyed reading ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand. It changed my life. Howard Rourke, the main character, was an architect who lived by his own rules. I enjoy Rand’s philosophy which is ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’ She labels her philosophy ‘Objectivism.’”

(This is the sixth of a 15-part series)

Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part One
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Two
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Three
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Four
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Five
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Six
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Seven
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Eight
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Nine
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Ten
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Eleven
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Twelve

Peter Wood is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden;. Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two books: Confessions of a Fighter , and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion , published by Ringside Books.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Leland Hardy vs. Ike Padilla 1989 Madison Square Garden...

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  1. Ted 11:03am, 02/26/2014

    Olive Oil eh? Consider the possibilities.


    As for my training and world record try (you must watch my Facebook page), that will be on March 15 in Peabody, MA. Re training, one more week of heavy lifting, then I go into very light lifting and warm up mode with 6 days to go before the meet. My diet will remain the same except for an uplift in protein. I will eat a steak the night before because that seems to work best for me. Normal breakfast. I have developed my own checklist of about 18 items so that I can get as much edge as possible going in.  If I don’t get the record, I will try again in Zions Crossing, Virginia in late September

    Thanks for asking. I usually try to keep this part of my life separate from my writing. I may also have a medical issue to deal with but that’s another story.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:42am, 02/26/2014

    Ted Sares-I’m looking forward to an article by Ted Sares giving us a rundown of his training program, especially diet and workout, in his runup to a world record try in Las Vegas this year. Since I’m only a year or two your junior this is of particular interest to me.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:33am, 02/26/2014

    Call me sexist but….Simona Galassi has that Olive Oil look going on but no doubt I’d give her a chance to prove herself worthy and I’ve always had naughty notions about Susi.

  4. Ted 08:36am, 02/26/2014

    Well he DID finish Johnny Cakes!! Points taken. Meanwhile , Peter gets points for noting Simona Galassi

  5. Clarence George 07:13pm, 02/25/2014

    Ah, but keep in mind, Ted, that this is an impressionist, not Vincent/Leotardo (who is indeed Italian, by the way).  As for the same type of roles—absolutely correct, but that’s true of all those guys.

  6. Ted 03:37pm, 02/25/2014

    This will be quite a body of work upon completion. A book for God’s sakes. And a unique one at that.

    CG, I cannot stand Frank Vincent, I mean how many times does a guy play the same role in different movies? And he may not even be Italian. But there is something about him that makes me want to go after him much like Joe Pesci did in Goodfellows. Now you have cleared it up. He may be a homophobe!

  7. Clarence George 09:17am, 02/25/2014

    I’m reminded, by the way, of Max Koch’s hilarious impression of Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) of “The Sopranos”:  “That prick Shakespeare wore a radiator as a shirt collar.  Gay as gay can be.”

  8. nicolas 12:22pm, 02/24/2014

    I always wondered, what if Sharkey had beaten Dempsey, and I do believe he was winning until he turned his head complaining of a foul and Dempsey knocked him out. Would it have been a tougher fight for Tunney. Sharkey would I guess not only lose this fight and not get a shot against Tunney, but loose to another fighter I think Maloney, who also lost to Heeney, and would get that title shot against Tunney. If Tunney had not retired after that fight, and gone on to defend his title, who would have been the man to take it from him, Schmeling I guess.

  9. Ted 08:59am, 02/24/2014

    Hardy-Padilla was an all-time classic

  10. NYIrish 05:28am, 02/24/2014

    After a hundred concussions and almost 93 years on earth he’s making as much sense as anyone speaking of religion. Jake is truly a wonder.

  11. Clarence George 03:12am, 02/24/2014

    I’m particularly struck by LaMotta’s theological confusion.  Jesus and Cayce?  I assume Giacobbe is at least a nominal Catholic.  He should therefore know that the Church doesn’t look kindly on those who seek that which is reserved to God—i.e., knowledge of the future.  And given that he’s turning 93 in a few months, he doesn’t have a whole lot of time to get with it!

    By the way, many of you have written in wanting to know how my plan to have Jake wed She Who Must Be Obeyed’s 18-year-old daughter is progressing.  It isn’t.  Have I given up?  I have not.

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