By Karl Freitag
Upon the announcement of his induction to the International boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, Fightnews.com checked in with legendary boxing writer Graham Houston. Graham has been covering boxing for 50 years, working with newspapers, magazines and leading online publications. From writer to editor to publisher, he has done it all. He is well liked and highly respected by his peers for his extensive knowledge of the fight game and his website Fightwriter.com is widely considered to be the go-to authority on boxing wagering. Graham’s comments are insightful and a must read for anyone who loves boxing.
Were you surprised by your induction?
Yes, I was surprised, to get inducted into the IBHOF on the first ballot came, to me, right out of the blue.
What are some of the highlights of your career as a boxing writer?
It’s been like a train that just keeps rolling …
Covering boxing for the two big London evening newspapers, The Evening News and The Evening Standard, in the 1960s taught me a lot … becoming editor of Boxing News was a major highlight … Being invited back to London to edit Boxing Monthly for a year while that publication was going through a difficult transitional stage was a challenge and I was almost in a hired-gun situation there … Being able to cover so many big fights from ringside … the two Carlos Monzon-Rodrigo Valdes fights in outdoors Monte Carlo was a magical experience … reporting from ringside for the Toronto Globe and Mail on the then up-and-coming Thomas Hearns meeting Canadian 3-time world title challenger Clyde Gray at the famed old Olympia Stadium in Detroit, being in the historic arena where Robinson fought LaMotta twice in three weeks in 1943, sent a tingle down the spine … An in-depth phone interview for Boxing Monthly with the ill-fated Gerald McClellan just before the Nigel Benn fight was a highlight because Gerald could be moody and he wasn’t speaking to many reporters at the time, but I kept leaving voice mails and finally I got through to him and he was very gracious and gave me a quite amazing interview, startlingly revealing and the best telephone interview I ever did. Quotes from the interview were picked up by many British national newspapers but very few quoted a source of reference, using the quotes as if they were their own, which was disappointing but par for the course.
Being a boxing judge in Vancouver for several years and judging Canadian title fights was another highlight. It was a great responsibility of course and when the result of a fight can hinge on your own interpretation of the bout, one’s concentration is heightened to another level. “Getting it right” — being on the “right” side of a split decision, say — did I have to admit, provide a feeling of satisfaction.
Do you still enjoy boxing as much as you did when you started in 1963?
I love it just as much. Every fight is a new challenge for me as an analyst. I haven’t been able to go to the fights on site for two or three years because I have been so busy at base, but whenever the main event fighters started their ring walks in Las Vegas I would always, without fail, get what writer Robert Ruark called the “elevator going down” feeling in the pit of my stomach.
How has the Internet revolution affected the craft of boxing writing?
This isn’t an original comment but one, I think, that sums it up quite fairly: The great thing about the Internet is that now anyone can be a boxing writer, but that is also the worst thing about the Internet. Really, and there’s no getting away from it, I come from a different generation and I had as my guiding light veteran editors and writers who would point things out to me: “Did you really mean to write this, Graham?” or “You’ve used a cliché here, it would be better perhaps if you did it this way” and so one was constantly learning and, one dares to hope, improving: I don’t think that the Internet contributors by and large have that sort of extensive, in-depth grounding, which isn’t their fault, and I don’t think I’m being dismissive or ungracious, it’s just a fact. That said, there are some excellent boxing writers on the Internet, and some I enjoy reading.
Do you have any advice for other boxing writers?
It’s all so different from when I started, which was, let’s face it, a long time ago. I suppose, to keep it really simple, always try to put both sides of a story.
Your website fightwriter.com offers previews and picks for those who like to wager on boxing matches. How good are you at beating the sportsbooks?
I set up the subscription service because a situation arose where I could no longer justify spending many hours a week doing a free-access site, much as I enjoyed it. I don’t set out to try to beat the books into submission. I give an opinion on a selection of fights each week and offer what I think are the lowest risk (but, obviously, potentially profitable) plays for people who like to have a bet on the fights. Really it is an entertainment and information service as much as a tipster service: some of the subscribers tell me that they just enjoy the previews and don’t even wager on fights, serious players tell me they like the previews because sometimes they pick up on something they may have missed in their own research: I’m quite thorough. I don’t keep spread sheets, but a subscriber who is an expert at this sort of thing periodically gives me an update on how I am doing with my “official” picks, and at last count, a couple of months ago, I was in the black for the year to date for my “official” selections. The service is still evolving. Starting 2014 I will try to keep track of units won, units lost. I guess, for me, the bottom line is that I’ve been doing the service for almost four years and it’s still going, so I can only assume that I’m doing something right.