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Bert Randolph Sugar is a writer sports historian who has written over 50 books, mostly about baseball and boxing.  He was the owner and editor of of Boxing Illustrated magazine[…]

“Sometimes the man’s IQ ain’t too high, but his boxing IQ is.” All fighters make mistakes in the ring—the great ones put that information into their mental computer and learn from it.

Question: How are boxing matches generally won?

Bert Sugar: Style.  You know, it depends on the rnfighters.  I’ll give you an old time fighter who fought the wrong fight rnevery time.  Jerry Quarry was a very, very good heavyweight.  He could rndo everything; he could box, he could punch.  But somehow, he thought hern could out-box the boxers, out-punch the punchers, and those were his rnlosses.  He’d come in against Joe Frasier.  Give us a helluva fight for rnsix rounds before he started bleeding or staggering or something.  You rnknow, you look for styles; a stylistic match-up.  You look at the rnpluses; you look at the minuses, the same with a pitcher and a batter, rnthe same with a football team. 

rnI still remember Vince Lombardi’s great line, when his Green Bay Packersrn were playing the New York Giants in the ’62 championship game.  He rnsaid, “I’ll tell when I’m gonna run.  If they can stop it, they win.  Ifrn they can’t, we win.”

Is boxing an intellectual sport?

Bert Sugar: I think boxing has an intellectual aspect to rnit.  Budd Schulberg, a great writer, "On the Waterfront," "What Makes rnSammy Run?" loved boxing.  So, does Joyce Carol Oates, by the way, rntalking about literary types.  And Budd once had the great line, “Boxingrn is chess played with human bodies, not on a board.”  You’ve got to rnthink it.  Now sometimes it’s instinctive.  Sometimes the man’s IQ ain’trn too high, but his boxing IQ is.  So, you watch them think.  You know, rnyes, it’s instinctive, but they’ve had—they’ve learned.  You have to rnunderstand, the word "experience" really is "learning from mistakes."  rnThat’s experience, just learning from mistakes.  And everyone has made arn mistake whether they won or lost because of it, they put that into rntheir, sort of mental computer, thou shalt not do it again.  So, you’re rnlooking for that. 

Who is the most intelligent boxer you've ever seen?

Bert Sugar: Several. Ali, Joe Lewis, Floyd Mayweather, rnyes.  Films of Barney Ross, films of Benny Leonard.  These are rnintelligent fighters.  Some have other attributes.  Ray Leonard had rnprobably the fastest hand I ever saw.  Some fighters have a great rnknockout punch.  Sometimes they can combine them.  You know, so, you’re rnlooking for a skill, and will they—meaning that person—be able to imposern that skill and their will on their opponent?  That’s why to me, boxing rnis one of the most beautiful sports in the world.  It’s mano-a-mano.  rnIt’s like I once asked George Foreman, I said, “George, were you ever rninterested in football?”  He said, “No.”  I said, “Why?”  He said, “I rndidn’t want to be hit by somebody from behind.”  In other words, they’rern there.

Was Muhammad Ali really the greatest?

Bert Sugar: No.  He said he was.  Mohammad Ali said he rnwas the greatest, I don’t think he was the greatest.  I wrote a book rncalled "Boxing’s Greatest Fighters."  I rated them one to 100.  I think Irn have him number six.  But this is pound-for-pound.  Not just rnheavyweights.  So, I have him the second highest-rated heavyweight, rnafter Joe Lewis/ Because as Ray Robinson, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, number rnone, he could have been number one through 12, but I had to put another rnname or two in there.  But I saw Ray Robinson throw a knockout punch rngoing backwards, which is like Nolan Ryan throwing a fast ball falling rnto second base in terms of leverage. 

But Ali’s peak years were rnthe three-and-a-half years he was forbidden or prohibited from rnfighting.  He was a dancing master, and a punching master before the rnthree-and-a-half years, then he fails to step forward for the draft, is rnthe equivalent of disbarred for a lawyer for three-and-a-half years.  Hern comes back and he goes to rope-a-dope.  Those were his peak years.  So,rn had he had those, and I can’t fill them in, he might well have been rnexactly what he once took a glove and dubbed himself, “The Greatest.”  rnWhich parenthetically is a line he borrowed from Gorgeous George, the rnWrestler who used to do that bravado, “If I don’t win, I’m gonna crawl rnon my knees to Russia.”  “If I don’t win, I’m the prettiest.”  And he’d rnlean over the ropes, Gorgeous George.  And Ali saw that and adopted rnthat.  Again, experience.  He experienced watching him and according to rnAngelo Dundee, with whom I wrote a book called, "My View From the rnCorner," he was seated with Ali, then Clay, in a wrestling match in Las rnVegas before a fight that Clay had two nights later, and all Ali did rnwatching Gorgeous George was say... he said, “That’s a good idea.  rnThat’s a good idea.”  And he adopted it.

Recorded May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen