Photographer Ed Mulholland gets off the canvas to beat cancer
His face was ashen. His hands shook. His eyes teared. His head sunk. Ed Mulholland knew what he was reading on his cell. He just didn’t want to believe what it said, sitting there perched on the edge of his bed with his wife, Liz, a few feet away wondering what just gripped her husband. Ed shared the phone with Liz.
The reflection in their eyes off the bright screen spelled the result of a biopsy: Cancer.
For two weeks in January, Ed Mulholland, the usually stout renowned ringside photographer, was a human puddle. His left ear ached, his throat throbbed—like swallowing a cup of gravel. His life flashed before his eyes more than a few times—staring at his own mortality, thinking of the heartache he was putting Liz through, and that he would never see his children grow up and have children of their own.
This Saturday, undisputed lightweight world champion Devin Haney (29-0, 15 knockouts) will take on Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on a Top Rank event on ESPN+ PPV (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
The best story of the night may not be inside the ring. It may be crouched against the ringside apron shooting for MGM Grand in his first boxing match in three months after being diagnosed with cancer on January 9.
The guy that’s shot the biggest fights in the world over the last 21 years, zapping photos at a hundred-miles-an-hour clip, capturing fighters in their most exultant state and their most vulnerable, had his turn on the helpless stage to stare down fear.
The 52-year-old from Pompton Lakes, N.J. and 1993 Rutgers University grad transformed from a healthcare sales rep traveling endless hours over winding roads throughout the Northeast U.S. to being one of the most reputable boxing and combat-sport photographers on the planet. The first fight he shot was a welterweight battle between Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis and Ricardo Mayorga on March 30, 2002, at the Sovereign Center, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Wildman Mayorga pulled off the upset winning the WBA title and showed up to the post-fight presser with a Budweiser in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Mulholland was front-and-center with a point-and-shoot camera.
His first shot wound up in Sports Illustrated, with Mayorga cradling the beer and the smoke. Mulholland pocketed $500 for the picture.
Steadily, he rose, breaking through with former Ring editor Nigel Collins, whose discerning eye for photographers found a rising talent in Mulholland. He remembers the hand-written rejection letter Collins first sent him, encouraging him to keep it up, letting Mulholland know that nailing those glove-on-face shots could make him a ringside fixture in the sport. Meantime, Mulholland’s younger brother, Scott, would tease him about being a “hobbyist,” which turned into a running family joke as Mulholland was gaining a grasp of what went into a good photo and what didn’t.
“A lot of the stuff I sent to Nigel in those early years I would probably throw away today,” admitted Mulholland, laughing.
What began as taking baby pictures of his children with a college graduation gift his parents gave him was morphing into a career. His next big break came in March 2006. By this time, Mulholland was managing clients’ calls, working about 60 hours a week and running himself ragged, doing odd shoots. It’s when HBO called. Regular HBO photographer Will Hart was on leave. HBO saw Mulholland’s work in Ring and needed a quality photographer to shoot Hasim Rahman-James Toney I in Atlantic City, N.J., on March 18, 2006. Mulholland filled in nicely. HBO was so impressed that they awarded Mulholland a three-month contract shooting Boxing After Dark. He would take vacation time at the healthcare employer to shoot weekend HBO gigs.
His reputation was building, grabbing the attention of major sports entities like Electronic Arts (EA Sports). He got the cover of EA Sport’s “Fight Night Round 3,” selling an image of Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward for a nice five-figure sum. Offers began piling in. He was growing beyond regional shoots, to national shots.
There was just one glaring problem—he was miserable.
“This was 100-percent Liz,” Ed remembered. “She sat me down in 2008 and told me that she didn’t care about the money. She wanted me to be happy and she wanted me around. At the time, I was not confident enough, nor gutsy enough to make photography my fulltime career. Liz came up to me and said, ‘Look, you’re unhappy all the time. You’re working around the clock. You have two jobs, which is appreciated, but one you don’t like, and one you do.’ The truth is, I wasn’t a happy person. I thought I had to keep on doing my sales job because of the money.
“With fights on the weekends and driving from client-to-client, in the car all the time, working 50, 60 hours a week, I was never around. I was always working.”
In the fall of 2008, Ed got a call from ESPN to shoot a UFC show. Again, it flourished into getting the lion’s share of ESPN’s UFC fights. HBO was flying him all over the world for fights as a contracted freelancer. His income began growing outside of his sales job.
“You fall in love with it,” he said. “We were able to make more money and I had the satisfaction of telling my brother Scott that I’m no longer a ‘hobbyist’ (laughs).”
In 2007, he quit the healthcare job. He shot 12 years for HBO, from 2006 to 2018, going from 2015-2018 as HBO’s fulltime photographer in the last three years of HBO Boxing. From 2007 to the present, he shoots for USA Today, formally US Presswire, shooting the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and New York Jets. As soon as HBO Boxing folded, Matchroom’s Anthony Leaver quickly reached out and nabbed Mulholland for Matchroom Boxing, which began with a Jesse Vargas-Thomas Dulorme shoot on October 6, 2018, from the Wintrust Arena, in Chicago, Illinois.
He’s been shooting for them ever since, until …
The first photo assignment Ed Mulholland ever missed in two decades was Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez III on December 3, 2022, at the Gila River Arena, in Glendale, California. Mulholland didn’t miss it because he was recovering from cancer. He missed it because he was recovering from surgery on November 15, 2022, for a torn left biceps he injured while boxing.
He had no idea what was happening inside him. He confesses he could be hardheaded. Liz had been on him about getting a cracked wisdom tooth checked out in September 2022. Ed was undergoing pain in his left ear and throat. He thought it had to do with the cracked tooth.
After much insistence from Liz, Ed finally got the tooth pulled in late-October. The oral surgeon who performed the operation told him he found nothing in there.
A week after the oral surgery, Ed tore his left biceps.
He thought the throat and ear pain would subside. It did, with the aid of pain meds he was taking during the recovery from his November surgery. As soon as the meds ran out, the pain came back. By the end of December, Ed would wake up in the middle of the night thinking he had a bloody nose. When he cleared his throat, he hacked up a wad of blood in the sink—a blatant omen something wasn’t right.
The first week of January, Liz urged him to go to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. A biopsy found a mass on the back of his tongue near his throat that was slightly larger than a marble. Mulholland was scheduled to see the ENT on Monday, January 9, for a diagnosis. The Mulhollands didn’t want to wait. Liz, who is a director of accounting at a local hospital, was able to get into Ed’s patient portal on Friday night, January 6. Ed opened the portal and couldn’t believe his eyes. That’s when his hands and heart trembled. He handed the phone to Liz. They were both in disbelief.
“I was a mess, I laid my head on Liz’s shoulder and we hugged for a while,” Ed recalled. “Liz is a hell of a lot stronger than she leads on. I did a lot of crying those first two weeks. I spoke to the doctor on Monday (Jan. 9) and let him know I knew the results. I called my brother Scott, and one of the toughest things I ever had to do was tell my kids, Cole and Kylie.
“I got back from the doctors and called them down to the living room. I told them I had a tumor in my throat. I told them it appears to be cancerous. I wanted to let them know first. Cole is very much like me. I remember him saying I don’t have to worry about radiation, and look at the good news, I won’t lose my hair (laughs). My daughter cried and gave me the biggest hug she’s ever given me. I thought telling them would be the toughest thing I ever had to do in my life, but my kids are really tough. They handled it well.
“It was a very scary weekend,” Liz said. “I tried not to panic. I wasn’t about to cry in front of him.”
But she couldn’t keep it hidden.
She tried sneaking away to different corners of the house when the pangs of emotion were too overwhelming. One day, while Ed was in their bedroom, he was able to hear Liz sobbing in the basement. Ed went public on social media with what was happening. The outpouring came in waves. He received videos from Jesse Vargas, Chris Algieri, Canelo Alvarez, his former HBO family, Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., from women stars Jessica McCaskill and Katie Taylor, and from Mick Conlan, Kal Yafai, and from the whole Matchroom team.
“What people don’t understand and what I hope people do come to understand, is what I went through was hard on me physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally, but it’s also hard on your family; it’s hard on your kids,” Ed said. “I know Liz cried. She never did it in front of me. Ever. She had to be strong for all of us. Kylie cried the first day and never did in front of me again. My son is my son. He jokes around, and handles things that way, and it relaxes me.”
Mulholland was referred immediately to world-renown Dr. Eric M. Genden. The first thing Genden said when he saw Ed and Liz was “You’re going to be okay.”
On Monday, January 16, Mulholland underwent surgery. Pieces of the tumor revealed that it was cancerous, although it had not spread. On Wednesday, February 22, Mulholland started chemo and radiation. It was a torturous, seven-week process that finished on Tuesday, April 11. Though it was painful, though it tested him, he never reached for a container of holy water from Lourdes in a black leather bag.
“It is brutal,” said Ed, who deflated in a span of three months from 209 pounds to 166. “It’s like going through hell. Eating is very, very tough. But I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in mid-April. I found after this everything has become a lot easier to handle. I used to joke around, ‘I’m a photographer, I’m not curing cancer.’ That was my joke. That hits a lot harder now and it’s true.
“I’m ringside, I’m working, I’m doing my thing, and I drive myself to be the best. People see me. I’m nuts (laughs). I’m intense. Everything is so important. I’m going to work to be the best. I’m competitive that way. There’s one photographer in the Boxing Hall of Fame, Neil Leifer, a friend of mine. Tommy Casino is on the Hall of Fame ballot. He deserves to be in there. There are journalists in the Hall of Fame. The photos that go with their stories are ours. I make no bones about it: I want to be in the Hall of Fame one day. That’s my goal.
“Everything is a lot less important to me now. I think back and I would always get stressed about work. Why? Why worry about it? It always worked out for me in the end. I’m different; a lot different. I took a step and realized what is important. My family is what matters. Money is important and, yes, we are under a lot of pressure to pay (medical) bills right now, but I’m still going to be competitive. I owe it to myself, but most of all, I owe it to my family and especially to Liz.
“She’s my hero. She was fantastic. The fact that this sucked for everyone, and I was the one going through it, I was the one staring at my own mortality, and she never let up. I know she cried. She would go off on her own, but there was no way she would allow me to see her in a weakened state. She was the anchor. She is my rock. She’s tougher than I am.”
Everything presently looks good though he’s not cancer free yet. The tumor is no longer visible. A full PET scan on July 11 will determine if the cancer is in remission, and on July 17, he’ll get the results of the scan to see if they got all the cancer. From there, he’ll have to undergo a PET scan on three-month intervals for the next two years. “Everyone is confident,” he said. “I’m confident that it’s gone; I have to be.”
Mulholland is bracing himself for this Saturday night. He’ll undoubtedly be mobbed by many in boxing who haven’t seen him in a while and know what he’s been through. It will be trying, exhaustive, emotional, because for more than a split-second, Ed Mulholland thought he would never be ringside shooting another fight. When he reaches down to get his cameras out of his bag, it may seem a mundane task, but it won’t be to him.
He’s going to try and hold back.
“I imagine it’ll be an emotional night,” he said, “because I really didn’t think I would be shooting ringside again.”
Liz will be nearby to hold him up.
Ed Mulholland’s friend Al Powers set up a GoFundMe Page to aid Ed Mulholland and his family ease some of the stress of their mounting medical bills: https://gofund.me/a53b1c00 [gofund.me]
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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