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More Memorable Fan Encounters With Boxing Stars

Jonny Hirschbein: “I was at the premiere of ‘The Hurricane,’ the movie about Ruben Carter. As a kid, I had stolen a first edition of his book, “The 16th Round,” from a used book store and kept it ever since. I brought that book to the premiere and at the after-party… and there he was… The Hurricane himself. I approached him with the book. We were alone. And when he saw the book, he said, ‘Where did you ever find an old copy like this?’ I answered, ‘I stole it.’ To which he replied, ‘Then I’ll sign it.’ And he did.”

Sean Gibbons: “Sean O’Grady was the first real boxer I’ve ever seen. I saw Sean O’Grady box Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez at The Forum. About 18,000 Mexicans and three white people – me, my mom and dad. Quite a memory. Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez stopped Sean in the fourth round. His dad stopped it in the corner. Sean came out and kicked butt for two rounds and then hit the wall. He was only 17-years-old at the time.”

John Scully: “I have been lucky enough to meet Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns several times over the years including twice in a three-week span over the course of the summer of 2005. The most memorable time by far, though, was our very first meeting. I had always looked up to Tommy Hearns. I always respected him and was awed by him because of four particular fights he participated in. The crushing of Pipino Cuevas, The skills he showed in the first fight with Sugar Ray, the warrior mentality he showed against Hagler, and the unbelievable jab-right hand he showed against Duran. You also cannot forgot how he outboxed one of the greatest pure boxers ever in Wilfred Benitez.

“The first time I ever saw Thomas Hearns in person was in June of 1996 when I was in Jacksonville, Florida for Roy’s fight with Eric Lucas and Tommy was there, too. I always have my camera with me at fights because you just never know who you will run across at a boxing match. I walked up to him during a break in fights, figuring I would use our mutual friendship with James Toney as a way to break the ice and begin a conversation with him. I said something about James and how he used to talk about Tommy with a lot of respect. Tommy just kind of looked down at me and didn’t say anything in reply. It was like I was not even there. I know he heard me because I was less than two feet away and we were looking at each other dead in the eyes.

“I had never met him before and I thought to myself, ‘Aww, man. Maybe he had too many fights. Maybe he doesn’t understand what I am saying.’ I got a little nervous. I felt kind of like I was on the spot, I didn’t quite know what to do, so I just continued talking. ‘Yeah, James always respected you when we talked. Have you seen him lately?’ I asked. Tommy just glared at me with absolutely no expression on his face. Nothing. Just a blank stare.

“Now, I had just fought Henry Maske a month earlier for the world light heavyweight title and, not that long before this moment, I had been introduced to the crowd between fights along with Tommy and the other fighters and athletes and entertainers who were in attendance and for a few seconds I thought maybe Tommy saw me as a potential opponent at 175 pounds and just didn’t want to be friendly with me. Maybe he’s trying to intimidate me, I thought to myself.

“At this point I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable because if he didn’t at least say something to me I was just going to have to turn around and walk away, leaving the champ standing there in what appeared to be a daze. I didn’t want to do that to him so I started to fool around a little bit. I know there had to be people watching all this happen. So I looked right into Tommy’s eyes and while he was staring at me I slowly got up on my tippy-toes and kind of made an Ali type of googly eyes face at him, thinking THAT would break him up and he would laugh. So there I am on my tippy-toes, making googly-eye faces right into the face of Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and he is glaring at me. Still no change of expression. At this point I am feeling sad for Tommy, thinking boxing has done him in. So before the moment gets any more uncomfortable I come down off my tippy-toes and kind of carefully, softly, pat him on the shoulder and say, ‘Well, it’s been nice talking to you.’ I turn to leave and take a couple steps when suddenly I hear loud laughing from behind me and as I begin to turn back around Tommy is grabbing me from behind, laughing and saying, ‘No, man I was only playin’ with you!! Let’s take that picture.”

Wladimir Klitschko: “I don’t remember who the first big boxing champ I met. I guess Muhammad Ali was the first and real one at the Olympics. Just met him, with no conversation.”

Michael Grant: “When I first came to meet Don Turner – Richard Steele sent me (in 1994). Don said I was a big stiff. Big guys can’t fight. I had no knowledge of this till later. Don said, Send him for two weeks. Met him at the airport, he’s like, You ARE big, man! First day in the gym I shadowboxed, jumped rope and hit the bag. Second day I sparred a southpaw. Don gave me some pointers – move to the left, jab and throw the hook. I remember – jab and hook. I take a shot, didn’t flinch. The guy starts getting frustrated. He’s coming in. I throw a six-inch right and he’s out cold. Don’s like, Damn kid, what you got?!”

Peter McNeeley: “One time my father brought Marvin Hagler to Medfield High School gym for an exhibition to raise money for the basketball team to play in a tournament in Hawaii. This was back in the 1970’s when Hagler only had like five pro fights. I just remember Hagler’s look of determination, punching power, boxing skills. He had fire.”

Grant Elvis Phillips: “When I was 11, I was sitting on Don King’s desk, talking boxing. I showed up in my little suit and tie and asked Barbara Perez (the boxing judge) who, at the time, was DK’s secretary, that I wanted to meet him. And up I went to his office.”

Seth Abraham: “The first pro fight I ever saw, my wife took me to. Her firm represented Madison Square Garden. We saw Wilfredo Benitez defend his title against Guerrero Chavez at Madison Square Garden.”

LeRoy Neiman: “Joe Louis came to the studio. He was wearing a light brown suit. I said, Joe, that’s a very nice suit. He said, That’s why they call me the Brown Bomber. Joe, who would win a fight now between you and Ali? “Well, Clay’s 24 and I’m 50, so Clay would win.”

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