By Chris Robinson
I was deeply saddened on Sunday afternoon when I found out that world renowned boxing historian and friend Bert Sugar had passed at age 75.
Surrounded by close friends and family at Northern Westchester Medical Center near his home of Chappaqua, New York, Sugar, who had been battling with lung cancer, was said to have died from cardiac arrest, as reported by CBS New York.
Known to the masses for his sharp sense of humor and trademark cigars and fedoras, Sugar had a wealth of boxing knowledge and a passion for the sport that was unrivaled. During his time covering boxing, Sugar wrote over 80 books, served as the editor to the Ring Magazine, won the Boxing Writer’s Association of America ‘Nate Fleischer Award’ in 1990, and was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.
Upon hearing the news of Sugar’s passing, those involved in the sport have been offering their condolences in droves to the man who simply was hard not to like. Slapstick humor and insight aside, Sugar truly was a great guy to know and interact with.
It was May of 2001 when I first crossed paths with Sugar inside of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, as I was in town to cover my first major fight, the Felix Trinidad-William Joppy middleweight title bout at Madison Square Garden. Just beginning to get my feet wet in the sport as a writer, it seemed surreal to see Sugar and other boxing luminaries on the scene at the time.
Years later and just months after I had relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, I again spoke with Sugar, this time inside of the Mandalay Bay shortly after the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. rematch had wrapped up on April 3rd, 2010.
At the time there was no topic hotter in the sport than a possible fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao and Sugar vented to me about his frustrations towards Mayweather, who he felt was trying to demand too much to make the fight a reality.
“Right now I question whether he really wants to [fight Pacquiao],” Sugar said of Mayweather as he took his cigar out of his mouth while walking to the media center. “He threw out bullsh*t proposals and said that he was the equivalent of Martin Luther King because he boldly dares. When did he become the government? When I was a kid the line was ‘Who died and made you king?’”
Despite appearing to be perturbed at the time because of his disdain towards Floyd, Sugar was kind enough to give me his number for future reference and I was sure not to let those ten digits go to waste, as I kept in touch with him on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis thereafter in order to talk boxing.
I loved the idea that I was able to now reach out to such an iconic figure and with his name not in the headlines as often, I made a point to keep tabs with him about the revolving storylines taking place in boxing.
I found Sugar to always be candid as he waxed poetic on such names as Mayweather, Sergio Martinez, Nonito Donaire, Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, and several others over the months. And outside of boxing, Sugar was just as jovial and also kind enough to invest time in getting to know who I was outside of my profession while never acting as if my time wasn’t important to him.
Late last year I began to correspond with Sugar about boxing a bit less when I found out that his health was becoming a concern but still made a point to check in with him to see how he was coping.
On Friday afternoon I gave Sugar a call and found him to be in pretty good spirits despite the fact that he had just recently spent 21 days in the hospital.
“I had everything from cancer, to internal bleeding, to pneumonia. They were probably looking for terminal acne, I don’t know what they were looking for,” Sugar would quip.
Feeling concerned, I asked Sugar if he was feeling any better.
“I feel better every day but I’m still taking scans, and tests, and bullsh*t,” stated Sugar. “And I’m writing, I’m writing a book, I just got two articles accepted by magazines.”
Still upbeat to the point where he felt like talking boxing, Sugar and I previewed the HBO-televised Erik Morales-Danny Garcia bout from Houston, Texas and its many subplots.
Little did I know that it would be the last time I would have Sugar on the phone and some of his final words seem almost haunting to me.
“It’s always nice to hear from you after all this time,” said the always-affable Sugar. “Tell all my fans I’m coming back. It’s a slow take but I’m coming back.”
Less than 48 hours later and I was floored when reading about Sugar’s death. There was really nothing not to like about him and I always appreciated just how deep his passion for boxing ran and how decent of a person he was.
I always asked Sugar when he was coming back to Vegas for the fights, as I was open to the idea of taking him around the city to various gyms to see him interact with the new crop of fighters emerging in the area, but he seemed unsure. All he could promise me was that he would buy me a drink when he came back out.
I wish I had been able to soak up more knowledge from him or had more discussions about the everyday world with Sugar but such is the way of life. Our days are never promised and all we can do is appreciate Sugar for everything he meant.
I’m happy to have called Bert Sugar a friend and I hope that he's looking over us and that he'll still be enjoying the fights.
Bonus quotes from Sugar
During the two years I kept in touch with Sugar, I enjoyed interviewing him a great deal and did the best I could to keep up with an ongoing column going featuring his take on the fighters, fights, and events taking place in boxing.
Below are some of Sugar’s excerpts from our many talks.
“It was a great virtuoso performance by Pacquiao. It was a one-sided ass whooping was what it was. 40,000 people make more noise than 23,000 to begin with. And it was an excited and an excitable crowd who applauded and cheered everything that Pacquiao did. And if you had any friends in Manila there was no need to call them because they were all there at the fight.” – Sugar’s ringside reflections from Pacquiao’s November 2010 thrashing of Antonio Margarito
“The reason I say that is Americans are still caught up in their mental underwear, an obsession almost, with the heavyweights. It goes back to John L. Sullivan. They want to see heavyweights because they hit harder. Americans love bigger things. They love bigger banks accounts, bigger cars, bigger chested woman and bigger fighters.” – Sugar on the state of boxing today
"Oh I think it was shocking. You could hear it in the voices of the announcing team. He shocked everybody in that sixth round. I had never heard, as Manny Steward screamed into the microphone, say 'Oh my God!' when Berto hurt him and he came back with that left and he knocked down Berto." – Sugar weighing in on the wild sixth round of Victor Ortiz’s April 2011 upset over Andre Berto
“He couldn’t fight and Mora wouldn’t fight. It was a two-fall proposition. One couldn’t get off and the other wouldn’t let him. It was just a dreadful fight and the decision was even worse. Mosley won but the judges must have fallen asleep. I know I did. Somebody in the row in front of me told me to stop snoring because I was keeping him awake.” – Sugar’s take on the dreadful bout between Shane Mosley and Sergio Mora in September of 2010
“The whole situation would take me over twenty hours to discuss. Texas probably cited the second amendment about allowing the right to bear arms. It’s not hard to get a license to do anything in Texas so that was a gimme. Jerry Jones wants the fight down at the Cowboys Stadium and it will happen. I knew it would happen no matter what California or Nevada said.” – Sugar on the licensing issues surrounding Antonio Margarito prior to his bout with Pacquiao
“Khan seems to be talented when he doesn’t get hit. But when he got hit he got knocked out in half a minute I think. He’s a talented fighter. I think it’s a good test for Khan and if he doesn’t get hit he’s the goods. But he might be this generation’s version of Floyd Patterson. Tap him on the jaw and he goes tap tap on the canvas.” – Sugar giving his opinion of Amir Khan prior to his December 2010 bout with Marcos Maidana
“Hopkins has surprised us more times than Freddy from Elm Street. He keeps popping up and surfacing in fights that nobody thought he would ever win. Kelly Pavlik, De La Hoya, and on and on. Who knows what Hopkins can do or when the sand will go to the bottom of his hourglass?” – Sugar, speaking in October of 2010 about the great Bernard Hopkins
“I’m a big fan of his. What he did in his fights with Vazquez, those were thrilling fights. Each of the Marquez brothers gives you a thrilling fight each time out. I hesitate to say he has reached the end of the line, as witnessed by Bernard Hopkins coming back and back and back and back. I just don’t know where the end of the line is anymore. I think they keep erasing the line in the sand and taking it further.” – Bert Sugar reflecting on the career of two-division champion Rafael Marquez
“Las Vegas is suffering as a city, period. The gambling handle is down, and as far as the rooms, I think they pay you to stay there now. It’s suffering and Manny Pacquiao was always a big, big favorite there. Not only for the Filipino fans that he brought but by the excitement he brought. Watching him decimate Oscar De La Hoya. Watching knock out, with one punch, Ricky Hatton. One of the of greatest one-punch knockouts since Marciano-Walcott. I gotta tell you he has brought excitement to the ring and excitement to Las Vegas. And yes, they have missed him in Las Vegas.” - Sugar’s take on Manny Pacquiao’s two fights in Dallas, Texas in 2010 and how it impacted the city of Las Vegas, where the Filipino icon’s six previous events were held
“Martinez is one heck of a fighter. He’s the most unorthodox fighter I have seen since Prince Naseem. And he has power to boot. He took Pavlik apart. Martinez looks like he took a four-way cold tablet and he’s running three more ways to catch up with it. I don’t know where he is in the ring and that’s what makes him exciting, interesting and fun to watch.” – Sugar on middleweight champion Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez
“He’s fought so often and in so many great fights that they all start merging together. I just knew when I saw this very gaunt, very thin man who had a face almost like a Mayan Indian, he just didn’t look like a fighter. He looked fragile. But if anything he was one of the most powerful punches I had ever seen.” – Sugar on the legendary Erik ‘El Terrible’ Morales
"You almost need a scorecard to figure out who's with whom. But again, the battle of the promoters is becoming as interesting as the battle inside the ring, isn't it? - Sugar’s take on the promotional feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions
“He was one of the best pro prospects coming out of the Olympics. Although he didn’t win and let it be known that many great fighters didn’t win. [Bob Arum’s] stepson Todd duBoef picked him out of a class of potentials and he had potential greatness. I thought this was a brawler. This was a steady, well-built brawler who came to fight. He’s the kind of fighter you really respect and look for in boxing. He’s the kind of fighter we need. He gives us that same almost unidentifiable intangible that made Arturo Gatti such a favorite. He’s a better fighter than Gatti and at the same token he comes back and keeps fighting. And you’ve got to like that as a fight fan.” – Sugar showing respect to Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto
"He's a never-ending slammer. 'Bam Bam' is the right name for him. He took punches and he blinked, but that was all he did. He kept coming. At any given moment in time we saw, basically, what he was made of. And that was just one gear. Bang, bang, bang and he knocked him out with two right hands when everybody was looking for the left hand." – Sugar on Brandon Rios’ title-winning effort vs. Miguel Acosta in February of 2011
“But Marquez is a warrior and I don't think he will step back from anybody. And he gave us two great fights against Pacquiao. I thought he won both of them, to be honest. Particularly the first one where he was knocked down three times in the first round to fight a draw. That means he won, not only a majority, but an overwhelming majority in the last rounds, the final rounds. And the second fight, if it hadn't been for one knockdown of Marquez by Pacquiao, Marquez probably would have won on all cards but he lost. I don't know that he did, but whatever it is. This is one warrior; one future hall of famer." – Sugar on Mexico City’s Juan Manuel Marquez
"They could have banned him for life and it wouldn't have bothered me. It says something about the commission. Who puts a man in the dressing room and it takes the opposite trainer, Naazim Richardson, to see it? What was the commissioner doing? Sleeping? Counting bricks on the wall? What was he doing?" – Sugar’s reaction to Margarito being caught with tampered hand wraps prior to his January 2010 bout with Shane Mosley
“After the Klitschko-Haye fight I need any excitement. I mean, talking to you is more exciting than that fight. I got to tell you, my foot went to sleep in the seventh round and I think I followed suit in the eighth. I don’t know what the hell was going on.” – Sugar feeling out of sorts after the lackluster heavyweight title fight between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye last July
“It was both. It was a legal sucker punch. There was nothing wrong with. Here’s something that nobody who may have seen this fight is alive to tell about it. In 1908 Staley Ketchel defended his title against Billy Papke, and as the custom but not the rule, Ketchel held out his hands to touch gloves at which point Papke hit him in the Adam’s apple, blinded him and he won the fight. Not illegal but sure as hell not ethically or morally a good moment for boxing or for anything.” – Sugar’s take on Mayweather’s victory over Ortiz
“I think the referee stole the fight. I’ve never heard of a point being taken away for pushing before. And this was two of them. And that was the decision. Peterson, a good performance, best he ever had, but I don’t think it puts him in that echelon where we can give him a fight against Pacquiao for crying out loud.” – S ugar reacting to Lamont Peterson’s upset over Amir Khan this past December
“I’d love to see a Manny and Floyd [Mayweather] fight. When it was about to be made twice over it was the most anticipated fight since Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, it just never happened. But I do think it is one of the fights I would like to look forward to. The question now becomes where does he go? What does Pacquiao do? Where is Floyd? These are all questions in the boxing fans eyes. Somehow, someway, somewhere if that fight isn’t made, boxing loses.” – Sugar speaking passionately in November 2010 about a possible fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather