By Lyle Fitzsimmons
If you watched ESPN on Thursday nights in the early 1980s, you knew Randy Gordon.
The Brooklyn native was a signature voice of analysis on the fledgling network’s “Top Rank Boxing” shows, working alongside blow-by-blow man Sal Marchiano on shows that featured future champions, top contenders and cult heroes like Kenny “Bang Bang” Bogner and Terrence Alli.
He was also a stalwart in print magazines – including a stint at The Ring as a colleague of Bert Sugar and lead editorial positions at Boxing Illustrated, World Boxing, International Boxing and Big Book of Boxing – and subsequently spent seven years as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.
“What’s worse these days in boxing journalism is that every fan – regardless of journalistic talent – can be a boxing writer,” he said. “They watch a boxing match or get an idea, head to their computer and then write about it. Some of it is unreadable.
“Of course, the Internet also gives many men and women with writing skills that same opportunity. I wish the Internet was around when I was editor-in-chief of The Ring. It would have made things a whole lot easier.”
Now 64, Gordon is a certified personal trainer at Lifetime Fitness in Syosset, N.Y. and spends his Friday nights behind a microphone while co-piloting a SiriusXM radio show – “Friday Night at the Fights” – with former two-time heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney.
We caught up with him to discuss the show, his career and his picks on a few upcoming big fights.
First of all, what gym have you been working out in? When you were on ESPN, you, well, didn't look like a big-time athlete. Now, you've got some major guns. What changed?
I have always been a pretty fit little guy. I am a certified personal trainer and am employed by Lifetime Fitness, a 150,000-square-foot facility in Syosset, N.Y. I also train at the Westbury Boxing Gym in Westbury, Long Island. I not only have clients whom I train, but I work out myself at least one hour a day, seven days per week. One of the reasons I turned to boxing after high school is that boxing is meant for the little guy as well as the big guy. I always wanted to play pro baseball or pro football, but I fell around a foot short and a hundred pounds light. So I started boxing. I fell in love with boxing and stayed in it, never dreaming I’d wind up living the life every fight fan dreams of.
Speaking of ESPN, you were there in the early days of their fight coverage. When you watch the Friday night broadcasts these days, what do you think? Are they as good as when it the shows began?
ESPN has certainly come a long way since the days of Top Rank Boxing. We did exciting club shows back in the beginning, but rarely a big fight, rarely a title fight. Nowadays, I must DVR the shows every Friday because I am in the SiriusXM studios for “Friday Night at the Fights” and don’t get home until the ESPN show is ending. As I walk in, my fabulous boxing widow, Roni, hands me a cup of coffee, we sit down on the couch together and watch the DVR’d fights on ESPN.
What were some of the memorable moments from the Top Rank days on ESPN? Does any one fight, or one fighter, stand out in your recollections?
Names like Frank Fletcher, Dwight Braxton, Bobby Czyz, Rocky Lockridge, Johnny Bumphus, Terrence Alli, James Broad, Livingstone Bramble, Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss, Billy Collins Jr., Kenny “Bang Bang” Bogner, Tony Ayala and Dick Eklund jump right out at me. I think of Ice World in Totowa, N.J. There was an unforgettable fight in Detroit between John LoCicero and Caveman Lee in 1981. A dual title fight I called with Sal Marchiano – I loved his “…8-9-10, goodnight, sweet prince” call on knockouts – for ESPN in Panama City, Panama, in December 1981, will be featured in my upcoming book, Glove Affair. What a night that was! There will also be an explosive chapter in the book about my days with ESPN and an incident which shaped my career.
How did the radio show with Gerry come to pass? What were you doing when that call came? What other things are you still involved in? Do you enjoy the radio gig as much as you used to enjoy weekly TV stuff?
I was doing an MMA show on SiriusXM when the president of the company, Scott Greenstein, approached me about doing a boxing show. Scott is a huge boxing fan. We talked about me hosting, working alongside a retired fighter. Gerry Cooney’s name came up. We contacted Cooney and he came in to meet Scott. Then we sat down with the president of SiriusXM Sports, Steve Cohen. Steve, like Scott, has an appreciation for boxing. From there, the show was born. Our producer, Ashe Edmund, is an MMA practitioner who is a fantastic, open-minded and creative producer who has come to love boxing the way Gerry and I do. I love working the radio show and have talked to the powers-that-be at SiriusXM about Gerry and I doing a live broadcast from a major fight. I think we all know it would work. It’s just all the other logistics which go into the making up of the show which have to be worked out. I still have a passion for being a ringside TV commentator and love watching my friends Steve Farhood, Al Bernstein, Max Kellerman, Jim Lampley, Col. Bob Sheridan, Harold Lederman, Teddy Atlas and Kenny Rice do their thing. One of my best friends, Arnie “Tokyo” Rosenthal, moved from boxing announcing to singing, and now is a very successful country singer. If you have a passion, go for it. My passion is announcing. I’d love it if, one day, one of the networks do a dual, split telecast from different locations on the same day and need an extra announcer and call me to work it. I’ll be ready in a heartbeat!
Your days with the New York commission make you an authority on the behind-the-scenes items as well, so, if you were deemed world boxing czar tomorrow, what are the top line items on your agenda?
Officiating has always been right behind fighter safety on my list of important items which need regulating. How long can we sit back, watch a boxing match, know who won and then have to hear the decision being given to the wrong fighter? The training these officials go through is minimal. In some states, it’s even non-existent. When I came aboard the New York State Athletic Commission in 1988, I knew there were very few quality referees and judges licensed by my agency. I began training – and hiring – new officials. I watched not one but three of my new judges become known as three of the sport’s very best. Those three are Steve Weisfeld, Julie Lederman and Melvina Lathan, who now is doing such a fine job as chairperson of the commission. I watched Wayne Kelly become one of the best and most respected referees in the world. The same for Ron Lipton. When I gave them an assignment, I knew the night would go smoothly. Unfortunately, I had to sit several veteran officials down for various reasons. Although that ultimately improved the sport in New York, it didn’t make me feel good removing them from a sport they loved so much. I even tried to make some of the referees into judges. In a few cases the move worked. In several, it didn’t. I have always said that a judge holds the livelihood of the fighter in his or her hands. The referee holds the life of the fighter in theirs. All these officials must be trained better. Too many times, officials are assigned solely because they knew somebody to get the job. If they show they can’t do it, then the commission from their home state should sit them down. I did. Other commissions should, yet we consistently see the same incompetent officials over and over.
Saturday's fight in Texas has made open scoring an item of discussion again. What's your view? Cure-all? Mood killer? Something else?
I have said this for years and I’ll say it again: Open scoring should not be used. Going into the championship rounds, I had the fight close. Lots of boxing writers had it close. However, the open scoring which was employed took much of the drama out of the very competitive fight, both for the fighters themselves and for the viewers. Hopefully, Texas does not make a full-time move to use open scoring. There are more negatives to using the system than there are positives.
Ask MMA fans about boxing and some will insist boxing is dead. Ask some boxing fans about MMA and some will insist it's had its moments and is no longer the novelty it was a few years ago. How does the landscape look from your vantage point? Is the world capable of having both thrive at the same time, or will one's prosperity always be at the other's expense?
Twenty years ago, I hated MMA. As chairman of the NYSAC, I addressed the New York State legislature, senate and assembly, and pleaded for them not to sanction it, which they were about to. I called it “A street fight without a beer bottle.” They listened to me and banned it. However, I kept an open mind toward MMA. As rules and regulations were brought in, I began to fall in love with it. On the other hand, my SiriusXM producer, Ashe, loved MMA and didn’t enjoy boxing. Because he kept an open mind, he now enjoys both. Boxing is exciting and so is MMA. They are just two of the many combat sports out there. There is plenty of room for them to co-exist.
Take a look at a handful of other sports – football, hockey and soccer, for example – and concussions and their long-term impacts have become a hot topic. Boxing, by its nature, is a violent enterprise. Can it be made safer without changing its essence, or will it always be what it is? Do you think the athletes are funneling to "safer" games for that reason?
There is no hiding the fact that boxing can cause injuries, some severe and others long term. But with improved equipment, especially training equipment, boxing has become a lot safer. Also, as I pointed out before, officials have to be trained better. Knowing when to stop a fight is crucial to the stricken fighter’s health. Unfortunately, many referees – including many big-name refs – allow a fight to go on too long. Even one more punch may be too long. The amateur side of the sport also slowed down greatly because of over-regulation by the amateur sanctioning bodies. As the amateurs dried up, so did the amount of young men and women turning professional. But now, as the groups which sanction amateur boxing have begun to change, more amateur shows are being held, more fighters are entering and more professionals are on their way.
Are there any fighters today that the next generations will look back on – as we do on the Robinsons and Alis, etc. – as all-time greats?
Of course, Mayweather, and I do think Broner is going to be on that list. And then the Klitschko brothers. I don’t think they’ve gotten enough credit because they’re not extremely popular. Everybody seems to know them here in the States, but nobody would really go out of their way, if you weren’t a big fight fan, to see them. But I do think the Klitschkos are going to be remembered for their work ethic. They’re always in great shape and you’re hard pressed to tell me the last time they’ve lost a fight. Yeah, they’ve lost, but it’s been a long time and many title defenses. And, I think Abner Mares has greatness written all over him as well. There are a lot of outstanding fighters out there, but I think these are the guys you will be talking about.
We all know the Mayweathers and Pacquiaos and Martinezes and Wards, but who is the best fighter out there today that isn't seen on that level, but should be or will be? Who's the best underrated quantity out there?
I saw a kid when I did an announcing gig back in November. I called the Allakhverdiev fight against Joan Guzman, and on the undercard there was a kid, he’s now about 14-0 from Detroit, junior middleweight, somewhere around 23 years old. His name is Domonique Dolton. The kid reminds me a lot of Adrien Broner – very quick hands and feet, upper body movement, rapid jab. I think that would be the guy that I pick that people are going to know about one day. I think that’s the one kid, maybe about a year from now, that you’ll know a lot about.
Can't let you off the hotseat without a couple of predictions. Gimme your calls on the Garcia-Judah fight this weekend in Brooklyn – who wins and how – and also on the main event in Las Vegas come May 4. Mayweather or Guerrero, who and how?
I am gonna go with Zab Judah. Can’t pick against a fellow New Yorker. We’re both from Brooklyn. I think he’s at the top of his game, or at least he was the last time he fought, when he beat Vernon Paris. And he’s in tremendous shape, I am told, this time around as well. I just think you’re gonna see a really finely tuned Zab Judah and I see him taking a decision in this fight – a unanimous decision in an action fight. Mayweather-Guerrero: target practice for Mayweather. I think Guerrero has the style to make it interesting, but because he has the style to make it interesting, he is going to eat a lot of punches. I look for Mayweather to stop him late in the fight. When I say late, round 11 or 12, just batter him and batter him and batter him. At times it will be a contest, but it’s going to be what I call a competitive shutout, where Guerrero makes every round interesting but loses virtually every round.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA/WBC super lightweight titles – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Danny Garcia (WBA/WBA champion) vs. Zab Judah (No. 6 WBA/No. 10 WBCcontender)
Garcia (25-0, 16 KO): Third WBC title defense/second WBA; Second fight in New York
Judah (42-7, 29 KO): Nineteenth title fight (11-7); Held titles at 140 and 147 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “I like Garcia a lot more today than before he beat Amir Khan, but I like Judah – presuming he gives an effort similar to his last one – even more. Score one for the old man.” Judah in 6
WBC middleweight title – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sergio Martinez (champion) vs. Martin Murray (No. 13 contender)
Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KO): First title defense, second reign; Previously held titles at 154 and 160
Murray (25-0-1, 11 KO): Second title fight (0-0-1); Second fight outside United Kingdom
Fitzbitz says: “Unless he gets old overnight, the stylish Martinez has too much for a traveling Englishman with a respectable, but far less threatening resume.” Martinez by decision
WBO middleweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Peter Quillin (champion) vs. Fernando Guerrero (No. 9 contender)
Quillin (28-0, 20 KO): First title defense; Twentieth fight in New York
Guerrero (25-1, 19 KO): First title fight; First fight in New York
Fitzbitz says: “Quillin got hit enough while winning the title to make each defense an adventure, but it says here that he’ll be dressed to impress while back in front of familiar fans.” Quillin by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 2-1
2013 picks record: 17-14 (53.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 480-166 (74.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.