Boxing Historian Don Fraser is the
President of the California Boxing Hall of Fame. He has 75 years of
boxing memories to share with us. Please welcome Mr. Fraser into the
David Tyler: Mr. Fraser when did you become interested in boxing?
Don Fraser: When I was 10 years old (Mr. Fraser is 85 years young) boxing was a very
popular sport. It seemed that everyone had his or her radios tuned in
to a Joe Louis fight. So I would say that was when boxing captured me. I went to high school in Central City,
which is near the Los Angeles Coliseum. Many of my friends were also
boxing fans so we would go to the Legion Stadium in Hollywood to watch
the Friday night fights.
DT: Were there other boxing venues in Los Angeles at that time?
DF: Yes, we
would also go to the Olympic Auditorium. We were only about 16 or 17 but
we would also frequently go to other boxing sites. In those days boxing
was a very popular sport so Los Angeles had plenty of boxing clubs.
DT: Sir, were you in World War II?
DF: Yes, I
was drafted in the Army and fortunately the War ended the day I was
inducted into the Army. I was sent to Korea and they had a boxing team. I
tried out for the team and ended up having five different fights and
five different loses. My Boxing career was short and not very
DT: After the Army?
DF: I got a
job with the Los Angeles Times as a copy boy in the sports department. I
eventually landed a job at the Hollywood Legion Stadium as a publicity
guy. I soon came to realize there was no future with the Legion because
they were dependent on one night a week boxing which wasn’t enough to
pay the bills. A position came open with the Olympic Auditorium and that
proved to be a better culture for me.
DT: Sir, the Olympic
was boxing’s west coast Mecca for quite some time. Who were some of the
fighters that you helped bring to the Olympic?
Gavlin, Enrique Bolanos, Art Aragon, Lupe Pintor, Ruben Navarro, you
must understand that the Olympic drew practically all the big name
fighters during it’s day. How about Sugar Ray Robinson for a name
DT: Sorry to interrupt but where do you personally rank Sugar Ray Robinson on your list of great fighters?
DF: No doubt
he was the best fighter I have ever seen. Great skills…fast,
hard-hitting hands combined with a great defense. He was the best.
DT: How did you hook up with Jack Kent Cooke?
DF: It was a
couple of years later. I really didn’t see a future with myself at the
Olympic; I was just the publicity guy. At that time the Forum was being
built and Jack Kent Cooke was the owner. One of the writers at the Los
Angeles Times suggested that I call the Forum and see Cooke. He hired me
on the spot and suddenly I was in charge of the publicity department.
That included hockey of which I knew very little. The Lakers and Boxing
had not started at the Forum. When boxing started I was tasked with
being the liaison between the Forum and the promoters.
DT: Jack Kent Cooke was the one who promoted the first Ali / Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden?
And because I was working for Cooke, he gave me tickets in the fourth
row. I remember it like it was yesterday because of all the excitement
surrounding the fight. Right in front of me on the ring apron was Frank
Sinatra taking pictures for some magazine.
DT: You eventually ran the boxing promotions at the Forum?
DF: Yes. The
man running the show was in his 80’s and told Cooke that he had to quit
for health reasons. Cooke asked me if I could do it and of course I
accepted the position.
DT: What was the biggest fight that you landed for the Forum?
DF: Well, I
received a tip from Bob Arum that the Norton / Ali second match was up
for grabs. I know you remember the first fight where Norton broke Ali’s
jaw and won a decision in San Diego. Cooke had to put up a $55,000.00
cashier’s check made out to Norton. If Ali did not show up for the
fight, Norton got to keep the 55 thousand. It was a gamble on Cooke’s
part but of course Ali showed up and won a very narrow, controversial
decision. The people in Norton’s camps and Norton’s fans were very upset
with Ken’s Trainer, Eddie Futch, for not sending Norton out in the last
round to win it and put the fight away. Futch had made an incorrect
decision that Norton was far ahead on the scorecards and instructed him
to be careful. In the aftermath of the fight, Norton’s handlers fired
Eddie Futch and replaced him with the very capable, Bill Slayton.
DT: You had mentioned
in one of our earlier conversations that your proudest achievement was
seeing your daughters graduate from UCLA. You had tied this into your
relationship with Don King. Would you tell me that story again?
DF: I was
very close to Don King by helping him arrange fights. I will say this
about King, even though he was African American he did not load his
staff with African Americans. His secretaries were white, I was white
and he did have some African Americans. I did not see one bit of
favoritism from King because of a person's skin color. He was certainly a
fun guy to be around...upbeat all the time. I know you have heard of
the United Negro Foundation where they use donations to help African
Americans go to college. King had started the United White Kid Fund by
sending two of my daughter through UCLA. I don't know to this day if he
knows how much I appreciated his efforts in helping me with my kids at
UCLA and I was very proud when they graduated.
DT: Let's discuss
some boxing. I had told you earlier that I have 45 years as a fanatical
boxing fan with my first memories of sitting on the living room couch
listening to the Cassius Clay/ Sonny Liston fights with my Dad. You have
75 years of experience in boxing. What are your first memories?
DG: At the
Hollywood Legion Stadium I remember watching a guy named Joey Barnum, he
changed his named, he was of Italian decent and went to Hamilton High
School where he dated Rita Hayworth. He went on to fight Willie Joyce,
Ernie Bolanos, Art Aragon, Johnny Bratton, and others that I was
privileged to watch. That was in the 1940's.
DT: Any others come to mind?
DG: Well, I
did see Joe Louis at the end of his career up in San Francisco at the
Cow Palace. I saw Ezzard Charles fight Pat Valentino for the Heavyweight
title up in San Francisco. I believe that Charles stopped Valentino in
the eighth round. I was outdoors at Kezar Stadium up in San Francisco
when Rocky Marciano stopped Don Cockell. I was probably at every major
fight here in Los Angeles in the last 60 years. Should I name them all?
DT: Not all of them but is there a particular fight that stands out in your memory?
course, it would be the fight between Sugar Ramos and Davey Moore at
Dodger Stadium in early 1963. Sadly that was the fight that ended the
life of Moore. The oddity of the fight was that it was postponed because
of rain...the fight was outdoors. Many felt that the fight could have
gone on the night of the original date and many tried to speculate what
would have happened...would it have ended so tragically? Also, the
referee, George Latka, a good friend of mine, gave up boxing after that
DT: Sir, have you read the great book by boxing historian Mike Silver?
DG: David, if you are talking about The Arc of Boxing, then the answer is yes, it's a great book.
DT: Mike Silver
meticulously dissects the decent of boxing....both popularity and the
skill sets of boxers today. Do you agree with his assessments?
DG: Certainly. The sport is very different from the 20's until the present
day. The guys became bigger through the years....a welterweight fighter
the size of Tommy Hearns is a good example. Look at Jimmy McLarnin who
was all of 5'6". He would be very small fighting Hearns who was 6'1"
....maybe taller. You should check out McLarnin...he ended up fighting
and beating so many Jewish fighters that they called him the Jew Killer
in much the same manner that Pacquiao is called the Mexican Assassin. I
think that McLarnin would be too small for guys like Hearns, Sugar Ray
Leonard, and Mayweather Jr.
DT: Maybe. You have named some great Welterweights. Would you put Roberto Duran in there with Leonard, Hearns, and Mayweather?
won titles in several different divisions and went all the way from 118
lbs (Bantamweight) up to 168 lbs. (Super Middleweight) that's impressive
for a guy only 5'7". Henry Armstrong went from Lightweight Champion to
fighting Ceferino Gracia for the California version of the Middleweight
title here in Los Angeles. I watched the fight and it looked like both
fighters were just getting in a workout. I think the fighters agreed to
the fight if nobody lost. The fight was scored only by the referee, no
judges. The fight was only ten rounds and before he even checked the
scorecard, he raised both fighters arms. It appeared that the result of
the fight was a foregone conclusion. The referee, George Blake never had
DT: When did we start to really see boxing lose the popularity and what happened to all the fighters with skills?
DG: We don't
have what I called the 'depression era' fighters. These guy had to work
hard just to put food on the table. They were hungry fighters. We don't
have anything close to that today. There became a gap between the haves
and have not's. The guys who weren't making money got out of the sport
and pursed other careers. Also, the old saying 'How goes the Heavyweight
division goes boxing' stands true. If you look at the Heavyweights
today...none are Americans. That hurts the overall popularity of the
sport. I doubt that even the most avid boxing fan would have a tough
time naming all the Heavyweight champions today.
DT: Is television to blame?
DG: There is
not that much boxing on television and it appears all the networks are
moving in the direction of Mixed Martial Arts which has overtaken boxing
in popularity. I have tried watching MMA but I simply don't get what
that sport is all about.
DT: Is there any boxers active today that impress you?
DG: Well, you would have to go with Mayweather and Pacquiao and after that I just am not sure.
DT: Would you agree
that Mayweather is the pound for pound best in the business today and
how would he have fared against fighters from the glory days of boxing?
DG: Yes he is the best today and he would have been very competitive in any era of boxing.
DT: Would Mayweather have been a Welterweight champion in any era of Boxing?
DG: No question he would have been a champion.
DT: How about Pacquiao?
DG: He might
have been competitive especially if he stayed around 126 pounds. Guys
like McLarnin would have been a good match for him but Henry Armstrong
would have gone straight through him. I am asked these kind of questions
all the time but this is not a track meet where you can measure time.
We are simply expressing opinions and those won't even buy you a cup of
DT: Mr. Fraser, the one big fight out there is Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Will we see that fight this year?
DG: I think
it will happen soon. It will be the biggest money fight for both
fighters. Pacquiao could make enough money to go home to the Philippines
and live comfortable as he pursues other interests. Mayweather probably
needs the money because of his legal problems and his lifestyle. That's
the only fight out there that means anything.
DT: Let's wrap things up with this question. Where do you see the future of boxing?
DG: It will
never be like the days when we had fights every night. Boxing is now a
television only sport. There will always be a Pacquiao type fighter out
there that is made for television...where Arum has carefully picked his
opponents to ensure that Pacquiao stays ever popular for the Pay for
View events. Arum also did the same with Oscar De La Hoya. That's the
best we can hope for in this sport today. Of course anything can
happen....like an exciting American Heavyweight could change the
landscape for boxing.
DT: Mr. Fraser, it has been my pleasure to discuss boxing with you. I stand in awe of your boxing knowledge. Many thanks.
DG: Thank you David and let's do this again sometime.
Readers: I have several interviews with
boxing historians on tape. I am always interested in this sport's
history and these are the experts that will take us through the history
of the sport.
Many thanks for visiting doghouse boxing and reading the interview. - David Tyler
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