Bernard Fernandez: Honoring Obermayer's dedication, durability in boxing

Posted: April 26, 2011

ONE OF THE THINGS that binds us to sports is our fascination with the statistics they generate.

Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive games played. Wilt Chamberlain's monster 100-point and 55-rebound games. Jerry Rice's 197 touchdown receptions. Archie Moore's 131 knockout victories. Those numbers are as familiar to fans as the dates of loved ones' birthdays.

But just as incredible, sometimes, are the stats compiled by those who merely observe. Like, for instance, Jack Obermayer, 67, who on May 6 receives the John F.X. Condon Award for long and meritorious service to the fight game. "KOJO" will be recognized for his exhaustive body of work at the 86th annual Boxing Writers of America Awards Dinner, at Las Vegas' MGM Grand.

Oh, sure, most of the attention that weekend will be focused on Manny Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs), the only man ever to win world championships in eight weight classes, who defends his WBO welterweight title the following night against three-division former world champ Shane Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KOs), also at the MGM Grand. It also will be hard to overlook middleweight Sergio Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs), who receives the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the BWAA's 2010 Fighter of the Year on the same night that Obermayer gets the Condon.

But even Pacquiao, Mosley and Martinez would be impressed by the dedication and durability exhibited by Obermayer, the Lindenwold, N.J., resident who as of now had covered 3,281 fight cards in 49 states (Alaska is the missing link) in 358 different cities and towns, reporting for such publications as Flash/Boxing Update, Boxing Illustrated and Great Britain's Boxing News. At a conservative average of six bouts per show, that works out to approximately 20,000 fights personally witnessed by our man Jack.

A meticulous record-keeper, Obermayer's observations on all those fights fill hundreds of loose-leaf notebooks dating back to the first bout he attended in person, the March 13, 1963, matchup of Cassius Clay and Doug Jones in the old Madison Square Garden.

Given Obermayer's fascination with roadside diners, it's quite possible he also has taken copious notes on the quality of the cuisine at every such establishment he's visited, with fellow boxing junkie Jeff Jowett frequently serving as his wingman.

Those numbers, as jaw-dropping as they are, would be even higher had not Obermayer undergone an emergency liver transplant on March 1, 2010, at Thomas Jefferson Medical Center, a procedure that kept him away from boxing rings for the better part of 4 months. But, not surprisingly, even serious, life-threatening surgery merely served as a knockdown, not a knockout, for a man who has made a career of going the distance. His weight dropped from 195 pounds to 140, but Obermayer is on the mend, although he may never again be all that he was.

"I want to keep going to fight cards for as long as I can," said the twice-divorced Obermayer, who admits that the huge chunks of his life that went to boxing didn't always make for domestic tranquility at home. "But you never know. I've had some health issues and my body is beginning to creak. Fortunately, I'm not broke yet. I've managed to keep my head above water financially."

Obermayer's enthrallment with fights and fighters dates back to his childhood on Staten Island, N.Y., when he and his father would bond while watching televised fights on Friday nights. By and by, Obermayer grew into a fighting man on several fronts - he served in a U.S. Army engineer battalion in Vietnam in 1966 and '67, and posted a 7-3 record as an amateur - even as his interest in his favorite sport continued to grow.

"My most exotic boxing trip was when I was in the Army, in Vietnam," he recalled. "I took my R&R to go to Bangkok [Thailand] to see Walter McGowan defend his WBC flyweight title against Chartchai Chinoi. Why? Because I wanted to, and because the U.S. government picked up my travel costs."

Nobody much picks up the tab for Travelin' Jack these days. Retired since July 2000 from his day job, as the office manager of a small plastics firm owned by the father of his first wife, he understands that the way he feels about boxing isn't something that can be easily explained to people who have little or no interest in the pugilistic arts.

"In the early 1980s, when Jow-Boy, Nigel Collins [now the editor of The Ring magazine] and I were all going to three shows a week, we called ourselves the 'Three Sickos,' " Obermayer said. "I turned an avocation into an obsession."

Pa. Hall adds nine

The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame welcomes nine new members on May 15 at Romano's Caterers, Castor Avenue and Wingohocking Street.

Living inductees include 1996 Olympic gold medalist and former WBA super welterweight champion David Reid (17-2, 7 KOs); light-heavyweights Jerry Martin (25-7, 17 KOs) and Richie Kates (44-6, 23 KOs); welterweights Charlie Cummings (19-11, 5 KOs) and Tommy Marciano (20-5-3, 5 KOs), and promoter/matchmaker Don Elbaum.

Legendary trainer Joe Gramby is a posthumous inductee, as are heavyweights George Godfrey (96-20-3, 79 KOs) and Al Ettore (60-17-5, 20 KOs).

Tickets are $55 per person. Checks should be made out to "Veterans Boxing Association," and sent to John Gallagher, 2523 South Cleveland Street, Philadelphia 19145.

Bronzed Joey

John DiSanto reports that the life-sized statue of the late former middleweight champion Joey Giardello (101-26-7, 33 KOs), created by noted local sculptor Carl LeVotch, will be formally dedicated on May 21 at 1 p.m., at the triangle where three South Philadelphia streets - South 13th, Mifflin and East Passyunk - come together.

Send email to fernanb@phillynews.com

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