WINNING a world championship is the ultimate prize in boxing, but the fight for recognition does not end there. The world’s greatest fighters want more than a belt, they want validation from the media and others in the business. That is why awards are so important, be it Fighter of the Year or special recognition of a career or whatever.
I have been very fortunate. Because of my involvement with various boxing groups I have had the privilege of presenting more awards to our icons of the sport than anyone else has, at least by my calculations.
With no intent to play amateur psychologist, my experiences in sharing a stage with these champions, as well as dealing with them at length behind the scenes, has given me a glimpse into their personalities that I’d like to share with you.
You can go to You Tube to see me presenting Mayweather the 2013 Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) in Las Vegas. At that point, Mayweather was (and arguably still is) the biggest name in the sport. I had also presented him an award from the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians a decade previously when he was a world champion, but not the icon he became.
My impressions were of a man who was caught in the crossfire between being Money Mayweather and Floyd. The way he strode up to the BWAA podium with a cup of Starbucks coffee after arriving with an entourage that catered to every slightest whim portrayed a man who was addicted to the limelight.
Yet there was the humble side of Mayweather, one who we don’t always see and one that is not often reported, who went out of his way to shake my hand, acknowledge others, accommodate the fans, and smile for the photos as if he were the one asking for them to be taken.
Being humble is important to Mayweather – just as long as we are humbled by his presence.
Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words never had theirs taken with Manny Pacquiao. A photo taken of us together showed us looking at each other smiling like old buddies after I had presented him the BWAA’s 2008 Fighter of the Year award. The proof is supposedly in the photo, but I can assure you the interaction probably lasted less than a second, and I had absolutely no bond with Pacquiao during that presentation or the one the following year when I presented him with the Fighter of the Decade award. With that said, I never thought that Manny was rude or felt snubbed. Pacquiao gave charming speeches and was nice to the fans.
Pacquiao was pleased to receive the recognition, but it was more of a business outing than anything else, kind of the way he juggles his two careers of boxer and politician.
The former world heavyweight champion is a well-mannered and polite. In short, a gentleman. When he walked to the podium in 2018 to receive the BWAA’s Good Guy award he reached over and shook my hand, disregarding the famous Klitschko fist bump. Very meticulous, like inside of the ring, Klitschko tries to make every word count. What left an impression on me was the resistance Klitschko showed when I tried to get him to face the camera for a photo at the conclusion of his speech. He needed to do it on his own terms. Klitschko was the boss inside the ring and a man who needed to be the boss outside of it as well.
I ALWAYS try to build a little rapport beforehand. With Bowe it was easy. We started joking around and it carried over onto the dais. Despite Bowe’s celebrity status it is easy to feel comfortable around him. Bowe was seated next to Terence Crawford at the Ring8 banquet in December, 2018.
“Crawford is the star of the show,” I kidded him. Bowe laughed. That spoke volumes for his sense of humour. Bowe can be demanding though, making small innocent requests on the spur of the moment that can drive you crazy if you allow it to. Bowe is like the big kid who never grew up, but in a charming way.
Holyfield always gives the same long speeches at every banquet that he is honoured at, talking about his upbringing. It is hard to get him to speak about his career because he is so enthralled with the lessons learned in childhood. In presenting to Holyfield, I spoke about the Lennox Lewis fights, the weight disparity (96 1/2lbs) against Nikolay Valuev, and a few other things as a way to get him to speak about his career. However, outside of reminiscing briefly about the Mike Tyson rematch Evander preferred to talk about things his mother had taught him. While that is nice, he tends to stay on the subject a bit too long. Holyfield’s speeches can be boring, but the man himself is not. Evander is approachable and, behind the scenes, always great company. He enjoys being noticed and is always first class with his fans.
People sometimes mistake shyness for being aloof. Such was my impression of Terence Crawford who I presented the Ring8 Fighter of the Year award in 2018 at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach, New York. It should be noted that unlike most other champions who grew up in major cities and were exposed to a large media presence, Crawford from Omaha, came from a quieter environment. My presentation to Crawford was enjoyable. He is not a talker, but his warm smile makes up for much of that. When Crawford first arrived to the luxurious ballroom it took a minute or so for him to be noticed. He didn’t mind at all – a sure sign of a secure individual.
I presented an award to Lomachenko the afternoon after his fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux in December 2017. Not surprisingly, he was treated like a rock star so soon after the mega victory. Because of the language barrier, Lomachenko was accompanied and had his words translated by his manager Egis Klimas. But a smile and body language are universal which gave me the impression that Lomachenko was down to earth, a man who you could feel comfortable around.
However, he needs his space. After granting a good share of autograph and photo requests, the overwhelming demand was finally more than the fighter could take. When it carried over to Lomachenko’s table after he detoured from the dais, he left the premises quickly. But that he would attend any sort of function literally hours after the biggest fight of his career spoke volumes for Lomachenko’s character.
This much though is apparent: He hates being crowded outside the ring just as much as he does in it.
SPINKS was honoured at the same Ring8 affair that Boxing News editor Matt Christie picked up an award. In fact, they sat next to the other on the dais but, such is the man he is, Spinks was just as keen to ask questions as he was to answer them about himself.
Yet, when it came time to accept his award, Spinks made a glowing speech after intently keeping his eyes on me as I was introducing him. Spinks was happy whenever anyone approached him, being one of the first ones at the banquet, but one of the last to leave.
The dignity and humility Spinks displays can serve as a role model for all.
Many years ago, I presented an award to the older of the Spinks brothers at a small function. I got the crowd involved and before long they were chanting his name. It seemed more of a pep rally than a presentation. Spinks’ acceptance speech consisted of the words: “Thank You.” Everyone knew he was not a talker. No one cared.
When I spoke, I noticed a big smile on the former world heavyweight champion’s face. It pleased me that my words made him happy. I hope he wins the battle he is currently facing with bad health.
This was a joint presentation in which the Fraziers were given a Father and Son award. Heavyweight boxer Vinnie Maddalone presented to Joe’s son Marvis and I presented to the former heavyweight champ.
The presentation took place less than a year before Frazier passed and he was light years away from being the vibrant person we used to know. Yet, Frazier retained a great deal of his sensitivity and as he stood next to me it was clear that he was very satisfied – and grateful – to be recognised for yet another achievement. For me presenting to Frazier was a thrill being that he was one of my boyhood idols. Joe was not only a great fighter, but a great guy as well.
I presented Donaire the BWAA’s 2012 Fighter of the Year award. Two days later he lost his two super-bantamweight belts to Guillermo Rigondeaux. The presentation itself went great. Looking young and innocent, Donaire came off like a kid every mother would like to have for a son. Donaire spoke of being bullied as a youngster. He periodically looked over at me during his acceptance speech to see how he was doing. I felt a bond with Donaire, as so many do. That everyone speaks exceptionally highly of Nonito should tell you all you need to know about him.
McGuigan was accepting an award on behalf of himself and Carl Frampton who, at the time, he was associated with. Considering that I already had spent considerable time with McGuigan on his previous trip to New York a solid bond had been formed before I took the microphone.
Still there was pressure to do the presentation correctly as always. McGuigan is very meticulous and wanted the words both he and I said to strike just the right cord. McGuigan was very aggressive as a fighter, but far more considered later in life.
The one that got away: Andre Ward
As president I was supposed to present to Ward the BWAA’s 2011 Fighter of the Year award. Because Ward’s wife was expecting around the time of the event, he made the proper decision to stay home with her rather than travel cross country and risk missing the birth. However, I never received official confirmation until just a couple of days before the dinner having previously been told he would attend. My phone calls to Ward in the weeks leading up to the event had gone unreturned. It’s true that he probably had other things on his mind, but it certainly was a source of frustration for me – planning awards ceremonies is never an easy process.
I can be stubborn and, rightly or wrongly, I needed closure. I approached him at The Barclays Center before a broadcast he would be working for HBO. Ward smiled warmly saying he hoped I understood his reasons for not attending. I told him I most certainly did, but it would have been nice if he returned just one of my calls. At that point the smile left Ward’s face and he abruptly ended the conversation. That act of defiance helps explain why Ward was such a great fighter. Apologising would have been a form of him giving in, something he never did inside of the ring and apparently did not want to do outside of it either.