In the world of boxing, there were few who conducted themselves with the class and decency that legendary cornerman Al Gavin did. He was Boxing’s Nice Guy who was respected by everyone in the sport from promoters, reporters and managers to club fighters, champions and legends. Yet, thirteen years after his death, the International Boxing Hall of Fame has yet to recognize him.
That wrong will be partially righted when the man known to many as “Uncle Al” is posthumously inducted into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame on April 30th in a ceremony at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach.
Gavin will enter the NYSBHOF as part of the fifteen-man Class of 2017 headlined by boxers Gaspar “El Indio” Ortega, Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes, Doug “Cobra’ Dewitt, and Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos.
Also being inducted posthumously are former middleweight and light heavyweight world champion Dick Tiger, light heavyweight world champion Jose “Chegui” Torres, “The Nonpareil”, middleweight world champion Jack Dempsey, boxing historian Hank Kaplan, referee Arthur Donovan and columnist Dan Parker.
Non-participants being inducted into the hall are international agent Don Majeski, matchmaker Ron Katz, manager Stan Hoffman and past Ring 8 president/NYSAC judge Bobby Bartels.
Gavin, however, is the one who many were rooting for to make it. Having been shunned by the IBHOF for so many years while many of his contemporaries were recognized, the honor is a long time coming for his family and friends.
During his 50-plus year career in boxing, Gavin, a Brooklyn native who began his career coaching fighters in the PAL, worked the corner in an estimated 3,000 fights including 110 world title bouts. As part-owner of the Gramercy Gym in NYC and later as a staple at Gleason’s, his clientele ranged from club fighters and golden glovers to celebrities and world champions, such as Lennox Lewis and Oscar de la Hoya.
In 1999, Al and his long-time gym partner Bob Jackson, received the James J. Walker Award for “Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.”
Perhaps Gavin has been omitted from the IBHOF for all these years because he was a class act in sport where class is not valued. The way he lived his life and dedicated himself to his craft and his subjects is something rarely seen not only in boxing, but in any walk of life these days.
If it were not for Al, and many like him such as Bob Jackson, boxing would have been dead long ago. He was from a generation that preserved rather than destroyed. He built bridges, not walls. The NYSBHOF recognizes that and so did many others.
“Al Gavin was what was good about boxing,” said the legendary late trainer Angelo Dundee in an interview from a few years back. “He worked to learn his trade the right way. You never heard from Al, ‘I can do this or I can do that.’ He let the results speak for him. If I had a kid I couldn’t be with, but wanted him taken care of, I could put him with Al, and he’d be taken care of. He would look out for the kid. He would be treated like a son by Al. Al Gavin gave and demanded respect every where he went.”
During his Hall of Fame career Gavin rubbed elbows with many luminaries and celebrities along the way. He worked with actor Tony Danza when the “Taxi” star decided to resume his boxing career in the 1980’s and superstar Robert DeNiro trained at Gavin’s gym to ready himself for his Oscar-winning turn as Jake LaMotta in the film Raging Bull.
One of Gavin’s shining achievements, however, was his work with Mickey Ward in Ward’s memorable trilogy of action-packed contests against Arturo Gatti. Ward, who’s life was dramatized in David O. Russell’s Oscar-winning film The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, was in trouble early in his first bout against Gatti when Uncle Al saved his bacon with his exceptional corner skills.
“In that first round when I got cut, I knew I had the best cutman in the business,” Ward said at the time. “I knew that, if anyone could stop the bleeding, Al could. And I was right; Al kept me in the fight. Al Gavin means everything to me.”
Ward is not alone. If you visit the website “Cutman: Dedicated to Legendary Cornerman Al Gavin” you will find account after account of how of how Gavin helped and touched the lives of countless people in and out of the business. Boxing was not a hobby for him. It was a religion.
“My dad gave his life to boxing and I think he deserves to be recognized for everything he did for the sport,” Gavin’s son, Al Jr. said in a 2008 interview. ”His career and his stats speak for themselves. He was in the business for 57 years. It wasn’t a passing fancy for him. This was his life.”
“Al had a special appeal that just made you want to be with him,” said Harold Lederman, the famous boxing judge and commentator. “A die hard fight guy, he knew the business inside and out, and made it fun to be at the fights.”
Gavin was never one to stand in the spotlight. He never wanted to talk about accolades whenever me or someone else broached the subject although they were well deserved. He may have been the most unselfish man I’ve ever met. They don’t make them like Al Gavin anymore and that might be what I miss the most about him.