Rest In Peace, Barney Eastwood



Rest In Peace, Barney Eastwood

This is a feature that I wrote for the Irish Independent in 2005, marking former featherweight champ Barry McGuigan’s induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

It’s a heartbreaking stuff at so many levels, three-hanky stuff. Save a fourth hanky for the story that follows it though: the story of getting sued for libel over the Independent feature to the tune of seven figures. Sued successfully I might add.

The story-behind-the-story is from my Substack, “How to Succeed in Sportswriting (without Really Trying).”

THREE FIGHTERS will be on stage for the induction ceremonies at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in June but only one of them will make a speech.

Only one of them can.

The boxing community always tries to make the best of a bad deal. Its comic sensibility makes gallows humour seem positively upbeat. So it was when the writer A.J. Liebling labeled the brutal game The Sweet Science. And so it will be this day.

Those at the ceremony, famous former champions, managers, promoters of great shows, wise old trainers and cutmen, will joke that the one inductee who will speak, the loquacious Barry McGuigan, will talk enough for three men.

Writer Joyce got more trouble than he bargained for when honoring McGuigan. Bert Sugar factored in heavily…

There had to have been a grand design behind this year’s induction ceremony at the boxing hall in rural upstate New York.

It can’t be a coincidence that McGuigan, the Clones Cyclone, will share the stage with Terrible Terry Norris, whose brain injury makes his every word a minutes-long struggle, and Bobby Chacon, whose pugilistica dementia has rendered him mute, childlike and unable to care for himself.

It can’t be a coincidence that McGuigan, whose brilliant but brief career left legions wanting more, will share the stage with two champions who stayed too long, two fighters who were denied boxing licenses because of brain damage.
BOBBY CHACON won’t speak. He can’t. Julian Eget will likely speak for him. They have been friends for 35 years, since the Schoolboy was a teenager running with gangs in Pacoima, California, committing crimes, doing drugs.

Eget was there with Chacon when he went from street fighter to boxer, at the behest of his childhood sweetheart Valerie Ginn. Eget stayed with Chacon when he became biggest draw in Los Angeles, boxing’s hottest scene back in the 70s. And Eget remained loyal when Chacon’s star went cold and dark, when he landed in jail and lost all his ring fortune, when he plunged into psychosis.

“Julian’s the one who looks after Bobby now because Bobby can’t look after himself,” says Don Fraser, a promoter back in Chacon’s heyday. “Bobby doesn’t try to speak often because people don’t understand him. Julian does though.”

This day Chacon and Eget went through their ritual. They went to the Spaghetti Factory, a decidedly modest L.A. establishment, for lunch with a bunch of boxing old-timers. After trading stories—others telling them, Chacon just listening– they went to the gym to watch a few current stars work out. And then Eget took Chacon home.

“Bobby’s still a beautiful person,” Eget says. “When he’s with the other fighters from his day he’s so happy. He’ll just give one of them a hug, right out of the blue, because that’s what he can do to express what he thinks. No words, just a hug. Five minutes after we leave, it’s gone from his memory. Same at the gym. We watched [featherweight champion] Manny Pacquiao work out today. Bobby was so excited. Afterward he gave Manny a hug. And there are a hundred hugs all over the gym. He forgets that we were at the gym on our way home. But everybody in that gym remembers what a great fighter he was.”

His career numbers, 59 wins against seven losses and a no contest, don’t capture his quality. Neither do his two stints as champion, as a featherweight in 1975, as a junior lightweight in 1982.

“His bouts with Bazooka Limon and Cornelius Boza-Edwards were among the greatest action fights of all time,” says American boxing writer Bert Sugar, former editor of Ring Magazine. “He was tagged The Schoolboy because of his youthful looks. He fought more like a soldier than a schoolboy.”

“You would have to carry him out before he would quit,” Eget adds. “Where he got that strength I don’t know. There was a lot of darkness in his life. He didn’t even meet his father until he was a champion. Then his father came up, introduced himself. They talked twice and then his father died. It was never something that he talked about.”

That was the quiet heartbreak, but another played out publicly. In 1982 his wife Valerie, the girl from his schooldays who convinced him to fight in the ring instead of the street, the mother of his three young children, committed suicide.

Chacon had physically and emotionally abused her. He was doing drugs and drinking heavily. She wanted him to give up boxing and clean up his life. “She decided she couldn’t live with me or without me,” Chacon said. The next day, the widower fought, scoring a knockout and dedicating the fight to his late wife.

“Bobby changed after that,” Eget says. “He was married a couple of more times. He kept fighting because divorces and legal expenses were killing him. His last wife pushed him to keep fighting even when he was denied a license in California, just for the money. She had him go to another state to fight.”

Chacon entered the ring for the last time at age 36 but the blows kept coming. His last wife left him high and dry. His income was derived from collecting aluminum cans from dumpsters. He couldn’t drive, so he rode a bicycle around L.A., a comedown for a man who once had a fleet of Rolls Royces. He lived at his mother’s house for a while. Friends put him up on other occasions. One of his sons was murdered in a drive-by shooting.

“I don’t think of Bobby’s story as tragic,” Eget says. “He’s a happy soul. Those angry things earlier in his life had a lot to do with his condition [pugilistica dementia].”

If a requisite for tragedy were foreknowledge then Bobby Chacon would qualify as a tragic hero. Before he was brutally beaten by Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, Chacon had said that he’d know when to get out of the game.

“If I start slurring my speech or if I can’t remember things I’ll get out,” he said in a 1984 interview. “I’m in this to make money. I’m too old to love boxing.”
TERRY NORRIS won’t speak either. He can speak but not well enough for induction speeches or interviews.

Norris is not so long removed from the ring. In 2000 his career ended when the Nevada Athletic Commission turned down his application for a boxing license. Doctors noted symptoms of a brain injury. It was a compassionate though tardy decision. He had looked spent in his three previous fights, losses to fighters he would have once handled easily. Officials sensed that he had been fighting for two years with wiring jarred loose.

So far the neurological effects of Norris’s career aren’t as profound and debilitating as Chacon’s.
“Terry is happy and physically healthy and aware,” his mother Wendy says in San Diego. “He just has a tough time talking. Unless you’re familiar with him it’s impossible to understand what he’s saying.”

In the early 1990s Norris, a former baseball player from Texas, was the killer of comebacks. He seemed to catch many superior fighters on their career downturns, notably a one-round dispatch of John Mugabi, an eighth-round knockout of Donald Curry and a 12-round beating of Sugar Ray Leonard. Still, Norris’s record of 47 wins and nine losses might seem not worthy of the pantheon.

“The International Boxing Hall of Fame is more inclusive than exclusive,” says writer Bert Sugar. “Norris was a very good fighter but wouldn’t get mentioned among the Top Ten 154-pounders of all time.”

One triumph outside the ring surely had to be a factor with the hall’s voters.

Two years ago lawyers for Norris scored a victory in civil court over promoter Don King. Norris accused King of cheating him out of ring earnings and sued him for $10-million U.S. King had been convicted of manslaughter as a young man but was undefeated in legal battles with boxers who claimed to have been short-changed by the comically-coiffed charlatan.

Before the trial began, Norris’s lawyers offered to settle for $800,000 but King declined. King expressed confidence throughout the trial and right up until the jury’s deliberations. That changed when the jury sent the judge a note requesting a calculator. King threw in the towel and hastily negotiated a settlement of $7.5-million.

Journalist Jack Newfield wrote: “This legalistic knockout … sends a neon message to other fighters to sue King for cheating them and violating their rights. It could start a deluge of new suits by victimized gladiators who previously saw King as invincible and untouchable.”

And it prompted intense scrutiny of King’s dealings. Thus Norris scored his greatest victory on behalf of many past champions in Canastota and the future generations of boxing stars.
BARRY McGUIGAN can talk. And he will talk. At length. Great flurries of words. His acceptance speech will be tantamount to a return of the 15-round title bout.

McGuigan was relentless and industrious and possessed raw physical strength that was a class above other 126-pounders. And yet what set him apart from others was awareness, his understanding of his place in the ring and his place in the world.

“Before I turned a professional I had already seen a fair bit,” McGuigan says. “I had won the Commonwealth gold medal in Edmonton and I had been to the Olympics in Moscow in 1980. It made me see things differently at home—that and being a Catholic married to a Protestant. That gave me a real perspective about the politics of the Troubles and I wanted to keep myself separate from the shite. That’s why I wore trunks in the colours of the United Nations. That’s why I wanted the respective sides to put everything aside for my bouts. And that they did this—you, know, ‘Leave the fighting to McGuigan,’–a point of pride for me.”

In the harsh hindsight of some who always leave the fighting to others, McGuigan’s career was too short: just 35 professional fights. He scored 28 of his 32 victories by knockout, but his most memorable triumph came by way of decision: the 15-round epic with Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Park in London in June 1985.

Pedroza had defended his world featherweight title 19 times over seven years and the Panamanian was universally regarded as the era’s dirtiest fighter. The bout brought Ireland and Great Britain to a standstill and played out on television screens across North America.

McGuigan had never fought beyond 10 rounds but managed to deck Pedroza and score a decisive win.

He calls it “my best night” and even in that headiest moment he didn’t lose sight of a bigger picture. He dedicated his victory to a Nigerian fighter Young Ali, who lapsed into a coma after a knockout loss to McGuigan and died in December 1982. “I said if I won this world title I would dedicate it to the young lad who died,” he said in the ring. “It was not just any fighter who beat him but the world champion. He did not die for nothing.”

The logic therein might be lost on all but those who’ve laced up gloves. Nevertheless, McGuigan’s gesture evinced more than sportsmanship. He owned up to an unimaginable component of a boxer’s psyche: sensitivity.

These days McGuigan is one-man multi-media conglomerate: a television commentator, a columnist, a singer and a motivational speaker. He lives in London to be handy to studios, fights, stages with open mikes and throngs to motivate. He has worked prominently in fund-raising for cancer research since his young daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago. (He reports happily that she is in remission.)

And he dedicates his spare time to a seeming fool’s errand: reforming the sport that gave him his fame, protecting the financial and physical interests of fighters past and present, founding a boxers’ union in Great Britain and Ireland.

“Other athletes have unions with pension plans and agents and international sports agencies,” he says. “Boxers are largely alone. I want to do what I can to help active boxers or those who are in trouble after their careers.”

It’s not fair to attribute McGuigan’s activist bent solely to Young Ali’s death. No, it was also informed by the disappointing denouement of McGuigan’s career.

A year after the Pedroza fight, McGuigan was one of the most talked-about names in the sport.

A title-unification fight with Azumah Nelson of Ghana was in the works. U.S. television was beckoning.

For his third defence, he faced a lightly regarded but well-climatized substitute named Stevie Cruz. McGuigan’s manager Barney Eastwood, the Belfast bookmaker, agreed to have the fight in a sweltering Las Vegas open-air arena before night fell. Worse, he agreed to have McGuigan’s corner in the sun-drenched side of the ring.

After fourteen furious rounds the champion led narrowly. But in round 15 he succumbed to heat exhaustion. Cruz, a native Texan, handled the 110-degree heat much better and showered blows on the title holder. McGuigan hit the canvas twice in the last round and, though he finished standing, it was a near-death experience. Cruz scored an upset by unanimous decision.

After the fight, McGuigan said that he had been injured an ankle and an eardrum in training and that his manager should have sought a postponement.

McGuigan would be on hiatus from the ring for a couple of years, estranged from Eastwood, locked in litigation. There wouldn’t be a fight against Nelson. He’d never again appear on U.S. television. A half-hearted comeback lasted but four forgettable fights.

“McGuigan-Cruz was one of the most courageous performances I’ve seen,” Bert Sugar says. “It was a fight that changes men. Cruz was never as good again as he was that night.

McGuigan left everything in the ring. It would have been different if his corner had been in the shade or if the fight had gone off after the sun set. If his people had been looking after him he would have won and maybe had ten defenses before retiring his title.”
CHACON, NORRIS and McGUIGAN will be on stage in Canastota. Among those applauding them will be dozens of members of the boxing hall, some of the most famous champions in the sport’s history.

“It’s really a reunion weekend,” says Bert Sugar, who will be honored with Irish writer Harry Mullen this year for their work in the media. “Great stories and great laughs—some of the old fighters need to hear those stories and laugh because these are the best days of their year.”

Stories and laughs will be abundant, but so too will pain and tears when Chacon and Norris will accept their honors, acknowledging the crowd with waves of hands and nothing more.

They’ll leave the talking to McGuigan. He’ll come up with words as moving as those after his famous win over Eusebio Pedroza. He’ll likely mention Young Ali, who died fighting a hall of famer. And though McGuigan will evoke the glory of his fighting days and his fellow inductees’, The Sweet Science will manage to be bittersweet at best this day. Those who feel too old to love boxing will nonetheless be moved by the boxers themselves.

I was overjoyed that the Independent assigned me the piece. It all fell apart thereafter though.

I only ever set eyes on the finished copy once. When I was in Belfast to interview a former NHLer playing for a team in the British hockey league in February 2006, I made a side trip to the city’s main library.

I dug up an old microfiche of the newspaper and tracked down the story. It was virtually unchanged from the first draft. The stinging capper to the international fiasco was the bio-note at the foot of the feature: “Gare Joyce is an American writer with ESPN The Magazine.”


I provided them a bio note, saying that I was based in Toronto. If I had known that they’d mess up something that simple, I could’ve guessed that they wouldn’t have passed on my story to a lawyer to run a libel check pre-publication. Here’s the whole ugly story. From my Audible OriginalHow to Succeed in Sportswriting (without Really Trying)” and my Substack of the same name.

Please consider listening to the former and subscribing to the latter.


In journalism school, I had hoped to write for one of the city’s dailies someday and dreamed of landing a feature in Sports Illustrated. On that count, I was like every other sports-obsessed j-student looking to avoid honest work.

Down the line, however, another ambition crystallized: to have my writing appear in pages of the Irish Independent, the finest and most respected daily in my ancestral homeland.

The Independent's writer-in-residence was a gent named Eamon Dunphy, a former Irish international midfielder who was better even at the keyboard. Dunphy’s stories featured the odd dollop of high Hibernian argot—Webster’s doesn’t list many of his standbys which included “minus craic,” “codswallop” and “cnawvshawling.”

For an example of Dunphy in high dudgeon, I offer his ode to Liam Brady, a midfielder who starred for Arsenal.

“He is often looked on as a great player. He is nothing of the kind. His performance on Wednesday was a disgrace, a monument to conceit adorned with vanity and self-indulgence, rendered all the more objectionable by the swagger of his gait.”

C’mon, tell us what you really think.

I came to live my dream when I finally wrote a feature that appeared in the Irish Independent in 2004. Thrill became chill, however, when I got a call from the Independent’s sports editor: The story had prompted two libel suits, filed separately in courts in Belfast and Dublin, with the plaintiff seeking damages in the amount of one-million Pound Sterling.

For sixteen years, I had to withhold all comment about the matter.

Now, with recent foreseeable but overdue developments, i.e. the death of plaintiff in his eighty-eighth year, I can once again travel safely in Ireland and tell this story without fear of further court action.

It started innocently enough. The first sport I fell in love with was boxing. When a boxing story presented itself as an opportunity to make my Irish Independent debut, it seemed like the stars were aligning, karma, kismet or, for once, just plain dumb luck. In runaway enthusiasm, I imagined a story well-executed could land me a role of the Independent’s North American sports correspondent.
Some background here: Barry McGuigan was a star in the featherweight division back in the mid-‘80s. Though 126 pounds, he had shoulders like a fighter in the welterweight class and contenders were either carried out of the ring or left so brutalized that they considered other lines of work. One, tragically, was a fighter named Young Ali, who died from a brain injury after a McGuigan knockout. The Irishman was truly shaken by the experience, but he still won his next fourteen fights, thirteen by knockout.

Every time McGuigan stepped into the ring, it was great theatre. Title fights have bouts on the undercard to warm up the crowd.

For McGuigan’s fights, his dad would enter the ring and sing Danny Boy. In the Auld Sod the scene produced a Pavlovian response: Irish eyes might smile but they also involuntarily water at such schmaltz-soaked clichés.

More impressive than McGuigan’s body- and soul-crushing ringwork was his political clout. He was something, perhaps the one thing, the North and South could agree on, beloved in both Belfast and Dublin.

A Catholic born on the republic side of a border county, he had married a Protestant, and fought for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games and 1980 Olympics in Moscow. As a pro, he declined to wear either green or orange and make any sort of a statement symbolic or otherwise. Thus, The Troubles, which didn’t even take Christmas off, were paused on the day of his fights. Ancient hostilities could be set aside until the stadium cleared.

In short Barry McGuigan could have been a contender for Ring’s Fighter of the Year and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Though I’m lauded for having a long fuse, the Irish are renowned for belligerence and shock-absorbing big chins. Their lives divide into the hard scrabble, and the harder scrabble. The surprise, then, was that neither the Northern Ireland nor the Republic had turned out a boxing world champion in dog’s years.

McGuigan was 26-1 when he finally got his title shot against Eusebio Pedroza, winner of 19 straight title fights, one of the savviest fighters ever at 126 pounds. This match-up seemed to be exactly the sort that turns a phenom into a flash in the pan, where a boy stepping up in class runs into a man.

Cheered by a legion of ferry-riding fans who descended on London and packed Loftus Road, McGuigan pummeled Pedroza, dropped him once and didn’t give him room enough to draw a deep breath for fifteen rounds. McGuigan was given a well-earned and emphatic unanimous decision. McGuigan’s tenure wasn’t long. He made a couple of routine title defences before making his U.S. network-featured debut in Las Vegas, what was presumed to be a tune-up for closed circuit fights.

His opponent was Stevie Cruz, a last-minute substitute airlifted in from Texas. Cruz wasn’t even a full-time fighter—he held down a job as a plumber’s apprentice. What could go wrong?

Again, everything.

Cruz was a handy enough fighter, but McGuigan was mostly undone by his genetics and the thermometer. Generations of McGuigans had grown up in temperate climes where twenty-two Celsius constitutes a historic heat wave.

To get maximum TV exposure for McGuigan, his manager Barney Eastwood, signed him up for an afternoon fight. Outdoors. In Vegas. In June. In what turned out to be blistering heat that would have made cacti scramble looking for a shady place.

Barney did what he thought he had to do to protect his reputation, such as it was

McGuigan went into the fourteenth round ahead by two points on two of the judges’ cards. To keep his title, he just had to get through the last round, go down once and get a decision, even twice to get the draw. He wound up hitting the canvas three times in the fateful fifteenth. He was out on his feet at the final bell and couldn’t stand up for the announcement of the decision. Cruz had edged him out by a point. McGuigan was carried out of the ring on a stretcher, a priest praying by his side.

McGuigan survived, but he left too much in the ring that day. His dad died, and his own will to fight shortly after. Four more fights and McGuigan was done, not a long run but a noble one.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame voted McGuigan into its fold in 2005. I knew McGuigan was a great quote, even by the measure of his verbose tribe, so I emailed the Independent’s sports editor with a pitch for a feature about McGuigan and his fellow inductees that summer.

I included the usual packet of my past works that suggested I was up to the job and a personal appeal, some story about my dying grandmother in Galway. The Irish, even the newspapermen, are suckers for such sentimentality, so the sports editor gave me the green light.

In keeping with the reputation of his people, McGuigan was a tremendous talker. He tied together the death of Young Ali and his famous win over Pedroza almost poetically. “I said if I won this world title, I would dedicate it to the young lad who died,” he said in the ring. “It was not just any fighter who beat him but the world champion. He did not die for nothing.”

The logic therein might be lost on all but those who’ve laced up gloves. Nevertheless, McGuigan’s gesture evinced more than sportsmanship. He owned up to an unimaginable component of a boxer’s psyche: sensitivity. To him the guy across the ring wasn’t simply a calf’s carcass.

McGuigan also talked about the cause he had taken up that might seem like a fool’s errand: reforming the sport that gave him his fame, protecting the financial and physical interests of fighters past and present, founding a boxers’ union in Great Britain and Ireland.

“Other athletes have unions with pension plans and agents and international sports agencies,” he says. “Boxers are largely alone. I want to do what I can to help active boxers or those who are in trouble after their careers.”

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the two other boxers bound for the Hall of Fame weren’t good talkers. As mentioned, McGuigan hung up his gloves while still a young man, but his fellow inductees decided to keep dancing after midnight and paid the awful, inevitable price. One couldn’t speak at all. Bobby Chacon’s pugilistic dementia was such that a friend had to “translate.” The other spoke haltingly and lost his place mid-sentence.

Former middleweight champion Terry Norris had successfully sued Don King for eight million dollars, proving to a court’s satisfaction that the promoter was at least in part responsible for his brain damage.

Now, when you hear non- compos mentis, punch-drunk, brain damage, you’re thinking, here comes the libel. And so I feared when I was interviewing Chacon and Norris and writing their accounts. I recognized that their stories were radioactive, and I handled them with maximum discretion and authentic compassion.

Libel didn’t come from kicking a tough guy when he was down, however. No, in fact, the libel walked into my story wearing a fedora and smoking a stogie.

I needed a little informed colour about the fighters for my story, so I went to Central Casting and sought out Bert Sugar, formerly editor of Ring Magazine, at once a boxing analyst and a caricature of one. Sugar was dial-a-quote service for sports-talk radio, a man happy to offer insight just to hear his own voice. None who worked with him or even Sugar himself would’ve objected to that description.

I asked Sugar about the Cruz fight and he went straight to deep-purple hyperbole. “McGuigan-Cruz was one of the most courageous performances I’ve seen,” he said. “It was a fight that changes men. Cruz was never as good again as he was that night. McGuigan left everything in the ring. It would have been different if his corner had been in the shade, or if the fight had gone off after the sun set. If his people had been looking after him, he would have won and maybe had ten defenses before retiring his title.”

In the sportswriting business, we’ll sometimes talk about a “money quote.” This proved to be one on a couple of counts.
My story was slated to run in May, ahead of the fighters’ induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I sent a draft in March, two months early, well ahead of deadline, to allow for fine tuning.

I heard nothing back for more than a month. Not a reply to say that the story was received, not a response to my emails or follow-up calls. I worried that it had been killed and no one wanted to break thanks-but-no-thanks to me.

Finally, I saw an email in mid-April from the sports editor. Good news, I thought. An edit of a line or two. Info for a bio-note. A check of my address for payment.


The sports editor could never be accused of burying the lede.

“Gare, it looks like the Eastwood camp are pushing ahead with their libel action over your Sports Monthly article …”

My eyes popped as if spring-loaded. In a nonce, I had gone straight from first draft to lawsuit, with no notice about publication, and in fact, no access to the story in question. I had an online subscription to the paper, but because my McGuigan piece had appeared in the magazine supplement, Sports Monthly, it did not appear in the newspaper website.

I took a deep breath. I couldn’t imagine how my heartstring-plucking hagiography could ruffle anyone’s feathers, never mind constitute libel. Maybe the urgent alert in the email was a load of codswallup, a tremendous prank to play on a presumably guileless freelancer. Alas, no. The turn of events came into clearer focus when I read the balance of the sports editor’s email.

“… In the meantime, would Bert Sugar be agreeable to expand on his views in your article about the injury to McGuigan and, as he recalls, the mistakes made by Barney Eastwood in relation to the time of the fight and also the corner from which McGuigan fought? If we (Independent Newspapers) decide to fight the action, would Bert be prepared to be flown to Ireland as a witness for us? As you can appreciate, this is a serious situation, and his help would be appreciated.”

As it turned out, Mr. Eastwood was claiming that Bert Sugar’s description of events at the McGuigan-Cruz fight constituted an accusation of managerial negligence, maybe incompetence.

At that point I Googled the terms “Barney Eastwood” and “libel” to see if there’d been any coverage of this mess.

My screen soon filled with whole pages of hits on the terms, although they focused on Eastwood’s successful libel actions against McGuigan and the publishers of his autobiography, the BBC and one esteemed old-school ring scribe, Reg Gutteridge, who plied his trade for a niche-market boxing mag.

The lawsuits against McGuigan, the publishers and the television network ranged up to half a million Pounds Sterling but against Gutteridge, it was closer to thirty-thousand Pounds, suggesting that Eastwood’s revenge was means-tested, a personal reassurance so small as to be insignificant.

As it turned out, I had no idea if my piece had been edited, but I knew for sure it hadn’t been lawyered.

In Dublin, they should have known this, but in the paragraph before Bert Sugar’s money quote, I imbedded an almost subliminal suggestion to the Independent’s editors that a legal reading might be necessary. From my first draft, “{After the Cruz fight] McGuigan would be on hiatus from the ring for a couple of years, estranged from Eastwood, locked in litigation.”

Once I had drained a promotional-sized bottle of Scotch, my first move was to contact Bert Sugar. I refreshed his memory about our conversation and then let him know that seven-figure libel cases hinged on his quote, which was surely offered offhand because he ad-libbed everything but his wedding vows.

Ubiquitous raconteur Bert Sugar made himself scarce after the word “libel” came in to play

For a moment I thought that the phone line had gone dead before I heard what I’m sure was a Montecristo dropping from his lips onto the keyboard of his Underwood typewriter. Sugar said he couldn’t talk right then. As it turned out he couldn’t talk ever again. He never picked up or return my calls or those of the Irish Independent’s editors and lawyers.

Nothing awful had happened to him—I still heard him doing radio hits, pumping the next pay-per-view, in Atlantic City or Vegas. He had no interest in a trip to Ireland that would cost him nothing more than a few hours deposed by a sabre-toothed libel specialist. A bit of a courage deficit.

When it was clear that the glib Sugar was ghosting us, the Independent’s lawyers inserted my name atop its wish-list. The managing editor asked me to set aside a week in November to come over to prep with the Independent’s legal team and then testify, with the newspaper covering my airfare and all expenses.

He assured me that the suits filed by the plaintiff named only the paper, not me. (This would have been a function of Barney Eastwood’s means-testing of his targets, putting me, rightly, somewhere below Reg Gutteridge.)

I penciled the dates into my calendar—I expected that timeline might shift, that the case would drag out. I told the editor to keep me posted on any developments.

I fully intended to do the (seemingly) right thing until I went to the YMCA one day. I was sitting in the steam room when I was joined by the only lawyer I know, an Irishman no less, one who works internationally for business concerns in Toronto. He casually asked about recent events in my life, and I recounted the whole imbroglio with the Independent, the boxing champ and the litigious former manager. Yes, this was a case of pathetic fallacy—the elements completely in line with the narrative I spun. The story of my libel suit really needed to be told in a hot fog.

The lawyer’s advice, offered freely, was to the point: “You don’t want to be involved,” he told me. “Do not pick up the phone. Do not respond to emails. Break off all contact. And you certainly don’t want to go there. Just because you haven’t been named to the suit means nothing. The sums of money are immense.”

The word for this in Gaelic is the same in English. “Gulp.”

He then asked questions that weren’t asked over the phone or by email by the Independent’s management or lawyers. “Did they ever pay you?” he said. “Did you ever sign anything?”

No and no.

“All to the good,” he said.

On the advice of the lawyer who offered me a pro bono five minutes in a steam bath, I screened my calls for two years. I wouldn’t open an email from the Independent for fear that poisonous gas would billow from my laptop. Years clear of my star-crossed story the Daily Mirror published an account of the out-of-court disposition of the case:


Eastwood wins libel for slur over McGuigan fight.

LIBEL awards to Barney Eastwood over allegations about his handling of Barry McGuigan topped the pounds 1-million mark yesterday.

The figure was reached after the bookie settled an action against Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd in the High Court in Belfast.
His solicitor Paul Tweed said the Dublin-based publishers agreed to pay Mr Eastwood pounds 300,000 in damages and legal costs.

Mr Eastwood had previously won awards of pounds 450,000, pounds 200,000 and pounds 135,000 over comments about the fight in Las Vegas in 1986 when former world champion McGuigan lost his title belt to Steve Cruz.

The latest action followed an article in the Sports Monthly supplement of the Irish Independent on April 5, 2005, under the headline The Hall Of Fame.

Lord Justice Campbell heard the action had been settled on terms that were not being disclosed.

Robert Millar, BL, for the defendant, read an agreed apology.

He said: “The defendant acknowledges the comments were wrong, should never have been published and wishes to unreservedly apologise to Mr Eastwood and to recognise his actions in connection with the fight were totally above reproach.”

Mr Tweed said afterwards: “BJ Eastwood is very satisfied with this extremely comprehensive and categoric retraction and apology.

“The magnitude of the paper's error in publishing this outrageous libel in the first place is further highlighted by the very substantial payment of damages and costs.

“Mr Eastwood sincerely hopes that this complete vindication of his reputation will put these false allegations to rest, once and for all.”

The story in the Daily Mirror didn’t include my name. Thank God for His tiniest blessings.
Out of fear that he and his lawyers might still come hunting for me, I never dared to mention the litigious manager’s name until I read his obituary and vigorously fact-checked it.

Rest in Peace, Barney Eastwood.

Gare Joyce is a CANADIAN writer who has authored books. Enjoy more of his work on his Substack 

Gare Joyce has written most recently for the New York Times and the Athletic. Previously he wrote features for ESPN The Magazine and and served as columnist for the Globe and Mail in Toronto. His mystery series of novels set in the world of hockey was adapted for the TV series Private Eyes, starring Jason Priestley and broadcast in more than 100 nations worldwide.