Bosco’s Corner: Tragedy part of the fight game

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Beethavean Scottland died July 2 in Bellevue Hospital, another in a long line of boxing-related deaths. There is no way to put it in a positive light and I wouldn’t if I could. But death is a part of boxing, as much a part of it as anything else. It is a reality, something every boxer faces whenever he laces up the gloves.

Scottland was knocked out by light-heavyweight George Jones aboard the Intrepid on June 26 in the 10th round of a nationally televised fight. After two surgeries to his brain, he died a week later.

I have Scottland on my mind today because of a recent interview I did with Vinny Maddalone, an aspiring heavyweight out of Bayside. Maddalone, as nice a guy as you would want to meet, was talking the talk, about giving his all in the ring at all costs, when he said something that struck a nerve in me.

“The only way I’m going to stop is if my heart stops beating,” Maddalone said.

It was bravado, what you can hear from any boxer. And the scary part is, when a boxer says something like that, they mean it. Certainly, Maddalone or others who practice his craft don’t have a death wish, but it is that kind of mentality that often leads to tragedy.

I brought up Scottland’s tragic bout to Maddalone when he made that statement and I asked the young boxer if he ever thought of it actually happening, if he really thought a fight was worth risking one’s life for.

“You definitely look,” Maddalone said. “You get that second thought in your head. I watched that fight. The guy was fighting back. He didn’t want to stop. As one fighter to another fighter, that was the drive he had. He wanted to stay in there and that’s what he did. It was just a terrible thing that happened.”

In essence, what Maddalone was saying was that, though Scottland was taking a beating, he wasn’t about to give up. That’s why he kept getting out of his corner.

And that’s how it happens in the tragic bouts I have seen. I was a mere pup when Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini pounded Doo Ku Kim in a nationally televised world title fight on Nov. 13, 1982. Mancini was winning, but Kim, who was 17-2-1 at the times, was battling the whole way, giving his all. When he finally went down in the 14th round, I didn’t think he was that badly hurt. I was wrong.

In the mid 1990s I saw another fatal bout, when Gabriel Ruelas knocked out Jimmy Garcia in another world title fight. This bout was much more one-sided, with Ruelas dominating from the start. Garcia, though clearly on his way to a loss, never stopped trying and no one stepped in to stop it. Garcia, like Kim, died from his injuries a few days later.

What I remember most about that tragedy was that my friend, former junior lightweight contender Freddie Liberatore, had lost in his title bid against Ruelas just months before.

The victims of these fights and others are not just the wounded fighter, but the victor as well, who is left to live with what has happened.

A few years ago I interviewed former champ Emile Griffith, a Hollis resident. I didn’t even have to ask him about his tragic bout — it just came out of his mouth like a confession, one he has been telling for going on 40 years.

“The accident,” as he referred to it, occurred in March 1962 when Griffith was trying to win back the welterweight championship from Benny “Kid” Paret. Griffith had won his first 147-pound title from Paret on April 1, 1961, by a knockout in the 13th round, exactly three years to the day that Griffith turned professional.

His first knockout win over Paret was unexpected because Griffith was never known as a big puncher. When he retired from the ring, with 85 wins, 24 losses, two draws and one no-contest, only 23 of his wins came via the knockout route.

His second win over Paret was even more shocking — and terrifying.

“I was never a big puncher, I was mostly a boxer,” Griffith said. “I don’t know what made me a puncher that night. That was a crazy fight.”

Perhaps egged on by negative statements Paret had hurled at him during the pre-fight build-up, Griffith was not only going into the ring at Madison Square Garden to win back his title, but also to exact a little revenge.

With Griffith on the attack, the fight was a good one. The title seemed well in Griffith’s hands going into the 12th, but when he managed to stun Paret, Griffith unleashed a vicious assault that left his opponent unconscious and upright in the corner.

Griffith continued firing until Paret’s muscled legs finally gave way to gravity.

The Champ had regained his title, but at a heavy cost. His opponent never regained consciousness and died a week later on April 3.

“You keep punching because that’s your job,” Griffith said. “I’ve seen the fight so many times. I’m trying to get used to it. The public is beginning to accept the fight. Now I can talk to people about it. It was just tough for a while.”

Following the tragic match, Griffith said he received death threats and couldn’t walk down his own block without having to look over his shoulder.

The pain was still evident on his face more than 30 years later.

“He was a damn good fighter, The Kid,” Griffith said.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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