- The Washington Times
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The last time I talked to Don Elbaum, he was trying to get Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame - the Summit County Boxing Hall of Fame in Ohio.

Elbaum had promoted fights in Cleveland and Akron in the 1960s and ‘70s and was being inducted himself. He suggested Rose be inducted with him, and board members called an emergency meeting and inducted Rose as well.

“I think it is a disgrace that he is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame,” Elbaum said.

But what was his connection to boxing in Summit County?

“He’s flown over here enough times that there was probably a fight going on at least one time in Akron,” he said, working an angle like only Elbaum can.

So when I saw Elbaum on Saturday night at Patriot Center for Jimmy Lange’s fight, I knew I was in for a good time. He is boxing’s most colorful promoter, always with a pitch for a fighter with often as much of a tenuous connection to the truth as any argument that Pete Rose belongs in a boxing hall of fame.

Some might say he could sell snowballs to eskimos, but that doesn’t do Elbaum justice. He would say the snowballs were packed by Robert Peary at the North Pole. He is a lovable rogue with none of the malice that others who dabble in the truth occasionally in this business have.

Elbaum, who once promoted local welterweight champion Simon Brown, was at Patriot Center because he is doing some work with the Langes.

“Jimmy Lange can do for [Patriot Center] what Arturo Gatti did for Atlantic City,” he said. Of course that’s a stretch, but I would expect no less from the best storyteller in the game.

Elbaum, 69, goes back to the final days of Sugar Ray Robinson, whom he promoted at the end of his career. In a 1965 news conference for a Robinson fight, Elbaum discovered it was nearly 25 years to the day that Robinson had his first professional fight. He presented Robinson with all sorts of hoopla. Then, in an moment of inspiration, Elbaum pulled out a pair of boxing gloves he had in his trunk and told Robinson that they were the gloves he used in his first fight.

“Ray was moved,” Elbaum said. “There were tears in his eyes, and the writers are yelling for Ray to put them on. I took another look at the gloves, and to my horror, I saw they were both right-handed. I’m whispering to Ray, ‘Don’t put them on.’ Ray finally got it and told the writers he couldn’t bring himself to put them on.”

He once staged a match between two winless fighters, calling it a fight for the title of the “World’s Worst Boxer,” and even had a trophy made for the event. He once presented a fighter with one of Gordie Howe’s MVP trophies he lifted out of the Detroit Red Wings’ trophy case after a fight at Olympia Stadium. He has even risked life and limb, climbing into the ring several times when a fighter didn’t show up. One time he faced a fighter on his card; as they met in the middle of the ring he said, “Don’t forget who’s signing your check.”

Saturday night Elbaum peppered me with his latest gimmicks: a heavyweight boxer who is the second coming of Doctor Dolittle, a cruiserweight whom he called the James Bond of Israel and another cruiserweight named “Graziano” - only one of the most recognizable names in boxing history.

“This kid Joey Abell, he’s a dynamite prospect,” Elbaum said. “He’s 25-4 with 24 knockouts and fights out of Minnesota. He played football for South Dakota and the Green Bay Packers wanted him, but he wanted to go into boxing. He is Swedish, so I brought him over to Sweden, where he is helping bring boxing back there. I’ve never seen anyone into animals as this kid. He’s got dogs, he’s got cats, he’s got reptiles - forget about it. He goes to the zoo and spends three or four hours talking to the animals, and it is almost like they talk back to him. Forget about it.

“I had him headlining on a show two weeks ago in Sweden. I get a call from his manager about two or three weeks before the fight, and [he] says, ‘Don, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Joey injured himself.’ I said, ‘How?’ He said he fell out of a tree. He saw a kitten on a branch in a tree stuck up there, climbed up to save the kitten. A branch broke. He fell down and injured his leg. I call him up screaming, and he said, ‘Don, I would do it again.’ He blew a $30,000 payday. I am trying to call the ASPAP - whatever it is. This guy should be nominated for something.”

“I got a kid from Israel, Ran Nakash,” Elbaum continued, not batting an eye after telling the Abell tale. “He is a cruiserweight, 20-0 with 14 knockouts. He is at the Blue Horizon [in Philadelphia] this Friday. You should come up and see this kid. This kid is a story.

“He is the James Bond of Israel. You know what Krav Maga is? It is the number one hand-to-hand combat, how to kill, and he is the number one instructor in Krav Maga in all of Israel. He teaches all the special bodyguards, everyone. The Army sent over 10 of their top Green Berets a few months ago just for him to give instructions to. He gives demonstrations in temples when I bring him over here. He teaches you how to kill in five minutes… five seconds, forget about it. He says, ‘Come at me with a knife, and you are on the floor.’ This is a kid that can someday fight for the cruiserweight champion.”

But that’s not enough for Elbaum. He’s got this other kid on the same Blue Horizon card out of Kansas City he said is named Jeremiah “Rocky” Graziano II. For those who may not be aware of it, Rocky Graziano was a well-known middleweight champion who fought three legendary fights with Tony Zale in the late 1940s and whose life was immortalized by Paul Newman in the 1956 film “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” His real name was also Thomas Rocco Barbella.

Elbaum said Jeremiah “Rocky” Graziano II is “a descendant.” He didn’t say a descendant of whom.

Don Elbaum descended from a Damon Runyon story.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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