Miami News Flashback– Boxing and Archdeacon

One of the things I miss about the Miami News, aside from their West Coast boxscores and the fact that they were not the Miami Herald, is the ample space they were able to provide great writers like Tom Archdeacon. Mr Archdeacon was in town recently to cover a boxing event in Miami Beach. An excerpt:

Never mind that Duran, now just a few weeks shy of 58, looks, as someone noted, more like Buddy Hackett than the steaming, petulant Hands of Stone who knocked out 70 men in 119 fights and won world titles at four different weights. He was THE center of attention Friday.And the cowboy-hatted LaMotta — now 87 and far from his Raging Bull days — held nearly as much sway. He and Duran are boxing Hall of Famers. With this crowd, they were gods.

All night long, people streamed to their table seeking photos and autographs and especially a snippet of conversation. Duran especially obliged.

Some 32 years ago here at the Fontainebleau — when he was the coal-haired prince of machismo — I saw him retain his lightweight title with a 13th-round knock-out of Vilomar Fernandez. After that, I covered several of his fights in Miami, Las Vegas, even Cleveland.

I’ve listened to him regale late-night tippers at the Caesars Palace lounge with outrageous stories about his pet lion. I’ve seen him take the stage in a Miami nightclub and play the bongo drums with the band and, of course, I know the story about the time an opponent’s irate mom jumped into the ring and tried to clobber him with her stiletto heels. She got KO’ed, too.

Duran did things on his terms, and though they sometimes had an edge to them, he became one of my favorite fight personalties. Friday night he sat with Frankie Otero, whose family fled Cuba for Miami when Fidel Castro came to power. He became a top-10 lightweight himself in the early 1970s and was the local favorite here.

The Fontainebleau always was a magnet for fighters. Beau Jack — the lightweight champ of the 1940s who headlined Madison Square Garden a record 21 times — shined shoes here after his career.

“Don’t have no pity on me,’’ he once told me. “I’ve been the champion of the world — been to the top of the mountain — and I met a lot of nice people along the way. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m doing honest work now.”

Go on, I dare you not to read the whole article.

Thanks to Santos Perez for tipping us off about the article. The article referenced is copied in full at end of post.

—————————————————————————-
‘Night of Legends’ fights create quite a stir in Miami Beach
By Tom Archdeacon – Staff Writer – Monday, May 25, 2009

It was a pretty unbelievable scene.

At one ringside table in the Fontainebleau Hotel ballroom sat Alonzo Mourning, one of the most celebrated figures in Miami sports history.

The 16-year NBA veteran and seven-time All-Star played most of his career with the Miami Heat and helped them win an NBA title. Less than two months ago, he became the first Heat player to have his number retired and now his charitable foundation is huge in South Florida.

Yet Friday night, May 22, he sat there in his wine-colored shirt and fancy straw fedora and was all but ignored by the crowd.

Two tables away, supermodel Cheryl Tiegs — whose face has graced the covers of magazines like Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Time and three Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues — wasn’t creating much of a stir either.

And it wasn’t much different for Matt Damon or Kourtney Kardashian at their ringside perches.

This evening was billed “The Night of Legends” but none of the above qualified. Not with this crowd. Not up against the two aging guys sitting at the table between Mourning and Tiegs.

The Fontainebleau — that glitzy Miami Beach hotel where Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Hope once were regulars and movies like “Goldfinger” and “Scarface” were shot — reopened six months ago after a $1 billion renovation.

Friday night it hosted an ESPN-televised fight show that not only featured four trumpeted Cuban boxers who had recently defected — including two-time Olympic gold medal winner Guillermo Rigondeaux — but also honored Roberto Duran and Jake LaMotta.

Duran steals show

Never mind that Duran, now just a few weeks shy of 58, looks, as someone noted, more like Buddy Hackett than the steaming, petulant Hands of Stone who knocked out 70 men in 119 fights and won world titles at four different weights. He was THE center of attention Friday.

And the cowboy-hatted LaMotta — now 87 and far from his Raging Bull days — held nearly as much sway. He and Duran are boxing Hall of Famers. With this crowd, they were gods.

All night long, people streamed to their table seeking photos and autographs and especially a snippet of conversation. Duran especially obliged.

Some 32 years ago here at the Fontainebleau — when he was the coal-haired prince of machismo — I saw him retain his lightweight title with a 13th-round knock-out of Vilomar Fernandez. After that, I covered several of his fights in Miami, Las Vegas, even Cleveland.

I’ve listened to him regale late-night tippers at the Caesars Palace lounge with outrageous stories about his pet lion. I’ve seen him take the stage in a Miami nightclub and play the bongo drums with the band and, of course, I know the story about the time an opponent’s irate mom jumped into the ring and tried to clobber him with her stiletto heels. She got KO’ed, too.

Duran did things on his terms, and though they sometimes had an edge to them, he became one of my favorite fight personalties. Friday night he sat with Frankie Otero, whose family fled Cuba for Miami when Fidel Castro came to power. He became a top-10 lightweight himself in the early 1970s and was the local favorite here.

The Fontainebleau always was a magnet for fighters. Beau Jack — the lightweight champ of the 1940s who headlined Madison Square Garden a record 21 times — shined shoes here after his career.

“Don’t have no pity on me,’’ he once told me. “I’ve been the champion of the world — been to the top of the mountain — and I met a lot of nice people along the way. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m doing honest work now.”

Levi Forte — known as The Battling Bellman — still totes bags at the Fontainebleau. He’s worked at the hotel 45 years and he boxed more than 30 of them. He was Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner, fought George Chuvalo twice, Floyd Patterson once and — in 1969 — he became the first man to go 10 rounds with George Foreman, who gave him four broken ribs.

Forte came to Friday night’s show to see the four Cuban fighters, three of whom were making their pro debuts. All had impressive amateur careers and even more enthralling stories of flight from Cuba.

No turning back

Rigondeaux had disappeared from the Cuban national team with fellow boxer Erislandy Lara, a welterweight world champ, at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Two weeks later, Brazilian police picked them up and the fighters then said they hadn’t planned to defect and wanted to return home.

A German promoter — who said he signed them to five-year contract during their disappearance — claimed the only reason they agreed to return was because Cuban authorities were threatening their families.

Once back in Cuba, the pair felt the wrath of Fidel Castro himself who wrote, in an essay for Granma, the regime’s propaganda paper:

“They have reached a point of no return as members of a Cuban boxing team. An athlete who abandons his team is like a soldier who abandons his fellow troops in the middle of combat.”

The two were no longer permitted to fight and soon after Lara escaped again, this time on a speedboat to Mexico.

Rigondeaux finally fled in February — leaving a wife and two kids — with two other boxers Yudel Johnson and Yordanis Despaigne, both former Olympians.

The three won their debuts Friday and Lara upped his pro record to 6-0.

Meanwhile, the Cuban national team is feeling the effects of so many defections in recent years. For the first time since 1968 — not counting the two Games it boycotted — Cuba failed to win a boxing gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last summer.

Four Cuban fighters who left the island have won pro titles and many think the 28-year-old Rigondeaux is the best of the lot.

“I have won more than 400 amateur fights so I consider myself more of a professional,’’ Rigondeaux said as the crowd celebrated his three-round TKO victory with unfurled Cuban flags and the chant “Coo-ba… Coo-ba… Coo-ba.”

And had he looked out into the clamoring masses just then, he would have spotted one very tall man in a fedora pointing a cell phone in his direction.

Alonzo Mourning wanted to capture this moment with a photo of his own.
———————————————————————

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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