Old school fight fan still collecting
Few people can say they were once penpals with Muhammad Ali.
Boxing historian Dave Cameron, 79, has the letters to prove it, filed away among a collection of boxing memorabilia that fills his entire basement.
Mr Cameron recalls first being captivated by the sport almost 70 years ago listening to live ringside commentary over the radio.
‘‘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 set sail for 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.
During what he considers boxing’s heyday, Mr Cameron says he would write up to 100 letters a week to professional fighters in the hopes they would post their autograph in return.
‘‘I would only put a few lines like ‘Mr Joe Louis, Detroit, USA’ and it would get there.
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, it’s gone very corporate.
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 sawdust and skipping with a piece of rope.
‘‘Those guys trained hard and got very little money. Some didn’t get paid, but relied on bets.’’
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 Heeny, 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.
‘‘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, it is when boxers stay in the game for too long.
‘‘I’ve seen the bad side to boxing. Guys all wanting that last pay day and making comebacks right into their 40s.
‘‘The money some of them are getting you can see why but it’s just not worth their lives.’’
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.’’
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.
Go to centralleader.co.nz to see footage of the 1908 bout between American Jack Johnson and Canadian-born Tommy Burns.