He was a heavyweight fighter of rare, seemingly fantastic, talents. Even his name had certain stature: Sol (Bagel Boy) Nazerman. He began his bizarre career in small towns that had never dotted a map, little places like Mingo Junction, Ohio, and Pumpkintown, S.C., and nobody stood up to him for long. Certainly not Sweet Papa Finney, who fell in one round at Greenup, Ky.; not Wild Man Asher, Bagel Boy's 20th consecutive knockout victim, who was done in 13 weeks and 15 fights later. In fact. Wild Man Asher's own manager, Sam (The Knife) Rubin, admitted, "Nazerman is the hardest puncher I have seen in 30 years of boxing."
Bagel Boy was 26 at the time, and a sketch in Detroit's tabloid American Boxing News showed him to be strikingly handsome, with thick dark hair, sideburns and a pencil mustache, posed with a Star of David on his boxing trunks. Some promoters were intrigued: a handsome, talented, white Jewish heavyweight? Even more—controversy trailed Bagel Boy. On March 10, 1972 he knocked out Battling Young in one round at Irondequoit, N.Y., and the American Boxing News, whose editor, Elliott Harvith, had discovered Nazerman and given him his nickname, published an account of the bout. That part seemed particularly fitting since the News—and only the News—had followed all Bagel Boy's fights from the start. But then the New York State Athletic Commission took exception.
Commissioner Edwin Dooley wrote Editor Harvith that Nazerman had never applied for a New York State license, and he hinted that this may have been the reason there was no record of the fight. Soon others began to ask: "Who has Nazerman fought, anyway?" Harvith, whose growing success in publishing was not exactly unrelated to the rise of Bagel Boy, was concerned.
On the night of May 18, 1972 Bagel Boy knocked out seven men in seven rounds, bringing his total up to 40. There were four more quick knockouts in the weeks following, and then came the dreadful night of June 29, 1972. The world took no notice of Bagel Boy's activities that evening, but Harvith described them fully in his August issue. A front-page headline read: BAGEL BOY DEAD. The name of his last opponent—a Mack truck—somehow sounded like all the others. Nazerman had been driving his Volkswagen when the collision occurred, the story said. Harvith wrote: "Truly a waste and a sad end to the man who could whip any man in the world and was an easy cinch to defeat Joe Frazier in a few months for the world's title." He concluded: "As an everlasting tribute, a giant bagel with the number 44 inscribed on it will be placed on Sol's grave."
It is a giant bagel that no one will ever see.
The lead story in that August issue of American Boxing News was an obituary on Nat Fleischer, publisher-editor of The Ring magazine who had died at the age of 84, and Harvith wrote of him, "...no one ever served the game more honorably or gave as much to the game as he did...." The rest of the first page, two more stories, dealt with what Harvith calls "garbetch," his favorite word, or in this case a category of it: "stiffs."
One of the stories spoke of "five setups" on an East Coast fight card, boxers who left the ring with a combined record of 2-44-5, and of them Harvith wrote, "The promoter should have had at least the curtiousy [sic] to supply the auditorium with roughly 2,743 cans of Ban."
For the News that was pure Emily Post; it was a surprisingly tame issue. An obituary for a man who died had actually taken precedence over one for a man who had never lived. This came about despite a firm Harvith rule: "To make the top of the front page it's gotta be so rude, obnoxious and disgusting that even I can't stand it."
There were none of the usual News editorial asides about itself, such as, "ABN...is excellent for wrapping fish, lining bird cages, and training puppies, and is on sale wherever garbage is sold." There were no typical fan letters: "Cancel my subscription. Your paper stinks." The boxing commissioner of one large Midwestern state was not called "a drunken red-nosed lush," or "a comical buffoon," as he is in most issues. A well-known promoter, famous for his mismatches, was not called his usual "Mr. Garbage," and a publicity man for once was not referred to as "a fight-fixer, an ex-con, a writer disrespected by even his peers, a homosexual, a complete phony, a liar and a crook."
Elliott Harvith's stories are not the sort excerpted in journalism textbooks. In his pages Detroit fighters are "localities," aggressive fighters are always "crowd pleasing." Misspellings are the rule. Commas and periods are strewn about the News pages as if the typesetter had spilled them. Most of the cartoon drawings are "stolen," as Harvith puts it, from Mad magazine. And the News business cards read ALL THE GARBAGE THAT'S FIT TO PRINT.
Still, while all this is true of the American Boxing News, its pages also carry a strong burden of righteousness, a genuine revulsion for, as Harvith puts it, "the garbage of boxing," for stiffs and for those fighters who build reputations by mowing them down, for phony won-lost records, for those who cheat fighters and treat them badly, and for mismatches and those who promote them.
"The fighters cheat, the managers cheat and the promoters cheat," Harvith says, "and I don't feel you can help the situation by shoving this stuff under the rug. I always knock the fight game, but I wouldn't trade it for any other business in the world."
Harvith is cultivating a persona. "What should the editor's new nickname be?" asks a current ABN reader poll. "The King of Garbage? El Jerko? Captain Garbage? Or El Creepo?" He favors the latter two, but in conversation he usually refers to himself as The ABN editor. "The ABN editor eats three steaks for breakfast," he may say, or, "Look, the ABN editor is dressed in rags"—and both are true. His appetite is endless; he weighs 360 pounds by his own estimate. It may be 400 by now, but Harvith has never gone down to a truck stop to weigh himself. And since clothes are not cut to fit 6'4" haystacks, or men built like them, Harvith's shirts do not button at the wrists, and the sleeves flap loosely. The shirttail hangs over his wrinkled chino pants, which are ripped and frayed at the cuffs. Harvith's jacket is the source of another nickname—The Coat, a familiar byline in the News. The sleeves dangle from a very few threads and the pockets are almost ripped off. "It's a coat a bum would wear," Harvith says.
But this costume, and Harvith's general financial condition, may be worth a fortune in a negative kind of way. Says one of his editorial targets when asked why he doesn't sue for libel, "You don't get blood from a turnip, do you? If you've ever seen the guy, you know he doesn't have a cent." The libel potential stirs up a lot of folks blasted in the News, but as another victim says, "I was thinking of suing that fat bum, but my lawyer said it would cost me about five thousand and he felt sure that I wouldn't get two dimes out of it."
Harvith, who is 28, lives in Detroit's Shelby Hotel, "in two suites," and the News office is seven miles away, downtown, in a factory owned by his 27-year-old brother, Alan. The editor pays no office rent. He is driven to work each day by taxi and it is a good thing. Harvith has never had a driver's license and he can barely find his way across the street alone; he appears to be semiconscious when it comes to anything other than boxing. On a recent morning a visitor picked him up, and with Harvith providing the directions it took 2½ hours to drive to the office. Harvith lives reasonably close to his parents' home and later he and the visitor found it—by pure chance, it seemed.
Harvith raided the refrigerator and then showed off his impressive collection of boxing memorabilia—books, buttons and newspaper articles dating back to 1824. Boxing has been his only interest since his early teens. His parents—the elder Harvith is 56, a retired manufacturer—were away. "In Florida, I think," Harvith said, but later his brother told him, "No, Elliott, they're in Africa."
Harvith left high school in the middle of his junior year. That was 1963. He weighed about 280 then and had played, as he puts it, "a little football, a little baseball, nothing much." He hated school, he hated his teachers, and his teachers hated him. He left home about that time and got a job loading and unloading trucks, which he also hated, so he decided to become a fight manager. He also became an editor with the February 1971 publication of the ABN forerunner, the Michigan Boxing News—and gave up managing for journalism. Harvith says of his first paper, "It was even worse than the garbetch I put out now." He had never written anything before. By issue No. 3 Harvith had his first villain—a promoter who, Harvith said, had 44 mismatches in his previous 65 bouts. In the following issues he kept a scoreboard on the man, labeling him as "The Garbageman." In issue No. 7 Harvith wrote that the promoter had a new invention, "a ring that rises up...so the stiff doesn't have so far to fall." Harvith was rolling.
In May 1972 the Michigan Boxing News became the American Boxing News, and in that issue Harvith wrote of a bout back East in which one fighter, with a previous record of 4-24, was allowed to enter the ring drunk. In succeeding months Harvith inaugurated a Garbage Fight of the Month and called a New England promoter "Super Garbage" for shortchanging fighters and for putting into main events one fighter with a record of 1-18, and two others who had been knocked out in 5 of 5 and 4 of 5 previous fights. Another story listed the 10 worst boxing commissions. "Some commissions are fine," he said, "but most are idiotic...though they have the power to sanction and reject all matches, they continually allow complete stiffs to junk up fight cards."
Recently Harvith named his fifth "Captain of the Stiffs," Mississippi's Muhammad Smith, who had been knocked out 10 times in 10 pro fights, lasting a total of 17 rounds. He also spent weeks researching a roster of the 98 leading contenders for Smith's crown, with their kayoed-by percentages, and included 28 "minor league" stiffs, and 62 "bums," who are, as he put it, "fighters who do not get kayoed often enough to be champion stiffs."
"I'm the most hated man in boxing," Harvith says, "and I admit it. But I don't publish the ABN for my readers. I don't give a damn for them. It's what I want to put in the paper. If I feel that someone is a drunken lush, well, then, I just write it."
The News does little straight reporting on the really big fights. "It would be a rehash," Harvith says. But he does give more U.S. fight results of less important matches than any other publication. On about the 10th of each month Harvith starts phoning around the country to reporters, commissioners and promoters he trusts. Recently he phoned Kelse McClure at the Indiana Boxing Commission. The secretary answered and Harvith said, "Tell him it's the King of Garbetch. He'll know who it is.
"It's me, Kelse, the King," he finally said. "I tell you it's been slow out here, only two death threats all week. What am I doing wrong?"
Then Harvith called Roy Gill, a Buffalo promoter he likes, but whose shows he knocks anyway. "It's me," he said, "Captain Garbetch, himself. You have any more garbetch shows planned? No? I rooned ya last time? Roy, I'm very disappointed. You mean you're not gonna promote any more shows in the near future? You'll put me out of business."
"There's times," he said, hanging up, "I wished I was managing again."
HARVITH: HAPPILY GATHERING ENEMIES