A fight in East Germany

By Randy Neumann 

In early May, I was reading the Wall Street Journal while on a flight to Berlin for a business trip to Germany. The story in the Journal concerned the upcoming mega-fight between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley. It was written by a college professor, Gordon Marino, whom I boxed in the 1960s. My business in Germany was also related to boxing. I was there to referee a world championship fight between International Boxing Federation Champion Sebastian the “Hurricane” Sylvester and challenger, Daniel “Real Deal” Geale (rhymes with deal).

My readers know that I have been in the financial services industry for some time: I started in 1979 as a banker. However, I got into the business of boxing in 1967 when I was a college freshman in New York City. I went to the West Side YMCA to stay in shape and began what became a 10-year career during which time I was rated as the No. 6 heavyweight contender in the United States and No. 9 in the world. Some of the people rated above me were named Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Quarry, and Young.

In the early 1980’s I began refereeing professional fights. Since then, I have refereed over 1,000 fights in eight countries of which 41 have been for world titles. This column is about the business of boxing, or, as former British heavyweight contender Frank Bruno observed, “Boxing is just show business with blood.”

Boxing and television go way back. After World War II when television was in its infancy, Joe Louis sold a lot of TV’s based on the advertising idea, “Buy a television and watch Joe Louis fight in your home.” In the 1950’s, there were the “Friday Night Fights” from Madison Square Garden hosted by Don Dunphy. In the 1960’s everybody watched “Wide World of Sports” with Jim McKay. In the 1970s, I fought Boone Kirkman on a nationally televised fight from Las Vegas. Today, there’s not much boxing on network TV, but it is on cable and pay-per-view.

On Saturday, May 7, Manny Pacquiao was guaranteed a minimum of $20 million to fight Shane Mosley who was guaranteed a minimum of $5 million. They probably got more, but the final figures are not yet released. Interestingly, the fight was not televised in Germany; instead, they did a broadcast of the Sylvester/ Gaele fight of which I was the referee. For their fight, champion Sylvester was paid $404,253 and challenger Geale received $157,000.

Over dinner the night before the fight, I got some insight on German boxing from matchmaker, Hagen Doering. He said, in a thick German accent, “You will never see Pacquiao fight on German TV. He is too small.” Although Pacquiao fought Mosley as a welterweight (148 pounds), he started as a flyweight (112 pounds). Doering continued, “The smallest division that we put on television in Germany is middleweight” (160 pounds).

I found this very interesting. One of the reasons that the sport of professional boxing is way down in America is that we no longer have the heavyweight champion. Americans will watch smaller divisions, but they prefer heavyweights, especially American heavyweights. Not surprising since America controlled the heavyweight championship for over 100 years.

The storied John L. Sullivan brought the heavyweight championship to America from Europe in 1885 and it stayed here, with a few brief exceptions, until this century. Then the Europeans took over, again, with Vladimir and Vitali Klitschko claiming most of the championships.

There are four major sanctioning bodies recognizing champions today (another reason for disenchantment with boxing). There are 17 weight divisions (there used to be eight), so there are 68 champions floating around the globe. Eight of them are Americans. In the last century, when there was one champion and eight divisions, America had most of them. Unfortunately, boxing has gone the way of manufacturing in America. It will need to get back the broad exposure of network TV in order to make a comeback.

My fight was in Neubrandenburg in what was the old East Germany. The city is 100 miles north of Berlin, 55 miles from Poland and 40 miles south of the Baltic Sea. Neu, pronounced noi, means new, but it’s not really new as it was settled by monks in 1240. The city still has its medieval walls over 20-feethigh and four huge gates. There is also a cool, smoke-filled bar in town with pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev.

The fight was held on Saturday night at the Jahnsportforum in front of 4,000 screaming fans. Fortunately for the “Real Deal,” the “Hurricane” wasn’t blowing too hard. Sylvester started quickly and won the first few rounds with his plodding style. Gaele, the more natural athlete, figured Sylvester out and gave him a boxing lesson for the rest of the fight. I had the best seat in the house and only had to break up the fighters a few times.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for the individual.

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