Tom Gerbasi interviews Chuck Bodak

                          Chuck Bodak interview 

Despite its seedy reputation and the sordid actions of a few, boxing still
has some good guys left. Chuck Bodak would definitely fall into the good guy
category. Known worldwide for his practice of placing his fighters' pictures
on his forehead while he works their corners, Chuck is nonetheless one of
the sport's most respected trainers and cutmen. Well, let me rephrase that.
Chuck doesn't consider what he does training. To him, training is associated
with animals. He teaches human beings. And what a teacher he has been. In
one capacity or another, Chuck has worked with 52 world champions. From
marquee names like Muhammad Ali, Julio Caesar Chavez, and Evander Holyfield,
to the unknowns fighting four rounders in the Forum, Chuck has been in the
corner.

And even with a hectic schedule like that, Chuck is always quick with a kind
word or an autograph for a fan. How many interviewees will sit by patiently
as an interviewer fumbles with a new tape? Chuck does: "Don't worry. I'm
home. I ain't going anywhere." And when I brought up every interviewer's
nightmare, a blank tape, Chuck responded "If it doesn't come out, we'll do
it again." Luckily, the interview came out fine, and we now get a glimpse
into the mind of a great teacher, a walking boxing history book, and one of
the sport's good guys.

TG - How did you get started in boxing?

CB - Well, I was raised during the depression, and the way of life was:
acquiring something, fighting for it, and maintaining it. I was a tough,
rugged kid, always into something, and I loved contact in all sports, and
especially boxing. That's how I got into boxing. I loved it.

TG - So you boxed yourself?

CB - Yes, I boxed for about eight years. I had about 135-140 fights in the
amateurs, never turned pro. I started out when I was 13 years old. I was
always mature for my age. When I was 13 I could pass for a 16, 17, 18 year
old kid. I hung around with older guys, and I wanted to fight. There was no
novice, no beginners, no nothing at that time. In fact, the first five guys
I fought were Gold Glove champions. That was the way of life then, during
the depression.

I had no desire to turn pro because I wanted to teach, plus it was almost
impossible to make anything unless you were a real outstanding fighter, a
contender or a champion. There wasn't that kind of money around
professionally during the depression. And in the amateurs, you could fight
twice in one night, you could fight seven days a week. They had fights every
day of the week all over the Midwest. On Saturdays and Sundays they had
picnics, different outside events, and stuff like that where they always had
a boxing show. So, as a result, I practically supported a family with the
money that I made.

TG - So you were able to make money as an amateur?

CB - In those days, when you fought they'd give you medals and awards of
different types, and you'd turn 'em in and get money for 'em.

TG - How did you go from amateur fighting into training?

CB - That's what I always wanted to do. When I quit I went back to the guy
that taught me. He was a great teacher, a great psychologist, and I went
back to him, and I was his assistant. I always loved it because I had a lot
of respect for people that gave me all their knowledge in different sports.
In school, I was an all-around athlete, plus boxing, and I always had a
desire to teach because I'd observe them and I look back at what they've
done, and the things that they've done to help kids. That's what I've wanted
to do. I look forward to it.

TG - Once you started training, who was the first fighter you had
exclusively to yourself?

CB - In the amateurs, I had a lot of kids locally. All the top notch kids,
'cause I was at the CYO where I started out in Gary, Indiana. Then I made a
big name for myself and I was selected on the Chicago Tribune Gold Glove
coaching staff, which handled inner city, international, and stuff like
that. And I got to know a lot of these guys that I had on teams. Also later
on I worked with a lot of these guys that turned pro. From the amateurs, the
pros, working as a cutman, and on the training staff, I worked with 52 world
champions.

TG - What is more important as a teacher, the physical or the psychological
aspect?

CB - Mental and psychological, yessir. Because anybody can get in shape.
Anyone can have the requirements as far as the body is concerned, the
different intricacies that are necessary to develop and educate an athlete.
But the mental aspect is a big thing. Like I tell a guy, if I raise my
finger, I don't raise it up instinctively or automatically, I raise it up
because mentally I sent a message through my body, raise my finger. It's
really that simple. Even if you're working with a guy who's, so to speak, an
illiterate. How much simpler could it be?

TG - Do you believe training is a lost art today?

CB - Teaching is a lost art. There are very few teachers around. Everybody's
a trainer, and to me, not to condemn anybody or anything else, but just the
word in itself, training, is associated with animals. Training is
domination, dictating, giving instructions, stuff like that. When you teach,
you educate. To me, that's the difference.

Every pupil that I ever worked with, I told them, I was very explicit, I
said it's all mental. You teach. I use a mechanic as an example. He goes to
a trade school, and they teach you everything that there is about the tools;
what goes where, how to use it. They teach you the machinery. And it's the
same thing with boxing or any sport. You give the guy the tools to work
with. He's the guy that does the work. Like these guys, especially in the
old days, "Shit man, I taught this guy everything he knows, man." and all
this damn crap, that's bullshit. You teach a guy that has a good mentality,
picks it up, and in time, a lot of them even surpass the teacher. Cause like
with me, the average guy, that will probably be insulted, if a student
surpassed him, I'd be honored, cause "man, I must've done a hell of a job.
This guy's better than I am." And that's the truth.

TG - Who do you consider some of the best teachers, past and present?

CB - Well, there's a lot of them. A guy in New York who worked with the NY
CYO, a guy by the name of Pete Mello, was a great teacher, and a great
psychologist. He was on the NY Golden Gloves coaching staff besides the CYO.

It's like anything else, you've got to have some ability, and you have to
have time. Some guys think that you can get a guy in a short period of time,
run him through a short routine, give him a pair of gloves, put him in
there, and box, and that's bullshit. Like I tried to explain to a student.
It's like you start off in kindergarten, and you work your way up through
the grades. When you get in high school, you're pretty well set. You go to
college, it's an advancement. You get out and you're a finished product, and
that's the way it is, especially in boxing, or any sport, really. But more
so in boxing because boxing is so intricate and it's all one on one, and you
really have to be well educated in order to compete.

TG - As a sport, boxing doesn't have the greatest reputation. Has anything
happened that made you want to pack it in?

CB - Never. No. You know why? Because even besides the boxing, I spent time
in youth work too. I worked with handicapped kids. I worked with retarded
kids. In the program in the CYO I always had a lot of these kids that would
come down to the center. I was the recreational director of a center and I
also had sports. Naturally, boxing was the number one sport. A lot of these
kids would come down, and I started classes for them. A lot of their parents
would come down cause right after the war, when the CYO opened up this
particular center in one part of the town, and we were the first ones in the
whole damn town that had a TV set. It was donated by some furniture mogul in
Gary, Indiana and everybody and his brother, mothers, fathers, sisters, and
brothers came down to watch the football game, boxing, and everything else.
So it was quite a place. And some of them had retarded kids, they'd bring
them down. They'd fool around in the gym, for example, next thing you know,
I started a class and worked with them.

So beside boxing I was very interested in youth work because even boxing, I
used to explain to guys "I'm not teaching you boxing in the sense that it's
boxing, I'm teaching you life. All the facets that we work with, that we
deal with, that I'm educating you in, are things that you're going to be
taking in everyday life with you. Because an athletic lifespan is very
short. The thing that's going to be important is you going out into the
world and putting all this stuff to use where people accept you, where
people are willing to do something for you. Not being a big stupid lug where
you're lucky to get a job as a porter or something.

TG - Do you ever run into fighters who don't want to listen or be taught?

CB - Yeah, you have all types of kids. And there's a way to beat around
that. For example, a lot of ridicule and humor, cause with ridicule you draw
a person's attention, you stun 'em and then insert humor to where the guy
can laugh about it. And then you can get serious about things and the guy
will accept it. But you get guys that are headstrong. For example, like
you're teaching them something, the type of guy, if you were able to read
minds, it's almost like you do read the mind, and you walk away from the
guy. And the guy starts thinking, then you ignore the guy completely, and
you're working with everybody else in the gym. 

TG - How do you compare the 50's and 60's, when the mob ran boxing, to
today, when the alphabets run it?

CB - In those days, they controlled everything, the fighters, the managers,
the promoters. And they done whatever they wanted. You know a lot of these
guys today, even though they might as well be the mafia too with the way
they control everything and the fighters, it's a legitimate in a sense
because it is legitimate, nothing shady, although in comparison there's a
lot of similarity in my opinion.

TG - Do you think the alphabets are good or bad for boxing?

CB - I think it's good. I'll tell you why. When you have 1,2,3
organizations, they will accommodate the clique, the certain guys that they
push in the ratings to become champions, and if a guy's not in with them,
then what chance does he got of becoming a champion? Now with all these
organizations that are around, good or bad, however you want to see it, to
me it's good, because you get an opportunity to make a lot more money than
he would trying to fight his way into the 1,2, or 3 organizations that
control everything and the fighters. He has an opportunity to beat that
clique.

TG - So having multiple champions doesn't bother you?

CB - No. Plus there's gonna be a time where these guys are gonna be fighting
one another, and you end up with true champions, like Tyson. He won all
three of the titles.

TG - Tyson?

CB - The thing is, I don't think he had an opportunity to be taught. Believe
me, all the people that I know that he had been associated with are people
that helped him, they did more harm than good. Plus, a lot of these guys I
know personally, I wouldn't let them teach my dog. And that's a problem,
'cause here's a guy that is completely a psychological problem. His
environment, his background. From the reformatory he comes up with Cus
D'Amato. They only done so much with him, psychologically. It was all
boxing. Instead of having some great psychologist to work with this guy,
become associated with him, real close. Nothing. It was all boxing. All
these crude trainers is what I call them, that worked with him, and that's
the result of it. But it's mostly the people that were associated with King
because a lot of them guys I've worked with myself and I know what the
results are. I know their philosophy. Half of them weren't even trainers.

TG - Tony Canzoneri?

CB - Great, great, great fighter. I have to laugh. You hear this a million
times "God, this guy keeps dropping his left hand, he's getting hit with
right hands." To me, that's bullshit. You're getting hit with right hands
because you don't do anything about sliding away from it, catching it, or
slipping it, and countering over it. That's the reason he gets hit, not
because he dropped his hands. Tony Canzoneri used to carry his hands down
around his waist. And the things that he done, both offensively and
defensively, and countering, was unbelievable. It doesn't make any
difference where your hands are at as long as you make a move to do
something about the offensive part of punching. That's the object.
Another thing you hear, a guy says "move your head". You don't move your
head. Like I used to explain to students, it's the same principle as firing
a rifle. You don't move your head, you don't blink your eyes or anything,
right? In boxing that's the first thing you teach. This is your general
position. You never move your head. You move your body. Because your eyes
are glued on to your opponent. When you move your body, you never take your
eyes off your opponent. These are all simple things. All common sense. Just
like all technology, when you break it down, it's all simplicity, all common
sense, but it comes from a genius, because it goes beyond that. But that's
the basic principle, the basic thought of it.

TG - Tony Zale?

CB - I grew up with Tony. I was on amateur teams with Tony. Tony Zale was
not a technician at all. He knew enough about boxing to where he looked like
a boxer. But one of the toughest damn Pollocks you'd ever seen in your life,
and a tremendous puncher, and especially a body puncher. That was his
greatest asset.

TG - Billy Conn?

CB - A master technician, and a typical Irishman that belongs in boxing,
with all the tools and mentality that go with it.

TG - Ray Leonard?

CB - In my opinion, when they refer to greatness, I think they're way out of
line. He fought everybody that came along, but he never had a record of
super fighters like a lot of them old-timers who fought 4,5,6 times a month.
And they had wars with guys that were rated, guys who were champions,
ex-champions. You can't say that about Sugar Ray Leonard. Plus he was a TV
darling, and let's face it, boxing is a business. And who are you gonna
support, a guy who can't draw flies, or a guy who can draw? That's the
object. And he was a super darling, and they had the talent around. His
opponents were also champions for these fights, and they made millions and
millions. Like Tommy Hearns, Duran, Marvin Hagler, guys like them. And in my
opinion, the time him and Hagler fought, Hagler won that fight. And when he
fought Tommy Hearns the second time, Hearns, in my opinion, won that fight.
But like I say, it's a business. One guy can draw, and one guy can't.

TG - Roberto Duran?

CB - Duran was a good journeyman. He had a little of everything. Nothing
sensational, other than he accomplished a lot. Because it had to be, because
of his environment, his background growing up. And that's why, when I hear a
lot of these guys during the time after the fight, and even today, from time
to time, say that he had no guts, that turns my stomach. Here's a guy that
was born and raised in poverty, lived in the streets, fought for everything
he had, fought to defend it. And all through life, in different phases,
would do the things, in reference to that, that made him what he was.

TG - Julio Caesar Chavez?

CB - Well, he's not one of my favorites. I worked with him and I have very
little respect for him because of the type of person he is. He's not a good
person and it's sad because he's a national hero, he's an idol, an icon, and
he should be the opposite because I feel if you have the ability to do what
you're doing, to accomplish what you're doing, you should have these other
assets to go with it. But when you talk about an outstanding athlete, he was
an outstanding athlete. That I'll give him credit for. He won three titles.
He was the champion for many years.

TG - Do you think fighters like Chavez and Duran have hung around too long?

CB - Yeah. It's the same old thing. They made millions and they blew it.
What other do they have going for them but what they're doing? Nothing.
Whereas a smart guy looked around, feathered his nest with people that he
met, and the possibility that when he's through, he'll wind up with a decent
job. And these guys have none of that. Plus they blew all their damn money
and the only resource left is boxing.

TG - Roy Jones?

CB - Very talented. Good athlete. But in my opinion, he's over exaggerated
in reference to talent. He does so many things that are amateurish and why
he doesn't progress to a different level is beyond me because he's got
talent. He's proved that. He just does a lot of things that are completely
amateurish and he gets by with it because he's talented.

TG - How do you think he'll do if he jumps to heavyweight?

CB - Well, that's hard to say because he's jumping from 175 to heavyweight,
which run well into the 200s. It's hard to say because even though he puts
weight on, he puts it on normally. Like a lot of times you'll hear this old
cliche "Well, he's a natural light heavyweight that blew up". Bullshit. You
can't make the light heavyweight division, you're a heavyweight, whether
it's a pound, two pounds, or whatever. But how much can he mature
weightwise, plus the ability to compensate for all the disadvantages that
he'll have with guys like that, who knows? But still, there ain't that many
great heavyweights around. He, in a sense, could very well be that he has a
lot of perfected instincts.

TG - Speaking of amateurish, what are your thoughts on Prince Naseem Hamed?

CB - Crude, unorthodox, awkward, but very effective. And a guy with
confidence unimaginable. The guy says he could beat anybody, he's the
greatest, he's this, he's that, and all along he's proved it, right? You
can't contradict it. If you could foresee the future, will he cave in like
some overnight sensation? Will he get better with his unorthodox, crude, and
unethical methods? Who knows?

There are so many question marks in regards to how smart you are, an
analyzing guys. It's like picking a winner. You could be the most
knowledgeable guy in the world and you pick a guy, and some guy who don't
know a left hand from a right hand, will pick out a guy like he knew what
was gonna happen. "This guy can't lose. In fact, I'm betting $10,000 on the
guy" and all he's doing is guessing. Where you know the technology, and it
didn't turn out that way.

TG - Evander Holyfield?

CB - Holyfield? Another one of my great friends. I had to sue him to get
paid one time. One of the cheapest guys in boxing. But a great athlete.

TG - Jorge Paez?

CB - Paez is as smart, as clever as you and I, as normal as you and I. Being
born and raised in a circus environment, he has done so many things on a
circus level, that he brought that into boxing, and became a sensation.
People love him, even today. I worked a show at the Forum last night and
Paez was there. People were lined up for autographs, taking pictures and
everything. And he's on his last lap. Him, like the rest of them too, blew
everything he made, and the only thing he knows is boxing. And incidentally, 
he's responsible for my trademark. He was always dreaming up things to wear, 
clothing, the face, the head, haircuts and everything else, and he always used
to get on my ass, him and his manager, and the guys in the entourage, about me 
duplicating what he does. I said "bullshit. I'm no goddamned clown" And Paez 
was always ribbing me, he says "pendejo", which is like jerk or character, or 
something like that. "Whatsa matter? You wanna be Paez, no?" So then it got to 
a point where they were so persistent that I start doing this stuff. And it 
became a big hit. In this respect, people accepted it. They enjoyed it, and 
they got a big bang out of it.

Like a lot of times they come up to me and want to know "what are you gonna
wear?" and stuff like that, or "Let me have what you've got on your head for
a souvenir." I said OK. And it got so popular that I'd work with other
fighters, like basically there are 3 or 4 stables that I work with top
priority and I get hired here and there for different guys and a lot of
times with preliminary fighters, which I never charge, "Yeah, if I'm not
booked, I'll work with you." And I'd be in the dressing room, especially the
Latinos, they'd be saying something in Spanish that I didn't understand, and
I'd ask one of the guys who spoke fluent English, "What the hell is he
saying?" "Well he's kind of perturbed that you're not gonna have anything on
your head for him." "Hell, I don't know. You want me to do something, I'll
do it." And then I'd get a couple of pictures, I use two inch tape, put it
on my forehead and I get tape with his name on it, and he's as happy as a
lark.

And the public's the same way. I feel that I'm not a crackpot. Like that
article that was in the paper, he says one of the big screwballs in boxing,
or something like that, Chuck Bodak. And I'm not a screwball, I'm not a
character. I'm doing something that the public wants, the public enjoys. I'm
giving back something that I've taken away from boxing, and that's the
purpose. I could care less about ego. It's like autographs and taking
pictures. A lot of times I take more pictures and sign more autographs than
some of the guys on the cards. And I always thank the individual that comes
up to me, or I have something funny to say to the person, and the guy looks
at me like I'm crazy. He says "No, thank you." "Bullshit" I said, "I'm not
doing you a favor, you're doing me a favor. Plus , if it wasn't for you
guys, they'd pass me up like a dirty shirt." And that's the truth.

TG - Oscar De La Hoya?

CB - Oscar is a very, very intelligent kid. Oscar is very talented. His
philosophy is that he can do anything. There isn't anything that's
impossible with him. In reference to confidence, he's not cocky. He's not
abusive. He's so extremely talented.

TG - How do you feel about him changing trainers?

CB - I don't know why that is. Here's a guy that's been talented all his
life. He's been in demand as far as the people are concerned. And you bring
all these guys in, for what? And my philosophy is this: a guy is made,
literally, when he's born. Like a parent, you start teaching this kid, you
start developing mentality and gestures and everything else till he gets to
a point where he matured enough to where he can function mentally. Then he
goes to school. He is being educated by teachers who are professors, in high
school, in college, and everything else. This is where a person is made.

It's like Dundee. Dundee with "My man, Ali, my man this" and shit like that,
well when Ali was an amateur, there was not one guy, there were hundreds of
guys that predicted that he'd be a champion, a great champion one on these
days. It was so obvious, he was so talented. He was made all along, when he
first started with Joe Martin in Louisville, 12,13 years old. And as he
progressed, even in his youth, 15, 16, 17, 18 years old, the guy was
destined to be great.

TG - Where do you see Oscar going in his development? Do you see him going
down as one of the greats?

CB - I think if nothing goes wrong. At the way he's progressed, with the
accomplishments, and everything else, yeah. I think that he's got the
structure, to possibly even be a middleweight or light heavyweight. He's won
four titles already and he could be one of the all-time greats. Sure. The
big thing in all of them, if you really notice, the type of person they are,
that's the important thing. Anybody can be an athlete. Anybody can perform
as an athlete, but what kind of person are you? That's the big thing.

TG - So that's not an act, the smiling, personable DeLa Hoya?

CB - No. He's a super person, a real terrific kid. Even if he were to fire
me tomorrow, I would never bum rap him. And yet, like I left Chavez. I
worked with him 4 1/2, 5 years. I don't bum rap him, but I don't have
anything nice to say about him, because there isn't. But with Oscar, like I
say, even if he were to fire me tomorrow, I could do nothing but praise the
guy, because he is a good person. And I feel this way.

TG - If you could pick one fighter through history to work with, who would
it be?

CB - Well, I worked with one of the greatest, Ali. You can't go beyond that.
'Cause the guy was so great, and like I say, not only as an athlete, but as
a person. Unbelievable. There's nobody to compare with him. And that's a
fact. They claim, that besides Jesus Christ and God, he is the most revered,
the
most talked about, and the most in demand on earth. And that is the truth.
'Cause I've been in situations like when I was with Muhammad Ali Sports. We
made quite a few trips when Ali was with us. Some he done exhibitions, some
he made personal appearances to promote the show because he was affiliated
with the organization, Muhammad Ali Sports. We went to Jakarta, for example,
and there must have been hundreds of thousands of people just around the
airport, and it was all fenced off, they wouldn't let anybody in. And they
were all over the place, chanting "Ali, Ali, Ali." Then he went to the
mosque in downtown Jakarta and they estimated that there were half a
million, three quarters of a million people. I've been on trips to Africa.
For example when I worked with Ali, I'd wear an Ali T-Shirt or cap, and also
when I worked with Muhammad Ali sports, and the peace corps built training
centers, they built schools, and stuff like that in the heart of the jungle.
And as soon as they saw me, here you are, no communication, nothing, you're
in the jungle. These kids were chanting "Ali, Ali, Ali," and practically
ripping the stuff off me. I gave away all the stuff that I wore. When I was
on that tour in Africa, I came home with just the clothes I had on my back,
just ordinary clothes. They chanted. Unbelievable.

TG - Let's use Oscar De La Hoya as an example. When you're working with him,
do you have to go to camp with him, or are you just called in for the fight
itself?

CB - It's not compulsory, because I have a lot of other work, but I try to
go up as often as I can.

TG - From a technical standpoint as a cutman, have you ever come in contact
with a cut that you couldn't close?

CB - Not really, because sometimes it takes around two or three rounds to
really seal it completely to where you have it under control. And other
times you get a kid that's a bleeder and it's real tough to stop it. In
fact, I had one one time, very small, about a quarter inch cut, and I
couldn't stop the damn bleeding. No two human beings are alike and one guy,
I guess the pressure's so great, blood just squirts out. Even the small
arteries. But the general capilliary cuts, when they open up, are not hard
to stop really.

TG - So there's not one magic formula that will stop any cut?

CB - No, not really. You're not a miracle man, you just know what you do,
and what you're doing, and the time you have to work with and stuff like
that. There are different methods, like I work a lot with freezing, besides
medication, and that helps too because a lot of times you can freeze a cut
and it literally seals itself. But when a cut is too bad, I myself will try
to attract the attention of a referee, so I'm not involved with humiliating
a fighter or something like that, or sticking my neck out, and shake my head
or something that it's too bad or the guy doesn't have a damn chance, you
know, what's the use?

TG - Is this something you picked up over the years, or was there someone in
particular who showed you all this?

CB - When I quit fighting and went into teaching, I made sure that whatever
there was pertaining to working with a fighter, besides teaching them, all
his needs and desires and stuff like that, I've learned. You know like
dealing with doctors. I deal with a lot of commission doctors that I know
real well and I'll discuss different things with them. I read up on
different medications. There's always modification over a period of time
where things change. Some commissions permit you to use it, some don't. And
I check out all kinds of stuff that is new on the market or that they use in
surgery. It's amazing, they even use that super glue for a lot of internal
bleeding and brain surgery and that. They use super glue but you'd never use
it in a fight. It's stupid to even think about it because the jostling in
the corner, one guy pouring water over a guy. I mean you have some very
erratic situations in a corner and it wouldn't be practical to work with the
thing. It's bad enough working with adrenaline, where you have a pad
underneath the cut so it don't drip in the eye where it could cause quite a
bit of irritation. But there's not any miracles to perform, you just have to
know what the hell you're doing, and know the person, that's it.