Lee Groves interview

KOFantasyBoxing speaks with Tales from the Vault author Lee Groves

By Alex Pierpaoli

 

originally published 6/20/11 on KOFantasyBoxing.com

 

When attending the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend one of the friendly-faces I look forward to seeing there is boxing writer Lee Groves.  Groves is a fight collector and boxing historian/writer who’s worked for KO Magazine, MaxBoxing.com and currently writes for The Ring and he is also a punch-counter for CompuBox.  Last year Groves self-published his first book, a mighty paperback of 722 pages (or 3.2 pounds!), featuring 100 closet classics which Groves describes in detail and includes never-before-seen punch-stat totals for remarkable, if not always that memorable, bouts, like one of my all-time favorites, Iran Barkley versus Michael Olajide. The bouts are broken up into ten chapters including Great Grudge Fights, Little Big Men, Sudden and Violent Endings, Undercard Treasures, and Wars of Attrition. If you’ve been a long time fan of the Sweet Science I’d be willing to bet you find a bout in Groves’ book that you thought you’d forgotten and will relish remembering through Groves’ descriptive and energetic prose.

Lee Groves can always be found on IBHOF grounds rather easily because of his red hair and the fact that he is usually carrying The Illustrated History of Boxing by Harry Mullan which he uses to house the numerous autographs he’s acquired from so many past champs he’s met in Canastota.  And this year Hall of Fame visitors got to meet Lee Groves in person when he did a ringside lecture describing his book and the writing & research process to visitors on Day One of Induction Weekend.

KOFantasyBoxing spoke to Lee via email after he returned to his home in West Virginia.

 

How many IBHOF inductions have you been to? 

 

This past weekend was my 19th; the first time I went was in 1993 when Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Gil Clancy were among the centerpiece inductees.  I only attended Friday and Saturday because it was all I could afford at the time and because it had the highest concentration of activities.

 

After all, I was looking to get the most bang for the buck.

 

What keeps you coming back?

 

At first, it was purely the opportunity to meet the men I admired for years in the flesh and get their autographs, which to me serves as proof that I actually met them. But as the years went on it became an annual pilgrimage that became equal parts reunion, immersion class and the confirmation that summer was indeed around the corner. It’s

always great to see the same faces again and again while also forming friendships with new fans. And with my book out it also gave me the opportunity to make some money, which I’m happy to say I did thanks to my friends’ support.

 

It’s been over a year since your book has been published, have there been any fights that you’ve seen in 2010-2011 that could be included?  Have any bouts from the more distant past come to mind that you thought, “damn, I should have thrown that one in there too!” Any plans for a follow-up book with fights that just missed the cut for this one? 

 

One that comes to mind was the February 26, 2010 fight between featherweights Antonio Escalante and Miguel Roman. Not only was this a pulsating fight inside the ring, the personal back story between the two made it all the more compelling.  As a youth in nearby Juarez, Escalante and Roman engaged in a street fight when Roman broke the eggs Escalante was carrying. They then took their boyhood grudge to the ring years later and elements of those hard feelings showed themselves. Add to that the explosive crowd that roared with every plot twist.

 

Another one was the thrilling undercard bout between Tyrell Hendrix and Mike Gavronski April 15 where both men scored knockdowns in the first 80 seconds and both suffering cuts as well. It was almost fitting that it ended as a draw.  I’m sure there are more, but that’s probably a sample of the kind of Fights I would add to a second volume.

 

As for fights I’d throw in from the more distant past? Maybe Pintor-Davila II, Sabiyala Diavilla-Floyd Peavy, Scott Pemberton-Omar Sheika (maybe both fights), John Duddy-Yory Boy Campas, Terry Norris-Troy Waters and Michael Carbajal-Jorge Arce. how about the Luna War between Ramsey and Rene in May 2010….wow, what a back-and-forth war. It was about as two-sided as a lopsided fight could be.  Ramsey won going away but he had to really earn it. Fantastic stuff!  I have other fights in mind but I don’t want to give away the whole store. 🙂

 

Let-Downs are a part of boxing just like in life.  After the Let-Down fight of the year in Pacquiao-Mosley I was wondering if you had a few bummer fights like that one that might come to mind.  Trinidad-De La Hoya was another “Superfight” that turned out to be a rather non-violent dud, if there was a chapter on Disappointing Fights in your book what bouts do you think you’d throw in there?

 

One let-down fight that I recall is Kevin Kelley vs. Bones Adams, a pretty good match-up on paper that turned out to be a real dud, surprising because Kelley was an all-action fighter and Adams was also known for good scraps.  Tyson vs. Bonecrusher Smith looked to be extremely explosive given Smith’s crushing of Tim Witherspoon and Tyson’s fearsome reputation.  Instead we got 11 rounds and 150 seconds of hugging before a wicked punch hurt Tyson in the bout’s final moments that was pure “what could have been?”

 

What about Weird Fights?  Fan-Man of course comes to mind but in the Larry Merchant dubbed “Theater of the Unexpected” that boxing is, I’m sure you can think of more than just Holyfield-Bowe 2.

 

There are plenty of them that have popped up, but one immediately leaps to mind. Mohammed Kawoya once landed a knockout punch on John Meekins just as the referee was stopping the fight in Meekins’ favor. The announcers were going nuts at ringside over the seeming injustice but the referee held firm.

 

There have been so many changes in the technology we use to capture and save great fights.  VHS has gone the way of the Dodo Bird for the most part and the digital video recorder has all but driven the VCR out of existence.  Aside from getting a nice Tivo with a big memory, what would you recommend to a young person who wanted to start amassing a collection of fights? Should they start with a certain favorite fighter and just start recording all his or her fights? What’s the best way to start a fight library?

 

Well, this is certainly a good era in  which to start because of the perfect signal provided by digital satellite companies like DirecTV and Dish as well as high-definition channels. Plus, DVDs are a real space saver; I don’t know what I would have done if the advent of DVD had occurred five years later.  It’s up to the individual to shape his or her own collection. In this age when the top fighters square off twice a year I don’t think that waiting for one favorite to fight is going to work very well.

 

Personally I would just start blanket recording from the very start because that’s the only way to get the totals up quickly. The way I built my collection was to find a couple of fellow hobbyists who had approximately the same number of fights I did but had different fights and trade amongst each other. We built up our respective collections exponentially and before long the numbers became utterly outrageous — in a good way. Maybe collectors can trade videos for books, magazines, autographed photos, comic books or anything of value.

 

As a veritable fixture in Canastota, what are your thoughts on this year’s amazing Class of Inductees?  Quite a crew of concussion creators, yes? How much do you feel Mike Tyson changed boxing, for better or worse? Tszyu?  Chavez?

 

My thoughts on the inductees: I knew Tyson, Chavez and Tszyu would be the Modern lineup a couple of years before the fact because I like projecting ahead. For example, I think next year’s class may well include Thomas Hearns, Virgil Hill and Dariusz Michalczewski with Naseem Hamed a possible wild card. Arturo Gatti may well head the Class of 2013 (though I wouldn’t vote for him) while the Class of 2014 may be Oscar de la Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe. If these all come true, remember where you heard it first!

 

This year’s class is one of the strongest three-man lineups in recent years, along with Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker and Ricardo Lopez in 2007.  Yes, you can pick away at the second half of Tyson’s career but the greatness of his opening act overshadowed what happened afterward.  Tyson’s incredible hand speed, head movement and combination punching would have given any heavyweight in history trouble — even the “Greatest” of them all, and you know what I’m talking about.

 

As for Chavez, I did a top 10 pound-for-pound list a few years ago and following the research I had him fifth behind Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson and Roberto Duran. His 32 title fight wins are a record and he is one of a few fighters who can credibly be rated number one in two weight classes (junior lightweight and junior welterweight). His 16 defenses at 140 are a record, and it could be argued that Chavez was slightly past his prime at the time he beat Roger Mayweather for the WBC belt.

 

Tszyu has been a personal favorite of my adult years, along with another Russian in Yuri Arbachakov (who I think should get his chance before the voters along with Lupe Pintor, Gilberto Roman, Sot Chitalada, Jiro Watanabe, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and the late great Genaro Hernandez). Tszyu’s power punching, hand speed and superb mental game made me a big fan and I did not hesitate before placing a check by his name. As impressed as I am with him as a fighter, I’m even more impressed with him as a person. He’s charming, polite yet commanding. I’ll never forget when he asked Jim Grey “please do not be rude to me” during a post-fight interview. He didn’t have to raise his voice, yet it had the desired effect.

 

How do you feel about Sylvester Stallone’s inclusion in this year’s class?

 

I thought it was an inspired choice by the voters and had I voted in that category I would have said yes. No, he wasn’t a fighter but he told Rocky Balboa’s story so well. It touched a nerve in the American psyche because we all can relate to an underdog finding that extra something in himself that allows him to push himself farther and higher than even he could have imagined. It inspired an entire generation of kids to give boxing a try, most notably Vinny Pazienza. Stallone also dabbled in promoting (Tiger Eye Boxing) and managing, so his love of the sport was more than just cinematic. Anything that helps the boxing game must be recognized and honored, so I was happy to see Stallone receive this accolade.

 

Tales from the Vault is available through Barnes & Noble and that site named after one of the planet’s dwindling rain forests.

 

 

 

Send comments or questions to Alex Pierpaoli at: KOFantasyBoxing@gmail.com

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