Saturday, May 31, 2008

Postcards from Uncle Al: The Boxing Cutman - Part 1

By Robert Cassidy, Jr.

This article - the first of 2 parts - appeared in the
on December 19th, 2004.............

The postcards arrived from all points of the globe -- Trinidad, England, Poland. They came from small cities in the United States that she had never heard of -- Scranton, Holyoke, Worcester, Bushkill. But they always came. Since Maureen Gavin was young, her father had been sending her postcards. The message was always the same. He missed her and even though he was out of town, she was in his thoughts. Read the full article

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I was fortunate in that I started, and ended, my fighting career in two of the best clubs ever‚ Gleason's and the Gramercy Gym.

I saw firsthand the dedication that Bruce Silverglade and my old trainers Bob Jackson and the late, great Al Gavin put into their clubs.

They worked long, thankless hours so that fighters and their trainers would have a place to box.

Without guys like them, there would be no boxing."

-Martin Snow - Trinity Boxing Club

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Al Gavin Interview

This piece, written by Thomas Hauser, appeared in on July 9, 2004:

On June 7, 2003, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward will face off for Part Three of their Club Fight Trilogy. Gatti-Ward I captivated the boxing world and was universally recognized as boxing's "fight of the year." Ward-Gatti II sold out Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and led to demands for Gatti-Ward III. Each fighter has made millions of dollars from their encounters. But their rivalry came perilously close to being nothing more than a single round of action. That's because, in round one of their first fight, Ward was badly cut. Under different circumstances, the bout might have been stopped. But Ward had Al Gavin in his corner.

Gavin was born in Brooklyn. "Quite a while ago," he says. His father came to the United States from Wicklow, Ireland, and found employment as a plumber. Al grew up in Brooklyn with his parents, two sisters, and a brother.

"My father always had an interest in boxing," Gavin remembers. "That's how I got interested in it. I boxed in the amateurs and was strong enough mentally, but I didn't have the physical strength to do the things I wanted to do. I could box pretty well. My jab was okay and I had a pretty good idea of how things should be done. I just didn't have the tools. I wasn't a puncher. I wish I could say I had a rock-solid chin, but I didn't. I had maybe twenty fights and won fourteen of them. Then I thought about turning pro and went to Al Braverman, who was managing at the time. Al was always nice to me. A lot of managers would have put me in the ring, and maybe I would have gotten hurt. But Al was honest. He told me, 'You don't have it.' And he was right. I took a look at the middleweight division. Sugar Ray Robinson was champion. In my wildest dreams, I couldn't beat him. Then I looked at some of the other guys like Gene Fullmer and Rocky Castellani. No way I could beat fighters like that. So to stay in the sport I cared about, I had to find another way."

Gavin was working in landscaping and gardening for the New York City Parks Department by then; a job he would hold for thirty-five years. Meanwhile, he started going to Stillman's Gym.

"Going to Stillman's was like going to college," he remembers. "In those days, it was a palace for fighters. Walk in and you saw elite trainers like Ray Arcel, Whitey Bimstein, Chickie Ferrara, and Freddie Brown. If you couldn't learn from watching those guys, you couldn't learn, period. I went to Stillman's almost every night and started coaching kids in the ring for the Police Athletic League. The first pro fighter I trained was a welterweight from Trinidad named Winston Nole in the 1970s. I managed Nole too, but decided that there were people who were better qualified to be a manager than I was, so I stopped managing."

Over the years, Gavin has trained dozens of fighters. On a personal note, he has been married for forty-eight years to a woman he calls "the strength of my life." Together, they have a son and two daughters. "My family, my religion, and my health are what's important to me," Gavin acknowledges. He's universally recognized as one of boxing's good guys, fair and even-tempered. But Gavin's fame within the boxing community comes from his skill as a cutman.

A good cut man is invaluable to a fighter. Sometimes, he's the difference between winning and losing.

Gavin works roughly thirty fight cards annually for anonymous preliminary fighters on up the ladder to Lennox Lewis. Over the years, he has been in the corner with Oscar De La Hoya, Vito Antoufermo, Bruce Seldon, Kevin Kelley, Junior Jones, and Arturo Gatti.

"What I get paid is up to the people I work with," Gavin explains. "No one makes me do the job; so if I feel like I'm being treated unfairly, I don't do it. Obviously, Lennox pays more than a four-round fighter. I've been with Lennox since he fought Gary Mason in 1991, and he's always fair with me."

When Gavin works a fight, one of the first things he does is find out who the ring doctor assigned to his fighter's corner will be. "The majority of ring doctors understand cuts," he says. "They know that fighters bleed sometimes, and they give the cutman a chance. But if it's a ring doctor I haven't seen before, maybe I get a little worried."

While a fight is in progress, Gavin watches intently from the corner, looking for signs of trouble that might presage a cut. A good cutman knows his fighters. He knows when and where they've been cut in the past and if their face has been swollen in the gym. He doesn't wait for blood to begin treating an area of concern. In fact, if a cutman waits for blood, he might be starting too late.

"The two trainers I learned the most from about stopping cuts were Tony Canzi and Johnny Zullo," says Gavin. "As for what I do, I just have a feel for it. It's a combination of art, science, and luck. Time is important. If there's a problem, I go to work as soon as the fighter reaches the corner. I don't get excited. I know where to put the pressure. Pressure is the most important element. That begins the process of stopping the bleeding."

Gavin's work over the decades has earned him the respect of his peers.

"Al is a pro," says trainer-commentator Teddy Atlas. "Ninety percent of the people around now are frauds, but Al is for real. He doesn't panic. He always comes prepared. He takes pride in what he does. When you hire Al, you're not just getting a guy who puts a swab on a fighter's face. Sure, he can stop a cut. Once you've hired him, you don't have to worry about that part of the fight but you get a lot more. Al understands all the aspects and angles of boxing. You can ask him for strategy during a fight. He knows better than most people what both fighters are thinking as a fight goes on. He's not just a cutman; he's a co-pilot. And whether you need to rely on him or not during a particular fight, it's reassuring to know he's there. He's a great great boxing guy."

Emanuel Steward concurs, adding, "When I started working with Lennox eight years ago, Al Gavin was already there. Lennox's people asked me if I wanted to keep him. And I said, 'Without doubt, yes.' Al is one of the best people in boxing. He's technically good as a cutman, but it goes way beyond that. He lays back; he never interferes. He's never out blowing his own horn. He's easy to work with. He blends in perfectly with the personality of Lennox's camp. And he's a much better trainer than most people give him credit for."

Dr. Flip Homansky (former medical director for the Nevada State Athletic Commission) compounds the praise. "The ring is the most unlikely operating room that I can imagine," says Homansky. "And a medical degree is no guarantee that its holder knows much about jagged lacerations that are acutely bleeding. I've seen I don't know how many fights that were stopped because no one in the corner knew how to prevent a simple cut from getting worse. Al Gavin is everything that a cutman should be."

And Dr. Margaret Goodman (Homansky's successor in Nevada) observes, "I've learned a lot from Al, and other people should learn from him too. Al is the quintessential cutman. He knows what he's doing and works at his craft constantly. If there's a cut, Al can handle it. He keeps his fighter calm and, no matter how bad the bleeding, never does anything to undermine his fighter's confidence. And yet, there have been times when Al looks at me with just the right look to tell me that, in his view, his fighter has had enough. And I respect that a lot."

"I try not to be too brave in the corner," Gavin says in response to Goodman's comment. "My motto is, 'Don't be braver with the fighter than I would be with myself.' I'm nothing special. I just go out and do my job. I'm not a big-shot. I'm just a guy who likes boxing."

Maybe so. But if a fighter is cut, in those sixty seconds between rounds, Al Gavin is the most important man in boxing. Micky Ward said as much when he looked back on the start of his trilogy against Arturo Gatti and declared, "In that first round when I got cut, I knew I had the best cutman in the business. I knew that, if anyone could stop the bleeding, Al could. And I was right; Al kept me in the fight. Al Gavin means everything to me."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Randy Gordon on Al Gavin

Randy Gordon is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Ring (1979-1984). He is also the former Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission (1988-1995). Randy worked at Al Albert's side doing color for the USA Network (1983-1988) and with Sal Marchiano at ESPN (1980-1982).

This article appeared in on July 12, 2004:

Boxing Loses One of Its Finest - Al Gavin

By Randy Gordon

"C'mon, wake up!" said Bob Jackson. "We've got work to do!"

Jackson said those words to his longtime best friend and partner, Al Gavin. However, Jackson said those words with a heavy heart and a quivering voice. He knew Al wasn't getting up. Gavin, 69, lay in a coma, put that way by a stroke deep in his brain a little over a week earlier. Together, as two of the most lovable and respected trainers in boxing, they had seen so many fighters launch incredible comebacks, defying the overwhelming odds against them. But, Jackson knew this was not going to be one of those incredible comebacks.

On Thursday, July 8, 2004, at a few minutes past 4:00 p.m., Al Gavin died peacefully at Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York.

I had paid a visit to Al less than three hours earlier. His wife, Joyce, his daughter, Barbara, and his son, Allan, were also there.

As Joyce held his left hand, Barbara told me, "We're taking dad off life support. Tests have shown no brain activity. This is the way he would want it."

I took Al's lifeless right hand--a hand that once held an ice pack on a mouse under my left eye--and kissed it. Barbara told me the family would keep me posted. About three hours later, Barbara's husband, boxing judge Bob Gilson, called with the bad news.

The reaction around the boxing world is no surprise.

"Al was simply the best," said Ron Scott Stevens, Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.

"Al was a total professional," said Marc Ratner, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Top boxing broadcaster and manager, Arnie "Tokyo" Rosenthal, was shocked when he heard the news of Gavin's death.

"I was just at a show with Al down in Bermuda," said Rosenthal. "I can't believe it!" Then, he took a deep breath and continued.

"Al was more than the best cutman. He was a scribe, a sage. He spanned generations in the business, from the golden days right up until today. I was fortunate to have been able to spend a lot of time with him. I used to love to sit around and listen to him tell stories. He was such a great teacher, a fantastic storyteller and a great friend."

Perhaps the last athlete Gavin trained was Ryan Kelly, a college-bound Long Islander. Kelly, 18, is the son of top New York referee Wayne Kelly. Last week, Gavin had put Ryan through a rigorous training session. The following morning, upon hearing the news that Gavin had suffered a massive stroke, young Kelly wept openly and unashamedly. That's the impact Gavin had on people's lives. That's how much he was loved.

"There was nobody like him," said Bob Duffy, the former Chief Inspector and later Director of Boxing Operations of the New York State Athletic Commission. "He always had a kind word to say about everybody. He was always ready to lend a helping hand to anybody who needed it."

The accolades are endless. From the college-bound to the title-bound, everybody loved Al Gavin.

I'm sure former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, for whom Gavin served for years as a cutman, was hit harder by the news of Gavin's death than any punch he ever took in the ring. The same goes for Vitali Klitschko, Micky Ward, Brian Adams, Junior Jones, Tony Danza, and every man or woman who ever laced on gloves and had the great fortune to be taught by Gavin. To all of us, his death is a cruel, hard blow.

When I met Gavin, I was a 25-year-old reporter for World Boxing Magazine. Gavin, who was 39 at the time, treated me as if I was a nationally-syndicated superstar columnist. He dished out respect in huge amounts.

He worked with the best (Lennox Lewis), the gutsiest (Micky Ward) and the worst (yours truly, in 1976). To him, we were all the same.

When I became Editor-in-Chief of The Ring, that respect never changed. Nor did it change when I became an announcer for ESPN, the USA Network and the MSG Network. I got nothing but respect from the man.

That all changed the day I become head of the New York State Athletic Commission in 1988. On that first day up at 270 Broadway in New York City, I received a call from Al.

"Congratulations on your appointment and first day on the job, Commissioner," he said. "I look forward to being a licensee under you, Commissioner."

I thanked him for his kind words, then reminded him I had known him 14 years, that he was my friend and that my name is "Randy," not "Commissioner."

"You're the Commissioner now, and that's how I address men with titles," he told me. That meant a lot to me. After I left the commission, many fair-weather friends jumped ship. I had expected that to happen. People love you when you're on top and forget you when you're not. There were even a few surprise "ship-jumpers" upon my departure. Al Gavin was not one of them.

Not a day went by when he failed to call me "Commissioner" or "Mr. Commissioner" or "Commissioner Gordon."

"You earned the title, now keep it," he always said. "Once a champ, always a champ. Once a commissioner, always a commissioner."

Yet, it wasn't how well he treated me that I was always impressed with. It was how well he treated others. He treated champions the way champions like to be treated, and he treated the biggest losers in the gym like champions.

Al Gavin loved the sport of boxing and he loved everybody in it. That's why, in return, everybody loved him.

Along with Joyce, his wife of 51 years, and daughter Barbara, Al is survived by another daughter, Maureen, and a son, Allan, along with son-in-law Bob Gilson.

In losing Al Gavin, boxing lost one of its truly great champions.

He hasn't yet been admitted to Boxing's Hall of Fame. Let's clear an area. The Hall awaits him.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lewis - Klitchko 6/21/2003

Lennox Lewis Defeated Vitali Klitchko on June 21st, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The fight was stopped in the 6th round after doctors deemed the cut on Klitchko's left eye could not be contained. Al can be seen throughout the clip in Lewis' corner.

Ward-Gatti I - Rounds 2 and 3

Al was in Mickey Ward's corner for all three of his classic bouts with Arturo Gatti. It was Al's handiwork on a cut sustained in the first round that kept Ward going.

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