A Golden Oldie From The Old Forum: Remembering Bert Sugar


  • When I heard that Bert Sugar had died, I knew that the outpouring of tributes would be anecdote-driven and that they would share a common thread: Boy, that guy could sure light up a room.

    If you wandered in late to a boxing press luncheon, you could always tell where Bert Sugar was seated. The folks at his table were always the jolliest.

    I never saw anyone hold his liquor better. When his drinking companions were three sheets to the wind, Bert was still working on his first sheet. After a night out drinking with Bert, you might not remember much of anything, but your ribs -- aching from all the laughter -- informed you that you had an uproariously good time.

    Bert was a wonderful writer and a wonderful talker. The sports talk radio guys loved him, not only because he was a great interview, always entertaining, but because he rarely turned them down when they requested an interview.

    I recall listening to Bert on a radio show that Pete Rose hosted here in Las Vegas. During the conversation, Rose felt compelled to touch on a recent fight in Germany about which he knew almost nothing, a world heavyweight title fight, as it were, between Axel Schulz and Frans Botha. "Oh, you must mean the Thrilla' in Vanilla," said Sugar.

    Of all Bert's books, my favorite is the one with which he is most closely identified. "The 100 Greatest Boxers of all Time" sizzles with bright metaphors that capture Bert's genuine affection for boxing, warts and all.

    However, a man doesn't write eighty books or thereabouts without turning out an occasional clunker, and Bert was no exception. He could turn a neat phrase whatever the subject, but when he ventured outside his areas of expertise his insights weren't very insightful.

    I should know. I had some input into a book that Bert authored called "The Caesars Palace Book of Sports Betting." That book is crap. However, let the record show that I was paid for my input with a check that didn't bounce.

    Somewhat later, Bert asked me to write an article for Boxing Illustrated. Mike Tyson was headed off to prison and Bert thought it would be fun to concoct a hypothetical heavyweight tournament, assigning odds to each entrant as a guide to picking the likely winner.

    After several gentle reminders, I gave up hope of ever being paid for this piece. What irks me still is that this wasn't an article that I submitted on spec, but something I was commissioned to write. And I came out of pocket a little bit, talking long-distance to the best boxing pricemaker in England in a day when an international call wasn't so cheap.

    Aw shucks, never mind. If a fellow dabbles in boxing, in whatever capacity, this comes with the territory. And Bert gave me something precious whenever he invited me to belly-up to the bar with him. If laughter truly is the best medicine, then the hours that I spent with him added years to my life.

    Bert had something in common with Yogi Berra. Because Yogi's malaprops were so good, others not of his making were attributed to him. Similarly, Bert gets top billing in some fanciful yarns because the shoe fits him so well.

    My favorite Bert Sugar story involves the second Bowe-Holyfield fight, held outdoors in Las Vegas in 1993. As the story goes, Bert is seated next to an important sportswriter, but someone new to the boxing beat. In one version it's Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, so let's use him for illustrative purposes.

    Anyway, during the bout there's a fellow up in the sky flying around on what appears to be an electric lawnmower. In the seventh round, the aviator -- instantly dubbed Fan Man -- falls out of the sky, landing with his contraption in Riddick Bowe's corner where he is promptly beaten to a pulp by ringsiders in Jesse Jackson's entourage, while others seated around Rev. Jackson faint dead away.

    Sitting on the opposite side of the ring, Ryan is rendered perfectly speechless by this spectacle. Finally he turns to Bert and stammers out a few words. "Excuse me," he says, I don't follow this sport very closely. Does this sort of thing happen very often?"

    "This is boxing, pal," says Sugar, disdainfully. "It happens all the time."

    - - - Arne K. Lang

    Note: Bert Randolph Sugar was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005. He died on March 25, 2012 at age seventy-four​

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Bert was inspirational and amusing to read.

Memorable to meet in Canastota, NY.

And very missed in death...