Gladys Rosa—A Conversation (Part I)
By Kent Wallace
I was seated at the “Office” (Legion Post 92) a shot in one hand a phone in the other— with Gladys Rosa on the other end of the line in New York City.
I was solo—the last time I saw Boom Boom she was sailing East on a Junk—but like Sonny and Cher said, The Beat Goes On…
Gladys Rosa is a renaissance woman—a gal who boldly climbed through the ropes of the male-dominated sport of boxing—her influence felt at the highest levels.
Gladys has worn many hats—publicist, interpreter, trouble-shooter, confidant and more…
Plus she’s served in these varies capacities for such seminal Champions as Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Julio Caesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Mike Tyson (to name but a few).
Perhaps best known for her marketing and public relation skills—Gladys single handedly crafted the images of the aforementioned fighters to the Latin Market and conversely polished the voices and mien of Latin fighters for consumption in the USA—you might say, she was the mouth behind the mitts.
“With Caesar,” Gladys’ voice came through the electronic device with a passionate lilt, “I was involved in every aspect of his career. He never had an “official” manager and so while Don King did the promotion, I took Caesar under my wing in a managerial sense—grooming him for the world stage.
“In the case of Tito (Felix Trinidad), despite hailing from Puerto Rico he was not particularly well known there—the fact that my parents were born in the Commonwealth allowed us a more personal connection and level of trust. Tito became very comfortable with the blueprint I created for his career—needless to say it worked.”
Gladys was an expert at molding the public personas of fighters but this scribe wanted to know how it all began and she was quick to pounce with a breathtaking narrative…
“I was an advanced student in High School,” Gladys began. “Therefore I did not have to attend classes during my sophomore and junior years. Rather, I was allowed to earn credits by working as an intern.
“I was fortunate to land a spot with the City of New York under the tutelage of Melvyn Haywoode.
“So here I was, a self-confident 16-year-old, working with Mel, when I was asked to join my “boss” at a meeting regarding smoothing out the relationship between Don King (promoter for Muhammad Ali) and the Nation of Islam (Ali’s managers). The mission; to help King leverage his position with the Nation.
“I’ll never forget the meeting in King’s office on the top floor of Rockefeller Center—it was akin to Dorothy entering the palace of the Wizard in the classic film.
“There was a room full of people (all men) seated around a huge table—and while the scene was overwhelming I was not intimidated.
“I sat quietly listening to a string of community leaders prattle on with suspect solutions I found to be more
confrontational than conducive to bridge building—a grave lack of diplomacy.
“I guess the “Tell” was my facial expressions. You see, while I didn’t dare speak up, I couldn’t mask my contrarian scorn for the blather—and Don King took note!”
“Suddenly, he raised his hand, silencing the room and steering his gaze my way, ‘You don’t seem to agree with much that’s being said at this table Gladys. I’d like to hear your thoughts.’
“If silence can get even quieter it happened right then and there. And while I was out of my element, I nonetheless spoke my mind. I explained that all the ideas being put forth seemed aggressive and that in order to breach the impasse they needed to focus on resolving the clash rather than trying to strong-arm a path to reconciliation.
“Mr. King listened intently and when I was finished, he smiled and offered me a job—right there on the spot, ‘I’d like you to come and work for me,’ those were his exact words, and well, since I suspect I was on a roll, I replied, ‘I’ll work with you but not for you!’
“It’s not that I was trying to be imprudent or sassy, but I guess I was the kind of kid that stood her ground—on her own two feet—Puerto Rican pride.
“A gentle nudge from Mr. Haywoode brought me back to my senses…”
Gladys and I ended our conversation with the promise and commitment to speak again. And frankly, I can’t wait.
Gladys has had a long career in the fight game and especially with the colorful Don King. She has many a story to share and she assured me continued candor and frankness.
Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m heading back to the “Office” for a tightener…
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