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Russell Peltz's "Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye": Book Review by Thomas Hauser

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  • Russell Peltz's "Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye": Book Review by Thomas Hauser

    By Thomas Hauser

    Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

    Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, "bastardized by the alphabet groups" and at a time when "world titles still meant something."

    "I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve," he writes, "saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back." He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

    Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters - particularly small promoters - survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah's Marina and the Sands in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

    Along the way, Peltz's office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets iin his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, "The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter."

    Now Peltz has put pen to paper - or finger to keyboard. "The internet is often a misinformation highway," he writes. "I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I'm tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do."

    Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie "The Worm" Monroe, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, Stanley "Kitten" Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

    There's humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall "Tex" Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, "Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds."

    And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, "He couldn't pass an eye exam because he didn't understand the alphabet."

    Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, ""The Blue Horizon was a fight fan's nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters."

    That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, "Don't ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans."

    Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to "get me six wins in a row," Russell thought of Chandler. "I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters," he writes. "If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager."

    That brings us to Peltz the writer.

    The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

    It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

    Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

    There's also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges' scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

    "It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe," Russell explains. "I'd bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight."

    I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don't think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it's worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

    Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

    Peltz takes pride in saying, "I was part of Philadelphia's last golden age of boxing."

    An important part.

    Thomas Hauser's email address is His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing's highest honor - induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    I know the author of this review has done pretty well with his books but he's the exception. I wonder just how profitable this kind of endeavor is. The target audience is small and cannibalism often pops up where a writer puts out another book before the first one had time to make the rounds. I'm a voracious reader, especially of the Scandinavian noir genre, but I cannot remember the last time I went out to buy a book on boxing which I have been following for over 60 years. My preference is the essay and what I can read on line or on the internet. Just curious but I'd love to see stats on this. The other thing is getting a traditional publisher is no easy trick and what's even more difficult is getting up-front money.


    • #3
      Same here Ted. I read thousands of words every day across a wide range of topics (including boxing) but rarely if ever do they come from a book. I’ll take 1,500 words of BFERN over 1,500 pages of some random writer’s best mental
      masturbations and soppy declarations of unrequited love for Harry Greb. Sure I still have Hauser’s Ali book in my Maine bathroom but my bathroom is also light a book now after my father in law took a Jack Sharkey book outta there last weekend, started reading it, and took it home with him for good. I was never gonna read the thing. Forget how it even got there.


      • Kid Blast
        Kid Blast commented
        Editing a comment
        I like to read while in the bathroom.

    • #4
      Tom, did you read this book before you reviewed it?

      Hauser's review proves Peltz' point that most writers today only know or care about what they consider to be big names. When he says he wants "to skip to Hagler" I realized he has no knowledge of how important Philadelphia was to boxing in those days and he shows his lack of knowing by that very comment. Too many stories of Vegas and New York and not enough about anything else. Hauser refers to Peltz as a small club promoter without understanding the size of the crowds he drew in Philly (in a big building, not just the Blue Horizon). It seems as though he did not read the entire book because the first fight in 1975 between Bennie Briscoe and Cyclone Hart was rated second best fight in the world that year by the British-based weekly Boxing News (which is mentioned in the book). Number 1 fight was Ali-Frazier in Manila. Imagine Briscoe-Hart being number 2 to that great fight!!! No small thing! So, yes, I want to know what ticket prices were for the rematch, especially compared to what promoters are charging today for much less quality. Hauser is typical of writers who only care or know about Ali, Tyson, Roy Jones, de la Hoya... It's the rest of the boxing stories that need to be told, not to say that many of those fights were far from the limelight. Stories about Ali, Frazier, Tyson, de la Hoya, Mayweather are ad nauseam. I have no problem with the wager against Jones, but, c'mon, it was only $500 at 4-1. Scores of promoters have done much worse things. Get real, Hauser. Is that such a big deal? There was minimal TV in the 1970's so ALL promoters made money selling tickets. I ask whether Tom Hauser has been inside the Blue Horizon, which Peltz turned into one of the most legendary boxing clubs in the world (please note that others had tried and falied there). Tom Hauser is like the movie critic that pans a movie and it turns out to be a huge success at the box office (Cocktail, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Break-Up, Meet the Fockers, The DaVinci Code, to name a few).

      Judging from the responses on social media, "Thirty Dollars..." must be selling well and is extremely well liked!