Lee Samuels was awarded the 2006 Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award and the 2013 Barney Nagler Award
By Bill Tibbs
Maxboxing has been looking at some of this years Hall of Fame inductees. In this episode, longtime, Top Rank Boxing publicist Lee Samuels who will be inducted into the 2019 class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in June, in Canastota, New York.
Samuels is only the second publicist to receive this honor following former Top Rank publicist, Irving Rudd, who was inducted over 20 years ago.
Originally a sports writer based out of his native New jersey, Samuels joined Top Rank Boxing in 1983 and since then has been the man seeking out, and sending out, all the information on fighters, fights, and everything in between.
I have also spoken to many people inside and outside of the Top Rank family and, almost universally, all of them refer to Lee as simply one of the nicest people you will ever meet in boxing.
Maxboxing had a chance to chat with Lee, busy in Kissimmee, Florida where he was preparing for an upcoming Top Rank Boxing show on ESPN, to get his thoughts on 35+ years in boxing and his upcoming Hall of Fame induction.
Bill Tibbs: Hi Lee, thanks for taking a minute to chat.
Lee Samuels: Oh hey Bill, sure, no problem.
BT: Well, can you believe that it’s almost here? The Boxing Hall of Fame – incredible. From a young kid who just wanted to be a sports writer. Quite a ride.
LS: Yeah, it really is something. I remember when I left the Philadelphia Bulletin, I was covering sports there. I loved covering all sports. I knew I couldn’t play sports but I wanted to be that guy on the bus, I wanted to talk to the coach and write about the athletes.
BT: How do you go from covering a variety of sports for a newspaper to being a publicist for, what turned out to be, boxing’s biggest promotional firm?
LS: In Philly I was covering fights at the Spectrum for Russell Peltz, this was an amazing time to be around Peltz and the shows he was doing in Philadelphia. All those old time, great, great fighters. That era at the Spectrum was something, let me tell you. Later on I got a call that Bob (Arum) was starting up a series out of New York, the “ESPN Thursday Night Fights” series. I was asked to do promotion and publicity for the series. It was a great time as I would travel with the ESPN series, and because it was on Thursday, I could do weekend fights if there was a show somewhere else. I got to work under Irving Rudd and learn a lot from a legend like him. It was an amazing time – Michael Buffer making his debut as an announcer after being a hand model and he also modelled for London Fog. Teddy Brenner and Bruce Trampler doing the match making. Very exciting. A wonderful time to be with the series. So, I’m working, yeah, I guess I started with Top Rank around January of ’83. Anyway, I’m working, a few years go on and I guess it’s going ok (laughs) and then Bob says to me one day, ‘I’m sending you to Las Vegas to set up camp and cover a fight’, well that fight was Marvin Hagler vs. “Sugar” Ray Leonard.
BT: Oh yeah, I remember that fight so well, so much promo and hype around it. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, 12 pages in Sports Illustrated, it didn’t get any bigger. The whole world was heading out to closed circuit locations to watch it. It was the sports story.
LS: You know what Bill; the thing I really learned was just how hard a fighter has to work to get in that ring. I’ve always said the only time I want to get in a ring is after the fight (laughs). Hagler was a tough guy, a serious guy. I thought he won that fight, Bob thought he won the fight, but that is boxing. There was already talk of Hagler fighting Donald Curry, not a lot of people thought Ray would be able to keep Hagler off of him. And, of course I was still working for Irving (Rudd) so I was learning from him all the time. He taught me how to treat people, how to treat a camp, how to help people. You need to help people get what they need. That’s something that is so important to me, to try helping people, I get a great joy out of that. I am always pulling for Miguel Diaz to get an award because he really deserves one. I still try to do that. I try to help someone everyday.
BT: Favourite fighter(s) you ever worked with?
LS: I would say the ones we are working with now - Crawford, Lomachenko, Teofimo Lopez, a great group of young fighters. I guess I will always have a soft spot for Hagler because he was my first real assignment, you know on a huge show like that, and I got to know the Petronelli brothers who were just great guys, a couple of the nicest people I have met in boxing.
BT: You think about how long Top Rank has been doing big, big shows, incredible. Arum’s work ethic, at his age, is really something.
LS: Well, you know Bill, Bob is something and then Todd (TR president, DuBoef) came in and brought incredible new vision and ideas, and Bob let him go with his ideas, Bob supported him. What Todd has done for Top Rank has been incredible. He’s taken the company and the shows into the new age of boxing with the way the shows are presented and how media has changed. And, you always have to remember that the heartbeat of the company are the matchmakers. Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman are so great at guiding the fighters and putting them in the right fights at the right time and knowing what they are ready for and when. It’s all about the fighters becoming attractions and Bruce and Brad know exactly how to move them.
BT: Has your role changed a lot with the way media is now viewed by most people? Print media is certainly smaller now and people have 24/7 information in the palm of their hand.
LS: Well, I’m no longer doing public relations, publicity, etc. that is Gardy Lopez and Evan Korn doing that and they are great with the new media. I’m a coordinator moving people all around during fight week, getting them where they need to be and this is Ok, it’s great.
BT: You’ve been in a unique and exciting industry, working with some great people for decades.
LS: Well, I’m not here without Bob Arum, that is the bottom line. I owe everything to Bob. It’s a great company that has just grown and evolved into all the new stages of boxing and entertainment. We are a big arena company that does big shows with big stars. And, I look at other people in the company who I feel will be in the Hall of Fame one day – Carl (Moretti) and Brad (Jacobs) and Brad Goodman will be in there as a matchmaker one day. Our Director of Operations, Brad Jacobs, has a huge job, he has so many people he is responsible for and he does his job so well, I mean he really does a great job. I’ve gotten to work around some incredible people.
BT: I guess Top Rank really is your second family.
LS: You know Bill, let me tell you a story. When our son passed away, my wife was grieving, completely distraught, deeply hurting. She wouldn’t leave the bedroom in our house. She was just unable to function and was so distraught. Todd drove all the way out to our place and sat with her in our room for the longest time and spoke with her and comforted her and was there for her at a time when she was just hurting so badly in an unbelievable time of grief. That’s a special person. Todd is a special guy. He helped my wife, was there for her, my whole family, at a time of unbelievable grief.That’s the character of the company. But those are the kinds of people I have gotten to work with; I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in.
BT: How does Lee Samuels want to be remembered?
LS: I’d like to be remembered as a good person who always tried to help others.
BT: Lee, I’m so happy for you that you are being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Your family must be so proud - Fantastic. Congratulations. Such an honour.
LS: Nothing bigger Bill. I’m in other Hall of Fame’s but this is a whole different thing. This is it, this is as big as it gets. Yes, my family is all going to be there, my wife will be there. I told her I’m not going in without her there. We’ve been through everything together and she is going to be there.