Posted: Friday October 28, 2005 2:42PM; Updated: Friday October 28, 2005 2:47PM
The annual dinner, a glittery black-tie shindig, complete with live boxing during dessert (what's a little blood in the cheesecake?), raises money for the organization, as well as for several other New York charities. It also allows a few hundred Wall Street and big businessmen to put on tuxes and hobnob with the fight crowd while ogling real-live ring girls brought in for the occasion. Among the fighters on hand -- in addition to Cooney, who acted as host -- were Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Iran Barkley and Jake LaMotta.
At age 83, LaMotta may move a little slower than he did in the ring against Sugar Ray Robinson, but he can still do 10 minutes of rim-shot stand-up when put in front of a mic. Two nights before the F.I.S.T. dinner, he spoke at a smaller preliminary gathering with Cooney and friends and he killed (albeit with material he has no doubt been doing since before Raging Bull came out in 1980.)
"I had a fighter once," rasped LaMotta, "he kept saying, 'I wanna fight Gerry Cooney! I wanna fight Gerry Cooney!' I said to him, 'How many times I gotta tell you,'" -- and here Cooney, seated beside the podium, joined in to silently mouth the punch line with the old champ -- "'You are Gerry Cooney!'"
To borrow from Seinfeld, that's gold, Gerry, pure gold! Still, it struck me on Wednesday that Cooney and LaMotta are the lucky ones. They got out more or less intact. (Physically and financially. As Cooney says, "I was lucky: I had two managers and they were so busy watching each other that neither could steal from me.") That they're working to provide for all those other fighters, for whom things didn't go quite so well, is to be commended and supported.
For more information on F.I.S.T. or to make a donation, check out helpboxers.org.
I could, and probably should, devote an entire column to John Oden. The chairman of F.I.S.T. and the organizational force behind the annual dinner, Oden is a principal in money management sales at Bernstein Investment Research and Management.
He also happens to be, at something over 50 years old, an accomplished white-collar heavyweight boxer. How accomplished? Well, I first heard of him about a year ago when I got a call one morning from Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who has trained 32 world champions, including Tommy Hearns, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Steward had just gotten back from London, where he had worked Oden's corner at a charity boxing show.
"John knocked the guy down twice -- twice!" said Emanuel, who still calls it one of the most exciting experiences he has ever had in boxing.
The redoubtable Oden -- picture a friendly, enthusiastic Clint Eastwood in pinstripes -- has written a book, just released this week, on his experiences in the boxing. White Collar Boxing: One Man's Journey from the Office to the Ring (Haterleigh Press, 256 pages, $24.95) is an engaging and inspiring read that may get you thinking about climbing between the ropes yourself.