Jackie Kallen on Boxing: Bye, Bert Sugar
By Jackie Kallen
Bye, Bert. R.I.P. I hope the first thing you do in heaven is light up one of your big, fat, smelly cigars and put on your ever-present fedora. That way you will be easily recognized by Angelo Dundee and your other many friends who preceded you there.
As one who called you “friend” and knew you for several decades, I can honestly say that you were one of the good guys. Tough on the outside at times, but a total marshmallow on the inside. You loved the sport of boxing and were always a huge advocate and cheerleader. When you saw something that irked you, though, you were hardly shy about reporting it.
I remember the first time we met. It was the late 1970s and I was with Thomas Hearns and Emanuel Steward. You were chomping on your cigar and curious as hell about a woman interested in the game. We chatted and you were proud to announce that you went to U of M and had a deep fondness for Michigan.
One night, in Las Vegas, over cocktails at Caesar’s Palace, we talked for hours about Harry Houdini. I was always intrigued by him and so were you. You even wrote a book about him. That gave us plenty to talk about that night. I think it was right before the first Hearns-Leonard fight.
People often described you as Damon Runyonesque and you used to laugh that the next generation of boxing fans would have no idea who Damon Runyon was. I think you’re right.
I wrote some articles for you when you took over Boxing Illustrated again in the late 1980s and we used to enjoy sitting and discussing the illustrious quartet of Hagler/Hearns/Leonard/Duran. We both wondered if there would ever be a golden age like that again with the best fighting the best.
One thing that you used to tease me about was the fact that whenever you told a joke, I already knew the punch line. That’s because you told the same (usually corny) jokes over and over. And you were usually the one laughing the loudest and the hardest.
I will always appreciate the fact that when I started my career in boxing, you did not try to discourage me or make off-putting comments. You had respect for women and laughed that I could hold my own with any of the big boys in the business. I loved you for that. Your stamp of approval helped pave the way for me at a time when there weren’t many women in the business.
Your bout with lung cancer was a tough one and if you were playing the odds, you would have bet on yourself to win. Since you actually succumbed to a heart attack–you win the bet. The cancer did not KO you.
You will be sadly missed, my friend. You were one of a kind. They don’t make them like you anymore.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen