Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bert Sugar Was The Face of Boxing For A Lost Sport

Rich Mancuso

NEW YORK -You did not have to know Bert Randolph Sugar on a personal basis.
His presence was known with the unlit cigar etched in his mouth, a fedora hat on
his head and always a blazer and bright tie, a part of his attire. And when it came
to the sport of boxing, you went to him for an answer.

The 75-year old renowned author and boxing historian succumbed to lung cancer
on Sunday. Cardiac arrest was the cause, at Northern Westchester Hospital in the
Mount Kisco area of New York. His wife of almost 50- years and his children were
by his side.

And when word came about Sugar’s death, the boxing community was also by his
side. He was the old school writer, in an era of new school journalist that Sugar
would always have time for. He would always eulogize a fighter that left us. We
came to Bert for the history, the memories, and also his one liners and candid
sense of humor.

It is always difficult, a task writing about someone who has passed. This writer,
from a personal perspective can say this is a tough assignment. Bert Randolph
Sugar was a mentor and friend, more than a colleague we get to know at ringside.
They say it was meant to be, meeting someone in the course of your lifetime who
has been instrumental to your career, and he was the one.

Almost 28- years ago, the first boxing press conference assignment at the Waldorf
Astoria Hotel in New York City and there he was. Cigar in the mouth, the hat, and
surrounded by the old school boxing writers. Michael Katz of the New York Times,
Ed Schuyler and Bernie Beglane of the Associated Press, the late Pat Putnam,
Barney Nagler, and Murray Goodman the late and former publicist for promoter
Don King.

“Get over here kid and learn something,” said Sugar, who authored over 80
books about boxing, baseball, horse racing, and sports facts. That was the
beginning of learning how to be a part of the boxing discussion, and making new
acquaintances that you had to know when covering a fight at ringside.

The rest is history. Sugar opened the door. We covered a historic number of
fights together at ringside, traveled many miles, and there were tons of stories
and laughs. It was the pure old school core of boxing journalism and learning

more as the years passed on. He was not seen much at ringside the past year.
Those in the business would ask, and we all assumed that Bert was writing
another book. Then word came that Bert was in the fight of his life and little did
we know that it would come so soon.

But that was how, “Uncle Bert” was. Private about his life he was, with the
exception of talking about how his loving wife Suzanne could be so patient with
him over the years. An inductee to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005,
he would travel often to see his alma mater Michigan play an important football
game. The one-time advertising guru, who studied law, made an annual trip to
the Kentucky Derby. He loved the horse game and wrote numerous books about
the industry.

There were trips to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York, and
a few years ago he wrote a book about the Hall and the greats who have been
enshrined. There was his annual trip to the Bronx for opening Day at Yankee
Stadium and to the Baseball Mid Summer Classic, the All-Star Game.

“I don’t belong here,” he said in the press room at the old Yankee Stadium, that
cold and rainy day in the Bronx in early April of 2008. It was the last Opening Day
at the old stadium and he made a deal to purchase one of the foul poles from
the stadium, some that was housed in the backyard of his home up in Chappaqua
New York.

The game with Toronto was delayed and eventually postponed to the next day.
Sugar wanted to be with the fans and went across the street, River Avenue,
without an umbrella to the Yankee Tavern.

He never returned to the press room. “Had another beer with the folks,” he
would say. And Bert told more stories to that crowd, as he would do to the many
he met and to those that admired him. When Sugar called you “Uncle” it meant
you were a part of his family.

It was good enough to be asked many times, travel with him to the fights. That
return airplane trip to New York after a Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns thriller.
How he told the mother of a crying baby in Row 15 of the plane “Tell the baby to
shut up or my friend Nunzio will take care of it.” This writer was his Nunzio.

Or the time when Sugar and this writer shared a room in Las Vegas, only to be
taken over by half of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball roster, including Magic

Johnson. Sugar gave them a key to the room and we returned from a long night
only to trip over, as he would tell many times, “legs and legs, except they were
men not pretty women.”He was gracious and always helpful, but held nothing
back when it came to opinion.

“My View from the Corner, A Life in Boxing, Angelo Dundee with Bert Randolph
Sugar” was also one of his latest works. In the front face, Sugar wrote, as he
would always do when presenting this writer a book to review, “Uncle Rich who is
still trying to buy back his introduction to Bert R. Sugar.”

Dundee, who passed away in early February, developed a great relationship with
Sugar. And as he was secretly ailing, Sugar was gracious and offered his opinion
about Dundee, trainer of the great Muhammad Ali.

After the fights or press conference, Bert Sugar went to the nearest pub. It was
his way of enjoying life and sharing the great stories and rich tradition of boxing.
Some of his great works and business deals were made over a cocktail. At the
Betty Boop Lounge situated at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas or his favorite
spots in Manhattan. And he was not shy about saying that a “Bloody Mary was as
good as waking up in the morning with someone who was not your wife.”

When things went sour with Ring Magazine, and his former partner Dave
DeBusschere the late and former New York Knicks basketball star, Sugar set up
temporary quarters at a table, in the pub, O’Reiley’s, a few minutes from Madison
Square Garden. There he wrote more than one book on numerous napkins, of
course over a few cocktails.

He would take the Metro North commute to his home in an office full of sports
and boxing memorabilia, and started to write on his only typewriter. Bert did not
believe in new school technology. The computer and mobile phone were not to
his liking.

But it was those stories and opinions that made Bert Randolph Sugar who he was.
He never rejected a television or print interview. He had the answer as to why the
sport of boxing went into decline. “They don’t make fighters the way they used to
be,” he said.

And of course the heavyweight champion is not the way it was. “Alphabet soup,”
was termed by Sugar about the entire mess of different champions. “You could
not tell who is who, even if you put them in a police lineup,” he said about the

current state of the heavyweight division that is dominated by names other than
an American.

The fighters, managers, promoters, and media loved him. His answer to the
current cycle of the dominance of Latino’s holding a majority of boxing titles was
simple. “Over the years look at the cycle. Italians, Jews, The Irish, Blacks, and now
the Latinos are having their turn.”

In one book he authored, “The 100 Greatest Athletes of All-Time,” which had two
printings, Sugar had to revise the copy. There was criticism as to why he named
Jim Brown as number one, the former great Cleveland Brown football player.
Some said it was favoritism.

“No one could ever take the place of Jim Brown,” he said, “the Athlete who best
defines great.” Any issue about boxing and it was Bert you went to for an answer.
One of the latest, “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists,” co-authored with trainer
Teddy Atlas, has become a bible for information and used often here.

He said last week, “There is still a lot of fight left with me. The old school guys like
you and me have to keep fighting.” Unfortunately there are not any old school
guys remaining, and until the end he was writing another book about baseball. It
would have been completed in a few months. Sugar had this knack of publishing
books frequently. You were perplexed how he would author book with frequency
on the old fashioned typewriter?

However, you could never be perplexed about the talent and his humor. Bert
Randolph Sugar was the face of boxing, in a sport that no longer has an identity.

God Bless. Rest in peace my good friend and “Uncle” Bert Sugar and now with the
best ringside seat in Heaven.


This post is sponsored in part by Woodmere Real Estate & Glen Cove Real Estate

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