SI Vault
Dan Levin
April 04, 1977
Brussels-bred, Harrow-schooled and Paris-garbed, George Kanter is the U.S. fight game's hot line to Europe—a man of charm who has seen the sport prosper, wither and bloom again
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April 04, 1977

Boxing Fits This Old Boy Like A Glove

Brussels-bred, Harrow-schooled and Paris-garbed, George Kanter is the U.S. fight game's hot line to Europe—a man of charm who has seen the sport prosper, wither and bloom again

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Not long ago a boxing manager named George Kanter, a droll, myopic man of 61 with a generous nose and a non-assertive way about him, crouched beside a ring that had been set up in the Marion ( Ohio) Correctional Institution. He wore an elegant ascot of Italian silk beneath his shirt, and each time his fighter jabbed he called out, "Again, again," pronouncing it to rhyme with pain. He might have used another word, or worn other accessories had he wanted to stand out more than he did against the background of rough men in denim and ID badges. For example, he might have shouted, "Fire!" or donned a Sioux war bonnet.

George Kanter had come a long way to that boxing ring—all the way from Harrow, the storied English boys' school where he studied 47 years ago, and which numbers among its alumni seven British prime ministers, including Winston Churchill. The penitentiary at Marion has only one renowned alumnus, Don King, the boxing impresario.

On this day King was staging a quarterfinal round of his United States Boxing Championships at his alma mater. He could not stop grinning and slapping backs, and he seemed as one with the inmates. Not George Kanter. The inmates regarded him much as a trout might regard a bird; it sees a shadow from another world.

That is the story of Kanter's life—contrasts and improbabilities. It is Harrow and Marion. It is his relationship with Don King, a rare match, Kanter digging deeply into his meager ration of hip American idiom to call King "a dynamite man," and King, never at a loss for words of any kind, saying, "George Kanter is my foreign representative. I want to rule the world, and I figure with George I've got a good shot at Europe." It is New York boxing trainer Paddy Flood, a dead-end kid grown up, with his shirt open halfway to his waist, looking in wonder at Kanter in his Pierre Cardin suit, calling him "Mr. Debonair," shaking his head and saying, "George is everything in boxing. He's a trainer, a promoter, a manager, a psychologist.... My God, I don't know what he is."

Forty years ago Kanter's father was a wealthy manufacturer of women's gloves in Brussels—"A snob," Kanter says—who wanted his son to take over the business and to maintain the family's high social standing. The boxing scene horrified him, and when he would tell his son, "I didn't send you to Harrow for this," George would say what he has said ever since, "Well, gloves are gloves."

In recent months boxing in this country has risen like Lazarus. There is Don King's tournament, and there are the World Television Championships, run by Henry Schwartz and Don Elbaum. Kanter has found little-known talent for both, for example Kenny Weldon, the lightweight he had at Marion, who acquitted himself well in a loss to Ruben Castillo, and who later complained he had to give Kanter a substantial part of his $7,500 purse to get the fight (see SCORECARD).

But Kanter's principal business is his traffic with Europe. For 28 years he has brought its boxers to the U.S., and for the last 10 he has sent U.S. boxers to Europe, an average of 65 a year. Recently he began calling himself "The International Boxing Entrepreneur." That started after he brought Belgium's Jean-Pierre Coopman—"my latest masterpiece"—to Puerto Rico, where Muhammad Ali knocked him out in the fifth round.

If Kanter is often the butt of his own jokes, Coopman was the butt of the world's. As Kanter put it, "The occasion was too big for him. He froze." That the fight made some money for King is in part a tribute to Kanter—after all, he had seen Coopman fight.

The fight was no sooner announced than Coopman was saying, "I feel beaten from the start." He met Ali at a New York press conference and seemed smitten, smiling and winking at the man the world was waiting to see him fight. Kanter told Coopman that sort of behavior would have to stop. Coopman speaks only Flemish, and Kanter posed the reporters' questions, in French, to Coopman's manager, who would query Coopman in Flemish. Ten minutes later Kanter would get the answer in French. ("Do you think you can win?" "I don't know.")

In Puerto Rico Kanter tried a more imaginative tack. He posed the questions to Coopman in French, and from the mumbled replies gave the world's press answers like, "The fight will not go 15 rounds. Ali is no longer capable of matching my pace."

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