“Tough writers can fight.”
A statement like that, from any writer, would usually be considered audacious and laughable, but in this case, a writer didn’t say that. Bronx-bred, tough-as-nails-mid-20th century pugilist, Roger Donahue spoke those words. Donahue started his career in the back of a pool hall and went 25 for 27 as a pro. He ended his career because his blows in the ring eventually killed a man. He went on to later coach Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’ and told Norman Mailer that 'Tough Guys Don’t Dance,' which later became the title of his novel.
The fact of the matter is, there was a time when boxing was written by famous writers like Norman Mailer, A. J. Libeling and Joyce Carol Oates. During the era when boxing was considered the greatest sport of all time, Mailer, Oates and Libeling would report on the sport in a manner fit more for a novella than a sport column. These great writers would often use the outcome of a bout to make a poetic statement about the current state of humanity, the human condition and class struggle. These parallels would lure a fan like myself into believing that every second of a round could be profound and if I blinked, the moment would be lost. Oates characterizes part of the love for boxing in her book 'On Boxing' as, “ the most dramatically masculine sport.” It is this characterization of the sport of boxing that explains our deep interest in the stories that surrounds the perilous and tragic nature of the ‘sweet science.’ Here are some great quotes from some of the people who influenced boxing before today. Enjoy !
James “Quick” Tillis (42-22-1)
Willis was considered to have some of the fastest hands in boxing. Clearly not fast enough once you read the quote below. I thought an apropos quote to lead with for our squeaky clean city of Chciago. Willis is also remembered as the only heavyweight boxer that went distance with Mike Tyson in 1986.
“ The first day I got there, I put my suitcase down, I looked up at the Sears Tower, and said ‘Chicago, I’m going to conquer you.’ When I looked down, my suitcase was gone.”
James Murray (15-2)
Murray was a Scottish bantamweight fighter. Sadly he is remembered as one of the boxers who died as a result of his last bout. He passed away 2 days after suffering from severe brain injuries in a 1995 fight against Drew Doherty. This quote has its own poetic undertones - highlighting how boxing is a sport often paralleled to societal battles.
“Every major prizefight is like a morality play, a John Wayne movie, a Horatio Alger novel. There’s a good guy and a bad guy.”
Al Lacey, Trainer
Al Lacey is a boxing trainer that has worked with a wide range of fighters. One of his fighters was middleweight Paul Pender. Pender is a fighter few people know about. But he was well respected in the 1950’s.
Jake LaMotta (83-19-4)
Jake LaMotta built a life beyond boxing. Retiring at the age of 32 he went on to manage bars and actually became a stand-up comedian. Aside from his life's portrayal in ‘Raging Bull,’ LaMotta appeared in 15 films including ‘The Hustler.’ He was know for his wit and his chin. But LaMotta also found himself grinding as a city hustler whose 'bullying' style of boxing was well known.
“You win some, you throw some.”
Muhammad Ali (56-5-0)
As one of the most famous athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali’s presence in the sport of boxing has been prolific to say the very least. There are so many quotes worth mentioning, but these two are my favorite. Ali had a lyrical presence that feed the media frenzy that surrounded him. But he also has an intuitive sensibility that was lost when his ability to clearly communicated was hindered by his medical conditions.
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
“If anyone even dreams he can beat me, he had better wake up and apologize.”
George Foreman (76-5)
In 1994, George Foreman was 45 years old and he returned to the sport of boxing. He fought Michael Moorer, and won in the 10th round. Foreman received a lot of slack for returning to the sport of boxing. This quote summarizes his positive attitude about fighting a man 19 years younger. Foreman represents for fighters of all styles the hope that there is a second chance at greatness.
“I’m fighting for every guy who ever got told to act your age.”
“Boxing is the sport to which all others aspire.”
Leon Spinks (26-17-3)
Leon Spinks has one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. He beat Muhammad Ali in a 15 round split decision in 1978 for the World Heavyweight Championship. This win granted him a lot of time talking to the media. Interviews with Spinks were not the most eloquent. Sadly, Spinks retired from boxing with little money left from his career.
“I know a lot of people think I’m dumb. Well, at least I ain’t no educated fool.”
Floyd Patterson (55-8-1)
Floyd Patterson is an adored boxer. He was the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. He kept this title for 5 years. He was an man of integrity and went to become the New York State Athletic Commissioner. He served as an ambassador of the sport in many ways - he even received an award from President John F. Kennedy.
“Fear was absolutely necessary, without it, I would have been scared to death”
Roy Jones (61-8)
Jones made this comment after watching Roberto Duran lose to Vinnie Pazienza. At the time of this fight, Pazienza was 31 years old and Duran was 43 years old. Jones ended up fighting Pazienza in 1995 after Duran lost twice as the 'old dog' with no new tricks. Jones ended up beating Pazienza and in the 4th round. Pazienza no longer glowing with youth, Jones managed to evade every punch in their 4th round.
“ I learned one thing. I learned not to fight when you are old”
Newman is a well know referee from New York that has 50+ fights under his ref-ing belt. He has refereed Mike Tyson, Vladimir Klitschko and Evander Holyfield. Although he fought professionally while going to college, he managed to graduate with a degree in management. He is known for his dedication to the sport and efforts to establish a Retirement Fund for fighters that fought for IBF titles.
“Boxing is the best and most individual lifestyle you can have in society without being a criminal.”
If you have any great quotes that the Chicago Boxing community would enjoy please feel free to email them to me and post them.
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