William Gildea had been at the Washington Post nearly 23 years when in March of 1987 his sports editor, George Solomon, asked him to cover a boxing match in Las Vegas, where Gildea had never been to, “to get a feel for the place.”
The fight Gildea covered – heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s 12-round unanimous decision over James “Bonecrusher” Smith, who, Gildea notes, “ran all night” – wasn’t particularly exciting or memorable, but Gildea’s coverage of the event must have made an indelible impression on his boss. Gildea would return to Vegas, he estimates, another 35 to 40 times to cover big fights for the Post, in the process establishing himself as one of the finest boxing writers in the country, and the world.
Now, more than 10 years after ending his exemplary 41-year career at the newspaper in 2005, Gildea, 77, is the 43rd recipient of the Nat Fleisher Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, a career achievement honor, for excellence in boxing journalism. The award is different all others presented by the BWAA in that it is voted on only by past Fleischer winners.
“This definitely boosts my spirits,” Gildea said when informed of his entry into the circle of Fleischer winners, who clearly have continued to hold him in high esteem. He will be honored at the 91st annual BWAA Awards Dinner, the date and site of which have yet to be determined.
A lifelong fight fan – he recalls watching such classic confrontations as Rocky Marciano-Archie Moore and Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Walcott on television, and a Sugar Ray Robinson bout in person, late in Robinson’s career – being assigned the boxing beat by Solomon proved as natural for a native Baltimorean as covering Johnny Unitas’ Colts, which was the subject of one of the five well-received sports books Gildea has authored.
The last of those books is especially close to Gildea’s heart. He began work on The Longest Fight, about Joe Gans’ 42nd-round disqualification victory over Battling Nelson in Goldfield, Nev., on Sept. 3, 1906 – two days after his retirement from the Post. Published in 2012, the book covers not only the struggle by Gans, America’s first African-American boxing champion, to fight through oppressive heat and exhaustion in a bout that lasted 2 hours and 48 minutes, but the rampant racial bigotry of the era.