Thursday, September 12, 2019

20 Questions with Russell Peltz

J. Russell Peltz, an institution in Philadelphia boxing, will be celebrating 50 years in the sport next month. In his honor Raging Babe Promotions will be presenting a boxing card at the 2300 Arena on Oct. 4 in South Philadelphia, toasting the achievements of a favorite son from the famous fight town. (Undefeated lightweight prospect Victor Padilla will headline the card.) 

Peltz, a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia and a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin before turning to boxing, is synonymous with the now-defunct Blue Horizon, one of the most famous boxing venues of the 20th century. He also promoted a legendary series of middleweight fights at the Spectrum during the '70s, featuring a combination of future world titlists, contenders, local tough guys and visiting stalwarts (Marvin Hagler lost his first two fights during the series). That golden era of Philadelphia boxing featured names that still resonate 40 years later: "Bad" Bennie Briscoe, Willie "the Worm" Monroe, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, and Eugene "Cyclone" Hart (the father of current light heavyweight contender Jesse Hart). 

But Russell's influence was not merely local. He promoted numerous world champions and Hall of Famers, such as Jeff Chandler and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Many of his champs and contenders are fondly remembered decades later, while others may not be as well-known, including Charles Brewer, Marvin Johnson, Robert Hines, Gary Hinton and Charlie "Choo Choo" Brown.

Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Peltz, an inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, as well as many other shrines to the sport, continues to ply his trade: promoting local fight cards, signing fighters, providing his vaunted matchmaking skills, and serving as a mentor for emerging promoters. And although the tough Northeast winters have sent him to Florida for part of each year, Philadelphia and Philadelphia boxing will always be in his bones.  

I recently had the chance to interview Russell about his 50 years in the sport. He provided reflections on his career, touching on his most memorable triumphs, the fighters who got away, how boxing has changed during his time in the sport, what will keep local boxing thriving and much more. 

Interview by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed. 

Russell, what’s your lasting memory from the first card that you promoted in 1969? (Bennie Briscoe and Tito Marshall headlined at the Blue Horizon.)

I don’t think I saw more than 30 seconds of it. Just the size of the crowd. I think it’s the only show my first wife ever came to. Being interviewed by Sandy Grady on the way out. He was the daily sports columnist from the Bulletin, where I used to work, and was one of the finest writers I ever knew. 

At what point in boxing did you feel like you belonged, that you could cut it?

There was one time where I borrowed two or three thousand from my dad and said if I can’t pay you back in a certain period of time that I would go back to the newspaper business. That was probably in the fall of 1970, the start of the second season. (Back then we didn't promote in the summer unless it was a big show because few arenas had air conditioning; the fall started each new season.) By that time we already had Bennie Briscoe and we were on our way. But mostly I never thought like that. I just kept going. 

As a promoter, what was your favorite victory by one of your fighters?

Bennie Briscoe against Tony Mundine in Paris in February 1974, not even a question. That was the best. 

What’s been the best Philadelphia fight card in the last 50 years?

I was fortunate enough to promote the best fight I ever saw, between, then Matthew Franklin, you know, Saad Muhammad, and Marvin Johnson [their first fight in 1977]. That was incredible. 

Who’s a fighter that turned out to be much better than you thought?

Jason Sosa’s doing a pretty good job of that right now, when you consider that I didn’t want to sign him. I had to take him as a throw-in. His win [over Javier Fortuna] in Beijing in 2016…as I told someone else the other day, if Briscoe-Mundine was number one then that was 1-A, especially in the time of my career that it happened. 

Who’s a fighter that got away?

Oh my god. I turned Hagler down after he lost a second time in Philly. I released Buster Douglas after he lost to Mike “The Giant” White for me in ’83. I think I had to pay him $2,500 for the next season and I said no, because I had the one-loss thing at that time. Tito Trinidad’s people called me years ago when he was coming up [starts laughing] and I told them that I didn’t have the time. I wasn’t interested. Oh well. 

What’s been the toughest negotiation you’ve ever been involved in to make a fight?

I know I had to go behind people's backs to make the first fight between Briscoe and Eugene Hart. I had to go behind Hart’s managers and trainer and go directly to the fighter, which is really a terrible thing to have to do. But I had to do it. I just had to do it. 

Fight you are most proud of? 

Franklin-Johnson, whoever thought the first one was going to turn out to be like that? But the first Briscoe-Hart fight – how I was able to make it, what it meant to the city and the crowd that it drew. Boxing News called it the second best fight in boxing that year behind the Thrilla in Manilla. That would be it. 

What’s the sweatiest, most disgusting gym you’ve ever seen in your years of boxing?

You know you can’t make a fighter in a pretty gym. There were several reincarnations of Champ’s gym over the years. Boy, they were all pretty disgusting. I’d say the first one on the second floor walk-up over Roach’s CafĂ©, aptly named, on Ridge Avenue in North Philly.  

Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2004)
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Where’s the most obscure place you’ve traveled to for a fight?

There was Liege, Belgium, which is the handgun capital of the world. I never forgot that. Briscoe fought there. There was Lucca, Italy, where Gary Hinton won the IBF title. There was a 600-seat casino in Campione d’Italia, which is on the Swiss/Italian/French border where Briscoe fought Rodrigo Valdez for the third time. I would say those were the most obscure places – places I had never heard of before I went there. 

Who has been your best friend in boxing?

[The late] Don Chargin, followed closely by Teddy Atlas and Nigel Collins.

How good was Jeff Chandler? 

He was probably the most talented fighter I ever had and was still learning on the job when his eyes went bad. 

As a promoter, what’s the best feeling in boxing?

When people are standing and cheering one of your fights. There's nothing like it. 

What’s the hardest part about promoting club shows?

The hardest part today is getting Philly fighters to fight other Philly fighters, which used to be a staple. Getting them to fight each other...that's the hardest thing today. 

Peltz with bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz

Who’s a celebrity that you never expected to cross paths with in boxing?

Bill Cosby.  

What made the Blue Horizon so special?

The fights. 

How would you characterize Philadelphia boxing fans?

Probably as knowledgeable as any, up there with the Hispanics in Southern California who used to go to the Olympic [Auditorium]. The Philly fans and the Mexican, Mexican-American fans in Southern California in my experience are the two most knowledgeable. That might get me in trouble, but what can you do? [laughs] 

What has been the best performance you’ve ever witnessed, either for one of your fighters or on one your shows?

Charles Brewer’s complete domination of Frank Rhodes at the Blue Horizon in March of ’96, which catapulted him to the world title shot. Certainly at the Blue Horizon that was the most dominating performance that I ever saw. 

How will boxing survive on the local level in the next 20 years?

I don’t know, Adam. I really don’t know. 95% of the money today is generated by 5% of the people. And the other 95% of us are generating 5% of the money. If I get a fighter today…just take a guy like Sosa. If a guy gets 10, 15 wins, how am I going to get him on TV today without partnering with someone? 

I’ll tell you how it can survive: Bring back the neighborhood rivalries, but you certainly can’t do it in Philly. Because most of these guys don’t get it. 

What’s been your biggest accomplishment?

Staying in boxing for 50 years.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Marc Ramsay: The Light Heavyweight Whisperer

These are good times for Marc Ramsay, the Montreal-based boxing trainer. The former Canadian Olympic coach has amassed one of the more impressive stables in the sport, including light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, former light heavyweight beltholder Eleider Alvarez, heavyweight contender Oscar Rivas and a slew of top prospects such as Christian Mbilli, Erik Bazinyan and Sadriddin Akhmedov. Next month Ramsay has one of the highest-profile opportunities of his career as Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) faces fellow titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) in a light heavyweight unification match on October 18 in Philadelphia (ESPN will televise). 

Ramsey has now cornered three prominent light heavyweight champs with Beterbiev, Alvarez and Jean Pascal, and each of them scarcely resembles the others in the ring. Unlike trainers such as the late Manny Steward (fight tall behind the jab) and Freddie Roach (Attack! Attack! Attack!), Ramsay doesn't have a signature style, and that is by design. To Ramsay, a trainer's job isn't to create cookie-cutter fighters, but to examine each boxer and work on ways to make him more well-rounded.

In his belief, a good trainer can have success with all different styles. And even though Beterbiev (a natural knockout puncher), Alvarez (a traditional boxer-puncher) and Pascal (an athletically gifted but awkward brawler) are vastly different in the ring, all have made it to the championship level. Ramsay believes that it's his job to work with whatever technical strengths and limitations a fighter may have to take him to the top.

"The first thing you have to understand," Ramsay said, "is that every fighter is very different. As a trainer, you cannot impose a specific style for everybody. You have to look at what are the strong points and the weaknesses of each fighter. You have to make sure that the strong points stay and you need to make the progression with their weaknesses...It’s a question of adaptation from one fighter to the other one."

Photo Courtesy of Marc Ramsay

Ramsay, a former amateur boxer, had his initial success as a coach for Team Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. He segued to the professional ranks with Pascal. However, as he garnered more success in the pros, he never took his eye off the emerging amateurs. 

"I always continued to watch amateur boxing very closely," he said. "When I had my first world champion, I was able to travel and go to world championship tournaments, such as the Olympic Games and the Pan American Games. I would introduce myself as Jean Pascal’s trainer. It helped me to scout and recruit fighters. And this continues...Every four years I like to target specific fighters from the Olympics. During the last Olympics, that was Christian Mbilli from France." 

An interesting aspect of Ramsay's gym is that his fighters come from all over the world. Alvarez landed in Montreal via Colombia. Pascal was originally from Haiti. Beterbiev and a number of other fighters hail from Russia or Russian-speaking countries. Ramsay, who speaks French and English fluently and can mix in some Spanish, takes pride in the cosmopolitan nature of his stable. And despite potential challenges with cultural differences and language barriers, he has been able to train fighters from a variety of backgrounds. 

"Working with different cultures and languages at first can be a little difficult," he said, "especially with Russian. But with Beterbiev and all those guys in my gym right now from that part of the world, they are able to learn English very fast. And we also speak the same boxing language." 

In recent years Montreal has emerged as an international boxing hotbed, with world-class amateurs and professional throughout the city, but Ramsay is selective with whom he chooses to train. He has specific criteria when working with fighters. 

Ramsay, an understated and cerebral type, believes in doing his homework. Before agreeing to train a new fighter he conducts not just physical and technical assessments, but also a psychological one. He wants to know if a fighter has personal problems or is hard to work with. He tries to gauge desire and work ethic. He uses his extensive boxing connections to get as much information as he can before determining if a fighter would be a good fit for his gym.

"Like everyone, the first thing I'm looking for is talent," he said. "Without talent, you’re not going to get to the point where a fighter can generate money and make a living from it. Talent is very important at the beginning, but eventually everyone is talented. I also watch for psychological characteristics. I see if a fighter had trouble with his national team. I try to profile every single athlete [under consideration]. Sometimes the athlete can look very good but you discover that he has some issues with psychological aspects. You need to have a sense of all the psychological elements, because that will help determine if they can make it all the way to a world championship." 

And Ramsay's research also extends to potential opponents. Gvozdyk, for example, is a fighter who has been on Ramsay's radar for several years. Ramsay witnessed Gvozdyk's triumph over lineal light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson in Quebec City and one of his fighters had an opportunity to fight him in the past before the bout fell through. Unlike a number of other trainers, Ramsay doesn't try to minimize an opponent's strengths in the ring. 

"I respect Gvozdyk a lot," he said. "He’s a complete fighter. He’s a good boxer. He’s stronger than what may appear on the outside. Good defense. Good speed. Real good technique also. He’s a complex boxer and you have to be very smart to beat a guy like him." 

Ramsay takes issue with the perception that Beterbiev is merely a knockout artist. Even though Beterbiev has stopped all of his opponents as a professional, Ramsay is quick to point out Beterbiev's amateur success, intelligence and work ethic. Before his last fight in May, Beterbiev had only two fights in the previous 18 months, as he was embroiled in promotional issues. Despite that period of inactivity, Ramsay noted that Beterbiev was always in the gym and never let his legal proceedings get the best of him. 

In Ramsay's opinion, Beterbiev is going to have to be at his best to defeat Gvozdyk. For this training camp, Ramsay even used Eleider Alvarez to help Beterbiev with some technical aspects of preparation. Although Beterbiev and Alvarez used to spar frequently when Beterbiev was a young pro, Ramsay has trained them completely separately in recent years. However, for this camp, Alvarez was brought back into the fold, not for full-contact sparring, but to help refine specific techniques. (He maintains that although the two fighters aren't necessarily friends, they have a healthy respect towards each other.) 

"Against an opponent of this caliber," he said, "Artur is going to have to be very complete. You can’t go in there and just expect that something is going to work. You have to prepare for everything. You can’t be surprised by the speed or the technique. You have to be prepared for all those aspects. Artur Beterbiev will need to be a complete fighter on that night. Not just a boxer. Not just a brawler. He’s going to need to be smart, good in all aspects and very aggressive."

Ramsay respects the challenge that Gvozdyk presents and embraces it. He's expecting a tough fight, but believes that his boxer is ready. And while he has other big fights on the horizon, such as Alvarez's return to the ring later this year, he knows that all eyes will be on the light heavyweight showdown on Oct. 18. Ramsay isn't one to issue bulletin-board material or to make headlines with bold claims, but he knows what a Beterbiev win would mean to his fighter and his gym. And he welcomes the opportunity. 

Long past the days of dreaming about becoming a player in world boxing, Ramsay is now among the big boys. And while words like "talent," "projection," and "skills" will always be a part of his vocabulary, at this phase of his career he is also searching for the one concept that separates the elite from the merely very good in boxing: mastery. Beterbiev will have that opportunity in October, and Ramsay will be in the corner, meticulously prepared, and ready for the big stage. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Radio

In this week's edition of Punch 2 the Face Radio, Brandon and I talked about Lomachenko-Campbell. Who is the fighter out there who could beat Loma?  We spoke about instant replay in boxing. When should it be used? How should it applied? We welcomed Michelle Rosado to the show. She is promoting the Russell Peltz 50th Anniversary Show in Philadelphia on Oct. 4. We also gave our picks for the top fights to watch in the fall.

To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:

Stitcher link:
Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio, Episode #142.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Kovalev-Yarde

The Sergey Kovalev-Anthony Yarde light heavyweight title bout swung on one simple factor: a fighter who had never been past seven rounds gassed. Yarde was actually a victim of his own success. Hurting Kovalev with uppercuts and short right hands on the inside, he went for the finish in the eighth round, but Kovalev, using all of his veteran savvy, was able to survive.

After the round, Kovalev's trainer, Buddy McGirt, warned that he was ready to stop the fight. However, when the two boxers started the ninth, it was Yarde who was suddenly running on empty. The fight would end in the 11th when Kovalev knocked down Yarde with a well-placed jab. Yarde was too exhausted to get to his feet. It was a stunning reversal of fortune and Kovalev, the fighter formerly accused of having no heart, of being a front runner, of quitting, was the victorious one, showing resolve and the refusal to succumb to defeat. 

Photo Courtesy of Pavel Tarbachuk

In the professional ranks the margins between winning and losing can be paper thin. It could be a matter of inches, seconds or a last-minute adjustment. After the eighth, Yarde had Kovalev in serious trouble, but he could offer no more. That burst of a second-wind, that sense of pacing never materialized, and that one attribute ultimately was the difference. 

By some standards Yarde exceeded expectations on Saturday. The cards were stacked against him going into the fight. He lacked world-level experience and a high-level amateur background, his development slate of opponents was poor, he didn't spar during his training camp and he had to go to Russia, never an easy trip. That he competed so well against Kovalev, still one of the top light heavyweights in the world, speaks highly of Yarde's aptitude and self-belief. 

Yarde flashed a solid counter left hook in the early rounds of the fight and if he didn't win many of the first six frames, his hooks were enough for Kovalev to holster most of his own power shots. And once Yarde was able to get past Kovalev's jab, he started to batter Kovalev with the success of a far more seasoned in-fighter. His left uppercut to the breadbasket and short right to the chest completely turned the action of the fight. 

In the aftermath of the defeat, the decisions of Team Yarde leading up to the title fight could certainly be questioned. His trainer, Tunde Ajayi, didn't believe in sparring. His promoter, Frank Warren (who certainly knows how to develop fighters), didn't challenge Yarde sufficiently in his development bouts. There were also opportunities to take step-aside money, to get another camp or two before rushing headlong into Yarde's first title shot. And these considerations are not second-guesses. All of these factors were pointed out well before Yarde entered the ring on Saturday. 

Warren and the rest of Team Yarde played their cards instead of folding. In poker parlance, they were always behind in the hand, but they had several outs (i.e., ways to win). It's clear that at 36 Kovalev is a vulnerable champ. Sergey has been through the wars and never had the world's greatest chin. In addition, Kovalev had lost three fights since 2016; whatever aura of invincibility he once had is now long gone. And Yarde certainly had enough of a punch to cause damage. But it just didn't work out. They gambled and lost. Maybe it wasn't the right time to push the chips in, but the thought process behind the decision was certainly understandable.

Once upon a time Kovalev was one of the true ring bullies in the sport. Battering opponents with a laser jab and a Krushing right hand, he was a destroyer. He intimidated in the ring. More than that, he was a bona fide sadist. He wanted to hurt opponents, to cause damage, to elongate their suffering before ending it.

Kovalev eventually got into trouble in three ways: He didn't respect his opponents, he lacked humility and he was a nervous fighter under duress. He seemed shocked when opponents actually decided to fight back, and when they did, he was ill-equipped from a technical or psychological standpoint. Despite jumping out to an early lead against Andre Ward in their rematch, once Kovalev was hurt, he couldn't process a next move. He complained to referee Tony Weeks instead of defending himself. He didn't tie up. He didn't take a knee. He appeared to crumble instead of think his way out of trouble.  

After getting dropped from a menacing overhand right in the first Eleider Alvarez fight, he decided to fight back harder, to slug it out with Alvarez mano-a-mano instead of giving himself the opportunity to recover. His decision making when under duress was a significant flaw.

But in Kovalev's performance on Saturday and in his victory against Alvarez in February's rematch, he finally displayed a maturity in the ring and a real sense of Ring IQ. He didn't try to decapitate Alvarez in the rematch. He stuck to his boxing fundamentals and would beat Alvarez with his jab and short right hands. And instead of gassing in the later rounds, he seemed at his most relaxed in the ring. 

And on Saturday, even when he was hurt, he was still processing the moment in the ring. He wisely tied up at the end of the eighth round, enabling him to have an opportunity to come back; I'm not sure if he would have made the same decision a few years ago. He has now realized that he can be hurt, but that circumstance doesn't have to lead to defeat. Even under duress, he still has agency.

This was Kovalev's second fight with Buddy McGirt and the trainer has made a huge difference with Kovalev's ring demeanor and sense of strategy. In perhaps the twilight of his career, Kovalev now understands that hitting harder, running farther and killing yourself in camp don't necessarily lead to better results in the ring. McGirt wisely decided to rein in Kovalev during training camps and also instilled a confidence in Kovalev – that the fighter was far more than a knockout machine; he had a fantastic fundamental boxing foundation, and that would be enough to beat even top-level opponents. 

But credit must also be given to Kovalev for accepting his own mortality in the ring. Kovalev had a well-deserved reputation of being stubborn and not listening to others. After the Alvarez defeat, however, he understood that he needed to make changes to prolong his career. Primarily, he needed to accept a revised ring identity – that it's OK not to run through opponents. And this was a radical change for one of the best knockout artists in the sport, one who prided himself on his ferocity. It's a change that many veteran fighters would refuse to make. It is an old dog learning a new trick. He realized that the most important thing in his career was winning, by whatever means necessary. And if that meant fundamental boxing, so be it.


Yarde is now at the first crucial inflection point of his career. At 28 he is no longer considered young in boxing years; he's squarely in the middle of his athletic prime. He certainly has the raw athleticism and enough fundamentals to compete on the world stage, but what lessons will he learn from Saturday's defeat? What does he need to change in order to beat top fighters? Does he take a few step backs, get some needed rounds against B-level opponents, or does he believe that he's ready for another shot at the best? Should he switch trainers? Is he getting the right advice from his team? 

It's easy to say that Yarde will be able to regroup and win a title in the future. But look around the division – Gvozdyk, Beterbiev, Bivol and Kovalev – one has to beat a terrific fighter to get a belt at light heavyweight. There are no guarantees that Yarde will be able to get to that level. 

Yarde's next set of decisions will be the most important ones he makes in his career. It took Kovalev a series of catastrophic defeats to make needed changes. Although Yarde isn't at that level, he might not be that far away. But does he know where he went wrong? He only gets to have one career, and if he wants one that lasts, he needs to realize that the status quo cannot suffice.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.