|Jackie Kallen: My love and enthusiasm for the sport has not diminished one bit in 30 years!
Intreview by Bob Carroll, Doghouse Boxing (Mar 16, 2009) DoghouseBoxing.com
Back in 1991, I remember myself, my brother Frank and two other of my friends, sitting around my
television set, downing some beers and watching USA's Tuesday Night Fights. This particular night, they were showing a young middleweight from Michigan named James Toney. As enamored as we were with Toney, what really stuck out to us was his manager, Jackie Kallen. Jackie seemed to actually care about this fighter instead of his wallet. As I followed the career of James Toney, I was always impressed with how involved Jackie Kallen was, not only with the ring life of Toney, but his best
interests. In fact, a fictionalized account of the relationship between her, Toney and the sport of boxing was told in the 2004 movie Against The Ropes, starring Meg Ryan.
Though no longer working with James Toney, Jackie Kallen has not disappeared from the sport of boxing.
She has battled through some health issues and taken time to be a grandmother to her two grandsons
and one newly born granddaughter, but she is still involved as a manager to six fighters. Recently Jackie
sat down with Doghouse Boxing and discussed her past, present and future.
Bob Carroll (BC): Jackie, you were one of the first women to be a recognizable figure in boxing. How did you get involved in the sport?
Jackie Kallen (JK): I was a journalist for a daily newspaper and did an article on a young pro fighter from
Detroit named Thomas Hearns. I started covering Thomas after he had fought a few 4-round fights and
ended up being his publicist for over a decade. After 10 years working as publicist for Emanuel Steward’s
Kronk Gym, I tried my hand (1988) at managing. I have been doing it ever since.
BC: How tough was it as a woman to break into the managerial part of boxing?
JK: It was tricky at first because the “old’s boy club” was slow to accept a woman. It was also a matter of finding boxers who felt comfortable with a female manager. But once I got started, it was actually pretty easy. Word got around that I was honest and treated my fighters with dignity and respect and boxers started approaching me. At the beginning there was a fair share of sexual harassment, but I chose to just laugh it off good-naturedly and continue doing my job. Eventually it tapered off (partly because I got older!)
BC: You spoke earlier about how you worked with Tommy Hearns as a publicist. How were you introduced to the "Hitman", and how long did you work for him?
JK: I met Tommy in 1978 and have worked with him ever since. I was his publicist for over 10 years, but we still do occasional projects together and he is still one of my closest friends. We stay in touch frequently.
BC: Keeping with that question, how is Tommy Hearns?
JK: Thomas Hearns is now 50 years old, a father and grandfather, and a terrific human being. His son Ronald is 21-0 as a pro and is following in his dad’s footsteps.
BC: I believe the first huge splash you made, was as manager of a young fighter who took on Michael Nunn as an underdog, in Nunn's hometown of Davenport Iowa. This fighter was James "Lights Out" Toney, and he upset Nun that night, to start on a very sucessful career. How did you come to work with Toney?
JK: I met James when he was a young 4-round fighter whose manager had just been killed. He was working out at a suburban gym and I happened to see him spar. I liked what I saw and we started talking. Soon we started working together. It was an exciting six years of craziness and fun!
BC: You and James seemed to be close when you were managing him, but there were always stories that you and James did not get along as well as it seemed. How was the relationship between the two of you?
JK: James and I were very close. He lived in my home for awhile. He and my two sons were like brothers. It often seemed like I had three sons. He came on family vacations with us. My sons stood up for him when he got married (first marriage.) The closeness changed after the Roy Jones fight. That was 14 years ago, though, and now when I run into him, it’s like seeing an old friend or family member. James will forever have a special place in my heart.
BC: When did you and James stop working together?
JK: It was in 1995, although we did work together again in 2002 for brief time.
BC: As a Philadelphia native I have to ask about Toney's conterversial win over Dave Tiberi. I personally loved Toney, but felt that he lost that fight. Sitting at ringside, did you have a feeling that James had lost that fight?
JK: Yes. I was as surprised as anyone when the decision was announced. James was dehydrated from making weight and was not himself that night. At the time, I was worried more about his health than the outcome of the fight.
BC: In 2004 a movie, Against The Ropes, was made based on the story of you and James Toney. How involved were you in the story and making of the movie?
JK: Not involved enough. I would have told the story very differently.
BC: Were you happy with the movie?
JK: Not really. Hollywood took too many liberties with the facts and lost the elements that made the story so interesting and unique. Oh well.
BC: Jackie you have faced some health issues along the way, with a cancer scare and some heart problems. How are you doing with these problems now?
JK: Thanks so much for asking! I feel pretty good, but I am going back into the hospital next week for a heart catheterization because it appears I may have heart problems again. But it will be fine! Hopefully they’ll fix the problem and I’ll be sitting in my new protégé’s (Michael Dallas) corner April 11 at Mandalay Bay. I definitely want to be there to experience his first time on a big card.
BC: Living in Los Angeles, you do a lot of charity work, including working with the LA County Sheriff's Office. What other charities are you involved with?
JK: I try to do as much as time allows. I am involved with a shelter for battered women and I spend a lot of time at nursing homes with elderly people. I have a small Maltese dog who is very good with elderly people, so we go “visiting” and he cheers up the patients. I also speak at schools from time to time to encourage kids to get off the streets, quit the gangs, and go to the gym instead. You can’t save them all, but you can try!
BC: Do you want to let our listeners know the story of Liz Phillips?
JK: I first read about Liz in 1989, when she was 3 years old. She was paralyzed from the waist down, had Spina Bifida and other medical issues. Her story touched me and the boxers I managed decided that we would “adopt” her and her family. We bought her a special bike, an microwave, a VCR, etc. We flew her and her parents to all the fights (Vegas, Atlantic City, etc.) She was the mascot of Galaxy Boxing and everyone loved her. The guys brought her into the ring when they won and she got to meet a lot of celebrities and see places that she never would have seen otherwise. She passed away a few years ago at the age of 19, but I am still very close to her family. She is missed every single day.
BC: You are still active in the fight scene today, managing several fighters. Tell our readers about the fighters you are involved with today.
JK: I work with Michael Dallas, an undefeated Junior Welterweight. He is sensational. I also work with Karim Mayfield, an undefeated welterweight with great skills and a very bright future. I manage Jeannine Garside, a female featherweight who is like a daughter to me. (I love Jeannine.) I work with two lightweightsErnest Johnson and Damian Fuller (who I have known since he was a teenager) and a heavyweight from Chicago named Theron Johnson. My love and enthusiasm for the sport has not diminished one bit in 30 years!
BC: Jackie, now that you have this platform, what would you like to tell the readers of Doghouse Boxing?
JK: I just hope that boxing fans will stick behind the sport and help it regain the prestige and power it once had.Boxing has been around since the 3rd millennium BC. There has always been boxing as a sport. It became an Olympic sport in 1904 and the US has turned out many, many world champions over the past hundred-plus years. I would love to see it be regarded the way it was when Ali was champ or during the ‘80s when Hearns/Hagler/Duran/Leonard ruled.
I would like to thank Jackie Kallen for taking time away from her busy schedule to speak with Doghouse Boxing. It was a true pleasure for me to do this interview with such a genuine person in the sport of boxing. For more on Jackie Kallen and her fighters, listen to Bob Carroll, Butch and "THE Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. every Wednesday night from 8-9pm EST on Fightin' Words Radio Show. To listen live via the internet, go to http://1490wwpr.com and look for the "listen here" tab. Don't forget to check out the Fightin' Words Radio Show website, fightinwordsonline.com
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