Dettloff: Fathers and sons
Zab Judah (right) sits next to his father and trainer Yoel at a recent boxing card. The Judahs have a sometimes volatile relationship but it's doubtful the former welterweight champ would have ventured into boxing without his father, a former martial arts competitor. Photo / Naoki Fukuda.
Fathers are the elephants in the room in prizefighting. Even if they’re in the picture, right alongside their sons, the story is never about them. It never has been. They’re not the stars, but their presence and influence are everywhere.
Their sons are the stars. If the father fought and was good enough to make a living out of it, maybe he can get his time in front of the camera again too, pudgy and yellow compared to his own fighting days, and not as angry. Or as alive.
The son doesn’t know it, but his father is trying like hell to accomplish everything he should have when he was in the ring, if only he had the right manager, or a better trainer, or if it wasn’t all politics.
If he has something the masses find interesting or some kind of gimmick he’ll get his few minutes in the sun again. If not, he’s just another guy with a towel on his neck and a Q-tip behind his ear, begging the fighter to jab more, to cut off the ring.
But know this: fathers are boxing. For better or worse, without fathers there would be no boxing, and not just because science hasn’t figured out a way yet to create human life without a man’s “participation,” for those of you with delicate sensibilities.
Fathers make fighters. They make them out of love or criticism or neglect or abuse or because there’s nothing a boy wants more than for his father to be proud of him, even if he has never net him.
Oscar De La Hoya’s father was such a force in his life it is fair to say that everything “The Golden Boy” accomplished in the ring was done to prove to his father that he, Oscar, had merit. All he wanted was a compliment from the man. Just one.
“He's a Mexican father and has a big ego, and he won't tell me (I’m doing well),” De La Hoya said prior to his “loss” to Felix Trinidad in 1999.
The father of 1980s heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney was the same way. But Arthur Cooney was also an abusive drunk who terrorized his family.
Years ago I worked with Cooney on an autobiography that was never published. Gerry came up with the working title: DEVIL IN MY CORNER. The devil was his father.
There have been other fathers whose refusal to accept anything less than perfection drove their fighter-sons to great heights and to great anguish.
The patriarch of the fighting Quarry family, Jack Quarry, told the press, “We don’t trade eyes for dollars” after his son Jerry’s fight with Muhammad Ali was stopped on cuts in 1970.
But Jack, who had the word “Hard” tattooed on his left hand and “Luck” on his right, drove all his boys, particularly Mike and Jerry, into boxing careers that ended disastrously.
He did it, he once said, because they were dirt poor and he didn’t want them to have the energy to steal.
Roy Jones Jr.’s father, Roy Sr., took what many would call draconian measures to make his son a special fighter. They worked, but the two parted ways after Senior shot and killed one of Junior’s prized Pit Bulls. They reunited when Junior’s career started falling apart.
The reunion was not a success.
Joe Frazier has always been criticized for throwing his inexperienced and relatively fragile son, Marvis, into the ring with Larry Holmes and then Mike Tyson. Joe’s rationale: “It was a million-dollar payday.” Take that any way you like.
Buster Douglas never could live up to the standard set by his father, Billy Douglas, a tough journeyman middleweight who gave up on his progeny after Buster quit in his loss to Tony Tucker.
And when Jesus Chavez beat Levander Johnson to death in 2005, Bill Johnson, Levander’s father and trainer, watched from the corner. Maybe Bill should have stopped it. If he wasn’t Levander’s father, maybe he would have.
Other father-son pairings have been less damaging, and don’t believe that tripe that the pairings never work out. The truth is that the careers of all fighters end badly, whether or not the father is in charge.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his father have had a tumultuous relationship that appears finally to have healed, even if Roger Mayweather remains Floyd Jr.’s lead trainer.
Though their days as fighter and trainer ended some years ago, Shane and Jack Mosley reportedly remain close.
Andre Berto’s father drove him to be a fighter from the time Andre was young and remains in his camp. Joe Byrd took his middleweight son, Chris, to the top of the heavyweight division. And Felix Trinidad and his father were enormously successful.
Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini won the world lightweight title because his father, a top contender before World War II came along, didn’t.
How strong is the need for a fighter’s son to win his father’s approval? Young men with the financial means their fathers won with their blood and brain cells can’t wait to get into the ring.
The sons of Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Aaron Pryor, George Foreman, Buddy McGirt, Wilfredo Vazquez, Mosley and others all are active fighters at one level or another and none of them need to be.
Yet they have to be.
Even in their absence or depravity or immaturity men turn their boys into fighters. Where would Manny Pacquiao be today if his father were around to save Manny and the rest of the family from poverty?
If the fathers of Fernando Vargas, Paul Malignaggi, Jason Litzau and the Peterson brothers were better men, would we even know the fighters today?
Conversely, would Miguel Cotto have the emotional strength he’s shown throughout his career if not for the love and support he got from his father who just recently died?
For reasons I’ll never know, my father attended none of the fights I had in the early 1980s, when my backside was softening canvases in amateur bouts all over New Jersey.
But he drove me to the gym three times a week every week for a year before he died.
He didn’t know a speed bag from a hefty bag but he put my (second-place!) trophies on the TV in the living room and went to work every day and took care of his family.
Though he didn’t teach me how to fight, he taught me by example what it means to be a man.
We all are products of our fathers, and fighters more than the rest of us. Good or bad, we all are our fathers’ sons.
Some random observations from last week:
What part of his digestive tract will Allen Green have to get removed to explain away his “weakness” during his dismal performance against Andre Ward? Gallbladder? Pancreas? Liver? Come on, Allen, there are lots of organs to choose fromÔÇª
I’m not the religious type, but I’m pretty sure it’s against the rules in just about all religions to call yourself “Son of God.” Am I right? Church-ies, help me out hereÔÇª
Ten-fight amateurs know you don’t lean against the ropes with your feet parallel. Why doesn’t Green, a 31-fight pro? And what was he doing getting pushed to the ropes in the first place?ÔÇª
Raul Caiz Sr.: How about you take a deep breath?ÔÇª
Ward’s affection for the “super champ” belt he received when he beat Mikkel Kessler proves there’s no hope for a fight game free of sanctioning body madness. None. Integrity and common sense are no match for shiny jewelry. ÔÇª
Who else got the sense Green’s mother had no idea where in the hell she was?ÔÇª
Now can we all stop saying what a great trainer John David Jackson is?ÔÇª
I’ll say what Green wouldn’t during his on-air postfight interview: Ward butts — a lot. And if the referee isn’t going to stop him, it’s up to his opponent to. Kessler couldn’t and Green couldn’t. I’m doubtful Andre Dirrell willÔÇª
Colleague Eric Raskin wrote a good piece last week about Hasim Rahman, who swears he’s serious this time about another run at the heavyweight title. Rahman weighed 260 when he stopped Shannon Miller in four rounds Saturday night. He’s serious all right — about the all-you-can-eat buffet at The Sizzler…
Arturo Gatti, Vernon Forrest, Alexis Arguello, Edwin Valero, Diego Corrales: dead. Betty White: alive and everywhere. You figure it outÔÇª
Worst news of the week: Fernando Vargas is broke, or close to it, and his former business manager is in jail for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from him. My wish for said business manager: a long prison stay with Ike Ibeabuchi and Tony Ayala as his cell mates.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles.
Bill can be contacted at [email protected]