Up front Eli
Hanover is talking. As usual. His audience is a man from the outfit that made
the gym's ring. Like the one at Steelworkers, it is 18 by 18, smaller than the
standard 20 by 20 because, Eli says, "I don't like to see nobody running
away." The ring's size, however, doesn't keep Eli from telling the man,
"All that canvas, sheesh, you guys must be making a fortune."
The man laughs.
"You haven't paid for it yet," he says.
to give than receive," Eli replies.
voice oogahs forward on the square wheels of a nasal Baltimore accent, grating
to the uninitiated. The body is middle-aged Mickey Rooney. The head is Humphrey
Bogart. But the dark brown eyes are strictly Eli. They dance like a nimble
fighter stalking a night's prey. They take in all on the street below, from the
wino slumped in front of a dirty-book store to the strippers high-heeling to
work as night catches up with day. They water a bit when the fumes from Polock
Johnny's sausage emporium drift through the open windows of the gym.
"This is the
class street of the world," Eli says from deep in the recesses of his black
executive's chair. "If you want to find it, come to this street. You got
the greatest people that walk God's earth and you got some of the biggest
stinkers." He notices a friend crossing the street. "Hey," Eli
bellows. "Hey, hey!" The friend looks up at last to see Eli in the
window, clasping his hands and shaking them over each shoulder, back and forth,
back and forth.
It is the wave of
the champion that 52-year-old Eli Hanover, son of a Rumanian immigrant peddler,
child of the tough East Baltimore streets, never was. He won 14 of 15
professional fights as a lightweight, but in the process he had the truth about
his ability stitched onto his eyebrows. "I wasn't no great fighter," he
says. "I was just a preliminary boy." A steadier future waited for him
at sea, where he spent 13 years sailing the world in the Merchant Marine. When
he came ashore for good, waiting for him were his wife and the earliest of
their nine children, an organizer's job with the seaman's union and the chance
to get back in boxing.
He paid his dues
training and managing a series of nondescript fighters before he began
promoting in the mid-'60s. There are pessimists in town who say it was more
curse than chance. Before, Hanover could take whomever he was handling to
Philadelphia or Washington or Richmond. Now he was stuck in Baltimore.
Baltimore, where the only places he could put on a show were tiny Steelworkers
Hall or the 12,000-seat Civic Center, which, a series of bad crowds has
convinced Eli, is "a fat, greedy, white elephant." Rising land costs in
the suburbs have kept him from building an arena with 3,000 seats that he
insists he could fill any time he stepped off The Block.
has deserted Hanover just once in his decade of promoting. When an attractive
Civic Center card flopped in 1970, he went incommunicado for 18 months. He came
back for another try, of course, declaring, "I felt like I just got outta
Boxing was about
to become a full-time job for him by then; he had retired from the seaman's
union and he was getting ready to unload the Jewel Box. It wasn't money that
brought him back; although Eli says, "I ain't going broke," friends
indicate that he isn't getting rich, either. The lure, most likely, was that he
was needed. Needed, that is, as much as any city whose populace remembers TV's
Friday night fights needs a boxing promoter. Replacements had come from
Philadelphia as well as Baltimore, and they had failed. That does much for
Eli's already substantial ego, particularly now that his business is picking
up. "Let's face it," he says. "I'm Mr. Boxing in Baltimore. This
self-praise stinks, but we're talking about actuality."
successful promoters, Lou Fisher and Georgie Goldberg, struck it rich in the
'40s. They put on two or three fight shows a week, and they always had one on
Monday. "Except when it was Yom Kippur," says Hanover. But time caught
up with them. The ice rinks and ball parks that housed their fights fell to
ruin, and when the promoters grew old, there was no one to take their