Boxing's Mr Fixit seeks a quiet life
THE man who brought the curtain down on Muhammad Ali's glittering career is the key Mr Fixit behind next Sunday's 'High Noon in Hong Kong' fist fest.
And at a sprightly 70 years old, Jay Edson is still travelling the world as fight co-ordinator for the Top Rank organisation, continuing a 50-year involvement with boxing which has included spells as a senior administrator and thousands of bouts as a world-class referee.
It was in his latter capacity that he ended Ali's career, stopping 'The Greatest's' far-from-great final appearance against Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Edson is in Hong Kong to oversee preparations for the multi-bout show at the Hong Kong Stadium. There will be three title fights here - Herbie Hide of Britain v Tommy Morrison (US) for the WBO heavyweight, Steve Collins (Ireland) v Lonny Beasley (US) for the WBO middleweight and Rafael Ruelas (US) v Billy Schwer (Britain) for the IBF lightweight crowns.
'The average person doesn't know what goes into an event like this,' explained the avuncular, white-haired Florida resident during a reconnaissance of the Stadium and potential venues for training camps.
'What is a site co-ordinator? I'm a father, a lawyer, priest, rabbi, diplomat and troubleshooter all rolled into one.
'When Bob Arum of Top Rank offered me the job in 1979 he explained he wanted someone to be the first one into a location before a fight and to set everything up for him. He needed someone to 'be him' when he was not there.
'I pay the purses, make sure the hotels are okay, make sure the fighters behave, make sure the contracts are honoured in every way.
'When I check in at the hotel front desk I inform them that if there's any trouble or anything suspicious regarding the fighters they must call me. Boxing people can sometimes be overpowering. They have egos bigger than the building.' Recalcitrance and prima-donna behaviour by fighters are top of Edson's list of bugbears.
'You cannot allow boxers to sign for things in the hotel because they will invite people in and sign for everything they can - food, clothes, jewellery, you name it. It's a promoter's nightmare. With most fighters we give them food coupons. In other cases we give cash. Up to US$40 a day. Fighters think the promoter has a bottomless well of money.
'For dealing with a troublesome fighter I try first to remind them of their responsibilities. Normally I set the tone by sending a welcome letter to them on arrival at the hotel. For example it would start with - 'To whomever, from Jay Edson, welcome to Hong Kong. Enclosed find food coupons. Weigh-in will be held at such and such a time and such and such a location. You must be at your medical ahead of time. Blah, blah. If you have any questions, call me'. ' Despite Edson's best intentions a capricious fighter can always throw a spanner in the works. Delving into his treasure trove of personal memories, Edson, who loves to talk, recounted two examples.
'In 1982 Aaron Pryor, who was junior-welterweight champion, fought Alexis Arguello of Nicaragua in the Miami Orange Bowl. I got a call from Cincinnati that 13 people and 72 pieces of Pryor's luggage were coming in. I had three limousines and a truck plus three bellmen waiting at the airport.
'The three bellmen took all the 72 pieces of luggage to the rooms and came back down. They said to me 'Mr Edson, don't ask us to carry anything else for these people'. It turned out Pryor had tipped each of them just US$1!!.
'I said to the bellmen, 'Don't worry, we'll see you're all right'. Bob Arum does not like Top Rank to be made to look cheap. Pryor was making US$1.6 million for this fight. I went to his room and asked what he thought he was doing. He said 'I don't care. Nobody ever gave me anything'. ' 'Another example - Larry Holmes fought Gerry Cooney in 1982. They were each paid US$10 million regardless of the outcome of the fight, which was at Caesars Palace.
'We held back US$5,000 from each fighter's purse for incidental expenses. Anyway, Holmes called me to his suite and asked for two limousines to be kept out front for the whole three weeks before the fight.
'I already knew him. I said, 'You don't need them. Caesars Palace has four limos. You only need to tell them when you need one.' He said 'Look, I want them outside.' I said 'Okay, but you will pay for it.' He said 'No. Caesars Palace will pay for it.' Now these limos cost US$2,500 per day back then. For 20 days that was a lot of money. He said, 'I don't care. I want it.' So I leased two limos and three drivers on eight-hour shifts.
'At the end of the 20 days I got the bill and there had been just five hours 30 minutes usage. Only 45 minutes of that was use by Holmes - to go to the fashion mall which was five minutes away. The rest was use by his sparring partners to go to a disco. We deducted it from his purse.
'Fighters are a breed unto themselves. The ones like Ali are a premium.' Edson, who is short with a little spare tyre round the middle, doesn't look intimidating enough to rein in a wilful fighter but his years of experience as a ref (49 world title fights) and as executive secretary of the Nevada State Athletic Commission have earned him a lot of respect.
And dealing with temperamental champions is just one of Edson's roles as fight co-ordinator. His other tasks include: liaising with television producers on camera positions; arranging the dressing rooms and weigh-in room at the venue; supervising setting up of the rings at the venue and training camps; even being custodian of the gloves to be used in the fights (including spare pairs for each fighter in case of damage).
These are all things he is doing for 'High Noon in Hong Kong'. He spent time at the American Club supervising the ring set-up for the US fighters' training camp and did the same at the Hong Kong Football Club for the British Isles contingent.
Although he has spent the majority of his working life in boxing Edson has never so much as put on a pair of gloves and he only fell accidentally into refereeing. While in the US military police during World War II he was in the right place at the right time when the appointed ref failed to show up for a forces boxing night.
'I figured you just needed to say break and know how to count to 10,' Edson, a natural raconteur, remembers. He bluffed his way that night but soon came to realise there was a lot more to being a good ref.
'If there's one thing wrong with today's boxing it's that the referee does not score. But he is the only man who can see a punch land solidly.
'The secret is to let the fighters fight and not interfere unless absolutely necessary.' Edson's vast repertoire of personal experiences virtually adds up to a history of post-war professional boxing. He fingers a chunky ring on his finger as he talks.
'There's a story behind this ring.
'I was assigned to referee the 'Thrilla in Manila' [Ali v Joe Frazier] in 1975. I was paid US$5,000 by Don King up front. In those days the referee scored.
'The other judges were Harry Gibb of England and Jack Clayton.
'Two days before the fight President Marcos decreed - 'Due to the fact this fight is being beamed to 68 countries with 700 million people to see it we want the world to know we have good officials in the Philippines. With all due respect to you three gentlemen we will be bringing our own people in'.
'Clayton, Gibb and I, plus Ali and Frazier were summoned to the presidential palace. There we were given these rings by Marcos. They are 11/2 oz gold, with 20 diamonds, and four rubies. There are only five of them in the world.' Edson's ring has a boxing glove motif and a personal inscription.
'The Filipino referee - Carlos Padilla - did a great job. He has refereed more than 40 world title fights over the years.
'I had already refereed Ali. But that event was such that I would have loved to do it.
'In fact, I have refereed Ali twice and George Foreman three times in his heyday.
'I did the 'Drama in the Bahamas' in 1981. Ali v Trevor Berbick. It was Ali's last fight. I could have stopped it any time. It was a pathetic fight. He was shuffling around, hanging his head. It was terrible because of who the man was.' 'I remember the highest praise I ever received as a referee was from Angelo Dundee who once told me 'you're a good ref because I didn't notice you were there' ,' he recalled.
If all goes to plan with his co-ordination of 'High Noon in Hong Kong', no-one will know he's been here either.