Saturday, July 04, 2009

Vin Vecchione

Vecchione may have been the funniest man I ever met. Before I knew him well, I asked him what he’d done for a living before he got into boxing.

“Chaales, I done some things for some guys.”

Once at a club show in Whitman, Massachusetts where we were both getting first round wins for our fighters, Vinnie approached me and, in the surprisingly formal way he had, drew me aside.

“Jesus, what a fucked up life I live,” he said. “Other guys, they go to a bar or a nightclub and try to pick up girls and have some fun. Me, I spend my time lookin’ for big, well-built white guys.”

He’d call me up in the middle of the night. If the phone rang at 3:00 AM, it was likely to be Vin.

One night, very late:

“Chaales, I just seen a TV special about Huey Long.”

“I know, Vin. Every man a king, but no man wears a crown.”

“You don’t think they’d let a guy like that stick around, do ya? See ya.” The line went dead.

We flew to NYC to meet with Al Braverman to set up the Peter McNeeley fight with Mike Tyson. Over the course of a long, funny, afternoon at Al’s antique shop, we put the whole improbable thing in motion—bribes, kickbacks, and all.

I moved to Puerto Rico before the Tyson-McNeeley fight. A couple of weeks before the fight, there was a message on my answering machine.

“Help,” Vin sang to the tune of the Beatles song. “I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody. Help. I need a friend.”

Before this, I’d lent Vin money, brought McNeeley to North Carolina to get wins, and spent hours and hours and hours laughing at everything Vecchione would say.

“You know me. Wouldn’t you say I’m pretty cute?”

When asked why he pulled McNeeley out of the Tyson fight at the 89 second mark:

“I’m saving the kid for bigger things.”

On driving cars from Massachusetts to the marshes of New Jersey for the wiseguys:

“Chaales, sometimes I had the feeling that maybe I wasn’t the only guy in them cahs.”


“After all, he’s just and Indian.”

This last was Ron Katz’s idiotic reason why Vinnie should accept a suicidal small money fight for Peter McNeeley against the genuinely dangerous Joe Hipp.

It became our code phrase for why one of our fighters should take an impossible fight for no money against a risky opponent.

‘Take the fight. After all, he’s just an Indian.”

People in the boxing business told me that Vecchione was a hustler who would take advantage of me because I was a relative newcomer.

After the Tyson fight, Vin came up to me at one of his shows and tucked an envelope into my jacket pocket. I hadn’t asked for my money back because I knew I wouldn’t have to. What was in the envelope paid for my son’s first year at college.

When McNeeley was fighting on the road with my fighters, Vin would say, “You get up in the ring with him and do the interview.”

“I hate doing interviews. You do it.”

“No, with your big words and your nice suit and your Hahvad education, it’s better if people see Peter standing with you.”

I’d tell him that I’d never graduated junior high school.

“That don’t matter. You know what I’m talkin’ about. Don’t get fresh.”

But he was one of the guys I’ve met along the way who was smarter than I was.

I’d moved out of his orbit and I hadn’t seen him in a few years. I fucking hate it that he’s dead.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Alexis Arguello

Alexis Arguello was inarguably a great fighter. And, based on everything I’ve ever heard about him (and on one brief discussion with him), was an equally wonderful man. As we know, he came to a very bad end. He may have been the kind of guy who commits suicide (he had spoken about contemplating it.) But he may just as well have been murdered. He had many political enemies, and he’d been in the drug life for an extended period of time. Either way, it’s a shame that he’s dead.

But since his death, I’ve read a number of accounts of his career, and each has alluded to his first knockout loss to Aaron Pryor in a way that suggests that there was something tainted about the fight’s outcome. Each article referred to the “little black bottle” from which Pryor drank after the thirteenth round. Pryor knocked out Arguello in the fourteenth.

I’ve been around boxing for a long time, and I’ve never found or heard of an elixir that will give a tired fighter superhuman powers. Believe me, if there was one, I’d have known about it and my fighters would have used it. Aaron Pryor knocked out Alexis Arguello because he was a bigger, stronger, faster, and better fighter.

That doesn’t denigrate Arguello in any way. Aaron Pryor was one of the greatest natural fighters I’ve ever seen. With the exception of Sugar Ray Leonard, he was better than any of his contemporaries. And I’d argue that, at his best, he was Ray’s equal.

So as much as I admire Alexis Arguello, I hate to see part of his legacy being built falsely at the expense of another genuinely great fighter. It not only diminishes Pryor, it doesn’t do Arguello any good either. Alexis doesn’t need any fiction created on his behalf. Anyone who knows anything about boxing knows how good he was.