Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Ten

By Peter Weston Wood on July 17, 2014
Peek Into the Soul of a Prizefighter—Part Ten
"I like looking at the pictures. They have wonderful photos. I read the articles, too!"

“Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Prime Minister, once said—‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ It all relates…”

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.

Their book could be fiction, nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, history, sport-related, or not. We simply wanted to peek into their soul and see what book—as a kid, or now—knocked them out!

Below, are their responses. Enjoy!

1. Emile Griffith—1958 NYC 147-Pound Open Golden Gloves Champ

o Held World Welterweight Champion intermittently from 1961-1968
o Defeated Benny “Kid” Paret (2x) (TKO 12 & KO 13)
o Defeated Dick Tiger (2x) (UD 15 & UD 10)
o Defeated Joey Archer (2x) (UD 10 & UD 10)
o Defeated Nino Benvenuti (MD 15)
o Defeated Don Fullmer (UD 10)
o Defeated Gaspar Ortega (SD 10)
o Defeated Denny Moyer (2x) (SD 10 & SD 10)
o Defeated Isaac Logart (MD 10)
o Defeated Luis Manuel Rodriguez (3x) (SD 15 & SD 15 & SD 10)
o Defeated Florentino Fernandez (UD 10)
o Defeated Holly Mims (UD 10)
o Defeated Gypsy Joe Harris (UD 10)
o Defeated Ernie “Red” Lopez (2x) (MD 10 & UD 10)
o Defeated Bennie Briscoe (MD 10)
o Defeated Tom Boggs (UD 10)
o Defeated Yama Bahama (UD 10)
o Defeated Willie Toweel (TKO 8)
o Defeated Ralph Dupas (2x) KO 3 & UD 15)
o Won 85 (KO 23) + lost 24 (KO 2) + drawn 2 = 112

Emile Griffith’s Favorite Book: “Sports Illustrated”

“I like looking at the pictures. They have wonderful photos from all over the world of the finest athletes. I read the articles, too!”

2. Curtis Cokes—World Welterweight Champion (1966-69) universal recognition

o Defeated Manuel Gonzales (4x) (W6) (W8) (W10) (W15)
o Defeated Fate Davis ((W10)
o Defeated Willie Ludick (2X) (TKO 2) (TKO 5)
o Defeated Jimmy Lester (W10)
o Defeated Jean Josslin (2x) (W10) (W10)
o Defeated Charlie Shipes (TKO 8)
o Defeated Luis Manuel Rodriguez (2x) (TKO 15) (SD 10)
o Defeated Stan “Kitten” Harrington (W10)
o Defeated Kenny Lane (W10)
o Defeated Joe Miceli (W10)
o Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame
o Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame
o Became a trainer in Dallas, TX, after his career was over. Notables trained include: Ike Ibeabuchi, Kirk Johnson, and Quincy Taylor
o Acted in John Houston’s boxing movie “Fat City” (1972)
o won 62 (KO 30) + lost 14 (KO 3) + drawn 4 = 80 rounds boxed 616 KO% 37.5

Curtis Cokes’s Favorite Book: (Books on Joe Louis & Sugar Ray Robinson)

“Let’s see…there are so many books I read. I was good at reading. Only way to keep up in the world is to read. As a kid, I especially liked biographies on Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. Those guys were my role models. Both were good boxers and great guys. I never wanted to be a thug. I just wanted to get my PhD in boxing.”

3. Bobby “The Hebrew Hammer” Halpern—Colorful New York City Heavyweight in 1990s

o Won The New Jersey Diamond Gloves in 1948
o According to a 1977 Sports Illustrated article, Halpern “estimated he had close to 200 amateur bouts and had lost about 10.”
o Pro Record: won 8 (KO 5) + lost 4 (KO 3) + drawn 0 = 12

Bobby Halpern’s Favorite Book: “New York Daily News”

“Sitting in a jail cell there ain’t much to do. So I read. I liked looking at the ‘Daily News.’”
4. Howie Albert—Recipient of 2005 James A. Farley Award (for Honesty & Integrity)

o Manager of Emile Griffith with Gil Clancy
o Cutman
o Publicist and jack-of-all-trades

Howie Albert’s Favorite Book: “The Jewish Boxers’ Hall of Fame” by Ken Blady

“I met Benny Leonard up in Grupp’s Gym. The best Jewish fighter there was. My father used to fly pigeons in the area, up on the roof-top to Grupp’s. Anyway, this was an interesting book. It’s packed with fascinating revelations and amusing anecdotes.”

5. Guy “The Rock” Casale—Rugged Heavyweight in 1980s

o Inducted into The New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame
o Reached the NYC Golden Gloves Finals in 1977
o Pro record: 14-3-3 (7 KOs), with one no contest

Guy “The Rock” Casale’s Favorite Book: “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo

“I liked Puzo’s story-line. Plus, he did an interesting thing—he humanized these tough guys. Sure, they were thugs and killers, bums with little remorse. But Puzo was able to flip them over and show a tender, gentle side. I’m not saying these hoods were good, because they weren’t, but Puzo is a fine writer and he was able to round them out. They weren’t portrayed as flat characters. That’s a good writer.”

6. Richie Kates—NABF Light Heavyweight Champion (1974-1978)

o Defeated Jimmy Dupree (KO 1)
o Defeated Len Hutchins (SD 8)
o Defeated Roger Rouse (KO 5)
o Defeated Don Fullmer (W10)
o Defeated Jose Gonzales (W10)
o Defeated Ron Wilson (KO7)
o Defeated Pierre Fourie (W10)
o Defeated Murray Sutherland (W10)
o Defeated Jerry Celestine (W10)
o Inducted into the New Jersey & Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fames
o Won 44 (KO 23) + lost 6 (KO 5) + drawn 0 = 50 rounds boxed 322 KO% 46

Richie Kates’s Favorite Book: “The Bible” & “Ring Magazine”

“As a former deacon in my church, my favorite book is The Bible. Other than The Bible, I enjoy reading Ring Magazine. I have stacks and stacks of them—enough to last me a lifetime. I still love reading those magazines—especially the older ones, when the writers were superior. Today’s writers, sometimes when they write you need to figure what they’re trying to say.”

7. Tommy Gallagher—Profane & straight-shooting manager featured on “The Contender” TV series (1st season)

o Has worked almost 40 years as a trainer, manager, promoter, and gym owner in NYC
o Has been a factor in the careers of such boxing stars as Andre Berto, Doug DeWitt, Vito Antuofermo Don Lalonde, and Lou Savarese
o Was a 1959 NYC Golden Gloves Champion

Tommy Gallagher’s Favorite Book: “Somebody Up There Likes Me” by Rocky Graziano

“I was there at the filming of this movie, the pool room shot. I remember it good. It was on 110th Street. I was 13-years-old. Paul Newman was there with that blond-haired guy, Steve McQueen. I was 13 years old.”
8. Joe Miceli—Rugged Brooklyn Welterweight who fought in three decades

o Fought 11 world champions
o Defeated Johnny Saxton (TKO 4)
o Defeated Virgil Akins (W 10)
o Defeated Ike Williams (2x) (W 10) & (W 10)
o Defeated Art Aragon (2x) (W 10) & (W 10)
o Defeated Wallace “Bud” Smith (SD 10)
o Defeated Bobby Dykes (MD 10)
o Drew with Joey Giardello
o Lost to Johnny Bratton (SD-10), Gene Fullmer, Kid Gavalin (SD-10), Ralph Dupas,  Curtis Cokes, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Don Jordan (SD-10)
o Won 60 (KO 28) + lost 42 (KO 11) + drawn 8 = 110

Joe Miceli’s Favorite Book: “Ring Magazine”

“I loved picking up ‘Ring’ from the newsstands and thumbing through it to see where I was ranked that month. A top-10 ranking back then was a great feeling.”

9. Jimmy Gibney—Rugged NYC Middleweight in 1970s

o Two-Time 160-Pound NYC Golden Gloves Finalist (1969 & 1970)
o Renown for once leaping out of the ring in Madison Square Garden in an angry outburst after a questionable TKO stoppage.
o A long-time Ring 8 Member
o Won 2 (KO 2) + lost 2 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 4 rounds boxed 12 KO% 50

Jimmy Gibney’s Favorite Book: “Confessions of a Fighter” by Peter Wood

“Reading this boxing book is like I was back in the ring. Wood tells it like it is: the nervousness you get sitting in a dressing room before a fight; the feeling of getting punched in the jaw, and the excitement in your gut of climbing up the ladder to win a Golden Gloves title. It’s all there.”

10. Bert Randolph Sugar—Connoisseur of The Manly Art

o Sports historian
o Charismatic author of over 50 books
o Former editor of “Ring Magazine”

Bert Randolph Sugar’s Favorite Book: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“We fall in love with boxers and we fall in love with books. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the Muhammad Ali of prose, the Sugar Ray Robinson of pen. I liked it then and I like it still. It’s about love lost, and it reflects a time gone by. There’s mystery to ‘Gatsby.’Plus there’s a baseball reference in it!”
11. Kevin McBride—6’ 6”, 271 Pound Irish Heavyweight Champ, 1997

o IBC Heavyweight Champ, 2003
o TKOed “Iron” Mike Tyson, 11/05
o Won 34 (KO 29) + lost 6 (KO 6) + drawn 1 = 41

Kevin McBride’s Favorite Book: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

“When I first told people that I was moving to the United States, a couple of them recommended I read some of the great American classics. I tried a little Hemingway and ‘The Great Gatsby,’ but the book I really took to was ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck. I’ll admit, what I first liked about it, the paperback was less than a 100 pages. But what really hit home with me was all the traveling around Lennie and George did and how they were working hard for this dream of getting their own farm. I also was traveling around America when I read it and was working hard on my own boxing dreams. The book didn’t have a happy ending. Things didn’t work out for Lennie and George. That bothered me at first, but I took it as a warning how easily dreams can be destroyed.”

12. “Tiger” Ted Lowery—Rugged Heavyweight Contender in the 1940s & 50s

o Fought Rocky Marciano—The local newspaper had Lowry winning six rounds to four
o Defeated Billy Fox (W 10)
o Defeated Aaron Wade (W 10)
o The only fighter to twice last the ten-round distance with undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano
o Member of the all-black 555th Parachute Battalion—which came to be known as the “Triple Nickles”—during World War II
o Won 67 (KO 43) + lost 67 (KO 3) + drawn 10 = 14

“Tiger” Ted Lowery’s Favorite Book: “God’s in My Corner”

“‘God’s in My Corner’ is my story. I’m the only man to twice go the distance with Rocky Marciano. But while my record against Rocky Marciano still stands, my service during WWII with The Triple Nickels, the first all-Black Paratrooper division, is an unknown, yet significant part of American history. Facing Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Tiger Jack Fox is only a part of my life. I hope you find my book inspirational.”

13. Shelly Finkel—Manager

o Shelly Finkel, who originally came from the music industry, has managed many top boxers since the 1980s. His list includes:
o Tyrell Biggs
o Francisco (Panchito) Bojado
o Mark Breland
o Juan Diaz
o Anthony Hanshaw
o Evander Holyfield
o Manny Pacquiao
o Alex Ramos
o Meldrick Taylor
o Mike Tyson (1999-05)
o Fernando Vargas
o Pernell Whitaker
o Jeff Lacy

Shelly Finkel’s Favorite Book: “The Day of the Jackal” by Fredrick Forsyth

“I was mesmerized by this book. It’s a fast-paced novel that is based in part on actual events that occurred in 1960s France. It was a long time ago that I read it, but everyone who I’ve recommended it to, has loved it.”

14. Chris “Rapid Fire” Byrd—IBF & USBA Heavyweight Champion

o Defeated Vitali Klitschko (RTD 9)
o Jameel McCline (SD 12)
o Evander Holyfield (UD 10)
o David Tua (UD 12)
o Fres Oquendo (UD 12)
o Won 40 (KO 21) + lost 5 (KO 4) + drawn 1 = 46

Chris “Rapid Fire” Byrd’s Favorite Book: “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton

“This is a redemption story. ‘The Outsiders’ is a one-of-a-kind book that all ages can enjoy. I read this book a while ago and it was my favorite book. I bet it is still is one of my favorite pieces of literature, even though I’ve read a lot of other good books since then. I believe the reason for me liking this book is because it’s action packed, full of suspense and it’s about loyalty and friendship and courage.”

15. Bob Bozic—Pro Heavyweight Devastating Puncher of the 1970s 

o Nationality: Canadian
o Hometown: Toronto, ON
o A popular bartender and raconteur at Fanelli’s Bar located on the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets in Soho, NYC
o Born: 1950-01-01
o Professional Record: won 14 (KO 7) + lost 3 (KO 1) + drawn 0 = 17

Bob Bozic’s Favorite Book: “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren

“This is a book about how a humble man from The South struggles for success and winds up being cut up by his own ego. Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Prime Minister, once said—‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ It all relates.”

16. Jerson Ravelo—Talented Middleweight Contender

o Nationality: Dominican Republic
o Birthplace: San Cristobal, Dominican Rep. Hometown: Newark, NJ
o Stance: Orthodox. Height: 6′ 2″
o 1998 National Golden Gloves Middleweight champion
o Ravelo represented the Dominican Republic as a Middleweight at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
o Professional Record: won 18 (KO 12) + lost 3 (KO 2) + drawn 0 = 21.

Jerson Ravelo’s Favorite Book: “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck

“A friend told me to read this book. What’s it about? Everyday life. About if you put negative into your head, you’ll get negative. There’s many good examples of doctors & lawyers and successful people and how they created their successful paths. Hey, it’s important to hang around good people and to read good books, and this is a good book. And being a fighter is someone who walks the road less traveled.”

17. Paul Thorne—Slick Welterweight (1985-1988)

o Fought Roberto Duran
o Singer/Songwriter/Artist
o Residence: Tupelo, Mississippi
o Won 14 (KO 5) + Lost 4 (KO 3) + Drawn 1 = 19

Paul Thorne’s Favorite Book: “Salvation on Sand Mountain—Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia” by Dennis Covington

“Me? You wanna know what my favorite book is? Is this a joke or something? Who cares what I read? I wasn’t much of a pro fighter…Well, the book I liked was about a Pentecostal snake-handling church. An outside reporter infiltrated the congregation in order to learn more about the culture and to write a book about it. At the end, he’s handling snakes and the congregation invites him onto the stage to talk about his new-found faith. Instead, he tries to open up some minds by preaching about Mary Magdalene. But this rather close-minded, one-dimensional community simply shuts him down yelling. I can relate. Pentecostal is my background and, because at one time, I did the same, I was branded a blasphemer. Today I’m still a believer, but I’m unaffiliated. It was a great book.”

18. Vic Ziegel—The colorful & irrepressible “New York Daily News”  & “New York Post” sports journalist, columnist and editor

o Published articles in “New York Magazine,” “Rolling Stone,” “Esquire,” “Sport” and “Inside Sports”
o Ziegel’s article, “Roberto Duran’s New York State of Mind” is anthologized in “At the Fights—American Writers on Boxing”
o Creator of the acronym: DKTUHTWNBFCRMB (Don King Telling Us How Tyson Will Next Be Fighting in the Coliseum in Rome, My Brother)

Vic Ziegel’s Favorite Author: Vance Bourjaily, the author of “Confessions of a Spent Youth” 

“I don’t know what Vic’s favorite book was, but I do know who one of his favorite authors was—Vance Bourjaily. I’ve never read or heard of him, but Vic enjoyed reading his work. Vic also enjoyed the work of Bruce J. Friedman and everything Bellow.”—Roberta Ziegel, Vic’s widow

(This is the 10th 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;. A 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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  1. david ferrell 01:35pm, 06/18/2015

    Roy Edmonds is my trainer in Weldon NC. One of the greatest guys I’ve ever met

  2. NYIrish 03:33am, 07/30/2014

    Yes, Peter it was a great experience. Getting to fight in the packed Big Garden as a 17 year old kid was powerful. It taught this kid that if you worked hard you could finish near the top. The blunt wisdom and truth spoken by the trainers on the boxing scene back then still guide me today walking up the steps of life. Keep your shoulders loose and keep punching.

  3. peter 09:43am, 07/27/2014

    @NYIrish—You have a good memory. Roy Edmonds, Jimmy Gibney, Bobby Middlebrooks, Shobe Streets, and my sparring partner, James Hargroves, were all tough guys to contend with. It would be interesting to know what their combined amateur records would be. You were up next that night in MSG! Amazing! It’s an unforgettable experience, isn’t it? Just a great experience. I was there the night Gibney and you fought and was just as angry the referee, (I forgot his name), when he stopped the fight prematurely. Later, I got to know Jimmy, and the ref, through Ring 8 and went out to dinner with Jimmy a few times. A true gentleman. Tacked up on my wall in my office at home is a photo of Jimmy and the ref that blew the call. They’re older now, arm in arm, smiling. Let bygones be bygones. All of their anger is forgotten. But me, after all of these years, I was surprised to see that I was still pissed off at the ref and his premature stoppage, and I was angry that Jimmy was so forgiving. As I said, Jimmy is a great guy.

  4. NYIrish 05:41am, 07/27/2014

    Jimmy Gibney was a banger that always came to fight. Guys like him made the Golden Gloves in NYC exciting every night. He had the torso of a light heavy and the punch of a heavyweight. He dropped a decision to a stablemate of mine from Lost Battalion Hall in the finals in 1970, Bobby Middlebrooks, in another thriller. He had Middlebrooks, a slick boxer puncher, on the canvas.
    In 1969, the ref stopped his fight with Roy Edmonds in the Middleweight Open Final. Gibney, who could take a hell of a swat, was hit a few punches without a return but was far from done. Realizing he was stopped, Gibney jumped over the ropes, hit the floor on his feet and stormed up the aisle. There was a picture of Gibney’s hasty exit, black hair flying as he went over the top strand, in the morning Daily News.
    I saw this commotion from ringside in the opposite corner. I was up next in the 175 Sub Novice bout.
    Peter Wood, thanks for stirring the memories. Your series looks at boxers from a different angle. Bravo!
    Kevin Brolan, Class of 69, NYC Golden Gloves.

  5. Bob 04:32am, 07/23/2014

    This wonderful series would be terrific on its own, but the way the author mixes up the subjects makes it very special. Where else could you peek into the souls, or reading habits, of world champions, rugged preliminary fighters, fighters turned songwriters and performers, and people from every conceivable aspect of the game.  Fantastic concept and follow through. As an aside, I loved the old news story on Guy Casale with sportscaster Jim Bouton (the former NY Yankee), and the eight-page 1977 Bobby Halpern story in Sports Illustrated was, in my opinion, the best boxing article ever written. I read it in college and was riveted from the first word to last, much like this wonderful series by Peter Wood.

  6. Eric 02:28pm, 07/17/2014

    “Basket Case” would be in the running for “Worst Movie of All Time.” I heard they even made a sequel.

  7. Eric 02:23pm, 07/17/2014

    Those Sports Illustrated magazines from the 1970’s were pretty thick compared to the super thin SI mags of today. I have a couple of totes filled with those old mags from the seventies, including the one featuring Halpern, titled, “Comeback From Nowhere.” In that article, I believe it was from late ‘77, it mentions that Halpern could be matched with an undefeated kid out of Long Island, named Gerry Cooney. Remember hearing Howard Cosell talking about Casale knocking out Halpern when that happened on some radio show back in the day. Cossell was talking about how dangerous it was for someone 44 years old to be in the boxing ring. I believe Halpern was 44 at the time of the Casale fight. Back in the seventies, someone in their mid-thirties would be considered ancient, not today. Remember that Halpern had a rock-hard well built body for someone of that age. I guess prison gives you a lot of time to workout, as well as read.

  8. Clarence George 02:16pm, 07/17/2014

    Bobby Halpern?!  My God, I haven’t heard that name in ages.  One of the worst boxers ever.  Which reminds me that “The Hebrew Hammer” (with the appropriately named Andy Dick) has to be a contender for Worst Movie of All Time.  Another possibility is “Blues Brothers 2000.”

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