Steve Lott about sweet science and it’s masters

– Steve, you are the CEO of the Boxing Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. Could you please share how the Boxing Hall of Fame started and its activity?  

I began working at Big Fights, Inc. in 1972. The company owned all the legendary fight films in the world and the owners of the company, Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, had always wanted to do a legitimate boxing hall of fame, like baseball, basketball and football.

From that moment on I was always keen on a boxing hall of fame knowing that if I was able to purchase or acquire my own library of unique films and display memorabilia, that Jim and Bill would make me a partner.   

As the years passed Jacobs and Cayton became more involved in managing fighters. The first two were champions Wilfred Benitez and Edwin Rosario. Then Cus D’Amato, whose camp they were funding, brought them Mike Tyson in 1985.

While we were all primarily focused on Mike Tyson, I was still visualizing a real, legitimate, boxing hall of fame.

The years passed and Jim Jacobs passed away. In 1999, Bill Cayton sold the film library to ESPN but retained the exclusive rights, worldwide, to use the films in a boxing hall of fame. By that time I had already purchased approximately one million dollars in display memorabilia; gloves, trunks, robes, posters, photos, games, toys, Hollywood boxing movie props, unique films and tapes of fighters training and talking. I suggested to Bill that we work together on a new boxing hall of fame. He agreed. Bill passed away in 2004 but his son, Brian, became heir to the BHOF film rights. Brian agreed to proceed on a new boxing hall of fame project as partners.

We hired an investment firm to offer their clients an opportunity to purchase stock in the project but, even with all the assets we had, we were unable to acquire the finds necessary to begin the project.   

In 2010, I was advised to begin a BHOF online which might inspire investors to get involved on a physical exhibit. While I was unable to secure the funds necessary to build a physical BHOF, the websites we had grew dramatically. 

We began a BHOF website, along with pages on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Instagram, and youtube. At this time these pages have produced in excess of one million followers.

Our BHOF voting panel is made up of boxing historians that surpass the voting panel in any other boxing hall of fame. When our BHOF began, the panel made a critical decision and it is unique – they decided that only fighters are to be inducted. All the other halls of fame induct cornermen, spit bucket men, cutman, managers, promoters, and others called “non-participants.” The panel felt it would be a disgrace to have “undesirables” standing next to the true legends of the ring. 

– How would you describe the state of today’s sweet science? In your opinion, is it degrading or developing, and why?

I am grateful to the promoters today for continuing to fund boxing events. None of the fighters today are “mainstream” fighters. Walk down any street and ask anyone who the champion of any division is – they would not know. In the 70’s, 80’s most people knew that Mike Tyson was the heavyweight champion. Most people knew that Marvin Hagler was the middleweight champion. Most people knew that Sugar Ray Leonard was the welterweight champion. Most people knew that Roberto Duran was the lightweight champion.

The two problems that boxing faces today: #1 the fighters are not exciting. #2 the UFC has taken over the young audience because the young audience wants to see action immediately – and there are no boxers who come out like Mike Tyson came out.

– In your opinion, which boxers have changed the history of boxing (except Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali)? 

In my opinion, the fighters who made a significant change in history:

Jack Dempsey – fought the first million-dollar gate and was the first explosive fighter.

Joe Louis – held the heavyweight crown for almost 12 years. He is perhaps the most revered boxer of all time.

Sugar Ray Robinson – 5 time middleweight champion – captured the imagination of the mainstream with tremendous punching power.

Rocky Marciano – the “Brockton Blockbuster” an exciting white heavyweight like Dempsey

Sugar Ray Leonard – Olympic Champion. Great boxer. And a wonderful personality

– Which fights or events influenced boxing most dramatically?  

In my opinion, the fights that were the most dramatic in the history of boxing were #1 The second fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1938. Joe was knockout two years before. Now, in 1938, Joe was the heavyweight champion and was defending the crown against the same Max Schmeling. The entire world was watching this fight. The beginning of WW2 – the USA vs Nazi Germany – Louis KO’d by Schmeling in 1936 – AND the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt calling Joe before the fights and saying: ”Joe. We are depending on you.” Talk about pressure. As Joe was on the verge of scoring a knockout over Schmeling, Adolf Hitler cut the radio transmission to Germany to keep the German public from hearing the end of the fight. #2. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The country was divided over the two great fighters. Ali was hated and despised by many because of his Muslim association and his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Jo was the hero of many in “white” America. When Frank Sinatra requested that he get photo credentials to shoot the fight along with the other photographers right there at the ringside – then you know it’s a big fight.

– Could you please share about your mentor and boss, Jim Jacobs? In what ways did he influence you? (Maybe some fun stories you vividly remember)

Jim Jacobs had a huge influence on me in a number of areas. Jim was the world handball champion when I began playing handball. Jim was my mentor. I had absolutely no natural physical ability. That was not a factor in Jim’s mind. He told me that the key to be accomplished was the thinking process – deciding to make right shot when you have milliseconds to think. He was right. Even though I had no natural physical ability I went on to win a number of national championships.

Jim’s demeanor was very heart warming. Anyone who met gym felt welcomed. And, Jim remained that way even though he knew he had leukemia, a death threatening disease.

Jim’s greatest quality was that of forgiveness. The equation goes like this: if someone does something that affects you and it was “unintentional,” you discuss it and then let it go – forget about it. But, if someone does something that affects you and it was “intentional,” that’s a different story. I made huge mistakes during my years at Big Fights. Jim recognized that they were unintentional. No matter how disastrous they were he discussed the incident with me – then let it go. That’s tough to do.  

Cus D’Amato and Jim Jacobs 1965. (Photo courtesy of Steve Lott, BHOF)

– You say that people like Cus D’Amato and Jim Jacobs are masters in the true sense of the word. What makes them so?

A master is someone who is calm in a burning building. To the casual reader it’s the key item I mentioned above – non-intentional vs intentional. The specific things that made them special: Both had an intimate knowledge and love for boxing.

– Is there a boxing coach in the modern era who would be close to Cus?

There is not one trainer today who is even in the same universe as Cus. I have had many, many discussions with trainers. The only question I ask them: “what’s the most important physical technique to teach a kid from the very first day he walks into the gym? I hear everything except the two most critical things #2. HANDS UP and #1 – the most critical thing to teach a fighter – at any level – MOVE YOUR HEAD! If you walk into any boxing gym in the world you’ll hear everything except hands up and move your head. The only reason the names of trainers make it into the news is because a world champion walked into their gym and said I want a knew trainer. In the history of boxing – when any fighter went to a knew trainer there has never been a change in the fighter in any way  

– You are the most knowledgeable boxing historian of our days, having worked with the best ones in boxing and having seen so much of boxing (not only the ring) what are the main things you have learned for yourself? Principles that you live by? Because in some sense, there is “war” in our lives as well: sometimes we are in conflict with ourselves, with others, etc – we learn certain things only through “fighting.”

One key thing. Pressure. Everyone experiences pressure – now- how do you handle it? It is a huge advantage to have been mentored by someone who had the philosophy:

In any situation – what do I want to do vs what is the smart thing for me to do. That’s a tough decision. I was lucky. I witnessed Jim Jacobs, Cus D’Amato, and Bill Cayton over and over make decisions under pressure. I knew what they wanted to do – but they always made the decision to do the smart thing. That’s what made them masters.

*Photo courtesy of Steve Lott, BHOF

Thank you very much, Steve Lott!

Steve Lott (Founder and CEO of Boxing Hall of Fame Las Vegas)

Author: Myroslav Bekchyv