Ali, Frazier, Holmes, Tyson and Me; Two were Nice and Two Not so Nice
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Aug 30, 2008)  
“I ought to come down there and beat the shit out of you,” said heavyweight champion Larry Holmes from inside the ring. As I sat there in his gym looking up at him in the ring I was dumbfounded. “The next time I tell you something, don’t go to my brother!” It seems Holmes didn’t realize I had seen his brother Mark before I came to him for permission to put him on my show in Easton with 10% of the profits going to St. Anthony’s where they got their start. It would be the last time I would be a regular visitor to Holmes Gym again for obvious reasons after this November of 1982 incident. No wonder Ali called him peanut head!

I would like to share some of my adventures with four former heavyweight champions whom you may only know in the ring. It may surprise you how nice two were and how not so nice two could be.

I remember being called up to Holmes office by his then P.R. man Louie Rodriguez. They wanted me to go spy on Gerry Cooney whom they thought may be faking an injury in his New York camp. Though they told me I could take all the time I wanted, I didn’t want to get stuck with a big bill knowing how cheap Holmes was. When I got there to discuss arrangements I was told “we didn’t need you after all, Cooney is in Puerto Rico, per this morning’s paper,” said Rodriguez. I countered that directing my question toward Holmes with “why don’t you do what Ali did and fight the best from around the world and fight Gerry Coetzee?” He replied with “Jesse wouldn’t approve of it.” I asked “Jesse who?” “Jesse Jackson,” said Holmes. Seems he thought I meant to go to South Africa, for it was 1982 and apartheid was still in the news. “What does Jesse Jackson give a shit about you,” I said. He proceeded to get on the phone to call him but he wasn’t in. He was lucky for I am sure Jackson would have wanted a piece of the action. Holmes was a real Jekyll and Hyde.

I met Ali for the first time in 1973 just after his loss to Ken Norton in San Diego. I was in sales and noticed a crowd on the sidewalk at 16th & Chestnut in Philadelphia. Ali had moved out of the Overbrook section in the city and was then living in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Though his jaw was wired after getting it broke by Norton it didn’t stop him from talking. An old man with glasses and a hat on said to Ali “the next time you fight Norton be a man, not a boy.” Ali replied, “did you call me Roy?” We all started laughing except for the bewildered old man who was looking at us for some back up. He repeated himself saying “I said be a man not a boy.” Once again Ali would rhyme with “play with him like a toy?” With that even the old man joined us in laughing. Ali was sharp as a tack. Whether you liked him or not he would have you in stitches.

Two week’s later I saw a picture of his house near the Cherry Hill Arena. I ventured over there and found his house. Upon knocking on the door his second wife Belinda came to the door. I asked, “can I speak to the champ?” She asked me to wait a moment and returned inviting me in. The vestibule had a Muslim flag on the wall along with a plaque from the Cherry Hill Little League. There was also a picture of a horse, being from Louisville, on a small table there. Upon seeing him I questioned why he never gave Doug Jones or Ron Lyle a rematch. I finished up with “didn’t Louis Rodriguez, your stable mate teach you everything you knew?” He countered with “which you talkin’ bout boy?” He would counter almost as fast as he did in the ring.

There were other experiences in his Deer Lake camp in the hills of Pennsylvania. He would put on magic shows for the many visitors who would come up in bus loads. I remember after working out one time we sat across from each other on these two leather sofas while someone was sitting next to him. “Where you from boy?” I replied, “a small down called Lafayette Hill.” The person next to him whispered something in his ear. Suddenly he was getting up out of his seat toward me saying “hold me back, that’s where Frazier is from,” with a lot of emphasis put on Frazier’s name.

Another time in Deer Lake he asked what I was doing up there. I told him “I’m going to the fights up in Scranton tonight, you going?” He asked who was fighting. I told him “an Italian kid from outside of Philly named Marty Capaso against Ali Allen from New York.” He came with “Ali, Ali?” Seemed he thought he was the only person with the name Ali. I never had a bad experience with Ali. He was always the entertainer.

I remember being at the 23rd PAL on Columbia Avenue, in Philadelphia where a young Joe Frazier was training. I was taking a picture of Mario Saurennann when someone behind me in the heavy bag area said “you better move or I’ll use you for a heavy bag.” I turned around and it was Frazier. I almost said “if I was Sonny Liston, you wouldn’t say that.” Believe me, Frazier would have used me for a heavy bag.

I remember when he was an ex-champ and a friend of his who was a cop in Lafayette Hill and I went to his house to arrange a surprise party for him. They happened to also be motorcycle buddies. He arranged to meet Florence, Frazier’s wife. She was thrilled with the idea we would have a party at a local club in honoring him. All of a sudden Frazier comes in the front door asking “what you guy’s doing here?” I didn’t mind him asking me, but not his friend, who said nothing. I told Frazier we were going to have a celebration for him and he asked who was paying for this. I told him half the people, like his family, would be free and the rest would buy a ticket. He was not thrilled with that idea and said “when Joe gives a party, no one pays.” My first thoughts were “I am not getting stuck with this bill.” He said “I don’t think so.” I sarcastically said “well, we are probably going to do it anyway, and take a picture of an empty chair saying Joe couldn’t make it.” With that, he turned away and was going out the back door when his wife asked “Joe, where are you going?” He replied “I’ll be back when I’m back woman.” She had her feelings hurt as was very apologetic about his actions. We felt bad for her and left. Why he even came home is beyond me since he came in the front and left out the back except for talking to me.

In 1980 I stopped in at the office of Jim Jacobs in New York hoping to view his classic fight films and mention a young Philly amateur named Tyrell Biggs. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer person. He tells me about this kid he and Cus D’Amato have named Mike Tyson, who was about 14 at the time. Jacobs said all his tapes were in a bank vault and invited me to lunch.

Later that year at a weigh-in in Scranton, Pennsylvania I meet D’Amato and Kevin Rooney. D’Amato invited me to come to Catskill and I did several times from 1981-84. I even put Rooney in a bout in Scranton. Upon my first visit I discovered Camile Ewald, a real sweetheart, ran the house. I met Tyson, along with Teddy Atlas among others. Tyson and I watched old films like Louis-Conn and Armstrong-Ross in his room. Tyson loved the old fighters like Jack Dempsey. In January of 1986 I get a call from Tyson who was asking about Dave Jaco who would be his 16th victim. I recognized his voice right away. He asked how I knew who he was and I thought better not to tell him. I told him not to worry about Jaco, and fortunately he knocked him out in the 1st round.

I wouldn’t see Tyson again until 1987 when he was training for Biggs in Atlantic City. Rooney got me into the dressing room after Tyson’s workout. He sees me, comes over and lifts me right off the ground with a friendly hug. You had to like Tyson. Ewald told me he would call her every day to see how she was. Those things never get reported.

In 1995 I sent him a letter to the prison he was at. I mentioned I thought Jesse Reid should train him and suggested three fighters he should consider fighting. Reid would get an opportunity to be his second trainer out. Buster Mathis, Jr. was one I suggested to box and he happened to be the second fight out of prison for Tyson. Though I haven’t had contact with him in all these years I still wonder what would have happened if Jacobs, D’Amato and Ewald were still around today. How different Tyson’s life would have turned out!

Ken at:

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