Who Died and Left You King?

By Mike Casey on March 27, 2012
Who Died and Left You King?
Bert Sugar managed the rocking and reeling old Ring during a crucial period of transition

With all his experience in the advertizing business, Sugar cleverly promoted himself as the cigar-chomping front man, the Damon Runyon of his era…

Whatever one’s opinion of the late Bert Randolph Sugar (and Bert himself loved to admit that he was as much loathed as loved), the man who became known as The Hat was a formidable and courageous editor and publisher of the once great Ring Magazine.

He managed the rocking and reeling old publication during a difficult and crucial period of transition following the death of Nat Fleischer and the farce of the ratings scandal under the nose of Nat Loubet.

Sugar revived the classic old Ring logo and overhauled the ratings procedure by balloting other writers and experts for their opinions on the order of merit. The mix of features became more varied and vibrant with a great balance of the old and the new.

Sugar, with all his experience in the advertizing business, cleverly promoted himself as the cigar-chomping front man, the Damon Runyon of his era. The famous December 1980 issue, with Tommy Hearns on the front cover dressed in the natty gangster garb of the thirties and brandishing a machine gun, is said to be the biggest selling Ring of all time.

Rifling through my vast collection of boxing memorabilia the other night, I chanced upon the September 1983 issue with Sugar Ray Leonard commanding center stage. The meaty edition included a preview of the Marvin Hagler-Roberto Duran fight, an analysis of trainer Panama Lewis and his disgraceful cut-glove tactics in the bout between Luis Resto and Billy Collins Jr., as well as a feature-length article on the tangled life of Carl (Bobo) Olson.

What caught my eye, however, was a typically hard hitting editorial by Sugar in which he mercilessly lambasted WBC supremo Jose Sulaiman. Acidic, icy and slashingly sarcastic, Bert was quite clearly enjoying himself as he cut through swathes of hypocrisy, cant and stinking cheese with a very sharp knife and great gusto.

Most interesting—and indeed most depressing—is that little has changed nearly 30 years apart from a few of the names. Hold on to your hat and enjoy the shenanigans:

“Remember the line we used as kids which went, ‘Who died and left you king?’ The line was used as a squelch to any of our mini-tormentors who tried to lord it over us and begged the question more than sought an answer. Well, after all these years, we’ve finally come up with an answer to one of life’s little unanswerable questions, although, truth to tell, we were not looking for one. The answer, my friends, is ‘Jose Sulaiman’, the man who would be king over all the boxing world he surveys – which ain’t much, considering his five-foot-six-inch size.

“Hiding in his office down in Mexico City – probably located somewhere atop a charm and beauty school combined with a gas station – boxing’s not-so-benevolent dictator for life issues pronunciamentos and edicts meant to control his little WBC fiefdom. During the past few months he has taken to stripping everyone and everything down to, and including, his own shorts. But he need not have bothered, this king already having been exposed as having none to strip.

“But it isn’t so much that Jose views himself as king; he also views himself as king-maker as well – not only as in Don King, but in one who rewards his friends and punishes his so-called enemies. Take the cause celebre of Bobby Chacon, for instance. Because Sulaiman has elected to protect the option clause in his constitution over the equally persuasive one in favor of having the mandatory challenger fight for the title, he found that Chacon’s actions in electing to fight the number one contender, Boza-Edwards, over Hector Camacho, the fighter protected by the option Chacon had with Don King, was nothing short of treasonable.

“And so it was, finding that Bobby Chacon was ‘no friend’ of his, that Herr Sulaiman fired off a telegram from Mexico city informing Chacon of the removal of his WBC junior lightweight crown, and setting up an elimnination fight between Camacho and the number-3 ranked contender for the title, the much used-up Bazooka Limon.

“Chacon rebelled and got an injunction in a California court. But here Jose, in one of those sterling little remarks he must stay awake evenings to think up, came out with, ‘This is not a county or a state championship, it’s a world championship.’ And then, as if to prove it was only his world he was talking about, said in answer to a question whether he would also strip Larry Holmes for not fighting Greg Page, the number one contender for the heavyweight crown, ‘No, I will not strip Holmes; Holmes is my friend.’ So much for whose championship he is talking about.

“But if favoritism is the only sin of commission this man who could easily have served as the orototype for O. Soglow’s cartoon character ‘The Little King’ is guilty of, he would be no different from many of the crooks who have populated boxing for so long. This time he has seen them one and raised them, involving himself in a long list of questionable practices. For only recently a story emerged of how Sulaiman got his pudgy fingers of deceit right up to the second joint in a promotion held in Puerto Rico – and made $5,000 doing so.

“Seems that a local promoter from the island wanted to sign up Wilfredo Gomez for three non-title fights before his fight with Juan LaPorte for the featherweight title became an actuality. This promoter went first to Gomez’ manager and then to Sulaiman himself telling them he would pay $100,000 for a three-fight contract. Not only did our hero, Jose, warm to the idea, but he also came up with a ‘suitable’ opponent for the first bout, the former bantamweight titlist and currently washed-up boxer Alfonso Zamora, personally getting a Mexican doctor to find him ‘medically worthy’, whatever that means.

“During one of his many flying tours of Puerto Rico Jose managed to meet this promoter and lo and behold happened not to have any cash on him. Would the promoter, humbly asked Jose, lend him $5,000? Surely, said the promoter, now a partner with Jose in staging the first of Gomez’ three fights – even to the point where Jose had provided the opponent.

“But now, with TV rights sold and the bout quickly approaching its target date, Don King calls Jose and tells him his Juan LaPorte-Johnny De La Rosa promotion is in trouble in Santo Domingo and he needs to switch it to Puerto Rico. Just so happens to be on the same date as the planned Gomez-Zamora fight. Would the promoter for the Gomez bout switch his date as an accommodation to Don King?, asks Jose. He can’t, responds the promoter, the television rights are guaranteed for that specific date.

“Too bad, says Jose, and almost immediately thereafter, the Mexican doctor who had been procured by Jose enters, stage left, to issue another medical report, insisting that the first one was only meant to cover Zamora in a three-round exhibition. The fight, obviously, was cancelled, and the promoter was out his advance, his television contract and, yes, his $5,000.

“But here Gomez’ manager, incuriously enough, tries to pay it back. The promoter won’t accept, willing only to take it from the man who borrowed it, the man who holds himself out to be boxing’s ‘King’, Jose Sulaiman.

“No, Jose, you have ceased to be an embarrassment to boxing; right now you’re giving Frankie Carbo a good name.”

Mike Casey is a freelance journalist, artist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).


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  1. mikecasey 07:17am, 04/01/2012

    Yes, Tex, desperately so. Alas, in the era of big corporations and constant indoctrination, most of today’s editors are either frightened into being compliant or are secretly yearning to be double agents in return for a big salary and a big title - like ‘ratings chairman’.

  2. TEX HASSLER 06:59am, 04/01/2012

    Jose Sulaiman is an embarrassment to the sport of boxing and all knowlegable boxing fans. Bert Sugar was an asset to boxing. In the 1950’s & 60’s Ring Magazine was the most reliable source of boxing information and later Bert did a good job with the Ring Magazine. We need some one to take up Bert’s role in standing up against the alphabet boys.

  3. mikecasey 03:33am, 04/01/2012

    Yes, Pug, and I wouldn’t disagree with too much of what the author says here. Sugar realised that if you read a lot of books, apprise yourself of the essential historical facts and weave those facts into colourful stories, you can fool most of the people most of the time. It’s been said a number of times that he would quickly back off and not prolong an argument when he was caught out by a superior intellect. But a style such as his was needed by The Ring at the time of his appointment and I think he carried it off very well.

    Nowadays, by and large, boxing editors and reporters - especially in the print press - generally know very little about it when you take them into the deep water. But, as trained journalists, they have the ability to make most of their readers believe that they do. Our mutual pal Ted Sares has written some very good pieces on this subject and its importance.

  4. pugknows 06:19pm, 03/31/2012

    Here is an interesting take on Bert, Mike. http://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2012/03/30/bert-sugar-was-a-fake-a-tribute/?fb_comment_id=fbc_10150625903317167_21487693_10150626164822167#f23cb84d678e1e2

  5. pugknows 06:18pm, 03/31/2012

    :...he understood that most outsiders venturing into the world of boxing were clueless as to how to protect themselves once inside its environs. So, in any exchange with them, he profited from their naïveté...”

  6. jofre 07:49am, 03/31/2012

    Mike, I agree with you 100%. Bert may not have been perfect, but he put himself on the line every chance he could to tell it like it is was about the alphabets, starting with the WBC and Sulaiman. Sulaiman is not alone in destroying our great sport, but he tops the list and you can trace the sports demise to him. He set up the blueprint that all the other alphabets copied. His mission statement is quite simple: sanctioning fees. sanctioning fees, sanctioning fees.

  7. Matt McGrain 07:35am, 03/31/2012

    I have the 10-disc collectors edition of [I]Legends of Boxing[/I].  During a discussion about Ali-Frazier, a “proper” journalist, a newspaper man from Philly, I think, had been asked to sit in and during the discussion the two had a disagreement about Frazier’s state of health after the FOTC.  Sugar wanted to tell the story about Frazier’s prolonged hospitalisation and our proper journalist (that I can’t remember his name and would know Sugar by his silhouette alone tells it’s own story) dismissed him out of hand, literally with a word and a wave of his hand.

    Sugar backed off immediately.  This is a guy who had put Holmes at #10 on his HW list, knowing he was going to be sharing the studio with the man, then argued passionately for that placing right to his face.  He also, in my opinion, looked momentarily devastated.

    For all that Sugar revelled in his “hated as much as loved” reputation, I think he genuinely wanted to be respected by “more serious” historians and newspaper men.  Furthermore, he knew what he had to do to get - tone down the colour, double-source his facts and seek the truth rather than the legend.  But he didn’t do it.  He didn’t change.  However you feel about the man, and I didn’t particularly care for him, you have to give him the utmost respect for that. I sided with him over the Joe Frazier disagreement.

  8. jeff furgerson 04:44am, 03/31/2012

    I enjoyed Bert, someone had to be the holder of the key so to speak or gatekeeper. Bert fulfilled this admirably considering some of the crooks such as the promoters running the sport these days. Great story, well written by a great reporter.

  9. Norm Marcus 09:26am, 03/30/2012

    A great piece on the late Bert Sugar. I really enjoyed the story Mike. You are a real wordsmith. You paint clear pictures with your pen. Is there anyone left to take Bert’s place? How about you Mike? You could handle it-definitely!

  10. mikecasey 03:59am, 03/28/2012

    One of my faves too, Ted. Bobby’s career was the stuff of fiction. I asked the Ed if he could include a Chacon video or two!

  11. The Thresher 02:19pm, 03/27/2012

    Chacon was my all time favorite fighter

  12. mikecasey 01:51pm, 03/27/2012

    There were certainly some gaps in his factual knowledge, Adam. I have drawn attention to this once or twice over the years in my articles. But as you rightly point out, Bert went for it and carved his own special niche in an unforgiving business. I have always valued my privacy too much to want that kind of attention!

  13. Adam P Short 01:06pm, 03/27/2012

    I got tired of Bert over the years.  He was just too ubiquitous, and as a result many of his questionable-at-best stories became common currency among less than knowledgeable commentators.

    But as this article notes, this was mainly due to his skill at self-promotion, which you can hardly hold against him.  The man made a mark in a very tough line.  Good for him.  I wasn’t a fan, but I’ll miss him nonetheless.

  14. the thresher 08:08am, 03/27/2012

    Irish Bert was custard compared to King’s toxic

  15. mikecasey 06:42am, 03/27/2012

    Yes, Irish, I always admired Bert for standing up to those guys. I’m sure there were occasions when he was - shall we say - ‘persuaded’ to cut the crap and be nicer.

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 06:20am, 03/27/2012

    As a life long fan of this great sport and viewing all of this from afar and most of the time through the lens of the journalists who cover this beat….can anyone say that Bert Sugar’s overall contribution to boxing and the boxing scene was other than positive and very much unlike that of Don King’s and Sulaiman’s?  Even as an outsider I viewed him as part of the fabric and his relationship to boxing as symbiotic unlike King’s and Sulaiman’s parasitic embrace of a vulnerable host.

  17. the thresher 05:03am, 03/27/2012

    He is a terrible embarrassment.

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