By Gavan Casey
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS:
As Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather Jr’s mundane back-and-forths rubber stamp what transpired to be a relatively unremarkable year in terms of in-ring entertainment, 2014 may best be remembered for the loss of some of boxing’s most colourful characters outside of the squared circle.
January saw the passing of one of the most influential figures in the sport when the largely reviled José Sulaiman succumbed to a lengthy illness, aged 82. President of the World Boxing Council since 1975, Sulaiman’s conflicted legacy is rather fitting of one of the sport’s most divisive characters. For many, the inherent sense of nepotism within the WBC during his reign – where rankings were manipulated to best suit affiliated fighters and promoters – tarnished the coveted green belt. Famous cases of alleged favoritism towards Roy Jones Jr and the equally flayed Don King would ultimately sully his reputation beyond repair. This damage was compounded by the WBC’s introduction of ‘interim’ belts among other boxing-political controversies.
And yet, for a man whose death would make for some cringe-inducing commentary from boxing fans on Twitter, it’s often forgotten that Sulaiman was a massive advocate for boxers’ physical safety; he was the driving force behind reducing the length of championship bouts from 15 to 12 rounds – this following the death of Deuk Koo-Kim on national television. He also oversaw the shift in the schedule of weigh-ins, from the morning of fights to the day before, thus allowing boxers to better rehydrate. For better or worse, José Sulaiman re-moulded the boxing landscape.
In terms of public perception, Mickey Duff was José Sulaiman’s polar opposite. The son of a rabbi, the legendary story of Britain’s revered matchmaker began with an escape from his homeland of Poland (where he was born as Monek Prager) due to the increasing influence of the Nazi regime in 1938. A brief fighting career which saw him turn professional illegally, aged 15, was ultimately eclipsed by Duff’s ascent to the pinnacle of boxing management, where he established himself as one of the most powerful characters in the sport.
From the early 1970s Duff was employed by Caesar’s Palace as a boxing consultant. A keen gambler, he would later admit that he once lost $225,000 on the Palace tables. Joe Bugner was subsequently sent to fight Muhammad Ali in Vegas in 1973 as part of a brokered deal to write off a portion of Duff’s enormous debt.
Duff’s managerial and promotional career would see him work with a grand total of sixteen world champions – including Joe Calzaghe, John Conteh, Lloyd Honeyghan and Frank Bruno. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999, and died of natural causes in March, aged 84.
Boxing would say its goodbyes to another larger-than-life promoter in Dan Goossen, who lost a brief battle with liver cancer in October, aged 64. Goossen promoted a number of champions including Hall of Famer Terry Norris, and more recently two bona fide future inductees in Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward. Goossen also managed 1980s actor-turned-cult-hero Mr. T.
Goossen’s untimely death succeeded the passing of a far more relevant cultural icon than the ferocious ‘Clubber Lang,’ however – especially given the recent police controversies Stateside. Widely deemed a symbol of racial injustice, Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter passed away in April at the age of 76. His story has been depicted in writing, song and film, and endorsed by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bob Dylan and Denzel Washington. It remains shrouded in a layered, unfathomable mystery.
Twice convicted of triple-homicide in both 1967 and 1976, ‘The Hurricane’ was released from prison in 1985 following the decision to overturn his second conviction.
With a modest professional record of 27-12-1 (19 KOs), his boxing career pales in significance when compared to his tumultuous life which so perfectly encapsulates his pugilistic moniker.
Though the story of ‘The Hurricane’ will doubtless rage on through the ages, this year has brought upon the closing of some of the sport’s most remarkable chapters. As the world prepares to ring in the New Year, boxing remembers those for whom the bell tolled in 2014.
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