Lord of the Ring

Boxing isn't just a hobby to Hank Kaplan. It's an obsession. Which is why he's the sport's foremost expert.

When Kaplan finished his calculations, Woroner flew him to Dayton, Ohio, home of National Cash Register (NCR), at the time the cutting edge in computer technology. There a team of NCR's best minds created the fifteen-round fight as a computer program. "For five days they put us in an underground bunker type of place," Kaplan recounts, adding that it was more as an aid to concentration than as a secrecy measure. "We weren't allowed to see the outside world. Meals were brought in for us. They needed me there because if they ran into a snag I could tell them if a certain move was important or not too important."

Using a complex mathematical formula that took the boxers' motivation and heart into consideration along with their technical prowess and strength, the team figured Marciano to be the winner.

Back in Miami Kaplan spent a few days in a television studio near downtown working on the even trickier visual component of the match. "What Murray was going to do was have Marciano and Ali come to Miami, get in some kind of reasonable shape, get in the ring, and make like they're fighting -- only they're there by themselves, throwing all the punches they generally threw, every motion, all the crazy things like footwork,' Kaplan explains. "He'd take that somehow and put these guys together in the ring. He did things to make it look like the blows were really landing. To this day I don't know how he did it. They were paid $1000 or $2000 apiece."

Eventually announcers provided commentary as though they were ringside. The seemingly impossible project was complete.

"I was so worn out afterward I didn't want to look at it," Kaplan says.
Many others felt differently. The fight was first broadcast on closed-circuit TV in October 1969, two months after Marciano's death. All theaters were packed.

While Kaplan was still working on the fight of the century, he took a nine-week break for what he calls "probably the most gratifying thing I did with CDC." One day his boss knocked on Kaplan's front door as he was wading through the papers carpeting his living room. "He said, 'Hank, they want you in Indonesia.' There was an epidemic of bubonic plague. He said, 'Hank, they want you there yesterday.'" So Kaplan capped his CDC career traveling with a Chinese doctor from port to port over precipitous mountain roads in the Indonesian islands.

A few years later he retired to devote more time to boxing, and his reputation as an expert grew. "When you're fascinated with what you're doing, you work ten, twelve hours a day, and one day you put it together and you're an expert."

For Kaplan retirement just meant he could work even longer hours on his innumerable boxing projects. He was approached by Ramiro Ortiz at the Fifth Street Gym, where they both spent most of their free time. Ortiz had known Kaplan since the Sixties, when Ortiz first came by the gym as a boxing-infatuated boy of twelve and subsequently tried his own luck in the ring for a time. Now he was working at a bank, but he had never gotten the sport out of his blood. He had a proposition for Kaplan: Why didn't they promote shows together? "He was a historian at heart, and to this day I have the feeling he did it more as a favor to me than that his heart was really in it. But we had some good, good local fights," says Ortiz. They called their enterprise Pugilistic Promotions and persuaded the city council of Fort Lauderdale to lift its decades-old ordinance outlawing boxing within city limits. Most of the shows were held at Fort Lauderdale's War Memorial Auditorium and helped establish the careers of several local talents, among them Juan Arroyo.

"We wanted to put on aesthetic shows," Kaplan says. "Unlike most fights now, we didn't know who was going to win, because the matches were pretty even. People at our shows would give both fighters a standing ovation a lot of times between rounds. Today most kids with promise are backed by people with fairly substantial financial means; they want to nurture their fighters, give 'em the build-up treatment, so they generally feed 'em on soft stuff and let 'em build their records up. Makes for worse matches."

Today Ortiz is the president of SunTrust Bank and a prominent citizen. Kaplan has returned to observing and recording history. Fortunately.

A few years ago he got a call from a sportswriter in San Diego who was finishing up a feature story on Bob Satterfield, a bruising heavyweight who fought in the Fifties and Sixties. The writer had found Satterfield destitute, a wine-addled man living under a bridge. He called Kaplan to check on a few facts about Satterfield's career. "The only trouble was that Bob Satterfield died seven years earlier," Kaplan says. "Good thing he called me."

Kaplan pauses to think about Satterfield. "A very important fighter who came very close to being a world champion," he says. "But he was completely forgotten. There are countless others who didn't win the so-called championship but who could beat most of the champions around today.

"I say this: Why should these guys be forgotten? It's a sin to forget them.

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