From the 20th anniversary celebration at Coogan's featuring a screening of Rocky
, Monday, April 28th, 2014.
Thank you all for joining me this evening.
The first time I ever gave a speech in public was in front
of 500 people when I received a prestigious award from the Boxing Writers Association
of America. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier sat to my right on the dais and he
assured me that there was nothing to be nervous about. After all, he had fought
Well, the warning bell rang before the program was to begin
and I began to hyperventilate. So I visited the ladies room to splash cold
water on my face and to dry my armpits with paper towels. My speech was left on
the table next to Joe Frazier.
Then it was my turn. After days of rehearsing with five
pages of script in hand, I stood fearlessly in front of the crowd like a
champion. That is, until after I spoke into the microphone. After my opening
line, I stopped and thought “Oh, THAT’S what my voice sounds like.” And then I
got really nervous.
Five pages seemed like five hours and when I got to the end,
I realized that someone had removed the last page of my script for Joe
What did I do? I
ran around the stage, looking under plates and on the tables, looking for the paper and then returned to ad lib the
rest. These dinners were traditionally boring and it led people to note that,
for once, the dinner was pretty entertaining.
So to avoid any mishaps, I have five copies with me.
We are gathered here today to celebrate The Prizefighters.
The book marks 10 years of my traveling around the country, sitting in living
rooms or at kitchen tables, walking through Bed-Stuy to catch Mark Breland or
Riddick Bowe in training or sitting ringside for a long undercard and main
event at Madison Square Garden.
It doesn’t seem like 20 years. It just seems like yesterday
when I ran into the trainer Ray Arcel walking down Fifth Avenue on his daily
walk, or visiting Leon Spinks in Chicago where he complained that people kept
stealing his dentures for a souvenir, or flying to Ghana to visit Azumah
Nelson, photographing a pristine gym in San Francisco, melling the old sweat of
champions at Gleason’s Gym on 30th
Street, or having Emile Griffith
call out to me at the Times Square Gym, “Hey, girlfriend.”
The Westside Boxing Gym became my home. I spent hours
photographing and interviewing fighters, particularly Golden Gloves champion
Anthony James, at this gym on 163rd
and St. Nicholas. The owner and
head trainer Artemio Colon talked about training fighters, showed me boxing
moves, and talked about life. This was followed by many dinners with Colon and
his wife, Maria. And then he introduced me to his daughter-in-law, Linda, who
lived on the sixth floor with Junior, Colon’s son, and their daughter, Jessie.
I don’t think we’ve ever stopped talking and
Linda is one of my treasured sisters.
But it was from Colon, whose gentle dignity, who accepted me
into his world and his home without judgment and with good humor, no matter how
many times he was asked questions. And most of you know – I can ask questions!
On fight nights, we squeezed into a someone’s car – Colon, Junior, the fighter,
a cut man, the fighter’s friend, and me in the back seat
– to travel to amateur fights with the hopes
of coming home a winner. To Colon, everyone was a winner. And he is with us
tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Artemio Colon!
The boxing world was an amazingly open world for me, filled
with characters that were so wonderful to write about. From Roberto Duran and Hector
Camacho to Don King and Butch Lewis to Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes, I could see
how fascinated a subject this was for writers through the ages. The drama of
man and foe gave rise to endless creative possibilities.
And then there were the photographs. The camera was and
still is an extension of myself and I would stop a fighter to say, I’d like to
take your photograph. And that was that. The beauty of black and white, of
portraits of men who fought for a living, took them out of a place and time and
immortalized them. And to those men and to that world, I owe an immeasurable
amount of gratitude.
Labels: Artemio Colon, Boxing, champions, Don King, Madison Square Garden, Mike Tyson, Ray Arcel, The Prizefighters, Washington Heights