Kaz’s Korner – Joe Kazmar

I can remember back when I was just a little tow-headed kid, every Friday night I would be allowed to stay up past my bedtime and watch “The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” which featured really good boxing matches on our black-and-white 12-inch television set.

Some of the fighters from that era included Willie Pep, Kid Gavilan, Sugar Ray Robinson and classic battles between heavyweights Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott just to mention the few I can recall.

After that, if I wasn’t too sleepy, we would watch “The Greatest Fights of the Century” which featured boxers before my time like Max Schmeling, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey just to mention a few where the highlights of their big bouts were shown on the TV.

I never really lost my interest in the sport of boxing and always knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was at the time and enjoyed watching Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano defend their titles.

I really didn’t have time to worry about the boxing world during my days at college, even after I graduated. It wasn’t until I took the job as assistant sports editor of an Orange daily newspaper in 1966 that rekindled my boxing interest.

Sam Chimeno’s Beaumont Sportatorium featured boxing cards a couple times a month which I covered for the paper.

When we heard that new heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was defending his title at the Astrodome in Houston, we called over there to see if we could get two press passes and a photographer’s pass to cover the fight between the champ and Clarence “Big Cat” Williams.

We talked to Bill Giles, who handled the press corps for events at the Dome. He was so thrilled with the feature article we wrote a month or so before that he told us he had ring-side press passes and a photo pass for us and also credentials to get into Ali’s dressing room after the fight.

The late Buzzie Gunn shot all of our action sports art and said he wanted to try out some new high-speed film because the naked eye had a difficult time actually seeing Ali’s jabs.

So sports editor Gary Snyder, Buzzie and I got the first-class treatment when we arrived at the Astrodome before the fight. We were sitting right next to such nationally-known writers as Murray Olderman from Los Angeles, Dick Young from the New York Daily News Howard Cosell, and Texans Joe McLaughlin, Earl Gilliam and Blackie Sherrod.

Ali’s opponent, Big Cat Williams, was a mountain of a man from Cut-And-Shoot but was no match for the champ. Every time Ali landed a punch near the ropes, the sweat got knocked off Big Cat’s face and sprayed us sitting in the first row. Ali made quick work of his challenger and flattened him by the end of the second round.

Strangely enough, not too many from the media had dressing room passes and we got to listen to Ali claim he was the greatest a few times and even got close enough to talk to him. It was exciting even if we technically were working.

One of his philosophical quotes was: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”

Buzzie shot some real great photos but even with the special film, Ali’s jabs were still just a blur in the pictures.

It wasn’t too much longer that the Astrodome was announced as the site of his fight with former heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell, who referred to the champ as Clay and refused to call him by his Muslim name of Ali.

Again Bill Giles accommodated us in first-class fashion with ringside seats.  Terrell, who was on the downside of his boxing career, had the distinction of NEVER being knocked down on the canvas in any of his bouts.

Ali quoted one of his many poems just before the two heavyweights did battle. “At the sound of the bell, I will be dead on Terrell…now I’m not saying this just to be funny, but I’m fighting Ernie because he needs the money.”

He then proceeded to give Terrell one of the most savage beatings in the ring, according to Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle, as Ali taunted Terrell for 15 rounds repeatedly asking “What’s my name?”

We counted the number of times Ali hit him and it was a couple hundred licks every round. But Terrell would not tumble to the canvas. But he didn’t fight back either. Many of Ali’s punches were blocked by Terrell’s arms, which were tucked into his chest protecting his face. This fight finished Ernie’s great career.

I didn’t get to see any more of Ali’s fights in person, but I watched as many as I could after that. He finished his boxing career with a 56-5 record and then went on to be one of the greatest humanitarians in history.

He fought Parkinson’s disease as diligently as he did any of his heavyweight opponents for more than three decades and even though he had trouble walking and talking, people all over the world loved and respected him.

Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74 Friday night in Scottsdale, Ariz. of septic shock after being taken off life support like he requested.

His public funeral will be Friday in his hometown of Louisville, KY. where ironically on Sunday a swarm of 15,000 bees settled in on a tree next to the mural bearing his most famous quote “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

He called himself “The Greatest” and proved it over and over again.

KWICKIES…Congrats to the Little Cypress-Mauriceville baseball team for going further in the state playoffs than any other team from Southeast Texas. The Battlin’ Bears had to scramble just to make the fourth seed in the district and then just kept scrapping, refusing to lose.

Orange native Wade Phillips, who is the defensive coordinator of the world champion Denver Broncos, was in the area last weekend for Friday night’s Homecoming Roast at the Robert S. (Bob) Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur where he was the Roastee. Doing the roasting were football celebrities J.J. Watt, Port Arthur native Jimmy Johnson, Houston Chronicle pro football writer John McClain, Phillips’ son Wes Phillips, who is a Washington Redskins’ assistant coach and former Houston Oilers player Carl Mauck just to name a few.

The Houston Texans announced last weekend the hiring of special teams coordinator Larry Izzo, who was quite a special-teams player himself. Izzo had been a New York Giants’ assistant special-teams coach for the past five years. Izzo, a Texas native, played his high school football at The Woodlands. He played 14 seasons in the NFL with Miami, New England and the New York Jets.

The Houston Rockets announced last weekend the signing of Mike D’Antonio as their new head coach. Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski chose D’Antonio on his USA Basketball coaching staff and handed over much of the offense to him. Coach K says the Houston Rockets got a steal when they landed D’Antonio.

William McGirt beat Jon Curran on the second extra hole Sunday to win the prestigious PGA Tour Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus. It was McGirt’s first PGA Tour victory and was worth $1.53 million and a three-year exemption as he moved up to No. 43 in the world and was assured a spot in his first national championship.

Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator is a heavy favorite in Saturday’s 1½-mile Belmont Stakes. The field will consist of 3-year-olds he has beaten and a few others competing in their first Triple Crown race.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Houston Astros continue to be red hot, winning 11 of their last 13 games, including the first sweep at home of the Oakland A’s last weekend. But it was no thanks to closer Luke Gregerson, who blew two saves in four days that the Astros fortunately came back and won. Manager A.J. Hinch finally snapped to the fact that he has a reliever in his bullpen—Will Harris—who hasn’t allow a run in his last 25 appearances and used him for the first time as his closer Sunday as he collected his first save of the season and only third in his career. Houston began a four-game series at Arlington Monday night against the Texas Rangers sporting a 28-30 record. Houston will then play at Tampa Bay in a three-game series this weekend.