At 43, Mamby gives body and Saoul to boxing

October 07, 1990|By Michael Katz | Michael Katz,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- The Times Square gym overlooks the shady side of 42nd Street, but the Old Man was oblivious to the dangers of the outside world as he worked alone.

He doubled the jab, spinning first to the left, then to the right. They tell him he's 43, too old for this kind of thing, but Saoul Mamby just laughs. The world's oldest active boxer does not laugh at time, though a professional career in its 22nd year has left him largely unmarked except for the swelling above the left eye. There are no gray hairs, no wrinkles, no crow's feet, just the badge from his last fight, Aug. 23.

What he laughs about is this notion that taking punches to the head is dangerous. Danger? The Old Man has been shot at in Vietnam and hacked a cab for years in the Bronx. This was before he became a world champion and boxing was going to make things cushy.

He'll tell you he's still fighting because, "This is the only thing I am extremely good at."

"I've been doing it all my life, and I can still do it," he said. "I can

do the same things I did when I was in my 20s, most of them. Maybe I've lost speed, but I've gained power, and you find shortcuts."

It beats hacking through the Bronx, where he was born, bred and Bar Mitzvahed.

*

"Drive a cab again? You crazy? That's dangerous," he says. "You see 'em killin' 'em like that? Especially in the Bronx? They're shootin' 'em in the head."

Truth is, he wanted to leave the ring, but then his life went sour. Boxing is tough? Try divorce. Or the IRS. In the ring, the Old Man can defend himself, even when the legs and reflexes go a bit. That's what makes it so tough outside the ring.

"When you're not a winner, you get abandoned by those you thought loved you," Mamby says. "It really taught me a lesson. Some people I gave thousands of dollars when I was on top, but when I was a little hungry, I couldn't get a loaf of bread. Me becoming champion again, or just fighting for it, is telling them all, 'Kiss my behind, and I'm going to make it.' "

Ex-wife Yolande got a lot of the money, then the tax boys asked for $52,000 more. So he continues to fight, continues to look for the last shot, the big payday.

He finished chasing shadows and climbed down from the ring and found Emile Griffith, who had fought until 39, to help him on with his gloves to hit the heavy bag.

Mamby dates back to Stillman's and Gleason's, when he had a little genius named Al Smith teaching him how to slip punches before the opponent even knew he was going to throw them. He was Sweet Saoul then. Now Smith is blind, living in a New Jersey old-age home, and Mamby trains himself because who else knows more about the game than the Old Man? The game has changed. The old days, Mamby couldn't jump rope without attracting a crowd in the gym. Fighters would stop working to study the Professional.

Teddy Brenner, the great matchmaker, once dubbed him a "hot-dog fighter," not meaning Mamby was a showoff but that his defensive style sent fans to the concession stands. Maybe the fans didn't appreciate him, but his peers did.

"See this man," said Griffith, a five-time world champion. "This man is history."

History is full of Old Men. Archie Moore was maybe 51 when he finally quit, and now he trains George Foreman. Bob FitzSimmons was 52, and such former champions from Kid Chocolate and Willie Pep and Joe Brown, Old Bones himself, to Max Schmeling and Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson all went on at least into their 40s.

The best of them all, Sugar Ray Robinson, kept fighting until 44 and died with Alzheimer's. But then the great Stanley Ketchel died at 24 from the bullet of a jealous husband. Life is dangerous.

"I have the body of a 22-year-old," the Old Man insisted. "I look about 27. I can outbox most of the young guys in the gym. Why shouldn't I do it? I'm happy. How many people are happy in what they're doing? People tell me to retire. What for? Because they would?"

Randy Gordon, chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, said he had no trouble licensing the Old Man.

"The doctors tell me his brain waves are absolutely regular, that his cardiovascular system is like a guy 20 years younger," Gordon says. "You see him jump rope. He's as good as anybody you've ever see [Roberto] Duran, [Ray] Leonard, Eusebio Pedroza. The docs tell me he's a physical phenomenon. Dr. Bill Latham said Mamby is the exception to all the rules."

And Thursday, Mamby signed with Dave Wolf, the man who managed Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, so he could concentrate even more on the fighting and less on the finances.

The eyes still sparkle, although the Old Man has seen just about every seamy side of boxing, "the lowest of the low." He's done it all. He remembers it all.

There are only 19 KOs on the 42-23-6 record, but even back when, before he won his World Boxing Council junior welterweight championship belt more than 10 years ago, he figured he had accomplished everything there was when he scored a one-punch knockout, a right hand over a lazy jab.

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