It’s has been nearly 28 years since one of America’s best sports columnists, Mark Whicker, left Philadelphia and resettled in sunny southern California, but the 10 years he spent in one of the true hotbeds of boxing left an indelible impression.
“That when and where it really started for me,” Whicker, the 41st winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism, said of his time spent at the now-defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (1978-82) and Philadelphia Daily News (’82-87). “Bob Wright was the boxing writer for the Bulletin, and when I became a columnist I started going to fights with him.
“I remember the first fight I was supposed to cover; I was on a 76ers road trip. They wanted me to go to Vegas to cover Mike Rossman-Victor Galindez at Caesars Palace. But the fight never happened. There was a contract dispute that couldn’t be resolved, or something like that. I thought, `Well, this is an interesting situation.’ Then the next fight I went to with Bob was `No Mas’ (Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran II, in New Orleans). I said to myself, `If I keep doing this, maybe I’ll see a fight go the distance one of these days.’
“And then came Leonard-Hearns.”
Quite a few other incredible fights, too, setting the hook deep in a North Carolina guy (born in Winston-Salem) who took the love of boxing that began for him in Philly and transplanted it to the Orange County Register, where Whicker worked from 1987 to June of 2014, and since September of 2014 at the LA News Group, a network of eight SoCal newspapers whose flagship is the Los Angeles Daily News.
“I love the people,” Whicker, 62, said of the parade of unforgettable characters that boxing cranks out with regularity. “In a lot of ways, boxing is the ultimate competition. To me, some of the best things I’ve ever seen have been fights. I think about Arguello-Pryor in Miami, when I was with the Daily News. I think about Leonard-Hearns and the Pacquiao-Marquez fights. Those are some of the most exciting things I’ve covered, and I’ve covered all sports.
“There’s a lot of humanity in boxing. It’s refreshing in a lot of ways to cover boxing after you’ve covered other sports that a little more regimented.”
Whicker’s career in newspaper journalism began in 1974, at the Winston-Salem Journal, his hometown publication. After that he moved on to the Dallas Times-Herald, the Bulletin, the Daily News and the OC Register before bringing his considerable talents to his new assignment. But just as Whicker stands as a role model to younger sports writers, he learned from veterans on the fight beat who showed him the ropes, as it were.
“There was Bob Wright, of course,” Whicker said. “A lot of us consider Ed Schuyler, Pat Putnam and Michael Katz as our mentors in boxing writing. They’re part of the reason why I like doing it so much. Those guys were true characters, and also great sports writers. Anybody who covered boxing in those days realizes what a great impact they had on the sport.”
Whicker will be presented the Fleischer – a career award which is unique in that it is only voted upon by living members of the exclusive fraternity of past winners –at the BWAA’s 90th annual awards dinner, the date and site of which have yet to be determined.