By Ray Wheatley — World of Boxing
Photo: Ed Mulholland
Famed USA referee and former heavyweight contender Randy Neumann talks to Fightnews about his life growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s and also boxing as an amateur winning New York Golden Gloves when training at Gleasons Gym. He also speaks about sparring sessions with Larry Holmes, bouts with Jerry Quarry , Chuck Wepner, and Jimmy Young and how he was offered a shot at Muhammad Ali. In addition he explains how Madison Square Garden President John Condon got him started as a referee and how he helped formulate the IBF Retirement Fund with former IBF President Bob Lee.
You were born and raised in Cliffside Park New Jersey. What was life like growing up during the 1950s in New York?
Cliffside Park was a blue-collar town just across the river from New York City. It was the home of Palisades Amusement Park where I worked as a lifeguard and a bartender in the 1960s (Gus Lesnevich, the light heavyweight champion for eight years, was a lifeguard there in the 1930s). I believe I learned good values at home, and applied them to real life at the schoolyard. In those days, if you were 16 and 17-year-olds wanted the basketball court, you either challenged them or got off the court. It wasn’t about political correctness–it was about who could dominate whom.
I recently heard a story from the little brother (five years younger) of my best friend, Frank. He recanted, “You and Frank were riding a bicycle; one of you was on the seat, the other was sitting on the handlebar. I called out to you and although Frank said, ‘never mind,’ you pulled over. I told you that this big kid took my air rifle and threw it in the sticker bushes so that I couldn’t get it. You questioned the kid and when he told you what he’d done, you threw him into the sticker bushes and told him to get the air rifle. That happened 50 years ago, and I’ll never forget it!”
When did you become interested in boxing. Did you box as an amateur? If so, how many fights, any titles, your trainer?
I became interested in boxing because of Gus Lesnevich. Also, the town I grew up in ran films against a white wall of one of the buildings for the kids to watch in the summer. When I saw “On the Waterfront,” I was moved. I started boxing when I was 18 years old at the Westside YMCA in Manhattan as a college freshman. The guys with whom I boxed at the Y were amateurs in their 30s and 40s and they just worked to the body. I mentioned to my uncle that I was boxing and he introduced me to Joe Vella who had been Gus Lesnevich’s manager. Joe brought me up to Gleason’s gym in the South Bronx and I realized that this place was different from the Y.
Gleason’s was home to the second best fighters in the world who traveled around and challenged the champions. I loved the place. I was an amateur for a year and a half. I had 15 fights: winning 13 and losing 2 to New York Golden gloves champions in 1968 and 1969. However, our team, the Gleason’s Leather Pushers, defeated the New York PAL both years. Team members, included Edwin and Adolpho Viruet, who both went the distance with Roberto Duran in his prime (which was like winning in those days) and world champion Saoul Mamby. My trainer, when I was an amateur, was Patty Colovito.
Any other family members involved in boxing?
No other family members were involved in boxing; however, my father attended Seton Hall University on scholarship as a basketball and baseball player until he joined the Army Air Force in World War II. He survived 78 bombing missions in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Germany. It was amazing that he survived, given a 5% mortality rate for a B 25 sortie.
As a heavyweight professional you boxed Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Young and Chuck Wepner and won 31 of 38 fights. Tell me about each of those fights…
On February 11, 1972, Jimmy Young gave my sparring partner, Jasper Evans, a boxing lesson in Madison Square Garden. He feinted Jasper out of his jock. I told my manager, Joe Vella, “Make the fight and I’ll show him.” On March 3, I gave him a boxing lesson. I had the good fortune of feinting a jab in the first round and nailing him on the chin with a right hand at the bell. I kept it up all night. One judge gave me 10 of 10 rounds and, in those days, you usually got two for showing up.
I fought Jerry Quarry on January 5, 1973. I was giving him a boxing lesson for five rounds and Gil Clancy said to him in the corner, “You’d better do something about this kid or you’re through.” He did. He hit me with a shot in the balls that, had I raised my foot, would’ve broken my toe. It wasn’t the straight shot to the front of the cup which aren’t so bad. No, it was the uppercut underneath the cup that moves the cup at a position. The doctor stopped the fight in the sixth round.
Later that night, as my brow was being stitched up by Dr. Robert Ringwald (who put 300 stitches in Gus Lesnevich’s head over 15 years and 79 fights), he said to me, “You were in pretty good shape tonight, weren’t you?” I returned the question, “Yes I was, why you ask?” He answered, “I knew you were because you didn’t vomit when he hit you low like that.”
The third time I fought Chuck Wepner for the New Jersey Heavyweight Championship was on March 8, 1974,and, of all places, it was in Madison Square Garden (where I fought 13 times) which is not in New Jersey. But, in boxing, we sometimes bend the rules. In the first fight, a 12 rounder, I pitched a shutout and the referee, Paul Venti, scored it 8-2-2. Chuck complained to him about the score after the fightand Paul said, “Come on Chuck, I gave you two rounds.”
In the second fight, 8 of 11 sports writers thought I won the fight, but the only guy who mattered was referee, Mickey Greb (in those days, the referee was the sole arbiter), who gave the decision to Chuck. Years later, Al Braverman (Chuck’s manager) said to my wife, “Ya know honey; my guy never beat your guy. I had friends, ya know what I mean?”
So, here we are in a main event in Madison Square Garden and I’m giving Chuck the usual boxing lesson. We bang heads and referee, Arthur Mercante, steps between Chuck and I and says, “I’ve got to stop the fight. There’s too much blood.” Chuck responds, “Don’t stop the fight Arthur, I’ve got a fight with Muhammad Ali.” Arthur says, “It’s not you, Chuck, it’s Randy.” Chuck steps back and says, “That’s a terrible cut Arthur. You’d better stop the fight.” Talk about hard luck–being cut by the Bayonne Bleeder!
You were rated #9 heavyweight contender. Were you ever offered a shot at the title?
I had a contract that put me in a fight with Muhammad Ali in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the fight never came through. When I was fighting, in the 1970s, we probably had the strongest heavyweight division in history. In the top 10 or top 20, there were 30 good heavyweights. However, there wasn’t much money in those days. The brass ring was a shot against Muhammad Ali for $100,000. I missed that brass ring.
You were boxing in a time when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes were champions. Did you box any in the gym? Your thoughts on each…
I love being around Larry Holmes. He either says, “Randy Neumann used to kick the shit out of me.” Or, “Randy Neumann taught me everything I know about boxing.” That is quite an accolade coming from the most underrated heavyweight champion in the world. I remember boxing with Larry at Gleason’s gym on Saturdays when he was an amateur and I was a young pro. His trainer, Ernie Butler would drive him from Easton to the Bronx. My trainer, Freddie Brown, would take the cigar out of his mouthwhile motioning to the ring and scowl, “Hey Butler. Get your guy in here.” I also remember that jab. It was like getting a telephone pole stuffed in your face.
You graduated with a degree in business from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1975. How hard was it being a professional boxer and attending university?
I took my time getting through college. I began college and my boxing career in 1967, and graduated from both in 1975. 1975 was the year I was rated as the #9 heavyweight in the world. In 1974, I began managing myself because my contract had expired with my management team. I couldn’t fight in the United States because I didn’t have a manager, so I consulted with Dewey Fragetta who was an overseas booking agent.
The world was a lot bigger than that it is now. We didn’t have personal computers, cell phones or faxes. We had telegrams. Between December of 1974 and December of 1975, I had nine fights. I beat Carl Baker and Bob Scott in the Bahamas, Larry Beilfuss in Milwaukee and Larry Renaud in Orlando. I knocked out #2 Brit Billy Aird in London and dropped Bobby Walker seven times in Commack. This all led to another main event in Madison Square Garden against undefeated Duane Bobick. The winner would be a rival for Muhammad Ali. It wasn’t me.
So, in 1975, I graduated from college and got off the roller coaster of professional boxing. It’s very tough on the way up the roller coaster. And, it is pure hell on the way down.
In 1982 John Condon the former President of Madison Square Garden expressed interest in you becoming a referee. Tell me about John Condon and how you began your career as one of the best referees in the world?
John Condon was a great guy. I knew him when he was a public relations man for the Garden. When I quit boxing, I was disenchanted. I never made any money, and I saw a lot of damage. However, after a few years, I mellowed. I thought that I could add something to the sport by becoming a referee. In those days, you had to start in the amateurs and work your way up; however, being a heavyweight contender and a favored son of Madison Square Garden (I fought there 13 times), I had an edge.
John Condon called the New York Boxing Commission and asked them to give me a try. In those days, because referees scored fights along with judges, the commission assigned me to some four round bouts to make sure I knew the red corner from the blue. After several months of judging, they had me referee some 4 round fights. Moving around the ring was no problem. I’d done it for 10 years. What I did find difficult was to be aloof when a fighter got knocked out. My natural tendency was to help him up. You can’t do that as a referee.
How many title bouts have you worked as third man in the ring?
I have refereed 41 world championships that have taken me to Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Denmark and England.
One of your outstanding achievements was formulating the Retirement Fund for boxers who have competed in IBF title bouts. Please tell me about that accomplishment…
In the late 1980s, Bob Lee, my wife Kathleen who has a background in pensions and is a Qualified Plan Administrator, and I began talking about a pension plan for boxers. Pension plans do not work for boxers at the state or national level because many fighters come and go and few stay in the business; therefore, you do not have a steady pool of participants the way you would in a normal business. However, the IBF is a different story.
In each fight, you have a champion and a challenger who are earning a significant sum of money. We designed a plan that had each fighter contribute $30,000 into an individual annuity custodied by an insurance company. A boxer can be exempt from the plan, if he can demonstrate that he has his own plan and that he has contributed $30,000 to it. Over the years, the plan has paid out significant sums to retirees, retirement ages 35 and significant sums to widows and families of deceased fighters.
What are your thoughts on boxing today as compared to the 1970’s when you first began in boxing?
I find it disturbing that there are no competitive American heavyweights on the scene today. Everybody’s not playing football, everybody’s not playing basketball and everybody’s not a drug dealer. So why isn’t anybody fighting? Perhaps the entitlement syndrome has overcome the will to fight your way out of a tough situation in this country.