These are always difficult to write, more so when you started to get to know someone well and had spoken to them consistently over the last year of their life. I was beyond saddened to hear that the great Bert Sugar had passed away, yesterday at 74.
There are few men who knew or did more for boxing than Bert did. Now, with the bell having rung for his last round, and with the judges cards in and tallied, it can be announced that, by unanimous decision, Mr. Sugar can be declared the most iconic boxing writer/historian of current times.
It was December 2006 and the Rocky Balboa movie was about to hit theaters. To coincide with the movie, a few different sets of DVDs were released looking back at the previous five Rocky movies. On one of the DVD sets titled Rocky Collectors Edition, boxing historian Bert Sugar does a commentary voiceover with boxing trainer Lou Duva about the first Rocky movie. It was at that time that I had my first opportunity to converse with Bert. I had really enjoyed our first CYInterview [see it here]. I was still very much a rookie at that time, but Mr. Sugar was gracious and giving.
Time flies, as it always does, and boxing had been getting interesting again. In 2011 with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao continuing to dodge each other while taking other fights, the sport showed glimpses of its former intrigue. With a little assistance from a longtime contact, I got back in touch with Bert in May of 2011. He remembered me and was happy enough to talk about the Manny Pacquiao and “Sugar” Shane Mosley fight. He was also was kind enough to speak on numerous boxing topics.
If there is one thing that stands out in reuniting with the boxing historian, it was that my colleague Jay Bildstein was able to finally speak with someone he held in such high regard. For those who don’t know, Jay is a big boxing fan. In that May 2011 CYInterview [see here], Bert shared his thoughts on the future of boxing:
“The future of boxing around the world is excellent, in the United States, a little less so. You have to understand that the United States has a sports public if you will, that as opposed to when boxing was one of the three major sports for the first 50 years of the last century along with baseball and horse racing, there are now 46 different sports on the American landscape or platter…So it’s lost it’s place. It’s lost its following and Americans have always liked big things, they like big cars, big bank accounts, big chested women and big boxers. We’ve been a heavyweight oriented sports constituency or sports group. The lighter weights have not interested us as much as they have around the world.”
In September of 2011, I would hook back up with Bert for another CYInterview [see here]. This time he and I spoke about the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Victor Ortiz fight. If you knew Bert Sugar, you knew one thing; he was always good with words and using things from history, science or any other area of knowledge and tying it in with a fight or a fighter. He did this speaking about Mayweather before his fight with Ortiz:
“Here he [Floyd Mayweather] is at 34 fighting with all the frequency of Halley’s Comet. He’s had two fights in 42 months and the last one 14 months ago and you don’t know when age or rust is gonna set in. In fact, if you look closely, there is a minor erosion I can point out as if he’s just coming off his peak and that is he doesn’t move as much as he used to. He only takes one or two steps most at a time.”
In November of 2011, my last CYInterview with Bert Sugar [see here], we spoke about the Manny Pacquiao /Juan Manuel Marquez fight. In that CYInterview, Bert also remembered the late great boxing legend Joe Frazier:
“Joe Frazier has always been thought of a hyphenate, part and parcel, Muhammad Ali. You would always say Ali-Frazier. You’d never say Frazier-Ali even after Frazier won their first fight in 71. Ali was the headline. That said, with poor Joe’s death on Tuesday, Joe Frazier stood alone without that hyphenate, without that Ali attachment and became just Joe Frazier, one of the greatest champions of all time, big enough in his own right and he threw a left to gain front page coverage in the NY Times on a stand alone one without Ali basis as one of the ten greatest heavyweights of all time, my rating”
My last question to Bert, in our last CYInterview, was an ongoing question about whether Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would ever get in the ring. Bert stuck to his belief the fight would never happen.
“Good. Call me when it happens will you. For three years I said it’s never going to and I will stick to that.”
Bert sugar never had any intentions of retiring. On numerous occasions, he would say this of why he continued to cover boxing and be one of its most important voices:
“I’m just doing whatever the heck I can do. As somebody once asked my son, ‘When is your dad’ meaning me, ‘gonna retire?’ And his answer, ‘Well let’s see, he drinks a lot, smokes a lot, he BS’s a lot and he gets paid for it, what’s he gonna do if he retires? Smoke a lot, drink a lot, BS a lot and not get paid for it? And not watch boxing?’ So I’m really having the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on.”
He was always full of laughs. In our last conversation, I had been aware that Mr. Sugar had just gotten out of the hospital and was dealing with some health related issues. At the end of 2011, going into the New Year, I called him to wish him a happy holiday and said I hoped he was feeling better. It was the last time we spoke. He told me he was better at the time. What I remember most from that call was how much he appreciated the gesture that I called to see how he was doing. Bert was a class act.
Over the last year Bert Sugar had become one our CYInterview regulars. I thank my colleague Jay Bildstein for encouraging me to track down Bert. Thanks to that, I was able to speak with him on various occasions over the last 10 months of his life. Though part of me is crushed writing this, I feel truly honored that I knew one of the greatest writers, minds and voices of the last 50 years in the sports media world. Thank you Bert for giving a young media buck all the time in the world, even when you weren’t feeling well. It was truly an honor and privilege speaking with you. You are one of the last greats from a legendary sports media era.
We at CYInterview prayers and best wishes to Bert’s family during this difficult time. Thank you Bert for what you brought to my life and my colleague Jay’s life over the last year. I will never forget the things I learned from you.
To recap, below is a link to all four of Bert Sugar’s CYInterviews.
You can listen to all of them in their entirety. They are worth checking out.
You can email Chris Yandek at [email protected] Chris is available for interviews to comment on anything featured on CYInterview.