The Boxing Esq. Podcast, Ep. 29: Boxing historian Herbert Goldman
The Ring is proud to present “The Boxing Esq. Podcast with Kurt Emhoff”. Emhoff, an attorney based in New York City, is a top boxing manager who has represented over 10 world champions in his 20-plus years in the sport.
Listen to episode 28 with Doug Fischer here.
His guest on this podcast is boxing historian Herbert Goldman. They discussed Herbert’s time as a managing editor at The Ring and his role in putting together the last three Ring Record Books. They also discussed Herbert’s four-volume magnum opus record book for the sport “Boxing – A Worldwide Record of Bouts and Boxers,” with a particular focus on the “Timeline of Boxing History.”
Additionally, they went through an abbreviated history of the sanctioning bodies in the interest of tracking how we got to the present proliferation of organizations and how close we came at various points to having one overarching regulatory organization.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
On his time at The Ring from 1978-1987 as Managing Editor:
“Well, my business up until that time was in the theatrical field. But I walked in there and I had gotten friendly with Nat Loubet, the son-in-law of the founder, Nat Fleischer. He told me, “I like your mind.” So there came a time when his daughter Trudie was leaving and she had been doing the nuts and bolts work on the magazine. So he hired me and I was given a cram course on how to put out a magazine. I will say that I finally really mastered this thing as it was in the very last magazine, the very last issue I did for Nat Loubet and immediately after I got done with that, the place was sold and I did not do any production work from that time on. The method of doing it was entirely different, but really, I was switched over, unofficially, to doing research.
And what I did was, I had a pretty good knowledge of boxing history up to that point. But then I got a chance to read in The Ring files and so forth, and I started to do a lot of really original research and I have to say I was dumbfounded after awhile at how many things, so called facts about boxing that everybody cherished – absolutely incorrect. And I went on from there and I have to say that after all those years, record keeping and history in boxing improved out of sight.”
On the idea for his four volume set “Boxing: A Worldwide Record of Bouts and Boxers”:
“I had discussed the idea of an all-time boxing reference book with a friend of mine, Don Majeski. Don Majeski is a very knowledgeable man who’s been in the business of boxing for many years now as a manager, a promoter, a matchmaker, a booking agent and so forth. So I started to do it and without going into a lot of detail about what happened, the publisher I wound up getting was McFarland. They brought it out and I must say they did a pretty good job on volume four. (Note: Herbert was not happy with the formatting of volumes 1-3.)”
On the origins of boxing and the sanctioning bodies:
“It’s a funny thing now. Boxing or a form of it, pugilism, was practiced by the ancient Greeks. The Romans picked it up and so forth. And then it was outlawed in I believe 394. At that point the Olympics were abolished and the sport disappeared for like 1400 years by and large. Sometimes you’d have a two guys box in front of the audience of a Duke in his castle or a King. But that was really it. Sometimes you might see them at country fairs. Things began to be a little bit more open and so forth with the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, the whole bit. After the Glorious Revolution, more and more entertainments became public. Boxing, of course. The stage was outlawed when the Puritans came in and, but after the Glorious Revolution, the stage was restored.
And, you did have a real revival of interest in the sport. There was no one really who went around designating himself or his people as the arbiters of boxing. The fancy did that. Who were the fancy? They were the aristocrats who were the fanciers of boxing at that time. And the only money in those days, sometimes a wealthy individual would put up purse money. Then there was, of course, all of these side bets that took place. And, really this idea of all this regulation of the sport, to a large extent, starts in the Queensberry era. We had gloved boxing with three minute rounds and so forth. And there was no money in this end of it at that time.
You had in 1920, the formation, 1920-21 of the National Boxing Association, which the New York state commission claimed it was prohibited from joining. (That) was a bunch of nonsense. New York had a lot of power at that time with the Garden and all that. They wanted to be independent of the NBA so they could make rulings and so forth favorable to New York promoters. And that’s one of the troubles with this because. There is what might be termed a certain selfishness in boxing. Everybody is constantly jockeying for additional dollars, shall we say. And it’s rather a difficult thing to try to lasso these people. But I happen to believe that if the sport is to survive in the United States and regain its position possibly as a major sport instead of a niche sport, which is what it is in this country at this time, something is going to be have to be done.
And what kind of organization, I don’t know for certain. But the goal of the world sanctioning bodies, there is no doubt, let’s be honest about it – they are out to make money. It’s no sin to make money. But at one point in time that was not the purpose. The World Boxing Association, when it was the National Boxing Association, did collect sanctioning fees – a dollar for a title fight. (Later) it became $150. And thanks to a particular situation at one point, the powers that be (took advantage of) the way things went with TV (1977 – Don King’s failed U.S. Boxing Championships that ABC stopped televising after allegations of bribes for ratings in The Ring). And now, being the head of a sanctioning body, you’re the head of a multi-million dollar moneymaking operation. And that’s where it’s at right now. I would love personally to see one champion in each division from now on. But you have the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO plus a plethora of minor world sanctioning bodies. Now overseas, they’re not bothered by this too much. Why? They have no history of any generic world champions. So when I was a boy, the goal of a fighter might’ve been, I want to win THE world title. Now it’s I’m going to win A world title and that’s where it’s going.”
On the state of boxing and the overarching entities that affected it from the 1920s through the 1970s:
“Well, The Ring was very much of New York and the New York State commission and Madison Square Garden. They didn’t always go along with them, but usually they did. And as time went on, (The Ring) were the leaders of the sport in this country. We have a tough time imagining that today. Because the idea of a magazine running any field is foreign to us. But they went along and you had the NBA accepting certain foreign bodies as affiliates of it. But really, the American promoters, more or less, they ran the NBA and the BBB of C (British Boxing Board of Control) or in the ’30s, the IBU (International Boxing Union, precursor to the European Boxing Union (EBU)), they were treated as poor stepchildren by the NBA.
And this continued for quite a while. I mean you had in the 1950s a permeation of the sport on a level that was unprecedented before. And it was pretty much there before anyway, by the – let’s say beyond the law faction. All right. And things went along. Boxing was . . . a lot of people considered the 1950s to be the height of the sport. For the fan, watching television at home, the Fight Of The Week or the Wednesday Night Fights on CBS, whatever it was, he could now sit back in his chair and sip his favorite drink and just watch the main event, 9:00 to 10:00 PM. And then his wife could come back in the living room and they could resume watching television together. Meanwhile, across the country, small clubs were folding up like mad. And if you had gone to a promoter in those days, you know, a small time promoter and said, “This is really the greatest period in boxing that has ever been”, he would have looked at you like you’re out of your mind.
And, from a height in 1953, where there were six weekly telecasts of boxing in this country on various networks, one on NBC, one on CBS, three on ABC and one on DuMont (small broadcast network that existed from 1942-1956). But for the consumer, for the guys sitting at home, fine. But after a while, there was a decrease in the number of telecasts among the major networks. And, finally in 1964, it was down to one and they went off the air as well. And in the midst of all this, you had a Benny “Kid” Paret beaten to death on national television in 1962 (March 24, 1962, Emile Griffith stopped Paret in the 12th round, Paret died as a result of injuries from the fight a few days later). And finally boxing, having been used to put over network television, boxing was out of network television.
The only fights televised from 1965 onto about 1977, with the exception of ABC when they came on Wide World of Sports, the only a boxing that was televised was syndicated. Syndicated shows that, uh, oh, okay. But, you no longer had boxing as a staple of the regular television diet. That was over. And then you had a resurgence of boxing in a way in 1976. What happened in ‘76, the movie Rocky came out. You had the great U.S. Olympic team of that year. You also had the start of casino boxing whereby the super fights were basically guaranteed profits for the promoter, both via television and via these casinos. The promoter would make a deal with the network, pay-per-view, whatever it was, and the casino printed the tickets and put the fight on after the buying of the site rights from the promoter. So on fight night, all the promoter had to do was sit back and count the money.
Anyway in ‘76, this prompted Ring Magazine to get involved in what was called a U.S. Championship Tournament. And as the tournament went on, allegations of a number of things came out and finally ABC, which was doing the televising, threw the U.S. Championship Tournament off the air. And, as they used to say, “another black eye for boxing.” But this had the effect though of strengthening the world sanctioning bodies becasuse the networks no longer could point at Ring Magazine and say “Well, they didn’t say it’s a world championship fight or they say it belongs in this U.S. championship tournament.” Now they needed some other source of credibility. So they turned to the WBA and the WBC. The WBC at that time also stripped Leon Spinks of the world title because he signed for a return bout with Muhammad Ali instead of fighting the WBC mandatory, Ken Norton. So the WBC declared Ken Norton the new Champion, he lost to Larry Holmes. And then Larry Holmes made a good number of title defenses on ABC. This had the effect of putting the WBC especially over, and it’s been a matter of a television and sanctioning bodies ever since.
On the Manager’s Guild, the IBC and the mob influence on boxing:
“Well you didn’t have the sanctioning bodies, right? You had promoters and some of them are quite powerful, but managers really ran the sport. It was a seller’s market in those days because of all the promoters, no television really. And even radio did not pay that much. So these guys, I’m talking about the big time managers who manage world champions, top contenders, they had a lot of power in those days. They could deal with this promoter here, this one over here and say, “We’ll go with this one over here.” And this was the case. I mean, if you were a young fighter, to you, the greatest thing that could happen was to get under the management of a top manager who really held a lot of cards. Cause somebody who controlled one or more world champions and let’s say maybe a dozen contenders, he had a lot of power. He could say, “Oh you want so and so to find your local kid. All right, we’ll do it for such and such amount of money. I want three of my other kids on your show.”
The contenders were known to the public. In fact it was a much more discriminating public in those days. They knew the fights and the fighters. I mean, today, I don’t know how many network executives which put on boxing know the fighters. But the public in those days surely did. Now the Manager’s Guild, established 1944. This really had a lot to do with Jim Norris and the International Boxing Club, which succeeded the 20th Century Sporting Club of Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was the promoter at the Garden for a good many years. (In 1944) this was pretty much pre-Jim Norris. Yes. And a then, of course, Mike Jacobs had a stroke. And, the managers quickly towed the line with a friend of Jim Norris named Frankie Carbo. And this all ended at the end of the fifties in 1961 and all that. The manager’s guild was ordered dissolved by the courts because this really was getting, it seemed to a lot of people rightly, it was getting a reputation as a corrupt sport.
And so that was out. And I would say basically that mob controlled boxing to a large extent went out of the window in 1965 because Muhammad Ali had his own people. So after he beat Floyd Patterson it was a different era and basically so-called organized crime, to a large extent, went out of boxing at that time.”
On the point when the WBA and WBC split apart and where they are today:
“(Note: At the 1962 WBA convention there was a battle over voting rights – according to the WBA rules, each U.S. state got one vote, the same as each country outside of the U.S. There was push back from Mexico and many countries that also had multiple commissions in their country to get a vote for each commission.) The foreign contingents came in with all kinds of provincial chairman and so forth. And demanded that each state in Mexico, Argentina, and so forth have a one vote of its own. So they got the WBA away from the U.S. to that extent, you know, in the ’70s and all that. But it was a sea change and and finally the world championship committee that became the nucleus to a certain extent, to a large extent for the formation of the WBC. Which when it first began was a committee of the WBA and then broke away gradually and said finally they were completely independent of the WBA (Note: this happened officially in 1966 according to Herbert’s “Timeline of Boxing History”).
And so the genesis of the modern situation began at that point. Different world sanctioning bodies with their own champions. But after a while it became not a question of, we should recognize the man who really has the most legitimate claim to the championship. No, it became more and more, we want our own champion in every division. Now it’s gotten to the point for some years now, the WBA has its own champion and that champion fights, let’s say the WBC champion or the IBF champion and uh, and becomes more or less of a unified champion. The WBA then would sort of say, yes, he’s the Super champion. We have another WBA championship. We’re going to start beneath him. I mean, if this sounds absolutely crazy and comprised of unbelievable amount of amounts of gall, well, welcome to boxing.”