Joe Maxse Is The 48th Nat Fleischer Award Winner
Like many fishermen, Joe Maxse, the 48th recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism that was first presented by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1972, speaks wistfully of the whopper that got away.
Maxse, 69, will be presented the Fleischer at the 95th BWAA Awards Dinner, the date of which has not yet been announced. The 2020 dinner was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put not only many boxing functions but much of the world on hold.
“The fight I wish I had covered on-site was Mike Tyson’s shocking upset loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo (on Feb. 11, 1990),” Maxse, who was on the boxing beat for the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 1987 to 2013, said of a rare disappointment for him during those 27 years, a record for longevity as a fight reporter for the newspaper. “Buster was from Columbus (Ohio) and I got to know him and his manager, John Johnson, pretty well over the years. Not going to Tokyo for that fight is one of my big regrets.”
Also like many fishermen – the successful ones, anyway – Maxse reeled in his share of significant assignments suitable for mounting. He has especially fond memories for being ringside for two of the more important heavyweight matchups during the past quarter-century.
“Everyone remembers the second Tyson-Holyfield fight, when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear, but I thought their first fight was pretty amazing because hardly anyone expected Holyfield to win, except maybe for Evander himself and his trainer, Don Turner,” Maxse recalled. “I remember how confident Don Turner was beforehand. Whatever their fight plan was, Turner was so confident, even smug, that they would pull it off. And they did.”
It helped, of course, that Cleveland was something of an epicenter of boxing activity during much of the time that Maxse was on the scene. Megapromoter Don King, a treasure trove of stories in and of himself, is from there, as was the similarly quotable trainer Richie Giachetti and promoter Don Elbaum, a Pennsylvania native who, Maxse notes, “had a big presence here in the ’60s and ’70s.”
“Obviously, the personalities. I guess you could call them characters,” Maxse said when asked for the main thing he took away from his nearly-three-decades on the beat. “I’m talking about the entire gamut, from the fighters to the trainers to the managers to the promoters to the P.R. people. When I first started, I don’t think I understood just how involved the process was from the training leading up to a fight, the fight itself, and then the fight’s aftermath. But gradually I came to take it all in. At first, though, I had no idea.”
As a kid more interested in his hometown Browns, Indians and Cavaliers, the Cleveland native and lifelong resident had only a peripheral interest in the sport with which he would eventually become so identified. “I guess I paid attention to the major fights somewhat when I was growing up,” he said. “But the heavyweight division got most of the attention then.”
Cleveland being just 50 miles or so from King’s training camp in Orwell, Ohio, Maxse quickly learned that superstardom is not restricted to fighters of any certain size. One of his earliest interviews there was with legendary Mexican champion Julio Cesar Chavez and, as he noted, “there were always different heavyweights there, and Tyson was around every now and then. I spent a cold day at his home in Southington when he was released from prison.”
As part of his professional evolution, Maxse made a point of getting up to speed on Cleveland’s rich boxing history. He did stories on Cleveland-bred champions Johnny Kilbane and Joey Maxim, as well as a lengthy retrospective on the ill-fated Sugar Ray Robinson-Jimmy Doyle bout at the Cleveland Arena on June 24, 1947. He also chronicled the final ABC Friday night “Fight of the Week” telecast at the Cleveland Arena on Sept. 11, 1964; reported on the elderly abuse of Hall of Famer Jimmy Bivins, a mainstay in the light heavyweight and heavyweight rankings in the 1940s and ’50s, and compiled an internet database on all Cleveland Golden Gloves division titlists from 1929 to 2013.
Maxse said he is “honored and humbled” to be joining the exclusive group of Fleisher Award winners, a who’s who of boxing writing that includes such luminaries as Dave Anderson, Red Smith, Jerry Izenberg, Ed Schuyler Jr., George Kimball, Hugh McIlvanney, Jim Murray, Bert Sugar and Thomas Hauser, among others.
“I can’t describe what it means to be joining such a distinguished group of writers, some of whom I am proud to have as friends,” he said. “I have to smile to myself when I think that this has really happened.”