WHEN I was born into professional boxing in 1988, it was as a writer (hack). To me, the Four Kings were Phil Berger (New York Times), Wally Matthews (Newsday, Mike Katz (New York Daily News) and Mike Marley (New York Post). I admired all of them and was lucky to know each man, to various degrees. You can argue who was the best of the four, but you wouldn’t be wrong in choosing Berger (I mean, c’mon – the New York f**king Times). Wally was a wonderful writer and investigative journalist. Katz was rarely without his neck brace or a scoop. Marley was pure New York Post – brash and cutting, usually with a wink.
I was friends with Marley. We met in late 1989. Mike was pushing 40 and getting his last licks in as a wild man. He was quick-witted, which hid a deeper side. Mike “saw” things, hence his ability to come up with the quip you wish you thought of. He had a Harpo Marx hairstyle, googly eyes and a style of dress charitably described as “thrown together.” But when you combined those attributes, what you got was usually the smartest and most charismatic person in the room.
Mike died on Wednesday in Cape Cod (his main abode was on 102nd Street in NYC, but he also had a family place in the Cape). Mike will not be offended when I say he was well past his prime. He battled Parkinson’s, and, unfortunately, loneliness, as COVID kept him trapped in his small NYC abode for his final years. Mike had Alan and Jay Wartski, the beautiful New York boxing superfans who cared for him, fellow Reno boxing man Mike Martino (Marley was a UNR alum), one longtime roommate (a chubby cat), 102nd Avenue neighbour Sarah Elbert, who constantly checked on him, and his memories.
Mike was a Boston boy, exposed to the big time at age 15 when Muhammad Ali took a liking to him after meeting Mike before the Sonny Liston rematch (Mike was president of the Muhammad Ali Fan Club, which cost $5 and got you a newsletter and membership card – the membership topped 100 at its zenith). Mike studied journalism at the University of Nevada Reno, where he boxed on the college team (he was tough, but ordinary). He scored a job as a producer for Howard Cosell’s Sportsbeat on ABC, where he won an Emmy. He moved to the New York Post in the 1980s, the job he was born to do. Mike’s column was full of one-liners, quips, nicknames. At times he was sarcastic, but I don’t remember Mike ever being mean. He seemed to know more about Don King’s plans than King himself, so it surprised nobody when Marley left The Post in 1992 and became King’s head flack. Mike was ringside for the DKP madness for five years, departing in 1997 to manage Terry Norris. On the face of it, the move smacked of great timing. Norris was set to fight Oscar De La Hoya for a $5-million purse. King was dealing with the Tyson bite-fight fallout. Mike was unlucky. Norris was knocked out in a tune-up and never got Oscar. Gone was Mike’s potential $500,000 cut. King was a major player for another decade. Mike got a law degree, managed a few fighters, did some writing. He never married. Mike was one of those people everyone likes to tell stories about. Here’s a few memories I have:
*Mike worshiping at the alter of George Foreman at the Foreman-Gerry Cooney post-fight press conference. Mike was literally on his knees scribbling away at Foreman’s moving post-fight talk.
*Angelo Paziena, Vinny’s Pop, literally strangling Mike at a Paz press conference (Paz-Greg Haugen III). To his credit, Mike merely responded with a shocked look.
*Mike getting into the ring with Thomas Hearns at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in 1990 for a three-round exhibition. Mike was ordinary when he boxed in college. But tough. It got heated in the last round, but Mike didn’t care. He grabbed the microphone in mid-ring afterward and gave Hearns a rousing salute.
*Mike talking to me about the one time he fell in love. I remember the hurt in his voice. As a matchmaker, I know Mike wasn’t built for the long game in the romance weight-class.
*My last few times with Mike where you could see the Parkinson’s wrack his body and you wondered how many good days compared to bad days he had.
*His caring, his humour and that he never said anything vicious about anyone in our business. He loved boxing, but more importantly, he loved many of the people in boxing. And he was loved as well.
Godspeed, Mike Marley.