New York born Ron Lipton has lived and breathed boxing for as long as he can remember. In the early 60's as a homeless seventeen-year-old son of recently divorced parents, he literally sought refuge amongst the boxing gymnasiums that proliferated Manhattan Island; meeting and sparring with legendary figures such as Dick Tiger and Rubin Carter. He competed in the 135-147lb class in Golden Gloves and AAU tourneys, winning three Golden Gloves titles and losing only three times in forty-two contests. He never fought a professional bout, turning instead to serve a distinguished career in law enforcement. After retiring from the police force due to injuries sustained in the course of duty, he turned his talents to writing on matters fistic and is a highly rated referee. As well as winning awards for his writing and his film & stage boxing choreography, Ron Lipton is the recipient of an award for lifetime services to the advancement of civil rights.
In this frank and hard-hitting interview, Ron Lipton speaks about the game he loves and tells it as he sees it.
Q How do the boxers from the 1960s compare to those of today?
A. Overall the fighters from the 60s were tougher, worked harder, fought better competition, had better fight teachers, but did not have the equipment, and nutritional knowledge we have today. The heavyweights are stronger in all ways, and you see better builds on the fighters generally, but with less boxing knowledge today. They are longer of bone, built better but have not learned their craft like the old school boys.
The fighters of the 60's had one thing over them all. They had the remnants of the great fight teachers who were still around, Freddie Brown, Chickie Ferrara, Jimmy Wilde, Charlie Goldman and great cornermen like Angelo Dundee. Remember one thing and never forget it: all men want to be connected to boxing and thought of as some kind of expert, they are not. Only men who had a lot of fights and can articulate the secrets of fighting properly geared to the individual fighter are fight teachers, as opposed to a cornerman, or a physical fitness trainer. Jack Blackburn is a fight teacher, George Benton is a fight teacher, and they were fighters.
The 60's fighters were cast of a mould which is not of this world now, a work ethic existed then which created unspoiled, hard working men of steel, who loved to fight and would break the back of some of the prima donnas we have today. The great fighters from the 1960's champions and contenders alike had fierce competition in all divisions, but with basic fight equipment to utilize and really little knowledge of any advances in weight training, nor even knowledge of proper footgear for doing roadwork with. There were basically only 8 Champions, with the junior weight division champions still formidable.
People from that general era like Junior Lightweight like Flash Elorde, for example, and Eddie Perkins at 140-lbs. junior welterweight were dangerous, formidable and competitive. When you got into the Middleweight division then you were in real trouble, with guys like Tiger, Carter, Floro Fernandez, Jose Monon Gonzalez, Holly Mims, George Benton, Giardello, Emile Griffith, Henry Hank, Jesse Smith and Gene Fullmer. With Teddy Brenner making really competitive matches in the Garden at that time, you had to fight lions and Tigers to get paid and to get onto television on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. The men were tougher, more well schooled with better fight teachers, and had more competitive fights to stay real sharp. The training camps were generally more Spartan and were factories for producing men of vicious determination.
The difference today is the fighters have more modern methods, equipment, and have more quality muscle due to supplements, and weight and cable training through the use of free weights, bowflex, soloflex, and nautilus machines. The most glaring categories of comparison for proper analysis would embrace several issues. One must realize that there are advances in knowledge of nutrition, diet, and exercise equipment that are changing for the better approx., every 6 months.
Fighters today have personal physical fitness trainers, like Holyfield's Tim Hallmark, which is good and necessary. Years ago they feared weight training ONLY because they did not understand it. Old time trainers, some of whose backgrounds were simply physical education teachers, believed it made fighters "muscle-bound" which is one of the most misunderstood words. There is a way to train a fighter using free weights, cable work, and stretching techniques. Once each muscle group is developed properly and with the right fight teacher, and trainer, the fighter with a lot of boxing skill training, through sparring, working in front of the mirror, practicing all his techniques in offense, defense, and combination and power punching, will then be a superior fighter and can tap into extra power without sacrificing speed. If they can flex, control and separate each muscle group through training, this muscle control can be tapped into for speed and power. I teach this very well and have films of me hitting with more power in both hands than most any fighter today within 50 lbs. heavier. I have the films and films don't lie.
Mike Tyson only trained his biceps and shoulders. Years have gone by where his build has atrophied, especially in his triceps, upper back, trapezius, and mid and lower back and abs and obliques. Don't ever tell me boxing is not a bodybuilding contest, I know that, and I also know many muscular fighters cannot punch and many skinny ones can. But, with the right application of training, you can have the longevity of power. The fighters from the 60's waned with too many fights and age. They did not know how to beat father time with supplements and modern training, so they burned out quicker with more fights and age setting in with only their courage and great skill winning for them. Boxing is half seconds and half inches. With fat in the wrong places you cannot move or execute power.
Most 1960s fighters had good biceps from plain boxing, but no real power in their triceps. The days of steak and eggs and cholesterol hell are supposed to be gone, yet look at the bodies of some of the top fighters today, they still haven't learned because they don't have the right people teaching them.
Q It has been argued that boxing is no longer in receipt of the best talent. For instance, that potential heavyweight fighters are more inclined to play gridiron. What is your take?
A. Not necessarily so. It has been proven time and again football players get knocked out in boxing by the class fighters who are smaller but punch faster and harder. Too Tall Jones, Lyle Alzado, Marc Gastineau all were overcome. Running into a brick wall like a football linemen and getting a real beating with combinations by a pro fighter is like night and day, and will cause the most hardened football player to do a real swallow job and wish he wasn't there. The training for a fighter is much more arduous if done correctly and the sacrifices in diet and social life are too demanding. It doesn't matter if the raw material comes from the world of bodybuilding, football or where ever, the man must want it, love to fight and have that killer instinct, or if not, the greatest skills, hand speed, punching power, a great chin and determination to win at all costs, defeat is unacceptable. Do all that have all that, and the financial rewards will surpass football if you work hard and are the man for the job.
Q The Zab Judah throat tugging and chair throwing incident, Mike Tyson's ear biting antics with Evander Holyfield, James Butlers sucker punching Richard Grant unconscious after losing a bout. It was said that boxing instilled values and discipline into fighters. Is this no longer the case?
A. Yes, it is still the case, however. You must as a fighter gird yourself for battle with people who care and love you as a person. You must do honor to yourself, your loved ones, your corner and must align yourself with people of quality who care about you as a human being. If you have a bunch of paid jitterbugs and yes men, who just work for the money, you are in the wrong profession. Your life is on the line, you represent a great profession that people love and respect, be a man, win like a man, lose like a man. My instructions in mid ring are always the same, "I've given you the rules, RESPECT EACH OTHER, OBEY MY COMMANDS, AND LETS KEEP THIS STRICTLY PROFESSIONAL." I make that happen! I keep control in the dressing room before the fight and prepare the fighter for any contingency prior to stepping into the ring together.
Q How do you rate Vladimir and Vitali Klitschko?
A. They execute the basics of boxing with fair speed, solid but not great punching power, and are courageous to an extent. They need more seasoning and experience but are formidable and can make money with what is out there.
Q Much of boxing's problems appear to be rooted in the fact that it is in essence unregulated. How do you think boxing should be reformed?
A. Number one on the list is to not listen to one word of the people who are supposedly the voices of boxing today. They are entrenched in false underpinnings in boxing for years. Many of the so called commentators who try to speak with and visit Senator McCain, are not real boxing people, just people who have been entrenched in NY boxing and Long Island politics for years and have very good relationships with boxing writers who they take to lunch and pay money to for good press in the last decade. Get some fresh new ideas from the people who have been around boxing for years as fighters, not some so called expert who had less than 10 fights in the Empire Games and then quit, or some boxing commentator who just hung around the gym following fighters around and is less than 35 years old and never fought. These are some of the commentators who call for a Fed Commissioner yet they want their friends or themselves to be the one. Get rid of some of the State Commissioners who have been around for years who are insidiously connected to corner men, promoters and officials.
Only State Commissions can pick the officials NEVER AN ALPHABET GROUP, especially the referee. The commission pay the officials NOT THE PROMOTER, only referees who were fighters themselves should be used, not political hacks like Steve Smoger who is a lawyer and a former local judge who was asked to resign the bench or be kicked off, Smoger as Pedro Fernandez said, is the worst most obnoxious referee in the world. He has no business in ANY ring at ANY TIME, or sons of referees whose father's are connected to Alphabet groups like the WBC for years like Mercante JR, who had less than 6 amateur fights at sub novice and then quit boxing, or people who never were fighters but just wanted to be referees like NY's Jim Santa who is in the food business and never fought as a fighter. All these referees should never be used in professional fights, the amateurs are not the pros and their experience as terrible amateur referees ruin professional boxing as they got into it politically not as rugged men who understand boxing or the fighters. A certain official is the worst of them all and yet he is refereeing again after almost killing many fighters and finally contributing to the death of one through his amateur negligence.
Q Are referees up to the job these days?
A. It is the most unbelievable thing to behold, the "Halo" effect. The worst referees by their performances CONSISTENTLY are rewarded with more work. Joe Cortez, is called 'rubber- lipped Joe' by many. His commands in the ring are delivered in an unintelligible rubber lipped cadence with a street undertone that is offensive and crude. He consistently gives bad calls, but because of his friendship with Larry Hazzard and other commissioners he gets work. The worst of all is Steve Smoger, a political hack, who the Atlantic City Press did a month long expose on as to Smoger's dishonesty as a local judge. I travelled the country and world with Smoger and never did I meet a more inept, conniving political hack who never once was a fighter but only a politician. His fellating of the former Commissioner in Connecticut was nauseating to behold and he stops at nothing to contact European promoters and Commissions soliciting fights. Yet no one, no one questions his total lack of boxing knowledge and lack of any boxing experience himself.
How can NY use Mercante junior after witnessing his handling of Whitaker Vs Huertado on HBO where they said it was the worst refereeing job since Benny Kid Paret and Griffith? The handling of Beathoven Scotland's final fight in NY, his horrific inept handling of Reggie Green Vs Charles Murray are things for a time capsule. His father's friendships with Gil Clancy, Howie Albert, Mike Katz and Jose Sulaiman have saved him many times. But enough is enough of deadly junior. Mercante JR let Lennox Lewis hold Michael Grant behind the head, and then knock him out without once stopping the illegal tactic -so flustered does junior get under pressure! The worst in the world next to Smoger is Jim Santa, a NY referee. He is slow, and his baggy shirts billowing in the wind look sloppy and unprofessional, as he never was a fighter and knows nothing about boxing whatsoever, yet he is given important fights despite one mistake after another. The use of Eddie Cotton for big fight is a direct result of the intervention of his friend Larry Hazzard. He is so out of shape and slow, his inexperience in boxing was evident in his handling of the Tyson v Lewis fight during which he was trying to be overly officious
Q You won a welter of Golden Gloves titles as a young man. What is the state of amateur boxing in the United States?
A. There are very caring people in this field, as trainers and cornermen and the protection and development of the fighters is regulated strongly and with a firm hand. However, it is fraught with politics, which ruins it at times as evidenced in the Olympic games. The scouting of the more successful amateurs for professional transition has to be watched to avoid the exploitation of a young fighter early in his career. The amateurs should spar with seasoned pros as I did in my career, fighting anyone and everyone you can to hone your craft and build your power and speed to handle all types of fighters. You need a good trainer and hone the basics until you can execute everything with speed, and perfect form. Combination punching, range, all kinds of jabs from all angles, short, long, and arching punches with both hands, body punching, stamina, foot and hand speed, slipping, feinting everything should be worked on and mainly to stay in shape between fights with proper diet and healthy lifestyle. Build an iron foundation for the pros or to go as far as you can as an amateur. If you box, take it seriously and never come in there out of shape.
Q The TV stations and cable companies have been constantly criticized by fans for not providing enough quality expert analysis with the ex-fighters they select and the personalities they have groomed. Is this fair comment?
A. Watch ANY boxing documentary on HBO and look at the choices they use for opinions on boxing. This does not include Lampley & Merchant. How in the name of God can a Thomas Hauser be a boxing expert, or a Jack Newfield, two of the most non-physical human beings who never were fighters but hang around fighters and then proffer themselves as boxing experts? Hauser's book on Ali was a simple Citizen Kane kind of everyone-who-Ali-knew-says-something-in-the-book, yet they are asking this lisping, haughty Johnny-come-lately his boxing opinions on everything. ESPN's commentator Brian Kenny is a great guy and I have done many interviews with him. Cus D'Amato never had a fight in his life. How could he be a boxing expert? How? Frank Lavalle taught Floyd Patterson not D'Amato.
Get rid of these guys who have no real underpinnings and get some real experts in there.
Q You've seen a lot of great fighters up close and even developed close personal friendships with them. How do you go about explaining the magic of Ali?
A. The magic is simple: He was brave, and consistently confident and a winner which is magnetic and admirable. He was fun, love to laugh, and was a warm human being when you got him alone. He loved people and had a kind heart and that's all you need in this world.
Q What was your favourite moment with the Hurricane, Rubin Carter?
A. We went shooting together a lot after we were done boxing each day. I was a great combat shot and still compete today. We were at Ehasan's training camp in Chatham NJ and because I loved Archery, I took him out in the woods with my bow and arrow alone. I pointed to the wooden house behind the training camp after we hiked all the way up to the woods behind it. It was maybe 80 yards away and I said, "See that one board with a knot in the wood, I will hit it from here." I knew in a million years I could never make the shot, but said it seriously, just to take the chance.
He said, go ahead man, lets see. I drew a razor head broadhead arrow from my leather quiver and took my English long bow, no recurve, no pulleys like they have today, maybe a 6 foot bow, 70 LB pull made of lemonwood, just like Robin Hood. I pulled back with perfect form and raised the arrow at a .45-degree angle and released with perfection. The arrow hummed through the air at over 200 mph and sunk directly into the darkened knot within the board I had picked out to shoot at. I could not believe my fucking eyes, but maintained a poker face like I knew it all along. His eyes widened in amazement, he was absolutely stunned. He was wearing a black fur jacket with a black hood much like his ring robe, and all I could see was his eyes go wide, and he kept saying, "God damn, Gaaaaawd DAMN! Man you are a bow shooting motherfucker. I walked down the hill with him and said, Aw shit man; I make shots like that all the time. But the truth was it was a one in a million, with a ton of luck, but he thought I was Robin Fucking Hood himself. It was a moment as a kid I never forgot.
Q Compare the experiences of sparring with Dick Tiger and Rubin Carter?
A. Tiger was more solid, durable, stronger in the legs, heavier than Carter by at least 15 pounds in training camp in the basement of the old Garden His focus was frightening, but I was so swift of foot and hand, he could not hurt me except for scorching hooks that would rip my belly on occasion. I kept him off balance, as did Candy McFarland with stiff double jabs and good head movement. I could only hit him jabs and flash right hands, because I tried one day to follow a right hand with a hook and he surprised me how fast and low he got to avoid it and then exploded as I brought the hook back with ripping body shots and came up to the head so hard he hurt my lower back. I never stood still and traded after that but just outboxed him, which he wanted.
Carter-faster hands than Tiger, very fluid, vicious paralysing puncher. I was able to hit him a very hard right hand that hurt him one day, very solid on the side of the jaw, very fast with much juice on it. I weighed 144 and I know I got to him and got my respect. My hands were faster and he signed a picture for me once, it said, "To Ron, you had a great right hand, but I had a better left hook." He dropped me once in over 50 rounds of sparring, but I will never forget it. It felt like my jaw went through the back of my neck. But I had balls and got up and finished strong with him. Any exercise he did, I did too. Look at the pictures of me then. Our builds were the same, I feared no one, not him, not Tiger no one, but I knew they could both kill you if you let them hit you two three times solid without moving your head. I could hold them both in a clinch and my arms and shoulders were equally strong at the time and even now. Rubin's left hook was devastating, fast, long, short, double up to the body with great speed, right hand was a chop with lots of shoulder behind it, very fast, Tiger, had a right hand chop and a cross which would tear your head off, but Tiger's left hook could actually break your neck. God he was strong.
Adeyinka Makinde (2001)