LINDER'S LOOK: RINGSIDE BEHIND THE SCENES
By Doveed Linder
I’m a very curious person. Talking to people and asking questions is one way I satisfy my curious nature. As I became a boxing fan, going on to become a boxing writer was just a natural thing for me. Being a boxing writer gives you a license to call anyone involved in the sport. That doesn’t mean that they will always take your call, but 98% of the time they do. Since becoming a boxing writer, I have interviewed numerous champions, contenders, journeymen, promoters, officials, trainers... I’ve spent twenty-five minutes on the phone with Don King, thirty minutes with “Sugar” Ray Leonard, fifty minutes with Roy Jones, Jr., two hours with Evander Holyfield, three hours with Emanuel Steward… I once had lunch with Larry Merchant and I interviewed Bob Arum in his living room.
I didn’t grow up around boxing. When I was a kid, I had never met anyone who was involved with the sport. My appreciation started with the ROCKY movies. From there, I would catch a fight or two if something happened to be on HBO. The comeback of George Foreman was something that interested a lot of people, even if you weren’t a big time boxing fan. Mike Tyson was always a major attraction. The Bowe-Holyfield fights reached audiences outside of the mainstream. At some point, I was bit by the bug and I started watching it religiously. But even though I became a huge fan, boxing was still this far away thing that I had no connection to, except through my television.
In 1999, I saw a billboard advertising an upcoming Cory Spinks fight that was to be staged at Harrah’s Casino in St. Charles, Missouri. That’s where I had my first live experience. When I arrived, it was like I was witnessing people who belonged to this secret world. Everyone involved in the event seemed so mysterious to me. At one point in the evening, I walked past a referee and said, “How’s it going?” He responded with a nod, and I kind of smiled to myself. I felt like a sci-fi geek who had just made contact with life on another planet.
When I approach people in boxing for an interview, never do they know who I am. I just tell them my name, give them my credentials as a Boxingtalk writer, and ask them if they would be willing to have a conversation with me. If you are a curious person like me, you will enjoy some of the stories I’m about to share. Below is a list of four boxing people who I have interviewed, with a brief description of the encounter and what I took from the experience. The feeling before I do an interview is similar to a fighter who is about to get in the ring. I’m nervous, which is a good thing. Once it starts, I begin to relax and get into the flow of the conversation. I have a plan going in, but I keep an open mind because you never know what opportunities may be presented. The interviews I did with these people are featured in a series of books I’m writing called RINGSIDE: INTERVIEWS WITH 24 FIGHTERS AND BOXING INSIDERS. The first edition of RINGSIDE is now available on Amazon.com.
LARRY MERCHANT – The interview I did with Merchant took place in 2011, over lunch at restaurant in Santa Monica, California. It was arranged by his son in law, who I had met by chance. I arrived twenty minutes early and waited near the entrance. When Merchant walked in, I said, “Hey, Larry!” He looked over and I said, “I’m the guy you’re having lunch with.” While I always wanted to meet Merchant, I had concerns that he might be a judgmental person. He could be very critical with his commentary, sometimes hyper-critical, and this undiplomatic approach to calling fights made me feel like I had to really bring my A game. However, it wasn’t long before I started to feel very comfortable around him. His opinionated ways were just part of his charm. He never meant ill will towards anyone - he just spoke his mind like no one else. The lunch lasted ninety minutes and he willingly answered about six pages of questions. Toward the end of the interview, I mentioned that I was from St. Louis where we have notable pros like Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander. Merchant said, “Those are both southpaw stinkers.” As we walked out of the restaurant and said our goodbyes, the conversation was still going strong. For lunch that day, Merchant ordered the vegetarian sandwich with coleslaw, and specifically asked them to hold the steamed vegetables that came on the side. When the waiter brought the sandwich with the steamed vegetables anyway, he promptly sent it back and asked for the vegetables to be removed.
EVANDER HOLYFIELD – The interview I did with Holyfield took place this year, seven years removed from his retirement. I sent the interview request via text. Five hours later, I received a text back that consisted of a picture featuring a quote from the Bible. I showed it to some of my friends, wondering what it meant and how I should respond. They said, “Call him! Call him!” I called Holyfield and he answered after one ring. Of everyone who I’ve spoken with in boxing, Holyfield was one of the easiest to interview. He loves to talk, but not in a selfish way. He’s an excellent storyteller and he’s a very conversational person in general. I never had to ask him to elaborate on anything. When I brought up a topic, he always gave a very complete commentary. Eighty minutes into the interview, I had to excuse myself, but I asked if I could call him back in hour. He said he had to eat dinner, but that he would move his dinner plans forward so that he could take the call. When I called him back, we talked for another forty minutes and I was able to get through seven pages of questions. Evander Holyfield is the definition of the people’s champion. He has always been one of my all time favorite fighters, and he couldn’t have been more kind.
EMANUEL STEWARD – My three hours on the phone with Emanuel Steward came from a series of calls that took place within a month. It was summer 2012, just a few months before he passed away. No matter what Steward was doing, he would always pick up the phone. One time I called and he said, “I’m in the ring with Wladimir (Klitschko). I can’t talk right now.” Most people would have rightfully ignored the call, but Steward was very considerate and accommodating. I always got the sense that he was trying to juggle a lot of things at once. Every time I spoke with him, I could tell that he was feeling the weight of his various responsibilities. At one point during one of our phone calls, I told him that I didn’t want to be a burden. He told me that I was, in fact, a burden, but that we could keep doing the interviews until we covered everything that I wanted to cover. The best way to interview Steward was to just let him talk. Once he started talking, he would go on a tangent that could last twenty minutes without my saying a word. I would look down at my notes and see that the next three questions had already been answered. Like other trainers I have interviewed, Steward had this ability of making the people he talked to feel important. He often called me by name, and his words took a very personal tone.
ROY JONES, JR. – There was a time when an unknown writer like me would never be able to get through to Roy Jones, Jr. But when I interviewed Jones in 2011, he was far removed from his pound-for-pound days. He had been brutally knocked out by Denis Lebedev in his previous fight and he was in training for Max Alexander. I sent him a text on a Tuesday, requesting the interview. He responded in less than a minute with a message that said, “Hit me Friday.” I called Jones that Friday and he started things very abruptly, saying, “Okay. Go ahead.” As we began, I got the sense that Jones was disenchanted with the interview. His responses to my questions were very short and curt. I thought the interview might be a bust, but when I asked him about his fighting roosters, he sounded off like a machine gun. From there, we settled in and it turned out to be a good interview. I never felt like he was rushing me. He did seem a little testy at times, but I had seen that from him on television before, so I didn’t take it personally. For the most part, he was a nice guy. He could be a little cocky, but not in a bad way. That’s what makes him Roy Jones, Jr.
Doveed Linder is the author of RINGSIDE: INTERVIEWS WITH 24 FIGHTERS AND BOXING INSIDERS, a collection of in depth interviews with various fighters, trainers, corner men, promoters, and officials, including “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Jr., Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward, Larry Merchant, Bob Arum, Steve Smoger, and Jackie Kallen. The foreword was written by Boxingtalk publisher Greg Leon. This book is now available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Ringside-Interviews-Fighters-Boxing-Insiders/dp/1476664412
Ringside: Interviews With 24 Fighters and Boxing Insiders ...
: Ringside: Interviews With 24 Fighters and Boxing Insiders (9781476664415): Doveed Linder, Foreword by Greg Leon: Books
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