Thursday, August 20, 2009

Harold Lederman On Al Gavin

I must have known Al Gavin for thirty years, maybe more. He didn't only like me cause he thought I knew a little about the game, he liked me because, like him, I was a good eater.

Funny thing about boxing judges and cutmen...they both wind up in a lot of God forsaken places with tons of time on their hands and no place to spend it waiting for the first bell to ring.

I remember one time Al and I wound up, in of all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not a heck of a lot to do in Tulsa. Al was working some corner, and I think I was working for HBO, probably when Tommy Morrison was fighting Michael Bentt. Al and I found a little place to eat breakfast and lunch, owned by a nice lady named, "Jeannie". Of course the name of the restaurant was "Jeannie's".

Every morning and every afternoon Al and I would hop in my rental car and go to Jeannie's for breakfast and lunch because the food was good and Jeannie didn't charge L'Cirque prices. Well, as fate would have it, every time we went there there was a cowboy looking person wearing blue jeans sitting at a corner table having his meal. I kept telling Al, "I know this guy". I just couldn't place the face. Al thought I was a total whack job. "How could you know a guy sitting in a greasy spoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma?", asked the world's greatest cutman.

Well, finally I could not take it no more, so I went over to Jeannie, who by this time had become a friend of ours, and said "who is the cowboy who's always sitting in the corner?"

After that, Al had a little more respect for yours truly. He couldn't believe it when the cowboy turned out to be the recently retired kicker for the New York Giants, Don Chandler. Now kickers aren't the biggest guys on the football field, so when I told Al that Chandler kicked twelve years for the Giants, he had a hard time believing that a guy the size of Chandler could be on the same field as Roosevelt Grier.

Problem was that they don't take off their helmets enough, so although I had seen him kick, I couldn't remember who he was over his breakfast of creamed chip beef on toast.

Ain't too many guys left to hang out with now that Al's gone. Al had a special appeal that just made you want to be with him. A die hard fight guy, he knew the business inside and out, and made it fun to be at the fights.

I miss you Al. I'm sure we'll meet up some day, even if it's not at Jeannies.

Harold Lederman is a longtime in-fight commentator for HBO Sports

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Man In My Corner

by Michael Fetherston

Al Gavin's professional life reads like a who's who of the fight game for the last fifty years. His abilities as a cut man became so legendary that the countless champions, trainers and managers the world over who sought his services referred to him simply as "Big Al". If that name was said out loud in almost any fight club from Brooklyn to Las Vegas, people knew who he was and they knew his presence in a fighters corner could mean the difference between a title belt being won or lost.

Al spent a lot of time on t.v. and in the spotlight and now that he's gone there's a crowd of great men who have a lot of great stories to tell about him, and I'm sure they're all true. I myself was never a champion, and I never basked in the spotlight with Al, but in the moments that I did spend with him I learned that this great man was at his best when it mattered most in life, and that's when no one was looking.

I met Al when I was twelve years old, the day I climbed the stairs to the old Gramercy Gym on 14th St. Walking into that gym for the first time was a hard thing for any kid to do, but as soon as I saw the big man sitting in the beat up old easy chair in the middle of the room it felt easy. Al had his trade mark poker face on when he first looked me over, tight lipped and stern eyes, but that look didn't fool me one bit.

He was one of the good guys, and anyone who ever looked Al Gavin in the eyes knew it. He had only two questions for me- where did I live and was I in school (it occurred to me that he must of been used to dealing with a rough bunch of kids if they were dropping out of school at the age of twelve) and he told me to come back the next day with fifteen bucks and a pair of hand wraps.

Over the next few months, Al taught me to box. Like I said, I never became a champion or even made it past a disastrous amateur career. The fact was, I didn't have "it", that special ability that only a few among us are ever blessed with. I simply didn't have the talent to be a real fighter, and the expert eyes of Al Gavin must have seen that early on. He had to have known that I was never going to make him a dime (not counting the fifteen bucks, of course), I was never going to put him under the spot light and I was never going to add to his legend.

But for some reason, Al Gavin still took the time out to teach me to box.

I'd walk into the gym everyday after school, prime-time for the pros and the champs. Al would be working with a contender here, an up and comer there, and still he'd take the time out to work with me, a scrawny kid off the streets who didn't exactly have 'title shot' written all over him. He was patient and thorough, never accepting a sloppily thrown jab or lazy right, and always gave me an attaboy when I did it right.

He taught me to not sulk when things didn't go my way in a sparring session and not to gloat when they did. He kept track of when my school issued report cards and let me know passing grades were a requirement for gym membership (yeah, I kept my grades up, and yeah, he checked). I was a sullen, slouching kind of kid, but Al didn't accept that either. If I wanted to leave the gym each day without a lecture, I had to do so with my head held high.

Later that year, the Gramercy closed for good. I bounced around to other gyms for a while, but I never trained with Al again. I would stop into Gleason's as often as I could to say hi to him, and he always wanted a full report of my goings-on's.

Over the years, I begrudgingly accepted that my dreams of championship were never to be, but hanging up the gloves was never the end of my friendship with Al. He was always there to support me in whatever endeavors I had in life, and when many years later I became a New York City Police Officer he made sure I met all the right people he knew in that world as well.

Al knew way before I did that I was never going to find what I was looking for in the ring, but he never told me so. He knew that there's no way to explain that to a kid, he has to find that out for himself, and when I did he still continued to work my corner. In the game of life, just like the fight game, everybody needs a good corner man, and some of us are lucky enough to have a great one.

Even now, when the going gets tough and I find myself slouching, I can still see Al's stern face and kind eyes and hear his voice, "Keep 'em up kid, keep 'em up".

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Message From Verne "Bulldog" Williams

Al Gavin is in my heart.

To those of us who liked to fight, the big guy was the prime example of who world champions wanted in their corner in the tradition of Arcel and Bimstein.

As a understudy to these masters of the art, able to stop the flow, and carry the distinction of the true gentlemen who he emulated through his entire life. Al Gavin was prized by all of us who have been lucky enough to be considered in friendship.

When you shook his hand you knew or you didn't. "The old school". He knew what 15 rounds took, what champ meant in 8 weight classes. Stillman's gym, and who, along with Bobby Jackson and Pat Robertson inherited the Empire State Sporting Club housed at the Gramacy gym from Cus D'Amato.

Trainers of champions, all of them . Contributors to American Boxing History that began in 1939. In the tradition of American fighters, who have ruled the game.

I was there in 2000 at the 75th Annual Boxing Writers Dinner that Al invited me to attend at the Crown Plaza in N.Y. Boy, I got slicked up for that one... Blue suit, impeccable white shirt, black featherweights you could see your face in, haircut, fresh shave.

I walked through the door, and a guy with a dented nose pointed me to the stairwell to the mezzanine, and halfway up, I was grabbed by two huge guys bigger than Al himself in suits, Asking me if I was Bulldog Williams.

Ahh, am I under arrest ? Aww no way Bulldog, you have been invited to Al's suite, and we are taking you there. "You must be a good guy sir, because he likes you, and he doesn't like anyone! I can't tell you how honored I felt. He did the Jimmy Walker Award proud along with Bob Jackson that evening, being honored by the best writers of boxing, and the best fighters on the planet.

Like I said, "Al Gavin is in my heart".

Verne "Bulldog" Williams

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tom Hanrahan On Al Gavin

Tommy Hanrahan was a former columnist for the New York Daily News and is now one of the country's most renowned writers on the outdoors.

I covered the Golden Gloves during the 1980s and knew very little about boxing aside from being an avid fan of the game. It was like being dropped deep behind enemy lines - there was a crushing mayhem everywhere I turned. Just absolute chaos. Remember, there were hundreds of fighters back then and some cards featured as many as 32 fights and went well beyond midnight.

Enter Al Gavin.

The laconic man who stood at the back of the dressing room, saying nothing, taking it all in. The man who knew all and kept it to himself, sharing his wisdom only with his fighters - and me.
"Watch out for the kid who stands in his corner and doesn't say anything and doesn't do anything flashy - that's a kid you need to take seriously. He didn't come here to show off he came to fight. Most of the people here in this game - the fighters and the managers and the trainers and the hangers on - they're here to show off. But there's that few who are here to win, here to compete, and those are the people who make this game great."

Just like Al Gavin.

I used to watch him watching a fight and it was all in his eyes. The face betrayed very little. A small smile. A barely discernible frown, a growl so low it was almost inaudible. He taught me how to watch a fight, he did. How to watch the sequence of punches, the speed of a fist, the telling blow, the moment a fight goes one way or the other.

He taught me the best fight is the one nearly lost. When a fighter gets beat up and then somehow from somewhere discovers he is still in it and gains a new level of life and tastes victory and seizes it. That always brought a smile to Al's face, to see a kid come along who made up his mind to win and did it. Often against substantial odds. That was Al's favorite fight and it became mine too. A fight where you might say goodness won.

I remember Al taping hands and it was a thing to watch. I remember Al grabbing me when I did something stupid and pulling me away from a fight of my own. I remember Al in deep discourse with a fighter, his face so close, his hands moving across a cut so expertly, all the while dispensing the most lucid advice, encouraging and cajoling and inspiring some unknown kid to a kind of greatness.

Because Al was great. He knew the game very, very well and he knew people and he knew that the great virtues - integrity, hard work, purpose - were what championship fighters had to aspire to to be truly great. Al worked with a lot of legends and a lot of unknowns and he was the same with everybody. Al was a good adult, you see, a good grownup. There aren't a lot of people out there like that. Very few, if you must know.

Al had very little patience with the baloney - and that's the word he used - that is such a part of the boxing scene. He was the man who focused on those moments in the ring when normal existence came to an end and something else took over. Something wonderful and something beautiful. Al Gavin made the boxing scene something clean, and dignified and wonderful. He was the most honest man I met in a largely dishonest flesh trade and proved that good men exist everywhere, and often in places you least expect them to be.

If I had had a son I would have brought him to Al to learn how to box. Because I know in the process he would learn something far more important than how to hook and jab. To learn what it means to be a real man.

God I miss him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More Accolades For The Cutman

I met Al in 1997 ... as such, did not know him as long as many others. Yet he took me in as a close friend as if he had known me since childhood and always treated me as part of his extended family. I had the highest respect for him, not only as a cutman, but as a person. There are very few people in this world that deserves the highest accolades that Al Gavin has earned. Without doubt, Al Gavin will be in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Al Gavin meant so much to so many ... fighters, friends, and family. His expertise as a cutman was unquestionable. He was as genuine and close a friend as anyone could imagine. He loved his family and extended that love to the boxing community. That too was his family. He was someone that you could always depend on and someone who always gave so much of himself to others. "Uncle Al", as we knew him, will always be in our hearts as we were always in his.

Rest In Peace, my friend.

Victor & Maria Pei

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Will Zito Video Tribute

Will Zito, a former fighter under Al's tutelage sent us this video and tribute...

For two years Al was my trainer and cut man; but most importantly he was a father figure to me, both in and out of the boxing gym. During this time we became very close and overcame battles both in and out of the ring. Aside from training Al and I spent most of our time together talking about life, boxing and every other topic you can think of. During our talks Al would dig deep with the questions he would ask to find out what really made me tic. He wanted to know who Will Zito the person was, and paid a higher interest in me as a person, than as a fighter.

Like so many others, Al fulfilled a gap in my life that seemed impossible to fill. He became my voice of reason and taught me what being a “Man” really meant. Words cannot say what Al gave to me. What he gave cannot be described; it is a feeling, a reason, self worth and character. Al understood something that most people, and even those who are labeled as “great teachers” fail to see; and that is that success cannot be achieved without belief. He inspired so many by showing them that he believed in them, and therefore they believed in themselves. He knew that all someone needed was just one person to believe in them and that could fuel the attitude and dedication needed to accomplish an entire lifetime of dreams and goals, no matter how big or small.

I know this is true because his belief in me still drives me to this day; and as he helped me, I am now helping others. I know he is still with me and all those who had the honor of knowing him; in my heart, in my thoughts and in my soul I will carry him for a lifetime. He lives in all of us, within the hearts and minds of his children, in every breath of his loving wife, and in every fight with every boxer who ever had, and still has Al in their corner.

Thank you Al for all that you have given me, for all that you have given to all of us.
God Bless you, God Bless your family…

Love “your own” Will Zito

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jimmy Lange Remembers Al Gavin

From top Middleweight Jimmy Lange:

To me, Al Gavin was irreplaceable, as a friend and as a cutman. Al had a calming effect that came from his demeanor in and out of the ring. Nothing was gonna be shown to him that he had not seen. And he knew how to handle it."

We would talk for hours about boxing,life,women,you name it. In my time with him,he unselfishly shared a priceless look into the old time way of boxing,and life for that matter. He showed me that his perfection with cuts,was not born,it was BUILT. Built by someone willing to pass up the shortcuts and honor his trade.Respect for his trade was more important to him than money or fame.

The most important thing about Al was his compassion for his,and all fighters.He was a father to many,and fiercely protective of his men. First and foremost was his guys health. Most would say,"well that is how it should be". However, often many other things are given priority."

Never with Al.

He would refer to me as "kid",as he did with most. As I'm writing this,I can hear his voice as if he"s sitting next to me.

"What'll it be KID?","It's just a scratch KID","Now your doin it KID".
Well,we were all his KID,and we all knew it.

Al was a tough man,in the TOUGHEST sport.But his soft heart,compassion and integrity made him loved and respected by so many.

I miss you everyday Al.



"One of the nights that sticks out in my memories of Al was at a fight in New York city.I forget the venue,but it was in Times Square.I was to meet Al there at about 7:00 pm and shadow him for an evening of boxing.
Well I got there a little early and was told that Al had not arrived,however the mention of his name was credential enough,and I was escorted to the VIP pre fight party.

As I walked into the room,it was a small gathering,75-100 at most,but the vibe was that of a very rough crowd.
This was the kind of group who had been on both sides of the law and were proud of it. No nonsense.

Universaly,fighters are embraced in any situation,so I was comfortable.Still I put into practice the one method that is always appropriate.I kept my mouth shut and waited for Al.

So I became part of the scenery and was entertained by the personalities and conversations circulating the room.I remember how the testosterone coupled with anticipation of the fights,and of course add many different opinions on everything from,boxing to The Yankees and back to boxing,brought some the party goers to a boiling point.I felt as if there might be a couple extra,unscheduled,fights taking place that night.
Sure enough a scuffle broke out.This volitale situation was about to become a disaster.

Now,I'm no dummy,I headed for the door.And as I was leaving,guess who was walkin in?
Al saw me and said "stick with me".
The reaction of the room was priceless.
It was as if The Pope walked in.

All these tough guys forgot there beefs,and became like little kids around Al.
They clamoured the get to him,and show there respect.Very nonchalant,he chatted and made his way to the dressing room with me in tow.He denied countless requests to stay and converse.

I was filled with pride because I knew the only reason He came in there was to find me.

Anyway,as far as I know,the rest of the night went off without a hitch.And I got to watch a master at work."

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