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Back in the Dark Ages of boxing, before $1 million purses and closed-circuit television, trainer Ray Arcel had a homespun medicament for fighters who were cut during a bout. He'd detach a pinch of chaw from the wad of tobacco in his mouth, smooth it between thumb and forefinger, mash it against the gash and send his man back out. Afterward, of course, he'd make certain the lad was properly darned by a doctor.
During his 65 years in boxing Arcel earned a reputation for selflessness. He admits to having occasionally fed his fighters first, then his own family. Now that Arcel, 85, is retired it's only fitting that a sorely needed facility for old fighters be named in his honor.
The Ray Arcel Medical Center is located on Broadway in Manhattan, a block south of Times Square, sandwiched between a travel agency and a hosiery outlet and up one flight of steps. On a wall in the waiting room is a bronze plaque bearing Arcel's countenance.
The medical center is diagnostic only; no prescriptions are written, no therapy administered. Members of Ring No. 8, the New York-New Jersey chapter of the Veteran Boxers Association, are entitled to a free annual checkup. That's all. If something ails them they are notified by the attending physician. Treatment is another matter and, for most ex-fighters, another problem.
There are so many medical troubles hounding today's physically and financially afflicted old boxers that the center amounts to little more than a gesture, really, a plug of tobacco in a wound. Still, it's better than nothing, which is what so many retired fighters once had.
The Veteran Boxers Association was founded to provide a forum by means of which old "fight guys" could recall the glorious past. It consists of loosely organized "rings" nationwide. A gala dinner of the Queensboro ( N.Y.) Elks Lodge in December 1984 marked Ring 8's first serious attempt to raise funds for the diagnostic center.
Inside the lodge that night a gnarled assortment of old boxers, cornermen, trainers—even Arcel himself, spry as you please—exchanged firm handshakes, pounded backs and crowded around the bar. Among the names on the guest register were La Motta, Graziano, Antuofermo, Ambers, Saddler and a host of lesser recognizables. Cauliflower ears narrowly outnumbered splayed noses.
There was no delicate tinkling of silver on crystal when Danny Kapilow, Ring 8's granite-jawed secretary, stood to speak. He merely scowled and began, "I'm not gonna ask for your attention, I'm gonna demand it." Kapilow expressed pleasure at the turnout and thanked the host Elks. Then the lines on his face became more apparent. "As many of us know," he said, "when the years in the ring are over and you're out of the limelight, it can be a lonely, painful time. That's why we're here tonight." There was poignant silence.
What is it about boxers, about boxing, that creates the need for such comment? One glaring reason: It's the only major sport with no centralized, self-help organ. Boxing has nothing analogous to a player's union, no pension system, no medical benefits, no established means of distributing a fighter's purse.
"Hey, I got news for you," says Irving Rudd, chief publicist for Top Rank promoters. "There is the entire world of sport—and then there's boxing."