Elmer Lee Berg, to fight fans better known as Rocky Berg, turned pro 35 years ago in the fall of 1986.
The Red-Hot “Ice” Berg.
Elmer Lee Berg, to fight fans better known as Rocky Berg, turned pro 35 years ago in the fall of 1986. By the time he left the ring he would amass 62 wins in 106 career bouts going 62-42-2, with 41 KO’s. A busy Midwest club circuit allowed boxers like Berg to stay busy and amass a following that allowed them to do what they loved, do it often and thrill local fight fans in the process.
He was born in Topeka, Kansas, where he still resides today, but it was in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where the fan-friendly Berg would lay down his boxing roots. A busy, bi-monthly boxing calendar, at spots like the Trade Winds Central Inn and the Central Plaza Hotel saw some of OKC’s hotel ballrooms turned into the city’s hottest local boxing ticket on fight night- often starring a red-hot, local star in “Ice” Berg.
Rocky fought for a little over 10-years at a time when Midwest club shows ran often, allowing local scrappers to stay busy and hone their craft. While they fought on the club level at home, experience gained in these fights allowed them to build a record and reputation as a tough and game opponent for some of boxing’s elite fighters, if they proved good enough. Berg, who was known to be willing to fight anyone, anytime, certainly fell into that category.
Local gigs in Oklahoma City, where a hometown card would often feature the massively popular Berg, and another Oklahoma fighter, Buck “Tombstone” Smith, (who could box with anyone, and also possessed a world class left hook), would see a sold-out crowd thrilled to watch their OKC boxing heroes throw down. This was club boxing at its finest and fans loved it.
When the opportunity arose, Berg would also step away from home to tackle some of the best. Boxing took him all over the world for bouts with super welterweight, world title challenger Jack Callahan, WBC world super welterweight champion Rene Jacquot (in Nancy, France), Indiana’s 3-time world title challenger Marty Jukubowski, BBB of C welterweight champion Kirkland Laing (at the famed Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, England), WBA world super welterweight champion Gilbert Dele (in Paris, France), 1984-Olympian Joni Nyman (in Sinajoki, Finalnd), WBO world welterweight champion Gert Bo Jacobsen (in Copenhagen, Denmark) and Maine’s WBA world lightweight champion Joey Gamache.
In a recent conversation with current Manny Pacquiao Promotions’ matchmaker Sean Gibbons, we were talking about Midwest club boxing (where Gibbons cut his teeth in the sport) back in the day and the topic of his bi-weekly Oklahoma shows, and Berg, came up; Gibbons had nothing but fond memories of “Ice” and his time in the ring.
“Rocky ‘Ice’ Berg”, Gibbons exclaimed with a smile, punctuating the sentence with his signature "Viva." It was clear talking to Gibbons that, right from the get-go, he liked working with Berg and enjoyed watching a tough, game guy who simply loved to get in the ring.
“That was a different time in boxing, in many ways a time I miss terribly, said a reflective Gibbons. “We did a lot of shows and club shows were booming and there wasn’t 18-miles of red tape to go through to put two guys in the ring”, he said. “It was a perfect setting for Rocky. He was known all over town in OKC, he was a popular ticket seller who drew great crowds and fans just loved to watch him fight. No matter who he fought, from a club level opponent to a world champion, Rocky was showing up to give you everything he had. Fans saw that, supported him, respected him for his guts and effort and loved watching a local guy do what he loved to do. And, as fight fans, they got a regular dose of some pretty good boxing at the club level," he continued.
Rocky, a now retired father and grandfather, was never going to compete for a world title. However, Gibbons was clear that during his era, Berg, under the direction of Gibbons, carved out a pretty good career for himself that “Ice” can, and should, look back on proudly.
“I mean, Billy, when Rocky finished a bout, they had ‘I’m Proud to be an American’ blasting over the PA, the veterans were saluting him, he was throwing roses to the ladies in the crowd. I mean this was a great night, a fun night, and people left the building happy and looking forward to seeing him again. Rocky loved it and the fans loved it. Everybody wins”, said Gibbons. "Rocky was a great attraction, and he came to fight each and every time he stepped in the ring. I had Rock from his very first bout until his last. We travelled a lotta miles and went all over the world. He had a lot of fun, he stepped into the ring a lot of times and he loved it every time he did. I’m sure Rocky looks back on his time in the ring and loves it – and he should. Nobody loved to fight like Rocky Berg. And, for OKC boxing fans, he provided a lot of great nights at the fights. Viva Rocky; he was a fighter, man."