Hall of Fame 2017
Jimmy Lennon Sr. Was An Institution Long Before His Famous Son Picked Up A Mic
Those who grew up listening to Jimmy Lennon Sr. know exactly where his son got his golden voice and graceful style. The elder Lennon was the gold standard, if you will.
Lennon Sr. worked nationwide but was known primarily as the ring announcer at the old Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and other venues in the area for decades after World War II, his clear, commanding voice recognizable to all boxing and wrestling fans of his era.
He had a smooth, elegant style that reverberates through his son today. That includes his wardrobe: He wore a tuxedo every time he went to work, which is now standard in the business. And he was a stickler for details, a prime example being his painstaking effort to pronounce tongue-twisting names correctly. “A man is entitled to the dignity of his own name,” he once told the Los Angeles Times.
The Times provided a wonderful anecdote in Lennon’s obituary (he died in 1992). The late Earl Gustkey wrote: “Once, Lennon was hired to emcee a Greek-American awards banquet in Los Angeles. He gulped as he looked at the name on a trophy he was to present: Anastasios Honchopathadurkomontorogiotopolous. ‘There was only one way to do it,’ Lennon recalled years later. ‘I broke it down into syllables and then put it back together again.’
“He did, flawlessly. The man came to the podium, kissed Lennon on the cheek and told him: ‘You are the only person to pronounce my name correctly since I come to America.’”
Lennon learned to work hard out of necessity. He was 17, as the Great Depression was taking hold, when his father died. He had to help provide for the family, which included six brothers and a sister.
He did whatever odd jobs he could find and performed professionally when he could find the work. Having grown up in a musical family, he sang, he acted, he emceed at small venues, whatever it took to make a few bucks.
“He had to hustle all the time,” Jimmy Lennon Jr. told THE RING. “I was told about one time he was emceeing an entertainment show, I think at the Elks Club, when someone approached him and said, ‘You did a good job tonight. Have you ever announced boxing and wrestling?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have.’ Of course, he hadn’t. He just had to hustle for anything he could get. That’s how it was.”
Lennon Sr. announced his first boxing card at the Santa Monica Elks Club in 1943, after which he became an institution at the Olympic Auditorium and beyond, as well as a model for future announcers.
That includes Lennon Jr., who had no intention of following his famous father into announcing – “I went to UCLA and studied psychology and education,” he said – but spent a lot of time at the Olympic and other local venues and eventually gravitated into the business.
Now Lennon Jr. is a boxing fixture, a voice heard worldwide over the past 30-plus years. Junior had begun to announce high-profile fights by the time his father passed away, meaning Lennon Sr. was aware that his son would build upon his legacy.
That, the younger Lennon said, was a source of great pride for his father.
“That means more to me every year,” Lennon Jr. said. “I’m a father; I’m proud of my kids. I was told more than once that, ‘You could not have given your father a greater gift than to follow him and do a good job.’ That made me feel good.
“I knew how important it was to him. I know he was so pleased, so proud the last part of his life.”
Lennon Sr. would’ve been elated when his son was inducted into
the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013, an honor that also meant a great deal to Lennon Jr. However, it was also awkward: The younger Lennon felt strongly that his father should’ve entered the Hall before he did.
Thus, the fact Lennon Sr. will be inducted in June has added meaning.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful to the Hall of Fame but I feel like this is a wrong that has been righted,” Lennon Jr. said. “I believe he deserved this many years ago. I also feel fantastic about it. I think years from now no one will remember when he was inducted. They’ll only see that he was recognized for his greatness.
“And I really think he’s the greatest ring announcer who ever lived.”
BARRY TOMPKINS HAS HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE OF CALLING MANY SPORTS BUT IS KNOWN AS A ‘BOXING GUY’
By Doug Fischer
If the 1980s made you a boxing fan, chances are good that Barry Tompkins’ voice is part of your memories of those glory years.
If the round robin between Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, or the meteoric rise of Mike Tyson sucked you into the wild world of boxing, you remember these calls:
“And WE have a new era in boxing!” Tompkins declared after Tyson’s second-round demolition of Trevor Berbick in 1986.
“How do you like it? How DO you like it!?” Tompkins exclaimed after the final bell of Leonard’s upset of Hagler in 1987.
These moments and a four-decade body of work as a blow-by-blow commentator have earned Tompkins a place alongside former HBO broadcast partners Leonard and Larry Merchant in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Joining Tompkins in the Class of 2017 is current broadcast partner Steve Farhood.
“Barry is not just a boxing commentator, he’s a great broadcaster,” said Farhood, who has worked alongside Tompkins on Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” series since 2012. “He’s called almost every sport known to man. He’s seen everything. Nothing rattles him. Boxing throws curve balls, but a nuclear blast could go off and Barry wouldn’t miss a beat. He’s got a relaxed, conversational style that comes across to viewers but also makes him a pleasure to work with. His partners value how easygoing he is but he also brings energy to the broadcast. I’ve never heard Barry complain about being tired. I’ve never seen him yawn!”
Tompkins, a 76-year-old San Francisco native who got his start on local TV in 1968, credits his enthusiasm and longevity to a busy and diverse work schedule. Along with his ShoBox duties he calls Bay Area football and basketball – prep, collegiate and professional – for syndicated cable companies.
“I think doing other sports has kept me around for as long as I’ve been around,” Tompkins said. “I get stale if I stay in the same sport all the time.”
He has won acclaim for his football, basketball and tennis commentary, but Tompkins is known as a “boxing guy” thanks to his work on NBC during the 1970s, and on ESPN and FOX in the ’90s and 2000s. However, it’s his tenure at HBO from 1979 to ’88 that longtime fans remember.
“The ’80s was a very special time for me. I was new at editing THE RING, and unforgettable fights were taking place,” Farhood said. “Barry called Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello I. He was the voice of the great fights at that time and I associated him with only the biggest events.”
Tompkins downplays his role in those epic fights but admits that there was plenty of action during that decade.
“It’s probably more fascinating in retrospect, but it did seem like every week there was a fight worth talking about to people who didn’t follow boxing,” he said. “It only happens a couple of times a year these days, but it was almost every month in the ’80s.”
Still, Tompkins is happier now than he was during the glory years.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “The ShoBox family is the most fun group I’ve ever worked with.”
ShoBox color commentator Raul Marquez, who considers Tompkins a close friend and broadcast mentor, believes the best is yet to come.
“Barry doesn’t act his age,” said Marquez, who first met Tompkins while still an amateur boxer. “He’s not stuck in the past, he’s sharp and up on current things. He’s got a lot of years ahead of him.”
ILL-FATED YET GREAT
Eddie Booker Made The Most Of The Opportunities He Had
By Michael Rosenthal
Eddie Booker was among the best of an unfortunate group of gifted fighters.
Black boxers typically were denied the same opportunities as those of other races from the start of the modern era. And never was it more tragic than in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, when as many as 10 championship-caliber black middleweights – called “Murderers’ Row” by writer Budd Schulberg – never fought for a world title.
Charlie Burley was the best of the lot but Booker was of the same ilk, a tough, polished boxer-puncher who almost certainly would’ve won multiple world titles had he been born a generation later.
Booker learned his craft in the San Francisco Bay area in the late ’20s and early ’30s, turned pro in 1935 (at 17) and wreaked havoc up and down the West Coast until his retirement in 1944.
“Black Dynamite,” by all accounts, was a complete fighter, one who could bang or box depending on the situation. And he did both well. He had exceptional defensive skills and a rock-solid chin to go with it. He was never stopped.
The results speak loudly: He finished his career with a record of 66-5-8 (34 knockouts). That included a record of 3-2-3 against fellow Hall of Famers Cocoa Kid, Lloyd Marshall, Archie Moore and Holman Williams.
Booker went 1-0-2 against Moore, one of the greatest fighters in history, and was the first to knock him out. In that 1944 bout, “The Mongoose” went down four times and the fight was stopped by the referee in the eighth round, with Moore unable to continue.
Moore thought a great deal of Booker.
“I’ve had some rough fights in my time,” Moore said, “but all things being equal, when I was in my prime, one of my toughest had to have been against Eddie Booker, a fighting machine … who shot out punches with deft precision … [Booker] was one of the great fighters of my time. He had me fighting for dear life.”
Booker’s career was cut short by a chronic eye injury, making him one of the few fighters to defeat a Hall of Famer (Williams) in his final bout. He was only 26 at the time, which makes us wonder how much more he could’ve accomplished.
Booker was never allowed to fight for a world title, a fate that had to eat at him and the others. He had to walk away at the height of his abilities, which had to be crushing.
That doesn’t detract from his overall body of work, though: Eddie Booker did more than enough against the talented men he faced and in the limited time he had to earn recognition as a great fighter and now as a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
A RESPECTED VOICE
Whether Writing Or Broadcasting, Steve Farhood Has Commanded Our Attention For Decades
By Don Stradley
If you only know Steve Farhood from his regular appearances on “ShoBox: The Next Generation,” or perhaps as a ringside scorer on the Premier Boxing Champions series, you might be surprised to learn that his presence in boxing goes back to the late 1970s, when he started out as a journalist. And if you weren’t around during Farhood’s time at KO Magazine, you missed out on something special.
Most of the boxing coverage of that time was found in THE RING and several other magazines, plus the big-city newspapers. The Associated Press and United Press International covered the major fights, as did Sports Illustrated. With newsstands carrying, at times, half a dozen magazines, it seemed boxing was well-covered. But with the surprising success of the 1976 Olympic team, there appeared to be room for another publication. Stanley Weston, who already published several boxing magazines, launched KO in 1980 through London Publishing. It was slightly different in tone, with a slew of young writers contributing, including a Brooklyn guy named Steve Farhood.
Perhaps unwittingly, this staff of youngbloods was about to change the way things were done. KO seemed fresh and lively, the smirking, longhaired nephew of the older magazines on the market. It was soon outselling THE RING.
“I wasn’t a hardcore fan when I started writing about boxing in the late ’70s,” Farhood told THE RING. “So I had few preconceived notions about the sport. I was 21 years old, I had a journalism degree and I was happy to be writing about anything.”
The clip and photo files at the office fascinated Farhood. “It seemed boxing history was at my fingertips, and I was eager to learn.” Still, KO was rooted in the present, with a focus on new stars. The philosophy seemed to be one of fun, with a dash of cynicism.
According to Farhood, there was no deliberate attempt to distinguish himself from the older writers on the beat. “I don’t think [any] of us were trying to write differently from the established journalists. We were just being ourselves, and we had been given the opportunity to establish our own voices. I tried to take a somewhat irreverent and creative approach, and that hasn’t changed in 40 years.
“One thing that might’ve influenced our styles was that we were writing so many damn articles and columns – putting out several magazines per month, London Publishing was particularly prolific – so we were almost forced to at least occasionally think outside the box. And as both an editor and writer, I was always conscious of the fact that I was working for a magazine, and not a newspaper. To me, there was a huge difference.”
The years at KO led to Farhood’s lengthy term as editor of THE RING, plus stints on ESPN, CNN, the USA Network’s “Tuesday Night Fights,” Showtime and the PBC series. Considering he wasn’t a die-hard boxing fan when he started, Farhood has played an important part in how the sport was covered during the last four decades.
He’ll be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this June as part of the Observer category. It’s a fitting accolade for a fine journalist, an astute analyst and one of boxing’s genuinely nice guys.