Madison Square Garden – The Whole Story of an Era

By Bob Goodman: I take extreme exception to the erroneous history of Madison Square Garden, a series written by John Wharton. He simply doesn’t have his facts right regarding the period he was writing about and he has no personal knowledge of what was going on with Madison Square Garden Boxing when I was hired to run the department in January of 1986.

Masison Square Garden Boxing did not have a single boxer under contract when I began, nor did it have any boxers under a “Promotional Agreement”. In fact, Madison Square Garden did not even have a form “Promotional Agreement” that we could work from. We set about to change that quickly and started mapping out a program.

With a regular series, we started developing area boxers and signing them to fight under the promotional guidance of Madison Square Garden. Our programming on the MSG Network on a very active schedule was seen across the country and our young talents started to get noticed. With our lobbying, they started moving up in the world ratings with the various sanctioning bodies. Writers call them, “the alphabet soup organizations.” But to the boxers and the industry, they’re very important.

We developed young stars like James “Buddy” McGirt, Michael “The Silk” Olajide, Tracy Patterson, Kevin Kelley, Aaron “Superman” Davis, “Poison” Junior Jones, Julio Ceasar Green, Lonnie Bradley, Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson, Hector-Acero Sanchez, Juan LaPorte, Glenwood “The Real Beast” Brown, Clarence “Bones” Adams, Chris Reid, Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart, Hector Acero-Sanchez, Regilio Tuur, and Seamus McDonagh among others. We also renewed the careers of Michael “Dynamite” Dokes, Edwin “Chapo” Rosario, Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes, and Donnie “Golden Boy” LaLonde.

It was hard to turn on a network televised boxing show on CBS, NBC, or ABC without seeing a Madison Square Garden boxer. We were also getting our boxers further exposure on the USA Network and a shot on HBO or Showtime. We were “marketing” our product. The Madison Square Garden boxer was getting very well known, not only throughout the country, but around the world.

Many of our young boxers became world champions. Due to MSG living up to our obligations to our boxers, virtually every one of them got a chance to fight for a world championship. Some became exceptional champions who made us all very proud; especially since the Garden started many of them off in the “Kid Gloves” at the age of 11. Then there was the Golden Gloves and making the transition to the professional ranks. We gave them an alternative to the “streets”.

It was a proud period for New York area boxing. The gyms were busy and the boxers were getting plenty of work. Even more important was the fact that the boxers were all being treated fairly by a promoter that cared deeply about their well-being and careers.

There was a period of over two years when we had to take the Madison Square Garden Boxing show on the road. We traveled all over the country and televised our events from locations throughout the country while the Garden was shut down for a major renovation. During this time, we promoted televised boxing events from Las Vegas, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, South Carolina, Maine, Ohio, Atlantic City, Ohio, The Catskills, and other areas of New York State.

The Wharton piece says that Julio Cesar Chavez was introduced at Madison Square Garden, but neglects to say that he also fought a hell of a world championship fight there in 1986; a toe-to-toe distance fight with former world champion and local hero Juan LaPorte.

That same December 12, 1986, card saw a huge upset as James “Bonecrusher” Smith knocked out WBA heavyweight champion “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon. The show also featured undefeated Olympic heavyweight Tyrell Biggs facing local contender Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes.

Before that, on May 20, 1986, the Garden hosted a highly regarded match between “Iron” Mike Tyson, who was on the way up, and his rival, Mitch “Blood” Green. That show also featured some very impressive other talent: James “Buddy” McGirt facing Ricky Young and future champions Matthew Hilton, Julian Jackson and Mustafa Hamsho.

On April 4, 1990, two of our comebacking champions shared the spotlight in the Garden. Donovan “Razor” Ruddock faced former world champion Michael “Dynamite” Dokes, who was in the midst of a charge back up the ranks. He was stopped by the hard-punching Ruddock. In a co-feature, world champion Edwin “Chapo” Rosario defended his newly acquired crown against fellow Puerto Rican Juan Nazario, who stopped him in eight rounds. There was also a sensational scrap between Merqui Sosa and Jorge Martinez.

In 1991, our friend and associate Sugar Ray Leonard wanted to perform at the Garden and fought in a title fight against San Diego’s Terry Norris. It was sad to see Leonard lose the decision to the younger Norris, who went on to many more successful title defenses. Some other top young middleweights were featured on the same show that including a spirited battle between Willie “The Worm” Monroe and Genaro Martinez. Julio Cesar Green and Alex Ramos were also on the card.

After it renovation, the Garden came back in 1993 with a world heavyweight title fight: Brooklyn’s Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, defending his crown against former world heavyweight king, Michael “Dynamite” Dokes. There were other heavyweight matchups on the show with Olympian “Merciless” Ray Mercer against heavy handed Jesse Ferguson, Alex “The Destroyer” Steward in with “Wimpy” Halstead, and an exciting new bomber from New Zealand – David Tua.

On March 6, 1993, we put our own two-time world champion James “Buddy” McGirt in with exceptional southpaw world champion Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. They had fought a pretty good battle before down in Virginia. McGirt had suffered some shoulder injuries and had surgery on his left shoulder. He was hoping it would turn out all right this time. Although the fight was highly spirited, and McGirt did all he could, Whitaker won the decision. The Garden also featured two of their future world champions, Junior Jones and Lonnie Bradley, on that show.

The Garden continued with its regular MSG Network shows, network shows on CBS, NBC and ABC, and of course packaging its foreign sales throughout the world until I left in late 1993.

That’s a hell of a record, especially when you consider that the Garden had to close up shop for over two years for renovations. Anyone, who doesn’t recognize those names that were developed during the aforementioned period, must be “blogging” from a different planet.

This is a truer picture of what was happening during those productive years for Madison Square Garden. There was no period in MSG history when the Garden developed more world champions that it could call “MSG Boxers.” It was never about the occasional show we could do in the “main arena”. It was about creating a program to develop a continuing stream of talent and future world champions that would fight under the proud banner of Madison Square Garden Boxing.

All of this leads to a larger issue. Most of today’s boxing writers don’t get a chance to learn the sport. The days are gone when major newspapers would assign a columnist and a writer, or even two, to a big fight. Indeed, in days past, writers were assigned to cover big fights for a full month, not two days. They actually got to learn what the sport was about.

Even worse; the way things are today, anyone can write a “blog” or a piece online. They don’t even need credentials. Anyone can walk in off the street and say he has a column or writes for some dot-com we’ve never heard of.

The number of real boxing writers in this country can be counted on one hand. Real reporting is different from pretending to be an expert. We have far too many experts today, many of whom rarely spend time in a gym or even watching fights in the clubs across the country, where they can learn anything of substance about the game.

I doubt that John Wharton, who wrote the Madison Square Garden series for Secondsout, spent more than a couple of nights at boxing events at the Garden. Being misinformed, he painted a very inmaccurate portrait. And I’m taking it personally because it’s unfair to the many boxers and my staff, who worked so hard to get Madison Square Garden back into the business of boxing, which it hadn’t been in for a long time.

During my era, The Garden was much more than just a building, or even “the world’s most famous arena”. It represented a true commitment to boxing and passion for the young men who worked so hard to become something special in a city that’s hard to survive in.

As a kid from the streets of New York, I found a path in boxing. I was proud to work at The Garden and felt we made a difference for so many young men. If you can save a few, that’s a win. When you can save hundreds, you’ve hit the jackpot! It’s too bad that many of today’s writers don’t understand that viewpoint and the history behind it, or even care.

Bob Goodman

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