ACBHOF Original Articles

ACBHOF Congratulates Bill Johnson on His Hall of Fame Induction

Written by Rob Scott
Photographs by Rob Scott

Bill Johnson Lays the Foundation for Boxing in Atlantic City

Atlantic City – On Memorial Day weekend 2017, the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame will have its first induction ceremony honoring many who have played their part in putting Atlantic City prominently on the boxing map.

Of all the names that will be announced throughout the weekend’s festivities,  the name Mr. Bill Johnson just may ultimately get the most applause.

Bill Johnson
Mr. Bill Johnson is at home at the PAL.

Johnson, a longtime Atlantic City native and boxing fixture, will be inducted into the AC Boxing Hall of Fame for his close to forty year involvement with the sport and the Atlantic City boxing scene.

Humble, Talented, and Deserving

Already a New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame member, his induction to the AC Hall of Fame is one that literally hits home. Being a long-time resident, the honor fills him with pride, but it’s also one he admits came by surprise.

When asked about his thoughts upon hearing about his induction, Johnson explains, “I was speechless at first, because I never even dreamed about something like this. It was the furthest thing from my mind.” He admits, “I just came into the boxing business through the PAL to help my sons and other boxers, and it never dawned on me to be inducted into any Hall of fame. That is why I am again overwhelmed and thankful”

Atlantic City PAL Ring
The Atlantic City PAL Ring

He may feel overwhelmed, but the honor is indeed deserved. He has not only worked with the PAL fighters, but with Atlantic City being one of the major places for fights, his working with the top professionals in some way was inevitable.

He explains, “All the boxers who participated in the matches at the casinos, especially during the heyday, come and look for a venue where they can train to get into shape. Manny Steward use to bring his fighters in, as well as Don King and his fighters. We’d work with numerous headliners like Bruce Seldon, Pinklon Thomas, Carl “The Truth” Williams, Julio Caesar Chavez, Dwight Qawi, Mathew Saad Muhammad and others who would come through.” He recalled fondly, “I even remember Angelo Dundee once gave us a time clock when he was training a fighter here at the PAL.”

Family First for Johnson

Having opportunities to work full-time elsewhere, like in Ohio with fighters from the Don King stable and with Emmanuel Steward proteges to name just a couple, Johnson decided to remain in Atlantic City to continue working with fighters like his son Leavander.

While it was initially his three sons who brought him into training, two of them decided to stop fighting. His third son, Leavander, had too much talent and warrior spirit to take the same path as his brothers. His goal was to become a world champion and the elder Johnson was there to lend help to his son.

Atlantic City PAL

Together with his father, Leavander finally realized his dream of becoming a world champion when in June of 2004, he defeated Stephano Zoff by 7th round TKO for the vacant IBF World Lightweight championship in Italy. It was a goal achieved through setbacks and adversity, but it was one that Leavander was determined to make happen.

Unfortunately, Leavander tragically passed away in a Las Vegas hospital from injuries he received five days earlier in his first title defense against Mexico’s Jesus Chavez. It was a blow to not only the Johnson family, but also to Atlantic City and the boxing world as a whole.

Remembering Leavander’s Heart

Johnson states, “I’ve always said that Leavander elected to bang when he didn’t have to, and that came from his big heart. He was knocked down like five times when he fought the Russian, [Orzubek] Nazarov in Florida, and even though the fight was stopped in the 7th round, reporters asked him [Nazarov] why after having him in trouble so many times was he not able to get him out of there? ‘His will was just  too strong’ is what Nazarov said.”

When asked about his correspondence with Jesus Chavez after the tragedy, Johnson said, “He use to call and often speak to my older son. When he came to the hospital after the fight, he spoke to the family and I didn’t want him to carry a burden, so I told him that this is the nature of the game and it could have easily been vise-versa. These young men go into this sport knowing that these things can happen.”

He goes on to quote Leavander himself, who was questioned in an earlier broadcast of the Foreman Boxing Show about the sport implementing more safety. He stated, “Leavander smiled and said, ‘Safety? Listen, this is a dangerous sport because you really aren’t supposed to be hit upside your head.’  Which is correct.”

Bill Johnson Quote

The reality is boxing is the hurt business, but Johnson felt confused about the recent WBC decision to not allow fathers to be head cornermen in title fights that are sanctioned by them.

“I really don’t understand why they would implement something like that. Who knows a fighter better than his father does? There is still an emotional bond, especially if a trainer has taken a fighter from point A. to point B. because they have grown with each other. So if they are talking about feelings and emotions, whether father and son or not, the feelings are there between that trainer and that fighter.”

Legends Run in the Family

His job has been hard, but beneficial in seeing his fighters rise to achieve their goals. He was there throughout his son’s career and life, and his name will be going into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame along with him as well, as Leavander (34-5-2, 26KOs) is also one of the 24 names of inductees who will be honored.

“I know Leavander was a humble person who loved boxing and Atlantic City. Which is why if he was here, I know he would be extremely proud and just explode. Actually, I am really more proud for him because he set his goals and accomplished them, and the acknowledgment shows that his efforts were appreciated.”

When asked how much longer will he keep at it, he humorously noted a recent incident by saying, “One of my trainers saw a guy walk in the gym and said, ‘That guy looks good and in about eight years we can,’ and I had to say hey hey…I now take it one day at a time. I once walked in and one day I will walk out for the last time. In March I will be 76 years old, but have been going at it since I was thirty-something years old.”

Bill Johnson Training
Bill Johnson working with a first time PAL visitor.

He reminisced about a time when Leavander was asked what he will do after boxing, and Leavander’s response is still firmly in his head. He said, “Leavander responded by saying he will come back to the gym and work with his father training fighters. I did stay away from the gym for about two months after he passed, but I know that’s not what he wanted.”

It’s not what he wanted and the PAL and the sport of boxing are glad that he has kept doing what he does best, training hungry fighters and making a difference.

The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame congratulates Mr. Bill Johnson on his induction.

Disclaimer: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame is not liable for any errors or omissions in this information. Any opinions or inquiries that you may have you can forward them to Rob Scott at robscottxl@msn.com.

The Renaissance Man

Written by Rob Scott
Interview conducted by Henry “Dis-com-bob-u-lating” Jones

“Apollo Kid” Climbs the Foundation He Built Himself

In boxing, many fighters never truly think about the future and what life will be like after they hang up the gloves. In many cases, the structure of a fighter’s future will only be as strong as the ground work and bricks that are laid today. Recently, twenty-five year veteran ring announcer, Henry “Dis-com-bob-u-lating” Jones, spoke with recently crowned ESPN Boxcino Jr. Middleweight Champ, John “Apollo Kidd” Thompson of Newark, NJ., who is definitely a fighter with not only a head for the game, but also possesses goals and a path beyond the ring.

Jones: Knowing how spiritual you are, let me begin by saying “GOD morning” Champ!

Apollo Kidd: (laughs) GOD morning!

Jones: How are you doing today?

Apollo Kidd: I’m just like Marvin Hagler… Simply marvelous.

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson Punch

Jones: That’s what’s up. Hagler just happens to be one of my All Time favorite fighters, so you definitely starting off this interview on the right note. Ok, just like your style in the ring, let’s get busy and cut to the chase, shall we?

Apollo Kidd: Ok.

Jones: You are the Newly Crowned and Defending ESPN Boxcino Jr. Middleweight Champion, which you won last year at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY, right outside the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canostota, NY, correct?

Apollo Kidd: Yes.

Jones: Of course that historic accomplishment didn’t come overnight, so how did you get to that point, what is your life’s background?

Apollo Kidd: First of all, my Dad got me started in amateur boxing around 9 yrs of age and I immediately took to it like it was natural for me. I liked the feeling of winning, placing 2nd in the Nationals in 2009, went on to capture Six Golden Glove Championships, a Diamond Gloves Title, won the highly competitive Ohio State Fair Title, the WBC Latin Americas Belt in 2013, and the Fight for Children Title in DC. I had a couple of setbacks after I turned pro which further motivated me to not just get in shape but to live that way and stay ready. ESPN called me as a possible fill-in for a fighter who was overweight for their Tournament, called me back to say they didn’t need me, then called back again the day before the Official Weigh-in at Turning Stone to ask me if I could get there. What they didn’t know is that I was already en route there, just in case. I only had the one day of preparation time for my opponent but that’s all I needed.

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson Balance Workout

Jones: So tell us what happened in that bout and afterwards.

Apollo Kidd: The guy’s name escapes me right now but I researched that he was a boxer. I saw on tape that I was much faster than him and of course styles makes fights. I adapted to his, was able to get the decision, which led me to the next bout versus a Russian fighter. I saw that he was pretty basic and liked to hit off breaks and clinches for his knockouts so I refused to let him do what he wanted and I won convincingly. Winning that led me to the Title Bout against Brandon Adams, who had finished 2nd the previous year against Willie “El Mongoose” Monroe. Adams, a short, powerfully built guy, was the so-called favorite in our match-up, so I knew I had to dictate the pace and control the bout with my jab. I ended up slipping on the canvas and the referee called it a knockdown, giving me an 8 count. That only motivated me more and I caught Adams with a classic 1 -2 punch combination on the button, stopping him by TKO to win the Belt.

Jones: I saw all of that on tv. It seemed to me that you are pretty comfortable fighting orthodox or as a southpaw.

Apollo Kidd: Exactly. I take pride in being ambidextrous.

Jones: I’m impressed that you know that word and used it in context. I asked a fighter a few years ago the same thing and he said he was “amphibious!” I asked him if he was a Pisces like us. True story.

Apollo Kid: (howling with laughter).

Jones: Speaking of… you just recently celebrated a 27th birthday on March 5th, so happy belated. I celebrated my 60th the previous week on February 28th.

Apollo Kidd: Thanks, and happy belated to you too.

Jones: Thanks. You are also much accomplished as a Mural Artist with your drawings and paintings. Tell us about that please.

Apollo Kidd: I began drawing in 3rd grade, just on a lark, something to do that I enjoyed, beginning with coloring books. I never stayed within the lines or followed directions for it, which others discovered was due to my creativity. That led me to enrolling in the Cicely Tyson School for Performing Arts in 5th grade. I stayed with this interest and in the 9th grade I also took up Creative Dance, which has helped me with my footwork and balance in the ring to this day, so I’m of the mindset that all things happen for a good reason. I became so good with my drawings that I sold my first one in 2014, gave one as a gift to current Undisputed SuperMiddleweight Champ Andre “ S.O.G.” Ward, as well as one to Miley Cyrus in 2015.

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson Painting

Jones: Wow! Was the one to Miley of her twerking?

Apollo Kidd: (laughing) No, but it was of her on a Wrecking Ball.

Jones: (laugh) Yeah, that’s appropriate too! I mentioned that you recently had a birthday…are you aware of a renown painter whose birthday is today, March 7th?

Apollo Kidd: No I’m not, who is it?

Jones: The guy who painted the Sistine Chapel…Michelangelo.

Apollo Kidd: Oh snap!

Jones: So , you really in select company, birthday-wise.

Apollo Kidd: I try to keep in great company too, so thank you for sharing that with me. You’ve given me even more inspiration now.

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson Art Work

Jones: My honor to do so. Where did the ring name Apollo Kid originate?

Apollo Kidd: Kidd is spelled with 2 d’s because I am not a child but I am youthful at heart. Apollo comes from the son of the Greek God’s Zeus, and Neto, who was very talented. Apollo also comes from the Apollo 11 Space flight in 1969 when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. He said “ One small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind!” To me, that is about one man opening the door for everyone, not just for himself. I also have that philanthropic mentality.

Jones: That’s noble and conscientious… and I’m not the least bit surprised. Personally, I first started following you when I saw on ESPN how you depicted yourself in one of your own paintings winning the ESPN Tournament BEFORE you even entered it. That’s when I knew you were a different kind of fighter, one with foresight and vision. Speak to that please…

Apollo Kidd: It was really for my own inspiration, to MAKE my dream come true. That’s what we teach to the youth… Self-Motivation… for something honorable… is the key!

Jones: Absolutely! When Ray Mccline, CEO of the forthcoming Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, and I spoke with you at Boardwalk Hall for the Showtime card promoted by your Promoter, Vito Mielnicki of GH3 Promotions, you mentioned that you had another business venture you were really excited about, can you elaborate please.

Apollo Kidd: Thank you for asking, I would be glad to do so. I’m the President of a newly formed company, Y&SM, which is the acronym for “Young and Successful Men.” As a matter of fact, let me bring my Director of Marketing on this call now… Malcolm Simms… Malcolm are you there?

Malcolm: Yes I am. How are you Mr. Jones?

Jones: Blessed and highly favored young man, thank you for asking. Tell us about Y&SM please.

Malcolm: We are a multi-faceted Community Service organization set up to empower youth and young Adults in the areas of Non-violence, helping them with more appropriate attire, basically motivating- then activating- them to be successful at an early age as possible by changing the mindset of those living in Urban settings. This is our way of giving back to the community, by mentoring those young males who are receptive to positive change. We give workshops in schools, rec centers, and have a “Walk of Success” Event coming up soon which will instill hope to those who feel hopeless. That is our mission. There are 8 of us in total: John, myself Malcolm Simms (VP of Marketing and Michigan State University Grad Sociology Major, Double Minor in Business/Chinese), Eric McClemore (VP of Y&SM/President and CEO of MedLife Labor Union & NJ State EMT, Saleem Phelps (VP of Finance and Creative Director/Freelance Stylist, most notable work w/ Scotch Porter beard Balm), Dasheek Touchstone (Navy Vet/Singer and Videographer, currently works for Department of Corrections), Kasib Smith ( “Wreckless the Rapper”/Dance Artist), James Odom, Transit Employee, and Jacob Harrison (current student at William Patterson University, Psych Major). That’s our Crew.

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson Getting Ready

Jones: Impressive and I want in! Most people don’t know I’ve been a Masters degree Social Worker with DC Government for 33 years now, and work to empower Teens and Teen Parents, a real tough population. It appears we are on a similar mission with the same demographic group, so I would be honored to bring my resources and skill set to your organization, if you will have me.

Malcom: We would love to have you come on board!

Apollo Kidd: Indeed. Mr. Jones what Malcolm didn’t say, that should be noted, is that he is well traveled, has been to China, knows the language and the keys to success as practiced and implemented in the Far West. We plan on learning from any and everyone who is successful, so that our youth can be successful too.

Jones: I’ve never been to China… but I certainly have a … YEN… to go there… (silence on the other end)… ok, that didn’t work… see I started off 30 yrs ago trying to be a comedian, so I’m glad I kept my day and night jobs…

Malcolm: (laughing) That was wise!

Apollo Kidd: Yep!

John "Apollo Kidd" Thompson

Jones: Apollo Kidd, what are your thoughts on the State of the Sweet Science of Pro Boxing today?

Apollo Kidd: Its certainly different than what I’ve seen and heard from yesteryear, more politics involved, you have to know the right people, get the right fights…most fighters don’t want to jeopardize their record but I’ve always believed that TO BE the best you have to fight THE BEST. I put my undefeated on the record early and suffered 2 losses (now 17-2 w/ 6 ko’s). I lost on paper but it prepared me for the success I’m having now.

Jones: Do you have your next bout scheduled and if so, when/where/ who?

Apollo Kidd: Nothing is concrete right now, my Promoter, Vito Mielnicki and my Manager Artie Pellulo, are in negotiations with several people and networks. It will be soon however and I will keep you posted.

Jones: Who would your $$MONEY$$ bout be against?

Apollo Kidd: As I said, we are in several negotiations, so I can’t speak to that right now. I can say that I am looking towards the Premier Match-ups against whomever. I won’t call anyone out…but let it be known…I WILL ANSWER whenever they call me, just as I did for the ESPN Tournament. I’m not ducking anyone, never will.

Jones: Most appreciated Champ. On behalf of myself and the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, I’d like to thank you for this exclusive interview and wish you much success in all of your career ventures in/out of the ring. Like the hit song says, you are truly “A Classic Man”…and one who gets THE BIG PICTURE as well. I look forward to introducing you in the ring at our next fight card, March 19th at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, featuring Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna, along with the comeback of Former IBF Cruiserweight Champ Imanu Mayfield, Promoted by Rising Star Promotions.

Apollo Kidd: You are quite welcome. Thank you for the interview, it was fun. Have a Blessed Day.

Jones: And you as well Champ… Ladies and Gentlemen… that was Newark, New Jersey/Brick City’s own… John “the Apollo Kidd” Thompson!

UPDATE: This interview took place on February 19, 2016 during Black History Month. John “The Apollo Kidd” Thompson will be back in action on June 11, 2016 at The Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY against Willie Monroe, Jr. in a 10-round middleweight bout that will be shown on SHO EXTREME at 7pm est. The bout will be part of the International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Disclaimer: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame is not liable for any errors or omissions in this information. Any opinions or inquiries that you may have you can forward them to Rob Scott at robscottxl@msn.com or Henry “Discombulating” Jones at kokid2@verizon.net.

Cathy Burke: Atlantic City’s Boxing Dignitary

Written by Rob Scott

Cathy Burke Brings Boxing to Atlantic City’s Irish Pub

Atlantic City — Boxing has long been thought of as a man’s sport, but there is the belief that behind every great man is indeed that great woman.

The fight game is no different as there have been quite a few women who have turned the notion of female contribution to an undeniable fact. Big or small, their involvement has contributed in making boxing’s world go around.

The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame looks to spotlight these women who have brought such light to the sport with a monthly acknowledgment and show of appreciation.

Cathy Burke and Rob Scott

This month we shine light on Mrs. Cathy Burke, co-owner of Atlantic City’s Irish Pub.

Building a Boxing Destination

For years now, the Pub has been a destination spot for many boxing dignitaries and fans alike. It’s the spot where boxing history is told and Cathy is one person who takes pride in digging into her mental and physical archives to become one of boxing’s best storytellers and historians.

From personalities like Mike Tyson to Joe DiMaggio, so many people have walked thru the doors of the Pub, which was built in 1900. Cathy and her husband, Richard, became the third proprietors, taking over ownership in the summer of 1972. A love for sports, particularly boxing, grew within the following forty plus years

Harboring Inspiration from Jack Fiske

She gives all the credit for her fight introduction to the late Jack Fiske, who as sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle for over forty years, was known as the west coast’s voice of boxing. Cathy says, “He had one of the greatest collections of memorabilia in the world and was a walking statistician because of his love for the sport. He would take me to the fights and sit ringside writing, and like an old black and white Richard Widmark movie with his cigar in his mouth, would say, ‘Don’t ever take your eyes off of the ring, because you never know what you are going to miss.’ “

Cathy never took her eye off of the sport as a whole, ultimately developing a dedication. Cathy has held boxing fundraisers, but has also organized memorials for boxing dignitaries, like the late Budd Schulberg. She developed a friendship with the wife of “Sugar” Ray Robinson after she gave her a pair of diamond cuff links owned by the P4P Great for auction.

Cathy Burke's Pub

With close friendships with boxing dignitaries, especially the writers, Cathy makes note of the difference in past versus present, saying, “Many writers and people who cover the fights nowadays don’t even bother telling the story about the fighter and who they are. I mean, people love a good story and that is why so many people became fans in the first place. It’s not just their achievements in the ring, but also their achievements in life and what they have overcome.”

Remembering the Hunger of Yesteryear

Then again she makes note of the difference in the fighter mentality of today and yesteryear, stating, “Fighters do seem to have lost their hunger…literally.” She explains, “Boxing has been an outlet and up-lifter for almost every ethnic group in our history. Whether it was the early Irish – the Jews – the Italian or the African-American, you went in that ring as a form of survival and to feed your families. Fighters of today don’t have or use that same type of motivation nowadays.”

But still she has remained a definite fan and follower of the sport. It is its history that keeps her drawn to boxing. You can see it when you walk through The Pub, where memorabilia of the Sweet Science is all around. You can see how The Pub draws boxing people after every card, but also how it has served as a place for quite a few greats to have rested their heads.

When asked how the Pub became so popular, Cathy simply replied, “The boxing world made it their headquarters. I don’t think there is any kind of advertising or promoting where you can say, well this is what we are. Ultimately it’s what you create; it’s the atmosphere; it’s the people that congregate in your place that defines the perception that the public will have of your business.”

Come through and experience Cathy at Atlantic City’s Irish Pub…You just may learn some boxing history.

Disclaimer: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame is not liable for any errors or omissions in this information. Any opinions or inquiries that you may have you can forward them to Rob Scott at robscottxl@msn.com