Pro boxing has that low barrier to entry, so it attracts b-loads of “characters.” Bob Trieger, one of the very best publicists in the business, though, is one of those rock-solid dudes who litter the sport, and possesses ample character and decency. Yes, there are plenty of good ones in the game, and “Brighton Bobby” is one of my favorites, for his affability, class, and loyalty.
I go back a ways with Trieger, so it is my distinct pleasure to do this piece, which allows me 1) to get to know my friend a bit better and 2) spread the word on his book, a labor of love which bolsters the legacy of man who already built a reputation that is firm and enduring.
OK, I'm not gonna BS–gotta keep it real. Bobby's not gonna get mad at me, who knows all too well that “boxing journalism” is such that those of us who remain in the sphere often clip coupons in order to stay afloat. Yeah, I bought the Kindle version of his wonderful effort. So please, after you read up on Bob Trieger and “New England's Greatest Boxers,” do consider buying the hardcover edition.
Q: Before we get into that nitty gritty, Bob Trieger, could you tell readers and potential buyers about you: your upbringing, what brought you to the boxing space.
A: I was born and raised in Boston, in a rough Brighton housing project named Fidelis Way. I started writing for the local newspaper, Allston-Brighton Citizen Item, replacing my friend Mike Marley, who had written about me playing baseball and basketball at Brighton High. He was leaving for the University of Nevada at Reno. By the way, Mike was a member of my 20-person selection committee for my book, but he passed prior to its publication.
In 1971, I was drafted by Uncle Sam and served as a communications specialist, including 13 months in South Korea. I returned home and went to the University of Massachusetts at Boston. While I was going to school, I started “stringing” for some daily and weekly papers in Greater Boston. I had been a boxing fan since I was a boy, watching “Friday Night at the Fights” every week with my father.
In 1975, I was writing sports for the Chelsea Record, a daily paper in the city bordering Boston that produced my first client, 2-time World Heavyweight Champion John Ruiz. I discovered that Chelsea was the mecca of boxing between 1902-08, largely because it was one of the few places in which boxing was legal at that time. Jack Johnson, Sam Langford, Jackie Fields, and other Hall of Famers fought there. I wrote a summer-long series about the Roots of Boxing in Chelsea. I met and became a friend of a great boxing trainer Al Lacy, who trained world champions for 5 decades dating back to the 1920s. He was best known for training Jack Sharkey and Paul Pender. I learned so much from just listening to Lacy. I had been bitten by the boxing bug and started writing about boxing for several newspapers. I was the Director of Communications at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, MA. for 22 years. In the early 1990s, the track was doing poorly, and we added Closed Circuit boxing as a way to attract more people. We eventually added live boxing and eventually served as a resource for some great fighters such as Ruiz, Micky Ward, Shannon Briggs (the Marley connection again), Peter McNeeley, Anthony Hembrick, and others. Mostly, though, it pitted fighters from rival towns against each other or rival ethnic fighters with loyal supporters. It was a rousing success on several fronts as attendance, wagering, food and beverage sales skyrocketed on these nights.
Having gained some experience as a local boxing publicist at Wonderland, I was laid off and the track eventually went out of business. In 1998 I went back to school to learn how to run a small business and started my combat sports agency, Full Court Press. I somehow started at the top with Ruiz, Micky Ward (including Gatti trilogy) and then Kevin McBride, including his stoppage of Mike Tyson. My agency celebrates its 25th anniversary this May.
Q: Please, remind me how we came to know each other back in the day.
A: We first met either at the Somerville Boxing Club, where Ruiz trained, or at one of his fights. I believe it was well before he became World Champion, the first Latino to hold that distinction.
Q: So how did this project come together? Was this your idea, was it a suggestion from somebody?
A: Over the years, I met a lot of boxing people, especially when I was starting out. They were in the industry, fans, media, etc. The one constant was that everybody had their opinion about who the best all-time and/or local fighters of all-time were and no two people agreed on any lists. I was inspired by Bert Sugar’s “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters” book and took/used a style from his book for mine. Because I was running a business, I didn’t really have time to devote to researching and writing a book. I must have procrastinated at least a decade about writing “New England’s Greatest Boxers,” at least until I no longer had an excuse when the Covid pandemic kept us all inside for months.
Q: And tell us about methods and process, please. I noted right quick that this isn’t a list compiled by Captain Obvious, you have names in the mix of folks who don’t even have a Wikipedia page…No. 13 is Kid Kaplan, No 14 is Lou Bruillard, names new to me…
A: I’ve always loved doing research on any project and this was a labor of love. I contacted a large group of New England boxing experts from various contacts to be on the selection committee. I did all the research, going back to the late 1800s, and the committee came up with 100 nominees from New England – born or lived there for 5 years during their career –and then trimmed the list to 50. I came up with a points system to determine the top 25 in order and many of those on the final list I either served as their publicist or knew. Being old actually helped because I remember either watching or reading about all of these fighters.
Q: What are some of your favorite takeaways from this project, Bob Trieger?
A: The sense of accomplishment. Writing a book isn’t easy. It takes a lot of discipline, something I haven’t always been, I just wanted to leave something behind about the industry I’ve been involved in as a fan, writer, and publicist for so many decades.
Writing it was fairly easy compared to getting my book publicized. Boxing is a relatively small market and I made it even smaller by writing a New England book. I had never written a book and didn’t have an agent. So, I self-published the book and I’m at boxing events all around New England selling my book or through my website (www.fullcourtpressboxing.com), which award-winning boxing photographer Emily Harney built for me. Not only was Emily a member of the selection committee, but I would also have been lost without all her pictures used in the book, including those used from Fightography, which she owns the rights to.
Q: And your overall summation of wearing that author hat—-is it what you expected?
A: Yes and more. Writing as a publicist isn’t as creative as being a journalist. It’s all about where, what, when and why. Because I have a writing background, I believe my press releases may be a little more creative than others, but it was rewarding to write again, although it isn’t dramatically creative because I needed to include so many facts and figures. I’m very proud to be an author and I’m tremendously encouraged by all the positive feedback I’ve received from readers.
Q: Let’s talk about boxing today—you’ve seen the ups and downs for decades, where do you see local boxing (ie in Massachusetts, and New England) and then boxing, big picture?
A: I think people forget that there wouldn’t be bigtime boxing if not for “smokers” or club shows. Boxing here in New England isn’t what it was in the past, the same as throughout the industry, but it’ll never die as long as 2 people fight in public.
Once upon a time, New England was part of a circuit leading up to fighting in NYC. There are few large boxing events anymore in New England and it’s not the most productive market anymore in terms of world-class fighters. We do have Demetrius Andrade, Richie Rivera, Charles Foster, James Perella, Denzel Whitley, Rashidi Ellis, Frank Hogan, and Olympian Rashida Ellis. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but the amateur programs here are good and still producing, albeit at a lower rate than years ago, because athletes have so many choices today compared to the past.
Boxing is the second-oldest profession after all. It goes in cycles, up and down, and rumors of boxing’s death is premature, something that’s happened several times during my life. Bottom line is that it takes a special person, male of female, to box because of all the hard work, sacrifices and punishment they go through. Few boxers make real money and, unfortunately, some end up damaged for life. Boxing has always served as a barometer for which ethnic group is at the bottom of society. It has been a way for boxers struggling to make it out of their situations for a better life for them and their families. I have so much respect for anybody who walks up those 3 steps into the ring.
Q: And what’s next? Sequel?
A: Yes. I just wrote an outline proposal to send to publishers about Gary “Tiger” Balletto, a former boxer from Rhode Island whose remarkably inspiring life has transcended boxing. After a very good boxing career, in which he gained fame fighting on “The Contender,” the story of “Tiger” Balletto dramatically changed 10 years ago, when he suffered a training accident that has left him paralyzed from the chest down. “Tiger” is in a wheelchair, yet he owns 3 very successful businesses, in addition to founding a charity that helps others in similar condition. “Tiger” has a life that reads like a movie, and I’m honored to tell his story.
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