Box­ing his­to­rian knew the greats

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By MARYKE PENMAN

Few peo­ple can say they were once pen pals with Muham­mad Ali.

Box­ing his­to­rian Dave Cameron, 79, has the let­ters to prove it, filed away amongst a col­lec­tion of box­ing mem­o­ra­bilia that fills his base­ment.

Mr Cameron re­calls be­ing cap­ti­vated by the sport al­most 70 years ago lis­ten­ing to live ring­side ra­dio com­men­tary.

‘‘I would hide un­der the sheets from my mother and sit up un­til 1am lis­ten­ing and tak­ing notes.’’

Au­to­graphed box­ing gloves, strap­ping tape stained with the sweat of world cham­pi­ons, pho­to­graphs and posters are among Mr Cameron’s most prized pos­ses­sions.

Some items are worth thou­sands of dol­lars but sell­ing has never once crossed his mind, he says.

The only item his wife will al­low up­stairs is his crown­ing glory – a signed pho­to­graph of Muham­mad Ali and his son Paul.

The re­lease of The New Zealand Box­ing Scrap­book, co-writ­ten by sports writer Paul Lewis, on Novem­ber 2 re­alised Mr Cameron’s de­sire to leave a last­ing record of his col­lec­tion.

He was just 12 years old when he at­tended his first bout af­ter see­ing a photo of Amer­i­can world heavy­weight cham­pion Joe Louis in the news­pa­per.

It was not long be­fore Mr Cameron was rub­bing shoul­ders with box­ing big shots as he recorded the of­fi­cial ‘‘ring notes’’.

He soon made a name for him­self writ­ing for box­ing mag­a­zines both here and abroad, in­clud­ing what is re­ferred to as ‘The Bi­ble of Box­ing’, Amer­i­can mag­a­zine The Ring.

In 1958 he went to Eng­land in pur­suit of box­ing’s bright lights.

His fond­est mem­o­ries in­clude see­ing pro­fes­sional bouts at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium and Earls Court in Lon­don, and steal­ing posters off the door of world renowned Bri­tish box­ing pro­moter Jack Solomons.

‘‘I used to send Muham­mad Ali money as well for the re­turn postage but he would just sign his name over Ge­orge Washington and send it back.’’

Nowa­days money and tele­vi­sion gov­ern the sport of box­ing, he says, and ded­i­cated fans have lit­tle chance to in­ter­act with their idols.

‘‘It’s a dif­fer­ent world now, gone very cor­po­rate.

‘‘The av­er­age box­ing fan who hasn’t got much money can’t even af­ford to watch a fight on tele­vi­sion, let alone ac­tu­ally go­ing to one,’’ he says.

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What is called the ‘‘Al­pha­bet Soup’’ of box­ing ti­tles has also led to de­bate over which boxer really is the world’s best.

‘‘There’s the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBA and IBF. Back in the day there was only one world champ and that was that,’’ Mr Cameron says.

Top fight­ers spent their days train­ing in old tin sheds, hit­ting punch­ing bags filled with saw dust and skip­ping with a piece of rope, he says.

‘‘Those guys trained hard and got very lit­tle money. Some didn’t get paid, but re­lied on bets to tide them over.’’

Among them is 1890 world cham­pion ‘Tor­pedo’ Billy Murphy, the only New Zealand born world ti­tle holder.

He was the first in a long line of Kiwi box­ers with world-class pedi­gree, Mr Cameron says, in­clud­ing Tom Heeney, David Tua and Shane Cameron. ‘‘I’ve al­ways rated Shane like Tom Heeny who fought for a world ti­tle against Amer­i­can Gene Tun­ney back in the late 1920s. He’s a hard char­ac­ter.

‘‘Shane has hard spar­ring ses­sions and he’s ex­tremely ded­i­cated. But he’s a good busi­ness­man too.’’

If there’s one thing that both­ers Mr Cameron about the sport, it is when box­ers stay in the game for too long.

Mr Cameron re­mains at the heart of New Zealand’s box­ing fra­ter­nity.

He spends a lot of time ring­side and is al­ways keen to see the young ones test their met­tle.

And de­spite the lack of space, Mr Cameron says he will con­tinue adding to his col­lec­tion.

‘‘I can still find ev­ery­thing, so I think I’m do­ing pretty well.’’

Photo: MARYKE PENMAN

Pride of place: Dave Cameron, 79, has spent a life­time col­lect­ing box­ing mem­o­ra­bilia.

Pen pal: A per­sonal let­ter ad­dressed to Dave Cameron from Muham­mad Ali when he lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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