Friday, September 14, 2007

A Little Boxing History

Light Heavyweight Champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad at Ali's Deer Lake Training Camp

Drew Bundini Brown at Ali's Deer Lake Training Camp

I was looking through an old photo album the other day and I came upon a picture of Bundini Brown, for many years a permanent fixture in Muhammad Ali’s entourage. Bundini was “spitting it” when most of us were in diapers; he’s credited with many of Ali’s best rhymes including the well-known “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

If ever a guy had an interesting life followed by an ignominious death, it was Bundini Brown who died in Los Angeles in September of 1987 from what some said was a drug overdose. The 2001 Michael Mann film “Ali” had Michael J. Foxx playing a dissolute Bundini Brown excoriated by Ali for selling one of Ali’s championship belts to score heroin. The reason I bring this up right now is not because I enjoy a quick trip down through memory lane but because boxing has a history and history is important to what we do today.

Bundini Brown was one of those guys who, like a historical thread, runs through many different eras of boxing. Bundini served in the U.S. Navy at age 13, traveled the world for about twelve years before joining the entourage of the great Sugar Ray Robinson. Brown joined Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) in 1963 and stayed with him until he retired. When you’ve been to the top with people like Ali and Ray Robinson, I guess the regular daylight doesn’t shine so much as it does for the rest of us. If it’s true that Brown was a heroin addict, then it must have been because nothing could fill the void inside himself when life moved on without him.

From the same time comes Angelo Dundee, who spent a lot of time on the mountain with great boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard, Carmen Basilio, and, of course, Ali. Dundee, whose real name is Angelo Mirena, has been able to remake himself even in his 80s. Dundee keeps busy at whatever suits him; he was hired to train actor Russell Crowe for his movie appearance in “Cinderella Man,” for example.

Boxing history should never be viewed through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgic yearnings for the good ole days. In some ways, boxing has developed into a sport of greater integrity and compassion for the fighter. People like Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, the former light-heavyweight champion, have helped in the effort to secure better representation for boxers, an initiative strongly supported by Senator John McCain of Arizona.

On the dark side of boxing are people like Panama Lewis who, in a different way, are also part of legend and myth. Lewis did time in jail and is banned for life from American boxing for his part in the 1983 Luis Resto- Billy Collins fight. Lewis was convicted of having removed the padding from Resto’s gloves, an act which had the effect of reducing Collins to a bloody pulp plagued with blurry vision and depression. At the age of 22, Collins drove his car off a cliff in Tennessee.

The whole matter of the Collins-Resto-Lewis fiasco is reexamined in a documentary soon to be released (Sept 16 in Manhattan) called "They Came to Fight."

The Resto-Collins fight wasn’t the only time Lewis was implicated in questionable boxing tactics. He was trainer and corner-man for Aaron Pryor who managed a decisive and suddenly energetic attack in the 14th ground of his 1982 fight with Alexis Arguello after drinking from a mysterious “little black bottle” which Panama Lewis always maintained was a concoction of Schnapps and honey.

Panama Lewis is not allowed to enter the ring or work as a corner-man in the U.S. but he has managed a return to boxing in other parts of the world. He currently manages the Ibragimov brothers, Timur and Sultan. Sultan Ibragimov’s next fight is with Evander Holyfield on October 13th at the Khodynka Ice Palace, Moscow.

1 comment:

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