Type to search

Share

Boxing great Marty Feldman taught his sons all he knew about the sport he loves. They still have a lot to learn.

Damon Feldman has just finished off his chicken piccante entrée after a mammoth portabella mushroom appetizer. Across the table, his father, Marty, polishes off a steak sandwich with ketchup and fried onions. And for dessert, Damon is giving his dad indigestion.

It’s lunchtime on St. Patrick’s Day, and the two Jews are sparring in an Italian deli—Soprano’s in Broomall. Right jab. Left hook. Dozens of names and fantasy matchups pitting old-school boxers from the 1960s and ’70s against new-school ones.

“Harold Johnson vs. Bernard Hopkins?” Damon poses.

 

 

“Are you serious, or are you acting stupid?” says Marty, a 2006 Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame inductee. “You can’t say that to anyone who knows anything. They’re going to think you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Johnson isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but Hopkins will be,” counters Damon, who was stablemates with Hopkins at Champs Gym in Philadelphia.

“That’s because there’s no one else around,” Marty jabs back. “The fighters today are pathetic. They don’t even know not to have sex six weeks before a fight; it affects their nervous system. They don’t even live like boxers.”

“How about Bennie Briscoe vs. Hopkins?” Damon counters.

“No! Here’s the thing: You don’t know. You’re talking about guys who wouldn’t have just beat Hopkins, they’d have killed him. He’d die.”

Damon Feldman is enough of a media magnet that he just might be staging this bout of words. But as a promoter, it’s common knowledge within the sport that he isn’t what his father was as a trainer: world-class.

Not that he doesn’t wish he was. After all, he wants to save the sport.

Trouble is, Damon, who lives in Wayne, hasn’t been licensed as a promoter by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission since November 2005, when he withdrew his required $10,000 bond and let a license he’d renewed from 1997 to 2005 lapse. This according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Leslie Amorós.

“Untrue,” Damon says. “They’re covering up for themselves. I was involved in an altercation with a promoter who threatened the late Bob Botto (the legendary Philly manager known as “Big Bob from the Mob”) then came at me. I ended it [with one punch], and the next thing I know, I was suspended.”

Amorós also points out that Feldman was fined $300 in May 2006 for staging a pro boxing exhibition without a promoter’s license. He says he was cleared. But they do agree on one thing: Feldman has begun the process of reapplying for his license.

“I’ll be back,” he says.

None of this slows Damon’s all-day boxing caravan on St. Patty’s Day. Operating from his 2006 silver Jeep Commander, he brings his 73-year-old father, who still lives and trains fighters in Broomall, along for the ride. Nor is it delaying his promise to launch “The Return of Old-School Fights” in June.

The recipe? Hometown Philly rivals, black vs. white—and just the Feldman family. Damon’s younger brother, David, is another promoter—sometimes with Damon but mostly in Arizona, where he’s partnered with Leonard Hayko at the Fort McDowell Casino. The brothers used to bang heads, but business is business.

And boxing is boxing.

“We’re going to bring boxing back on our own,” Damon pledges. “We have our own game plan. Everyone else is always in a rush to get their money back right away, rather than see what could develop down the road.”

Damon says he’s ready to slow down, plant a seed and watch it grow. The time could be ripe, now that the pain and the bouts with depression are mostly behind him.
 
THE DETAILS OF THE car accident that made Dawn Feldman a quadriplegic are a mystery, just as her death is now. Damon was 6 when it happened, and after years of pressing his estranged mother for details, she told her son that she was beaten, had her neck broken and was run over. That was five years ago. Dawn Feldman passed away last fall.

“It just gives me a disgustingly sick feeling,” says Damon . “Now we don’t know how she died. It’s a shame, but we never got close.”

 

Damon (pictured above), 37, married last July. He and his wife, Rachael, are expecting a son, Jacob Martin Feldman. The middle name was chosen to honor his father. “I was never able to get Marty a championship belt in his own pro fighting career,” Damon says. “Now, this is the best I can do.”

Damon has felt like boxing’s savior before. Last fall, he was gung-ho about Broad Street Boxing, Inc. The Feldmans partnered with Jimmy Binns Sr., the flamboyant attorney and former state boxing commissioner who helped return the Rocky statue to the Art Museum, and his son Jimmy Jr. The promise was to put Philly back on the boxing map with bi-monthly cards. Even critics like Daily News boxing writer Bernard Fernandez called it Feldman’s most ambitious—“and legitimate”—project yet.

Predictably, the partnership ended after one fight card, Nov. 9 at Wachovia Spectrum. As allowed, Damon’s been teaming up with other licensed promoters. Binns Sr. says Marty Feldman, a 50-year friend, is an “unquantifiably honorable man.” But there hasn’t yet been an accounting by his sons following the Nov. 9 card. Binns says he and his son—who invested $10,000—have called four meetings, but Damon and David Feldman have yet to attend.

“The show lost big-time,” Damon says. “His son lives in New York, so we never arranged a time.”

Legendary above-board Philly promoter J. Russell Peltz will only say, “Damon has good ideas, lots of energy and he hustles. He’s a great salesman, but by now he should have better product. You have to do it right. And in boxing, people don’t always do the right thing. It’s like a disease.”

Damon, a one-time 9-0 super-middleweight, first worked his way back into the Philadelphia boxing scene by promoting Toughman contests, then pro fights, beginning in 2000. That year, he even brought Larry Holmes to The Lagoon, a nightclub in Essington on the Delaware River. In 2002, he negotiated a five-fight deal at the Spectrum with Comcast, but then drifted into celebrity bouts and midget fights. He even promoted figure skater-turned-thug Tonya Harding. That relationship ended after the Florida Boxing Commission canceled a scheduled three-round match because Harding was classified as a pro but her opponent, a transvestite named Daisy D., wasn’t. When Harding found out the bad news, she threatened to punch Damon in the mouth.

“Her career in boxing is done,” Damon said at the time. Then he dumped her because she was “naughty and chunky.”

Ah, boxing.

“I’m doing everything I can to make a living, but I’ve always thought I needed an adviser,” Damon says. “I’m trying to get George Bochetto (another city lawyer and former state boxing commissioner) on board. I want to be the biggest promoter to ever come out of Pennsylvania. I want to stage a pay-per-view fight here. I just need an investor. I have a concept that will bring boxing back.”

IT’S NEVER A DULL day for Damon Feldman of late. He’s had a hand in cage fights and what he’s calling “Women’s Exotic Boxing Girls,” an all-female series that began at the Ice Works Skating Complex in Aston on March 30. They fight in bikinis with oversized gloves. The week after St. Patrick’s Day, he appeared yet again on the 610 WIP morning show with host Angelo Cataldi.

At Ellis Athletic Center in Newtown Square, the first stop on the day’s caravan, Damon is talking about Comcast SportsNet’s Michael Barkan when Barkan himself just happens to walk into the gym. Another setup? A promotion? All day, Damon knows everyone everywhere—like it’s staged.

Barkan’s trying to trim some gut. Marty suggests he wear a girdle while working out. Damon wants to promote cage fights. “Yeah, you can come on the show,” Barkan says.

Then Barkan spies Marty’s hands, which are as imposing as they were when he was a promising middleweight in the early 1960s. “They’re rocks,” he tells Marty.

The compliment is a cue for Marty to point out that anyone he ever trained became “the hardest hitter.” “Everything they hit became stretcher cases,” he says.

But the greatest compliment comes when his fighters knockout an opponent, and before walking away, they say his name: “Marty Feldman.”

Inside Ellis, there’s a speed bag suspended next to a punching bag. Both are so new they beg to be broken in. Damon, who ran six weeks of boxing sessions last winter at Valley Forge Military Academy & College, has the honor. Then, as he waits for his first pupil, Damon shoots some hoops on the parquet court. When he makes a basket, his father is surprised.

“Hey,” Damon says. “I hung with the blacks all those years.”

At one time, Marty had 15 black fighters living with him in Broomall. The neighbors balked—before they found out they were fighters. Then they asked for autographs. “Every house in my area got robbed but mine,” Marty says. “I knew one thief, and I told him, ‘Don’t even think about coming near my house—and don’t even come on my side of the street.’”

At Ellis, Marty sees a row of girls on treadmills. He bets each would want to box. Girls who train with him, he says, drop eight dress sizes. One can bench 200 pounds; another handles 50-pound curls. One had a boy touch her tush; she clocked him. “Her mother couldn’t wait to call and tell me,” Marty says.

Marty always trained ladies on the side, but they’ve been a focus the last decade. He has 20 girls (12 “punch like guys”) and 25 or so guys in his current stable. He’s had three operations in the last two years—a spinal stenosis, arthroscopic knee surgery and one for hip replacement complications. Doctors provided crutches and a cane; he didn’t use either. “Right now, I’m perfect,” Marty says, illustrating his point with a flurry of jabs.

“He still tries to smack me around,” Damon says. “Sometimes, I just have to grab him and say, ‘Yo, my man. Calm down!’”

With his new pupil, Damon starts with the basics.

“Legs bent, right leg bent,” he instructs. “Throw your right. Leave it there. Right hand. Jab. Make a fist and land with your knuckles. Don’t let me find you (with the hand pads); you find me. Left hook, like there’s an imaginary pole you’re going around. Elbows higher, turn at your waist. Don’t be stiff; let it go.”

His student takes a break.

“Every time you throw a punch, say ‘bing’ (for rhythm),” Damon tells him. “Throw four—bing, bing, bing, bing! You’re getting better, but I’m not saying you could beat Bernard Hopkins.”

“And I’m not saying I’m jumping in the ring with him either,” he says.

Meanwhile, Marty’s offering Kevin McGettigan, property manager with Ellis’ BPG Management Company, an opportunity he can’t refuse: “Give me five minutes, and I’ll show you how to throw a perfect hook,” Marty promises. “It’d be my pleasure.” Newtown Square’s Randall Calvert, a 26-year-old recreational boxer and recent Marty Feldman devotee, shows up, too.

“Marty makes a recommendation every day, and every week I get better,” Calvert says. “I have a buddy who trains elsewhere, but now he doesn’t belong in the same ring with me, and I’ve only been boxing six weeks. Marty’s definitely old-school, but I can appreciate and respect old-school.”

BACK ON THE ROAD and wearing a Tommy Gear black knit hat, Damon is heading down West Chester Pike on his way to Marple Sports Arena in Broomall. Inside, there’s the Feldman Boxing Center, which includes a regulation ring.

Behind the wheel, Damon starts dreaming big. Newtown Square’s Tom Farrell, executive producer of the reality show Trading Places, wanted to stick a camera on him for two weeks to develop a reality show pilot called The Promoter. “It hasn’t materialized, but I still want it to happen,” Damon says.

With the right investors, Damon could move forward on his own reality show idea, Take on Tyson. He’d recruit 2,000 numskulls for a shot at a three-round bout with Iron Mike. At $500 each, he’d generate $1 million. Ten would be selected: One would fight Tyson; the others could “mix and mingle” with him.

“The show would open doors,” Damon says. “You have to do some things legitimately, but you also need the gimmicks. I’m not trying to undermine the old school—my dad included—but it’s not the Spectrum days anymore. In this business, you have to dream. I bet Don King still dreams. He and Bob Arum—they know our name.”

In the lot at the Marple Sports Arena, it’s a now a parking spot Marty and Damon are sparring over. Marty can’t get out of the Jeep; Damon’s parked him in. “Why do you park here?” he asks, pointing to all the open spots. “I mean, look, look.’”

Inside, Damon’s meeting a woman for a lesson before she heads to yoga, then work: She’s a dancer at a Club Risqué. She’s also a contemporary stained-glass artist—and today, color is king. She’s wearing green mesh sweats, but her hair is blue. She’s one of Damon’s exotic boxing girls. She’s popular, too; Damon shoos away half a dozen young autograph seekers. “She’s not signing today,” he barks.

David Feldman shows up briefly. He was 4-1 with four KOs in his brief pro career. In 2004, both brothers were set to tryout for the NBC reality show The Contender. If selected, they would’ve competed for a $1 million prize. But it wasn’t to be. David sparred with Philly’s Victor Paz. Damon’s opponent didn’t clear his state athletic medical exam. “I was so bummed,” Damon says.

His act was planned and polished, too. His pro nickname, “The Jewish Bomber,” was back. “I know how to promote myself,” he says.

Marty’s office for his Ladies Tone-Up Fitness Gym, is up a flight of stairs in a loft above the Broomall complex. With his gray hair combed straight back, Marty’s sitting in a corner—much like he has most of his life. Ask him why his chin’s so clean, or how he remembers so many names, and he’ll tell you it’s because he knew how to move his head.

Names? There are plenty: Jack O’Halloran, who won 19 straight; Chad Brisson, who became a Canadian champion; Augie Pantellas, a big Philly draw in the ’70s; and Dave Tiberi, who became one of boxing’s most controversial figures after he was robbed of the middleweight title in 1992. In Marty’s career, he’s trained some 400 amateur and pro fighters—35 of which, he estimates, were noteworthy.

Six of them became world champions—Cho-Cho Brown, Prince Charles Williams, Adolfo Washington, Paul Spadafora, Chris Tiozza and Tyrone Booze.

Tiberi would’ve made seven. Williams was 11-4-2 pre-Marty before going undefeated for ten years with him.

But Marty’s cash cow was Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, a top-ranked middleweight in the early 1980s—although he never became a champion. Wilford Scypion was his nemesis.

ABC loved televising Fletcher’s blood brawls. They’re why Marty says he could afford to send Fletcher, a federal inmate in Texas, $200 “a million times.” Still, Fletcher has accused Marty of stealing money from him. “He’s getting a little goofy in there,” says Marty.

Eighteen years ago, Marty was getting goofy. He was drinking half a bottle of Smirnoff and smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. His sons kept him from going off the deep end. At Trump Plaza, after Prince Charles Williams beat Bobby Czyz for the second time to regain his title, Marty poured the booze down the drain and threw his last smokes away.

“When I said, ‘The hell with it,’ it was the hell with it,” he says. “But I used to give [Damon] an empty bottle and ask him to go to the neighbors to fill it with whiskey.”

Raised in Patterson, N.J., by his mother’s parents, Marty had his first amateur fight in 1940. He was 7. “I was cut out to be a fighter,” Marty says. “By 15, I was banging on mature guys.”

Marty spent two years at Fairleigh-Dickinson University, then got sucked back into a gym as a sparring partner. He went 45-1 as an amateur, then 23-2 as a pro with 19 KOs, including 15 straight when Sam Margolis first brought him to Philly. His career ended when a right heel injury kept him from training. Refusing surgery, Marty tried a rehabilitation camp in Pleasantville, N.J., outside Atlantic City, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that an Italian cobbler made an arch that cured the discomfort in his foot.

By then, he was older. He needed money. He’d always hustled. As a kid, his first job was in a pickle factory, then a lamp-shade plant. He lasted a day in the pickle factory (just like Damon lasted one day living in too-suburban Collegeville).

Between ages 9 and 12, he shined shoes in gyms. He’s also delivered fresh-killed kosher chickens, tended bar at The Lagoon and cooked at the Country Squire. He’s owned steak shops and jeans stores.

Before Broomall, Marty’s first gym was at Passyunk and Moore in South Philadelphia, then it was the Upper Darby Gym. At 12, Damon would get rides to the 63rd and Market location. By 1983, he’d become a Junior Olympic champion. In 1994, an undefeated Damon slipped and injured his neck. He was out for a year. After that, he simply lost interest. In the summer of 1995, he saw a street fight in Margate, N.J., and knew he wanted to promote. Toughman competitions seemed to fit the bill.

The first fight he promoted, Damon filled in for Marcellus Autry at the Robert Gauntlet Center in Newtown Square above Soprano’s. Autry had been shot a week before the event. “All I wanted to be was a big-time fighter,” Damon says.

WHAT WE’RE DOING IS introducing boxing to the suburbs,” says Damon Feldman, back behind the wheel of the Commander. “We’re changing kids’ lives. The parents say it.”

But boxing’s not anywhere near the level it was. Boxers aren’t as desperate or as hungry. They don’t train as diligently. “They don’t even know what the old-school did,” Marty says. “The trainers today are disgusting, too. They walk into a gym with a towel and think they’re trainers.”

Ever the new-school optimist, Damon says, “Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up getting some contenders.”

They had one in Boothwyn heavyweight John Poore (pictured above right), who went 16-0 with 16 KOs, then stopped training last June. “There was a guy who could have done something,” Marty says.

At the deli, Damon calls comedian Don Vito and confirms his performance for an upcoming event. Damon spends four or five hours a day online rigging deals.

Otherwise, he’s on the phone or on his way to a lesson—just trying to make a living. “This is every day of my life,” he says. “It should be a reality show.”

Back at Soprano’s, Damon sees a youth soccer game on TV. He shakes his head. What if all of those kids were boxing instead? “I just love looking into the eyes of a kid in the gym,” Damon says. “When I motivate him, it gives me the best feeling in the world.”

Maybe it’s a dream, but he becomes his father, who right now is paying the tab and delivering one last one-liner: “Eat hearty, think of Marty.”

He’s full of them, all tailored to an audience. But there’s nothing he can say to satisfy his son, who’s sparring again. It’s old school vs. new school, even when it comes to geography. “I’m Broomall,” Marty says. “He’s Wayne. He’s the upper-class.”

“Call Russell Peltz and ask him about Hopkins-Johnson,” Damon suggests. “If you call him, he’s going to think you’re a moron. You want to call? We’ll do it right now. Give me the phone.”

As Damon calls out the number, Marty dials, talking all the way: “You never saw real fighters fight. You don’t know. Sheer stupidity.”

The Hall of Fame promoter answers. Marty’s voice is introduction enough. “Hey, I’ve got an important question: Who would have won between Bernard Hopkins and Harold Johnson?”

“It’s an ignorant question,” Peltz says.

“I know, but I have people here, and they want to know.”

“Bernard Hopkins couldn’t buy a ticket to see Harold Johnson fight.”

“I know,” Marty answers. “This one guy’s a moron. He don’t know. Here, you talk to him.”

Marty passes the phone to Damon.

“OK, one more: How about Bennie Briscoe vs. Hopkins?”

“Come on, Damon. Are you really serious?” Peltz asks.

“You’re the only two old-school guys left that I can talk to,” Damon says.

“What I’m saying is that the fighters today suck,” Marty reiterates.

“That’s why we’re trying to bring old-school fights back,” Damon says.

Only time will tell if the Feldmans can make it happen. And make it work.

Previous Article
Main Line Today logo

Keep a pulse on local food, art, and entertainment content when you join our Main Line Today Newsletter.

Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

No thank you