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A Tribute to a Legend: Gil Clancy 1922 – 2011

By Mike Plunkett

My initial recollections of Gil Clancy are from the period when he was a respected regular fight broadcaster for CBS, back in the day when boxing was regularly featured on network television. But there was so much more to Clancy than just that, if anything he was at that point well beyond having established himself as a Hall of Fame trainer and manager with roots that went all the way back to the golden age of the sport.

Perhaps a fitting summary of Gil Clancy was uttered by none other than Howard Cosell during the network television broadcast of the epic heavyweight clash between former and future heavyweight champion George Foreman and then-top contender Ron Lyle in January 1976. Cosell delivered an astute brief synopsis of Clancy, his involvement with athletics and unique career path which ultimately led to the fight game, summarized by suggesting that if anything, Clancy was a ‘teacher’.

Gil Clancy was born May 30th, 1922. After a stint in the Army, a period where he fought five times as an amateur middleweight, Clancy attained his Masters in Physical Education from New York University. He later accepted a teaching position as a way to support his wife Nancy and their growing family. Sometime later a job placement program alerted Clancy that a Police Athletic League gym in South Jamaica, Queens was looking for a boxing coach, a part-time commitment that ultimately evolved into a second career.

Over time his passion for the sport grew as he experienced great success as a boxing coach. He eventually moved on to the Lynch Center, a PAL gym in the Bronx where he developed New York Golden Glove champions at an impressive pace. Future two-time Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, contenders Tony Anthony, Frankie Ryff and Randy Sandy were just some of the names among this group. Ralph ‘Tiger’ Jones became Clancy’s first professional fighter of note, a popular rugged middleweight contender and regular fixture of televised boxing during the 50’s.

Through the 60’s and into the 70’s Clancy worked with the Who’s who of boxing luminaries such as heavyweight contenders Jerry Quarry, Mac Foster, Oscar Bonavena and of course the aforementioned Foreman. Charlie ‘Devil’ Green, Tom Bethea and Harold Weston, JR. rounded out that list before his work earned him the prestigious Manager of the Year honors in 1967 and 1973 from the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Clancy’s greatest work with prizefighters no doubt has to be his association with Emile Griffith, an all-time great who would go on to win the World welterweight and middleweight titles. Clancy was in Griffith’s corner for his entire career, all 112 fights. Such was the nature of their relationship and the respect Griffith had for his friend and trainer, the former two-division champion walked away from fighting the moment Clancy told him it was time to move on.

Following Griffith’s retirement Clancy shifted his focus from training fighters to matching them, working as matchmaker for Madison Square Garden from 1978 to 1981, a role which ultimately led to yet another notable incarnation, the one where I first became acquainted with him, as a fight broadcaster for CBS. He became one of the best fight broadcasters of all-time and in my opinion easily one of the sharpest ‘detail guys’ I have ever had the pleasure of listening to during a given broadcast. Clancy brought a sense of balance to each show, guiding the viewer through the action while highlighting the oft-missed intricacies that could affect the ebb and flow of a bout. In 1983, he won the Sam Taub Award for excellence in boxing broadcasting journalism.

As boxing vanished from network television in the early 90’s Clancy would periodically work with big name fighters such as Gerry Cooney or Oscar De La Hoya, brought in to re-tool or fine tune, as dictated by the need; such was his level of experience and the high regard he was held in by those within the inner circle of the fight game.

Gil Clancy’s lofty accomplishments, as they pertained to the training and managing of fighters, match-making and ultimately broadcasting earned him enshrinement into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. His involvement with physical education and teaching add context to the earliest beginnings of a man held in the highest regard, respected and well liked in a sport long known for disloyalty within its inner circle.

Gil Clancy was one of boxing’s truly great minds,” Hall of Fame executive director Edward Brophy said. “As a trainer and manager he was held in the highest regard by his peers. The Hall of Fame is saddened by the loss of our friend.”

“Gil Clancy was a dear friend of mine and was one of the greatest men in boxing of all time,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. “While I will miss him dearly, I am thankful that I am left with memories of the great times we shared together. My deepest condolences go to the Gil Clancy family.” Said Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports, “Gil Clancy was a beloved member of the boxing community and was a part of the HBO Sports family for many years. We and the rest of the boxing world mourn his passing.”

Survived by five children, 18 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren, Gil Clancy passed away Thursday morning at age 88. Ringside Report sends out its heartfelt condolences to the Clancy family, thankful for having become acquainted with and touched by his numerous contributions to the sport. With the passing of this great man, yet another link to the golden age of boxing is gone; the sport, as a loose fraternity, and fans around the world share in the loss of one of the fight game’s truly great men.

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