I’ve made a decision.
In my first act as President -- or at least imperial grand pooh-bah of all things boxing -- I’m making next Monday, Sept. 16, a national holiday.
But not for the reasons you might automatically assume.
First off, it’s not simply another excuse to skip work and enjoy the official final gasps of summer here in Southwest Florida, though it’ll still be in the 90s most days into October.
Neither is it a long weekend recovery period from the chaos of the day job – as Math book-bearing ringmaster of a fourth-grade circus at a local elementary school.
Rather, it’s to take a moment to look back at how substantial -- both by fate and absolute coincidence -- this date has been in getting me to where I am today… firmly cemented in my position as one of your 100 favorite Tuesday morning boxing columnists.
Ah, yes… it’s a heady life I lead here in Cape Coral.
But I digress.
Most notable on the list of Sept. 16 events is one that happened exactly 38 years ago next week at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas -- the undisputed welterweight championship match between Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, promotionally billed back then as “The Showdown.”
Leonard was the TV-driven phenomenon who’d starred at the Olympics five years earlier and regained his pro crown from Roberto Duran in late 1980. Hearns, meanwhile, had laid waste to foes in more anonymous fashion before bursting onto the big stage with a demolition of Pipino Cuevas.
I was a seventh-grader at Edward Town Middle School in Sanborn, N.Y., and so sure my man Hearns would win that I leveraged my personal fortune -- a cool $50 from a job delivering the Metro Community News -- in penny-ante wagers with the other 12-year-old delinquents roaming the halls.
Suffice to say, when I woke up to hear the results over breakfast the next morning, I was crestfallen.
Nevertheless, when opportunity presented itself the next month -- in the form of an English composition for Mr. Rycombel entitled “It Happened That Day” -- I took my first crack at catharsis with an in-depth analysis of the fight and all that, in my view, had gone wrong for Hearns in the desert.
I got the paper back about a week later and happily turned to the back page to find the capital letter “A” and alongside it the phrase -- “You ought to think of this as a career, pal” -- that for the first time gave me a clear vision of exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.
A sports writer.
As fate would have it, I took my first legitimate steps toward that goal exactly seven years later -- on Sept. 16, 1988 -- when I walked on jittery 19-year-old legs into the newsroom at my hometown Niagara Gazette for day one of a sophomore year internship from Niagara County Community College.
And though my night consisted mainly of taking reports from the Lake Ontario Fishing Derby and grabbing dinner for the guys from the Press Box restaurant next door, I went home knowing that there was nothing else I’d ever be truly as happy doing… getting paid to watch sports.
To say I've been lucky since it all began would be an understatement.
I've covered fights in Las Vegas, New York, Atlantic City and two foreign countries. I've interviewed Leonard, Hearns and Angelo Dundee. In fact, I was ringside for Hearns' last in-ring appearance at Cobo Arena in Detroit in 2005. I’ve done live TV and radio spots during big fight weeks. And I've been recognized for my work by an association I'd dreamed of joining long before I ever did.
It's been a great ride. And I've got Sept. 16, 1981 to thank for all of it.
Because for me anyway, "It happened that day."
Here’s to another happy anniversary, guys.
And thanks again, Mr. Rycombel. I owe you one.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO super lightweight title – Berlin, Germany
Rico Mueller (No. 22 IBO/Unranked IWBR) vs. Jeremias Nicolas Ponce (No. 38 IBO/No. 20 IWBR)
Mueller (25-2-1, 17 KO): First title fight; First weigh-in at super lightweight (previous low, 142 3/4)
Ponce (24-0, 16 KO): First title fight; Two wins in two scheduled 12-rounders in career (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Argentine is younger and totes a gaudy record, which makes it tempting to pick him. The fact that Mueller is a novice at super lightweight seals the deal. Ponce by decision (55/45)
WBO junior middleweight title – Carson, California
Jaime Munguia (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Patrick Allotey (No. 13 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Munguia (33-0, 26 KO): Fifth title defense; First fight in the state of California
Allotey (40-3, 30 KO): First title fight; Lost three of four career fights away from Ghana
Fitzbitz says: I’m still not quite the Munguia fan that a lot of my colleagues seem to be, but this one is nothing more than a stay-busy, look-impressive exhibition. Cue the highlights. Munguia in 4 (99/1)
WBO junior featherweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Emanuel Navarrete (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Juan Miguel Elorde (No. 2 WBO/No. 65 IWBR)
Navarrete (28-1, 24 KO): Third title defense; Ten wins by KO/TKO in last 11 fights (61 total rounds)
Elorde (28-1, 15 KO): First title fight; Lone career loss came in only fight in United States
Fitzbitz says: The Mexican champion has had as transformative a 12-month run as anyone in the sport, though it’s been largely away from the mainstream spotlight. He continues here. Navarrete in 8 (95/5)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Taduran)
2019 picks record: 70-14 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,081-357 (75.1 percent)
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.
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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.