Very few people find a vehicle that perfectly complements their unique talents. Hall of Fame trainer/manager Gil Clancy, who died early Thursday morning at age 88 at an assisted living facility in Long Island, N.Y., was so blessed three times.
Long before he passed on his considerable knowledge to thousands of boxers, Clancy, a native of Rockaway Beach on Long Island, was a teacher.
Following a stint in the Army (where he boxed five times as a middleweight, losing just once – to a light heavyweight), Clancy attended New York Universityand graduated with a master’s in physical education, which he parlayed into a teaching position. At first it was just a way to support himself, his wife Nancy and their growing family. Over time, however, he grew to enjoy it.
One day the job placement center alerted Clancy that a Police Athletic League gym in South Jamaica in Queens was looking for a boxing coach. The pay wasn’t great – $1,000 a year to start – but once Clancy took the job, his second career was underway.
The boxing bug bit Clancy hard, and the fact that he experienced great success didn’t hurt his passion for the game. Once Clancy moved on to the Lynch Center, a PAL gym in the Bronx, he began developing New York Golden Gloves champions at an impressively rapid pace. The names included future two-time heavyweight
champion Floyd Patterson and contenders Tony Anthony, Frankie Ryff, Randy Sandy and Ralph “Tiger” Jones, who would go on to be Clancy’s first notable pro.
Over the next several decades, Clancy worked with a Who’s Who of boxing luminaries. They included heavyweight contenders Oscar Bonavena, Gregorio Peralta, Mac Foster, Alex Miteff and Jerry Quarry, as well as headliners Johnny Persol, Harold Weston Jr., Charlie “Devil” Green, Manuel Alvarez, Tom “The Bomb” Bethea and Juan Carlos Rivero. His work earned him Manager of the Year honors in
1967 and 1973 from the Boxing Writers Association of America.
But the foundation of Clancy’s greatness as a trainer was built on the deeds of his champions. His most famous and long-lasting partnership was with Emile Griffith, who was brought to Clancy by longtime partner Howie Albert after Albert spied Griffith’s muscled torso on a steamy day at Howard’s hat factory where Griffith worked. Under Clancy’s masterful tutelage, Griffith learned the fundamentals with stunning speed and advanced to the sub-novice welterweight finals at the 1957 New York Golden Gloves, where he lost to Charles Wormley. After capturing the welterweight open title the following year, Griffith turned pro.
Clancy was in the corner for every one of Griffith’s 112 fights spread over 19 years, a career that saw Griffith capture the welterweight title three times and the middleweight title twice. Their bond of respect was so strong that Griffith once refused to place as much as a toe into the sunlight after Clancy ordered him to remain in the shade. That high regard also extended to Griffith’s exit from boxing.
“His last fight was in 1977 with Alan Minter in Monte Carlo, his third straight loss,” Clancy told author Dave Anderson in Anderson’s excellent book “In The Corner.” “When we got home, I asked him to come to my house. We sat by the swimming pool in the back and I said, ‘Emile, remember the pact we made when you started? I told you “When it’s the end of the trail, I’ll tell you it’s the end.” Now I’m telling you this is the end of the trail. I’m telling you to retire.’
“He said, ‘Gil, you have to end my career with me fighting a big tall southpaw like Minter? Let me fight one more regular guy.’ I said, ‘Emile, no, there’s no point in it. That’s it. You’re finished.’ He said ‘OK, that’s the agreement we made.’ He picked up the phone and called his mother, Emelda. He said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to fight anymore.’ That was it.”
That was the power of Clancy’s acumen and judgment. The other champions he trained – including lightweight king Ken Buchanan, onetime WBC featherweight champion Juan LaPorte and WBC middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdes – also heeded his wise counsel. Because of his friendship with Angelo Dundee, Clancy worked in
Muhammad Ali’s corner at various times, including the classic first war against Joe Frazier in 1971. Given the respect he had among his peers, it was no surprise that Clancy also extended his help to “Smokin’ Joe” later on.
Like most old-school trainers, Clancy was not just an excellent chief second but also an expert cut man. His instructions during the heat of battle were crisp, concise and full of strategic wisdom. But when the situation called for raising his voice or bringing out the whip, he did so without hesitation. When the tide turned against Griffith during his first fight with defending welterweight champion Benny “Kid” Paret, Clancy slapped his charge for one of the few times in their partnership.
“I slapped him because … they give you a vacant stare look,” he told Zachary Levin several years ago. “They’re not hearing what you’re saying. I just had to bring him out of it. The one time I slapped him he knocked out Paret. But I knew what I was doing, believe me.”
It is notable to mention that Clancy died one day short of the 50th anniversary of Griffith-Paret I, which saw Griffith win his first championship by 13th round knockout.
Following Griffith’s retirement, Clancy shifted his focus from training and managing fighters to putting them together in the ring. As the matchmaker for Madison Square Garden from 1978 to 1981, Clancy worked closely with his predecessor, Teddy Brenner, who is considered by many the greatest matchmaker in the sport’s
history. But the stresses of dealing with other trainers and managers helped set the stage for his third incarnation – broadcaster.
“I was at a cocktail party with Angelo (Dundee) and Barry Frank (the president of CBS sports) was there,” Clancy told Levin. “And we always used to joke around, Angelo and I. So Barry Frank says, ‘could you guys do that on the air?’ I say ‘sure.’ The next week we were on the air from Italy. And that’s what started it. I don’t think I ever was nervous with it or anything. It was just watching the fight and talking about it.”
While Dundee eventually left CBS to resume full-time training duties, Clancy became one of the best boxing analysts the sport has ever known. His vast storehouse of knowledge combined with his no-nonsense “regular guy” persona earned him accolades for the better part of two decades. Working for CBS, MSG and HBO at various points, Clancy won the Sam Taub award for excellence in boxing journalism from the BWAA in 1983.
From time to time, Clancy would shake off the ring rust and offer his expertise as a cornerman and strategist, most notably for Gerry Cooney for his comeback fight against onetime employer George Foreman and Oscar De La Hoya from 1997 to 1999.
Whether Clancy was teaching students, training boxers, managing careers, creating main events or breaking down a championship fight at ringside, he used the same tools to achieve his success. His punctuality combined with a tremendous work ethic and a need for order established a solid foundation while his eye for detail, grace under pressure and articulation enabled him to place his personal stamp on every assignment. All the while he engendered universal respect, a difficult feat to pull off in a sport whose inner workings are often
pockmarked by backstabbing and back talk.
His accomplishments in all facets of the sport eventually earned him enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Five children, 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren survive Clancy. His wife Nancy, died 16 months ago. But Clancy was also an important part of another large family – the boxing fraternity. In a different, somewhat less
personal way, that community will miss him as well.
<i>Lee Groves is a regular contributor to THE RING magazine</i>