By: Ken Hissner
This was to be one of my most enjoyable interviews thanks to Joe Pasquale referring me to Bobby Goodman. The last time we met I was sitting in Cherry Hill, NJ, in 1973 at the home of Muhammad and Belinda Ali and in walks Bobby Goodman. The only difference in our entry was I came in as a fan and he as a friend of the Ali’s! It took two meetings because he had so much to offer. Jack “KO” Obermayer joined me on the second trip to May’s Landing, NJ.
Goodman would show KO and I pictures of him with Frank Sinatra, he and his father Murray with Rocky Marciano. Some of the others when I referred to them not in good terms he reprimanded me as he should have. I even passed Dale Carnegie’s Sales Course and should have known better. The 3’s don’t Condemn, Criticize or Complain! That’s tougher than keeping the 10 Commandments! But it was a picture of Larry Holmes!
“Well I won’t kick the shit out of you, because I like you. You too are a boxing junkie. That’s important to me. The people who love the sport they’re almost willing to do anything for it. There aren’t too many people I really dislike. I try and focus in on the one’s I like. I only have so much time left in my life, so I don’t want to waste it with people I don’t care for,” said Goodman.
“As a kid I was in camp with Joe Louis at Pompton Lake, “Sugar” Ray Robinson at Greewood Lake’s Long Pond Inn (New York), Marcel Cerdan and Kid Gavilan at The Evans in Catskill’s, and Rocky Marciano at Grossinger’s, among others. When I would go to the camp I would stay for weeks if I didn’t have school. I was also in camp with Ali, Norton, Frazier, Duran and the great (now late) light heavyweight champion Bob Foster. To have spanned the generations of boxers from the forties, to today was special indeed. To have lived with them and known them so well, was rare when you talk about Joe Louis, Cerdan (possibly greatest French boxer of all-time) and Robinson from that era,” said Goodman. He said when he heard of Cerdan’s death in a plane crash on his return to fight Jake LaMotta, “I cried”, said Goodman. He also took Marciano’s death hard (also died in airplane).
We talked about the show in Pittsburgh when Larry Holmes defended against Renaldo Snipes and what a character Tex Cobb was who was one of eight heavyweights on the card. “Snipes really gave Holmes a scare that night,” said Goodman.
I referred to the fight at MSG Goodman did between Kevin Kelley and Troy Dorsey which was one of the best fights I could remember. “It was a great fight with both of them throwing a record number of punches,” said Goodman. In talking to Dorsey he said “He (Goodman) always treated me very good. I’m just not sure which fight the judges were watching,” said Dorsey.
In June of 2009 Goodman finally “caught up” with his father Murray when he was inducted into the IBHOF. They had been inducted earlier in 1990 together into the NJHOF! The pair also won the prestigious James J. Walker Memorial Award for “long and meritorious service” in 1970 and 1980 respectively. He was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 with his close friend Angelo Dundee.
“Yes there are many stories of which some I can’t tell. I spent plenty of time with Tex Cobb who was one of the funniest guys I ever knew. The first fight I got paid for working was at the old Municipal Stadium, in Philly in the summer of 1952 when they put undefeated young Gil Turner in with the slick “Kid” Gavilan. Gavilan (this writer’s second favorite of all time) flashed his famous bolo punch, which was very showy but not devastating,” said Goodman. It was interesting but a little too early for Turner.
“There were some great fights in California in those days. Ernie “Indian” Red” (brother of Danny Lopez) Lopez was in many of them. I remember we did one of the greatest I ever saw with Bobby Chacon and “Bazooka” Limon for the WBC title in Sacramento in 1982. We promoted the show and it was one of the best I ever saw with Chacon winning the decision. The sellout crowd went wild. I was with Don King in those days, said Goodman.
We had Julio Cesar Chavez on the undercard fighting a kid named Jerry Lewis (Oct and Dec of 1982) and beat him handily. Chavez was a young kid then and not too many people knew of him including King. We were bringing him along slowly but knew we had something special,” said Goodman.
“After being with Don King for so many years I can only speak highly of him. In all the years I knew him he never broke his word to me,” said Goodman. He left King in 1977 for a year to do the Ali-Norton III fight in Yankee Stadium. He was informed by King’s secretary that King was so depressed without Goodman being there on a day to day basis he almost “cut his hair”!
“I made a few of Randy Neumann’s fights. He was a good boxer and a great guy. In Chuck Wepner’s fight with Liston it was the first time I saw Liston show compassion for a fighter. He refused to throw any more head punches until the fight was stopped in Jersey City. (57 stitches to Wepner),” said Goodman.
Goodman and his dad represented light heavyweight contender Bob Foster who wanted to quit in 1967. His manager was Morris “Mushky” Salow and “we told Foster if we didn’t get him a title fight in a year he could retire. In 1968 we got him a title fight with Dick Tiger with a $100,000 purse guarantee for Tiger against a share of the gate. The Garden didn’t actively promote the fight so we had to we had to hustle to make a few dollars. It all worked out as Foster stopped Tiger in the 4th,” said Goodman.
“After the Ahumada fight (June of 1974) that ended in a draw Foster kept his crown but was not the same having some physical problems. He was a great guy and one of the hardest punchers I ever saw. He could set you up with that great jab which he worked off with power. It was like walking into a right hand they used to say to me,” said Goodman.
“Ken Norton’s management asked us to help him when we put him on the undercard of Ali-Foster card (Nov/1972). We met with him and his manager Bob Biron and he said it was time to start moving Ken in the right direction. That too was when some discussions started to match him with Ali. Ken didn’t have a vast amateur background. He played football in the Marines. They used him to work with others for experience, like Joe Frazier,” said Goodman.
Norton was 27-1 (22) at that time only losing to Jose Luis Garcia, from VZ, in 1970 in his 17th fight by KO. It was in November with Ali stopping Foster in 8 and Norton stopping Henry Clark in 9. Ali was brought right back in February defeating Joe Bugner in their first fight over 12 rounds. It didn’t seem right but Ali fought Norton the following month less than 7 weeks later in Norton’s hometown of San Diego. What round Ali’s jaw was broken is unknown but Norton took a 12 round split decision for the NABF title. (This writer first met Ali who was living in Cherry Hill, NJ, at the time. He was always surrounded by a crowd and this was no exception in center city Philadelphia. He was one of a kind)
“I actually worked on and was at almost all of Ken’s fights (starting with Clark). He was a guy who always did a lot of thinking about fights and his opponents. If he was confident going into a fight it was going to be very tough to beat him. That’s why he always was for Ali.
I’m not sure if Ali ever beat him (3 fights). He fought one of his greatest fights against Larry Holmes (June of 1978 losing SD). He was a fun loving guy and I miss him,” said Goodman. Norton would never get a rematch with Holmes for his WBC title. Bobby said neither wanted one due to the toughness of their first fight. He earned the title shot by defeating cagey Jimmy Young from Philly by Split decision over 15 rounds (November 1977).
“I was with him for about 20 fights and that included many months in various training camps. We laughed, cried, ate and lived together. It was a special relationship. I loved Ali too but we were close in a different way even though I spent as much time in his training camps. Ali had 20 or more guys around him all of the time. I enjoyed the time that I spent with just him. It was hard when the two of them fought because I cared for both of them. It was also hard whenever I was with Joe Frazier and he had to fight Ali too,” said Goodman.
Goodman worked the Ali-Frazier II fight (January 1974) in Madison Square Garden. “There wasn’t a racist bone in Ali’s body. Once I entered the kitchen and Ali was alone which was unusual. He saw me and gave me a hug telling me Elijah Muhammad had died and had said whites can be Muslims, too,” said Goodman.
Another story Goodman told was he showed up at the Deer Lake Camp with whom he told Ali “this is my best friend Bill (Perine)”. Ali told his camp followers he didn’t want them to come along and took Goodman and Bill for a bus ride to an ice cream place. He asked Bill if he ever drove a bus before and Bill said he didn’t. So Ali had Bill drive them back to the camp and Ali elbowed Goodman and said “did your friend have a good time?”
“In a Las Vegas ballroom to watch Ali work out they would charge $1.00 and donate the money to a local charity. One time this phony came in a wheelchair and I told Angelo (Dundee) about him. Suddenly the man followed Ali to his dressing room. We went back and out come’s the man in his wheelchair with a check in his hand. They questioned why Ali did this knowing he was a phony and he said “he was trying so hard,” said Ali.
Cuban Louis Sarria was Ali’s personal conditioner and masseur. “Louis would rub an ointment over the body of Ali and ask if he did his workouts and if Ali didn’t Louis insisted he did,” said Goodman. Sarria couldn’t speak English so Dundee gave him 3 words to say whenever they went out to eat were apple pie, coffee. After a while Sarria got tired of eating the same thing and was able to get across to Dundee he would like to have meat next time. “Angelo (Dundee) taught Louis to say Ham and cheese. So the first time he said that the waiter asked rye or white? So Louis said apple pie, coffee,” said Goodman.
When Goodman took over Madison Square Boxing in 1985 he developed many good fighters like James “Buddy” Mc Girt (IBF light welter and WBC welter champ), Kevin Kelley (WBC feather champ), Aaron “Superman” Davis (welterweight champion), Tracy Harris Patterson (WBC super bantamweight and IBF super featherweight champ), Junior Jones (WBA bantam and WBO super bantam), Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson (IBF featherweight champion), Lonnie Bradley (WBO middle champ), Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart, Michael “The Silk” Olajide, Glenwood “The Beast” Brown, and many others.
“The sounds and special sights of the sport are interesting. I could be outside the gym and hear a speed bag and knew it was Willie Pep. He had a rhythm of his own on the bag,” said Goodman. I mentioned seeing Duran skip rope at Frazier’s Gym when he was in Philly defending his lightweight title and how good he was and asked if he ever saw “Sugar” Ray Robinson skip rope. “Duran was the natural best and “Sugar” Ray Robinson had a routine to go with his rope skipping,” said Goodman.
Goodman spent time at the University of Miami waiting for a soccer scholarship that never came. He then joined the US Coast Guard and served from 1958 to 1962 He spent about a year and a half on the destroyer type “Spencer” based out of Staten Island. He and three of his buddies joined together and he got one of them transferred to his ship. His girlfriend fixed me up on a blind date with her best friend who would become my wife. “Upon being discharged in 1962 I worked for Harry Wismer who owned the New York Titans as a publicist. I also opened a bar in Richfield, NJ, called Goody’s. We lived in Toms River, NJ, for 30 years and raised our kids there,” said Goodman.
“I took Bob Foster to South Africa for a rematch with Pierre Fourie (Foster won again) in 1973 and was concerned it being the first black and white bout there. There were 25 thousand (blacks) people waiting for us at the airport. One of the officials proclaimed “Foster is an honorary white”. “Bob did a commercial for Keg beer (from South Africa) and after about the 12th take and that many beers he was so buzzed he was laughing,” said Goodman. He referred to Lou Viscusi who managed lightweight champ Joe Brown, Willie Pep, Cleveland Williams and Bob Foster as the “greatest manager of all time.”
“In 1972 Foster defended his title against Vicente Rondon in Miami Beach. Just as we got to the weigh-in I heard “Rondon 175!” I told them we didn’t see Rondon on the scale,” said Goodman. Foster was so mad he said “I don’t give a shit what he weighed. I’m going to knock him the f*** out”! Foster stopped Rondon having him down 2 times in 2 rounds and out.
When asked the best heavyweight championship fights he ever witnessed Goodman said “Ali-Frazier III, Norton-Holmes and both Louis-Walcott fights.” Goodman said “everyone loved Joe Louis”.
In 1984 King brought Billy Costello to Beaumont, Texas, to fight Bruce Curry for the WBC light welter title. It was all set up to have Curry defend against local Ronnie Shields, but because he would have to give King an extension, Shields’ manager Willie Savannah, decided just to pass, rather than to fight for the world crown in his home town. Costello went on to defeat Curry, and even a smart manager like Savannah would have to take his boxer, Ronnie Shields to Costello’s little high school gym that CBS loved, to fight for the crown. It was a bad strategy, and Shields lost his title bid.
“I remember seeing Sonny Liston beating Chuck Wepner (57 stitches) at the Armory in Jersey City and for the only time he ever showed compassion and by then going to the body,” said Goodman. Worst decision Goodman ever saw? “Ernie Terrell losing to Chuck Wepner by decision of referee Harold Valan who was the sole official,” said Goodman. I told him the Tyrone Everett fight in Philly losing to Alfredo Escalera was the worst I ever saw. “It was the one that got me the most upset (Terrell-Wepner) and was an embarrassment for the game,” said Goodman.
“I was fortunate to have been involved in the promotion of two of the greatest heavyweight championships of all time. The first was the third meeting of Ali and Frazier in Manila. It was a tremendous battle with changing tides and Ali finally winning it, as Eddie Futch stopped the fight. It’s rare that two great fighters gave so much of themselves,” said Goodman.
“The other great championship fight was the battle for 15 rounds with Larry Holmes and Ken Norton (June of 1978 in Vegas). They battled toe to toe non-stop for the entire fight with the edge seemed to shift round by round. Holmes won the hard earned split decision to become the WBC world champion. Another Don King classic fight and the first of many for Holmes,” said Goodman.
“Bob Foster was sparring with Sylvester Dullaire when suddenly Dullaire teed off on Foster. After the round Bob told me “I’m going to teach the mother f*****” a lesson. He waited 2 rounds and hit Dullaire on top of his head and he was out. Later Dullaire complained of headaches so I took him to the hospital and it showed he had a hairline fractured skull,” said Goodman.
Goodman is a member of the Korean War Veterans Association, the American Legion and the Honor Guard. In his den there are pictures with Frank Sinatra, Rocky Marciano, Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali and a portrait by Leroy Neiman of Goodman. He and his wife Kathy, an Irish lass were great hosts.
“It’s just a different game today. Nobody’s word means shit and even half of their contracts are no good. Not like the days you could make a match with a handshake or a phone call. I will always love the sport though. The business however sucks,” said Goodman.
“I guess I’ve just been around too long. I remember kids like Johnny Bos, Don Majewski and even Jack (Obermayer) from early on. I was always a New Yorker and at one time in my life, there was boxing six nights a week. I think seven nights for a little bit. Jack spent more time in Philadelphia. Since I actually grew up in the business, at the age of 12 or 13, I was like a veteran already at least I was around all the boxing guys so long I was like a part of the scenery. That’s when I learned to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth closed. It’s all worked out pretty good. Jack’s a decent guy who has loved our sport and that’s good enough,” said Goodman.
I reached out to as many people as Bobby mentioned for their comments. Below are some of them.
HAROLD LEDERMAN: Now HBO judge: Bobby Goodman was by far the outstanding matchmaker of his time. His work at Madison Square Garden and Don King Productions was the best in the entire world. Bobby made all the great fights, and he was very well liked by fans, fighters, managers and promoters. Everybody wanted to fight at the Garden when Bobby was running Madison Square Garden Boxing. He was responsible for putting hundreds of world title fights together, and it goes without saying he was the number one guy concerning the growth of Boxing. I was so proud, and still am, to call him my friend.
BRUCE TRAMPLER: IBHOF Matchmaker of Top Rank: Bobby is a terrific all-around boxing guy, son of a great publicist Murray Goodman. Both are Hall of Famer’s. Bobby was the force behind both Madison Square Garden AND Don King Promotions. A class act and a man I’m proud to call friend.
RANDY NEUMANN: NJ HOF boxer, also a current world wide referee said “He’s a very knowledgeable boxing guy and a straight shooter. His father, Murray was as well”.
JEFF JOWETT: writer for Seconds Out. Bobby is a real triumph of the human spirit; a good guy in a thoroughly rotten and degraded game. His father, Murray, was an icon, Hall of Famer, and also a really good guy. Murray had the good fortune to be around when boxing still had champions. Bobby had to spend most of his career under the cloud of phony split title holders but still managed to put on good fights that gave the fans more than their money’s worth. Imagine running WEEKLY shows, which he did for years at MSG….a virtual impossibility today. And they were always full cards, competitive contests, no stiffs or set-ups and so exciting that they were frequently augmented by dramatic riots!
JOE PASQUALE: NJ HOF judge and world boxing judge. Bobby Goodman has a lifetime in Boxing and had a unique history with Madison Square Garden. His father, Murray, was the Publicity Agent for the arena in the 1940’s and 1950’s. After what is considered the best of the modern era for the sport, Bobby ran boxing at the Garden. This is when the arena acted as its own promoter and had some of the best names in boxing.
TRACY PATTERSON: WBC Super Bantam and IBF Super Feather champ: Bobby was fun to work with. He was real approachable and cared a lot about his guys. I miss him and hope he’s doing all right.
My first ringside exposure to championship boxing was as a fan to the Duran/Palomino-Holmes/Weaver fights at the Garden in the late 70’s. Many years later at a golf course in Atlantic City, I was to find out. That fight card and many other great promotions over the decades were the good work of Bobby Goodman.
Andy by the end of that day in Atlantic City, I appreciated that he is also professor’ in the sport of golf.
BUDDY MC GIRT former world champion: Bobby Goodman is a great guy. Boxing needs more people just like him.
“Not too many are lucky enough to have been in and around boxing for over sixty-five years and working in it for most of that time. To have experienced so many things and through so many eras of our sport is truly amazing. I’m blessed in my life. I’ve done what I wanted to do, have a wonderful and supportive family with four daughters and their husbands and nine grandchildren, not to mention my terrific wife of almost 52 years. I’m a lucky fella,” said Goodman.
Note: This was one of the most interesting interviews in my 10 years of writing.