The Boxing Esq. Podcast, Ep. 46: Boxing writer Carlos Acevedo
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.
His guest on this episode is author and editor at hannibalboxing.com – Carlos Acevedo. They discuss Carlos’s excellent new book – “Sporting Blood – Tales From The Darkside of Boxing” – which goes on sale March 31st. They discussed a few of the subjects of the book including Sonny Liston, Tony Ayala, and Smokin’ Bert Cooper. They also talked about Carlos’s youth in the Bronx and how he came to be interested in the sweet science.
Additionally, they explored the good and the bad in today’s boxing scene and how things evolved over time from boxing’s resurgence in the 1970s.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
On how he fell in love with the sweet science:
“Well, boxing, when I was a kid, it was everywhere basically. I mean you didn’t need a secret decoder ring or any kind of special TV channel. It was basically everywhere. And my first memory of boxing is actually Muhammad Ali. Which is probably everybody’s first memory of boxing in the 1970s. I remember him with Gorilla Monsoon doing a wrestling skit. Ali does his thing. You know, he heckles and heckles and threatens and whatever and then he gets in the ring and Monsoon puts him in the airplane spin.
When I was a kid I was just like, what? Cause you know, I had the Muhammad Ali action figure and I was like, you can’t do that to my action figure guy! I mean he picked him up and he threw them on the canvas.
It was wild. But you know, boxing at that time was part of the cultural zeitgeist. Ali was a huge figure, obviously, in the 1970s. Even when he was already falling to pieces in the ring. But, he was such a character that you couldn’t help but love him. I mean, he had a cartoon, he had the action figure, he had a comic book about him. And from there, the 80s renaissance came about from the ’76 Olympic team and boxing was on TV all the time, basically.
I’m Puerto Rican and I come from a Puerto Rican household. Boxing is in every Puerto Rican’s DNA, at least in the 1970s. Uncles would come around and they’d have their Schaefer beer. And we’d sit around the black and white TV, right, with the bent up rabbit ear antennas and we’d watch the fights. There was a lot of them and they were exciting fighters for the most part.”
On the enduring appeal of Sonny Liston’s story and his theory on Sonny’s death:
“Well, I think the reason for (his enduring appeal) is the number of mysteries surrounding him simultaneously. There’s the mystery of his upbringing, the mystery of his career because he was a mob-owned fighter and you can only take so much at face value when it comes to mob-owned fighters, right. And then there was the mystery of his death., I was sort of hesitant to include this story in the collection because there’s been a lot of talk about his death and maybe people have figured it out. So, you know, I’m hoping no one’s figured it out for a few more months. So my solution would still stand up.
Red Rodney, the jazz musician, was friends with Sonny Liston. And Red Rodney had a heroin addiction that was unbelievable. It was something like $20,000 a day, some insane number. I mean, that’s a lot of heroin. And Red Rodney supplied heroin to Sonny Liston. And then, instead of it being this kind of mafia hit or – the simplest thing applies here I think. And that’s because Rodney himself, told this story to his son, Mark Rodney, and it seems like the likeliest thing is Sonny took a bad hit of heroin provided by his jazz musician friend. So, I mean, is it possible he was murdered and et cetera and so forth? Yeah, because he had a lot of enemies. Especially in that time, in that place. Shaun Assael, who wrote the Sonny Liston book that came out a few years ago, he made a good case for Sonny being involved in like real underbelly-type stuff. Where anybody could be hurt in that atmosphere. No one was safe and probably Sonny was not safe. But at the same time, he was a documented heroin user and a drug user.
But you don’t have to shoot up heroin either. I mean, it’s possible he tried it for the first time and then OD’d. But there’s enough doubt where the mystery stays alive. And I think that’s part of the compelling reason that people are interested in Sonny Liston after all these years. I mean, he died 50 years ago.”
On the disconnect in boxing today between a fighter’s appeal and compensation:
“I was always fascinated by this kind of mercenary aspect of fighting. Like Fighter A goes to this country or to this region because boxing was largely regional in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, to make sure he gets a real paycheck, to make money. And that’s what he was motivated by as a professional. I mean it makes sense, right? Go where there’s the most money. And today, I mean, not to pick on (Guillermo Rigondeaux) in particular, but the man has never drawn an audience. He’s been booed wherever he goes basically. And I’m not talking about recently cause I guess recently, I suppose he’s had some decent fights is what I understand.
But you can say that about a lot of fighters. They’re allowed to go on these parallel paths. And I’m not begrudging a fighter, you know, making millions of dollars or whatever. I mean, all fighters deserve respect. It’s a hard profession even if you’re like half-assing it. But there still has to be some kind of connection between what a fighter makes and what he produces organically. Does he produce television ratings? Do thousands and thousands of people attend his fights? Does he sell pay-per-views, et cetera and so forth. And when you sort of get rid of all that, you have a lot of undistinguished fights and to be honest, a lot of undistinguished fighters. As long as fighters don’t fight each other and create a culture of fighting each other, boxing is gonna fade away little by little, as time goes on. Because you can only have so many “champs” at the same time, all bragging about being the best and all making excuses about not fighting each other.
Some of that has changed, I guess a little bit with Wilder and Fury, for example. Who would expect Al Haymon to go to another promoter to set up the fight for Wilder? And one which, Wilder could lose. And he did in the rematch. But you know, for the most part, boxers seem sort of, I don’t know if they’re satiated because they’ve had good paydays and because the current corporate culture rewards them on the basis of content creation. It’s basically Showtime finds a fighter so that they can show repeats at like three in the morning on their multiplex channels or whatever. It’s just really weird. But you know, there are still fighters out there who do give a damn about these kinds of things and those are the guys we have to pay attention to.”
On how boxing is still palatable even with the risks and often tragic outcomes for fighters:
“It’s not a risk to a guy who’s growing up in a war zone basically in comparison. I mean, where I grew up is like Dodge City, basically, 1980s Dodge City. You think about these people who are so poor and they’re so ground down by violence and squalor. And really getting into the ring is like nothing compared to that. A lot of these guys and we’ve seen them and they’re the subject of Sporting Blood. A lot of them come from deprived backgrounds, sometimes depraved backgrounds. And if they can make something of themselves, earn some riches for a little while, at least. Right. ‘Cause few of these fighters end up well, obviously. Why begrudge them that?
It’s morally squeamish, this sport. The idea that a first-world country still has people, fighting to get to the top. It’s like a parody of capitalism and the struggle to get through capitalism. And I think fighters ought to fight if they have nothing better to do – is probably what I’m trying to say. The streets are hard enough. So much so that the ring is like a cakewalk for some of them. Of course, that’s only for talented fighters, right? What happens to opponents? That’s another story altogether and that’s one I won’t even talk about, ’cause it’s sort of disturbing. But you know, the guy who is like six and 10 with two knockouts. Yeah – that’s another story altogether.”