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R.I.P. Harry Reid, Political Kingpin and Former Boxing Judge

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  • R.I.P. Harry Reid, Political Kingpin and Former Boxing Judge

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    By Arne k. Lang

    Harry Reid passed away yesterday afternoon, Dec. 28, at age 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. During a career in politics that spanned six decades, Reid, a former amateur boxer and boxing judge, rose to become the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, making him the most powerful man in Washington aside from the occupant of the White House. Among the many lesser-known honors that came his way was induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.

    Born on Dec. 2, 1939, Reid was raised in Searchlight, Nevada, the son of a miner. When his father committed suicide, his mother took in laundry to make ends meet. Her clients were the ladies that staffed the town’s many brothels. At its peak in the 1930s during the construction of Hoover Dam, there were thirteen. (Searchlight nowadays is a mere flyspeck on the road from Las Vegas to the Colorado River resort town of Laughlin and there is no licensed whorehouse within a hundred miles.)

    The nearest high school to Searchlight was 45 miles away in the Las Vegas border town of Henderson. It was there that Harry met his future wife, Landra Gould, a Jewish girl, the daughter of a chiropractor. When her father objected to their marriage they eloped. She survives him. Married for 62 years, they had five children who they raised as Mormon.

    At Henderson’s Basic High, Reid’s civics teacher and boxing coach was Mike O’Callaghan who would go on to become Nevada’s twenty-third governor, serving two terms (1971-1979). During O’Callaghan’s first run, Harry Reid was on the ticket as his lieutenant governor. Reid had previously served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Reid opted not to join O’Callaghan for a second term, choosing instead to mount a campaign for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost in his first stab at it.

    According to boxrec, Reid judged 30 fights in Las Vegas from 1965 to 1968. With few exceptions, these were low-budget affairs, but Las Vegas was a good fight town. Reid was a ringside judge for bouts involving former or future world title-holders Freddie Little, Denny Moyer and Ralph Dupas, and near-champions Ferd Hernandez and Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez.

    There is no evidence that he ever judged a fight involving Gary Bates, a journeyman heavyweight who would become fodder for Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, and Gerry Cooney. Reid would have undoubtedly turned down the opportunity as he and Bates, with whom he shared a hardscrabble background, were fast friends from their days at the Henderson Boys Club. The boxer, who died in 2014, went on to become a casino dealer, whereas Reid went on to hobnob with the rich and powerful while living in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, but their friendship never waned. Harry Reid was the best man at Bates’ wedding.

    Las Vegas was a much smaller town back in the days when Reid was a boxing judge, but the town was woolier as it harbored a higher percentage of wiseguys. Reid encountered many of their ilk while serving as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, a gift from O’Callaghan, but he kept his distance. The mobsters that ruled the casinos had a pet name for him: Mr. Cleanface.

    Reid and John McCain, the U.S. Senator from the neighboring state of Arizona, were frequently at loggerheads, but they were on the same page when it came to boxing. In 2001, Reid introduced a bill that would have created a national boxing commission within the Department of Labor. The bill was designed to strengthen the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, co-sponsored by McCain and Nevada’s other U.S. Senator, Richard Bryan, which was passed into law the previous year. Reid was also in the forefront of the drive to get Barack Obama into issuing a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson. Obama declined, ostensibly because of Johnson’s well-documented history of domestic violence, but Obama’s successor Donald Trump pardoned Johnson with no pressure from Reid who was then retired.

    In Harry Reid’s fifth and final successful run for the U.S. Senate, his Republican challenger Sharron Angle had a slim lead in one of the polls heading into the final days of voting. Bob Arum threw Reid a lifeline in the form of Manny Pacquiao. Aware that there were 80,000 Filipinos living in Nevada, Arum had Pacquaio campaign for Harry Reid who prevailed by 5.7 percentage points. Reid would repay the favor by wangling an invite for Pac-Mac and his wife Jinkee to visit President Obama in the White House.

    Arum shared Reid’s political leanings, but a cynic would suggest that he was motivated more by quid pro quo. It's no coincidence that Top Rank, the company that Arum founded, has had fewer problems getting visas for foreign boxers than other companies that penetrated the Las Vegas market. Harry Reid was a handy man to know.

    Reid lived long enough to see his name attached to Las Vegas’ international airport. Reid displaced Pat McCarran who represented Nevada in the U.S. Senate from 1933 to 1954. The drive to get McCarran’s name off the airport picked up steam in recent years when it became more widely known that McCarran, besides being a virulent anti-communist, was also an anti-Semite.

    The airport, America’s eighth busiest in passenger traffic, was officially re-christened Harry Reid International Airport on Dec. 14, two weeks before Reid’s death. The transition was made very quietly. All of the signage isn’t up yet.

    We here at the Sweet Science send our condolences to Harry Reid’s loved ones. May he rest in peace.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

    Last edited by AcidArne; 12-29-2021, 02:52 PM.

  • #2
    Old school pol. You better not cross him. He wielded a lot of power and knew how to use it. He was an equal opportunist when it came to being rude and would rarely say goodbye on the phone after a conversation. He'd just hand up. I liked him a lot and so did my LV relatives.