by Roger Zotti
If anyone is positioned to write about his work as a boxing promoter and fan of the sport, it’s Brooklyn-born Hank Schwartz. A WWII Veteran, graduate from Brooklyn Polytech, and an expert on satellite and microwave technology, Hank promoted one of the most famous fights of all time – the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the 1974 Muhammad Ali – George Foreman heavyweight championship bout in Zaire. (At the time, his vice-president was Don King.) Hank was also responsible for the 1973 Foreman – Joe Frazier bout in Jamaica and the third Ali-Frazier contest, the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’”
Now Hank and his collaborator, Paige Stover Hague, have written From the Corners of the Ring to the Corners of the Earth: The Adventure Behind the Champions (CIVCOM). Winner of the 2010 Independent Book Publisher’s Gold Medal in the Sports Division, the book is immensely entertaining, exciting and informative – for Hank takes the reader on an often surreal and hilarious journey behind the scenes of “the Golden Era of heavyweight boxing.”
Hank says many boxers – unfortunately – don’t know when to retire because “boxing is a gladiatorial sport … when you fight like a gladiator, you live in a world that, in your own mind, you have a position to defend. So you never want to say or think, ‘Well, I’ve had it. You take it over … and leave me alone.’ When they become mentally put down, that’s the time they’ll retire.” Heavyweight fighters, Hank continues, “almost paint a picture of themselves as being back in the Roman era fighting in the Coliseum against other gladiators … The heavyweight fighter is a machine trained to deliver powerful blows” and today’s heavyweights aren’t as good “as those before because I don’t see any of them as delivering the amount of power and speed delivered by Ali, Frazier and Foreman. If I were back in the industry, I would [search hard] to find better talent in the heavyweight area.” This doesn’t mean Hank believes the heavyweight division is dead. Rather, he hopes its glory can be restored using “the newer technology.” The sport “can be broadcast into homes in high definition television and taken in on the Internet, allowing you to [watch] it on your time.”
One of most laugh-out-loud chapters involves George Foreman, who wouldn’t fly to Zaire – for his title fight against Ali – unless his dog Diego was allowed to sit next to him on the plane. Somehow Hank, reeling in disbelief, persuaded incredulous American Airplanes officials to permit man’s best friend to sit beside George and travel first class. Of course, Ali exploited the situation. (See pages 246-47. It’s Ali at his funniest.)
“Ali’s Last Hurrah” is one of saddest chapters. Before the 1980 Larry Holmes fight, Hank reviewed Ali’s medical records: “I suggested the fight be canceled… this would allow Ali to retire with dignity and in relative good health.” But Ali disagreed. At the end of the tenth round Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, stopped the one-sided bout, proving Ali should never have fought the younger, stronger Holmes.
For more about the author and his book, visit CornersOfTheRing.com.