THIS is a boxing love story about a book, yep, that one.
There was nothing more exotic in the Nineties than a copy of the Boxing Record Book from Fight Fax, Inc. Nothing, trust me.
It would arrive each year, weighing about the same as a strawweight contender from Tijuana, and it sat there on the kitchen table, vast and majestic. Its pages full of the tiniest print and the biggest of facts, the most glorious of details.
I have no idea when it was first published and no idea when it stopped publishing; this is not a history lesson, it’s a love lesson. A lesson about appreciating something rare and lovely in our business; each page packed with memories and learning. Nostalgia in the boxing game can be bad, but remembering something forgotten is essential.
We all lost – well, those that cared about the real facts – hours turning the pages and studying the greats and the unknowns. It was not the only record book, it was possibly not even the most popular, but it was the most amazing. The Boxing News Annual, the Ring Record book, Barry Hugman’s books and the monumental British record books by Bob Mee are all brilliant in their own way. And then came the online outfits: Fight Fax, however, was the king.
How is this for a table of contents, spread, by the way, over 772 pages: Phone directory (8-17), Former Champions (28-69), Olympic Gold Medalists (109), Active Fighters Records (113-699), 1994 World Title Fights (713-758), Boxing Hall of Fame (765-769). Everybody had a favourite chapter. I loved the “Important Numbers” pages; I still use some of the numbers now and there are scribbles and new numbers next to some of the names. Others have a belated RIP tag. Angelo Dundee, Dan Goosen, Phil Berger, Eddie Futch and Mickey Duff. All their personal numbers were there for use inside the trade. There was even a number for Enswell. The number for Duff was the phone next to his chair in his Marble Arch flat; call on a Sunday night and it would barely ring once before he picked it up. He probably had a copy of Fight Fax on his lap.
The 1995 edition was a beauty, a work of boxing art.
The former world champions in that 1995 edition had their careers cut down to include the first, the last and their world title fights. So, Ken Buchanan has his dob, his full stats and just seven fights; it’s enough in many ways: Starts with Brian Tonks, ends over eight rounds with George Feeney and has Ismael Laguna twice, Ruben Navarro, Guts Ishimatsu and Roberto Duran. Locations for the fights: England, Puerto Rico, California, New York City and Japan. Those raw and reduced numbers are very, very impressive. Incidentally, above Ken was Panama Al Brown and below him, Johnny Buff. That is fantasy reading.
The active boxer section starts with Bulgaria’s Borislav Abadjiev and ends hundreds and hundreds of pages later with Colombian, Rafael Enrique Zuniga.
The list of world title fights was put together by Bob Yalen, who seems to have been 38 forever. The fights include the only details that matter: the round-by-round scores of the officials, the venue and the records of the boxers. There is, however, the treat section, which is called, ‘Remarks’. Most fights have nothing in the remarks’ box, but those with an entry are wonderful. Mostly, Yalen just records point deductions, which are crucial, low blows etc. There are corrections if a judge got the deductions wrong, mention of tiny or obscure location and then gems like this: “Another WBO scandal as fake fight passed off as a legitimate title fight.” Ouch, take that. It was a mini-flyweight fight that lasted just 90 seconds.
In the very back of the book, opposite a full-page advert for Duff’s fighters, there are the crucial details for receiving records by fax. It was a revolution, trust me. You could open an account, call them and get the record sent to you “within minutes of your call”. This was a priceless game-changer in the early Nineties when there was far less scrutiny of the dubious, incomplete and outright invented records of imported fighters. Steve Lillis (he bought me a copy of Fight Fax as a gift for being his best man) and I would often arrive armed with smudged, freshly faxed records to provoke Duff at his press conferences. Finally, working boxing writers had correct records; the records also has details of suspensions. I still have the faded sheets now. It was no great shock when he finally banned me.
The real magic in the book is hidden in the adverts; full, half and quarter-page. It is a window to a lost, lost world. How about Al Vialardi and his Florida gym. Al ran Gleason’s gym for five years. in 1995, he was in Florida, Fort Lauderdale. “I own and manage a classy gym – no radio, hats or nonsense.” Al looks like a man who will not stand a second of hat nonsense. He also offers a prize, the promise of endless gold. Al is looking for the next champion. This is all in his quarter page advert. “Somewhere out there is a world champion. Disgusted pros – amateurs – service men – send $2.00 for brochures. No reverse charges, don’t try. No hustlers or drifters.” It’s 1995, not 1959. Did Al find his man? No idea, I hope so.
Al and Duff and a zillion other names and faces, facts and claims and promises made this book so very special.