In a world of chicken-scratch texting and emoticons, Bert Sugar spoke in soliloquies that left me scrambling for a dictionary whenever I hung up the phone. Tweet
He was the Muhammad Ali of boxing writers, a man who made the world more compelling, more entertaining and funnier than should be allowed by law just by opening his mouth.
Bert succumbed to lung cancer Sunday at the age of 74, surrounded by his family at Northern Westchester Medical Center in Westchester, NY.
I imagine his trademark Fedora was nearby. Boy, if that hat could talk.
As a writer, I consider it an honor to have interviewed the best boxing writer the world has ever known several times over the last couple of years. Bert penned more than 80 books, and those who knew him know he probably had 80 more in him when the final bell rang.
Over the last couple of years, we debated over who was the GOAT—a fight you'll never win with Bert, over the greatness of Manny Pacquiao, the travails of Emile Griffith—and, of course, the wonder that is Muhammad Ali.
Writing a worthy "goodbye" note to Bert is, frankly, an impossible task. But I can't let his passing go without paying my respects in prose, and soon in person, so my apologies in advance to those familiar with Bert's writing.
I spoke to Bert last month for my Bleacher Report column on legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, who had died.
As was most often the case, I was left having to parse through a dozen wonderful quotes to pick the three or four for which I had room.
This one captured his keen eye and colorful verse:
"Nobody knows what a great trainer is. It has more sides than a Rubik's Cube, but Angelo [Dundee] seemed to make it work," said Sugar.
Bert made it work over six decades, covering three Ali-Frazier bouts, two Sugars—Robinson and Leonard—and one remarkable Cassius Clay.
One of my fondest memories of Bert was my interview with him on 850 KOA, Denver's AM blowtorch, the last week of 2010. I was filling in for Rick Barber on his After Midnight program, a true magazine-style radio show that reaches over 25 states and a million people. You can hear the full interview at louromlive.com.
I called Bert a few weeks before the show would air and asked if he would join me for an hour. "Whatever you need, I'm there for you," he said.
I offered to put him on the last hour of my last show at KOA so he did not have to wake up too early, about 6 a.m. ET.
My producer for the day, Steve Seidenfeld, began to call Bert around 6 a.m., and we were scheduled to bring him on about 10 minutes after the hour.
The phone rang and rang and rang.
I thought to myself, Bert was out like John Tate vs. Mike Weaver in the 15th round circa 1980.
Ten more minutes and the phone rang and rang.
I was about to give Bert a standing eight.
I started to tackle how to rope-a-dope through the next hour without my star interview.
But Big Steve kept calling and suddenly, like Weaver in the 15th, Bert finally woke up 30 minutes into the hour.
In typical Bert fashion, he eased his way into the show with his trademark humor.
"I am right now looking for my left slipper, which is on my right foot," he said.
By the time we got Bert on the air, it was about 6:30 a.m. ET.
I joked about how we had talked before but at a more reasonable hour, to which he responded: "Any hour's more reasonable, I think."
Like a true champ, Bert came around, woke up, and made my last 30 minutes on KOA a knockout.
He was a treasure for all who valued boxing, and history and the English language.
The world just got a whole lot more boring with his passing.
I will miss him.
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