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April 4, 2014

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Page 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, APRIL 4, 2014 Rapid Johnny Rafuse to be Inducted into Ring 4 Hall of Fame "John never took a back step fTom any challenge." -- Mickey Finn, Ring 4 President Rapid Johnny Rafuse This Sunday Rapid Johnny Rafuse will be inducted into the Ring 4 Boxing Hall of Fame. Fight fans were never disappointed when Jo_hn stepped into the ring as he was always in shape and never failed to give it his all. Rapid Johnny fought seven recognized champions dur- ing his career and came up on the short side of many close decisions, one of the problems you have when you have to fight in your opponent's hometown. Over lunch at the Kowloon in Saugus, I had the chance to talk with John, who had been a wrestler in high school, about his career and life. I asked how he got started in the fight game. "I was sitting in a bar drinking and smokingwhen a guy came in and asked one of my friends if he wanted to come up to the Harbor House in Lynn to fight. I heard that and said I liked to fight too. I climbed into the ring that night without having .had any time in a boxing ring and at the bell, came out as if I were in a street fight. I did okay for the first round but ran out of gas in the second. After that fight, I went to the New Garden Gym where AI Clemente started training me. Two weeks later I was back in the ring and won a decision. I had a total of 16 amateur bouts and then turned pro." Johnny racked up an im- pressive record of 12 wins and just two losses when he stepped in against Micky Ward in Ward's hometown of Lowell on August 29, 2008. It was enough of a challenge going up against Ward, but Johnny had to contend with another opponent that nighL "I was having a tough time with referee Tommy Collins. He was giving me as hard a time as Ward was." Collins behavior was called "bizarre" by ringside commentator Al Bernstein. Bernstein said he had, never seen a referee manhandle a fighter like that before. Johnny man- aged to keep his cool and kept to his fight plan despite the referee. Johnny said, "I neutralized Micky's left hook to the body." It was a very exciting fight with Rafuse losing a close decision. This bout proved both boxers were world-class material. Johnny continued on with his career while learning the hard lessons boxing teaches a fighteri He had a bout in Paris, France for whtch he received $7,500.00 only to find out later that the matchmaker who put the fight together received $28,000.00. "He made out pretty well for just pressing a few buttons. He didn't know that I would find out about it." Johnny tells me very calmly while I was.getting angry just hearing the story. A few months after the Paris fight John was matched with Vinnie Burgese in a bout in Atlantic City with Burgese winning a contro- versial decision. The two were signed for a rematch Johnny vs. Harold Brazier with the winner being prom- ised a bout against Vinny Pazienza to be televised on national TV for a purse of $35,000.00. This would be a big break for the victor. Johnny went in and kayoed Burgese in the 6 round, but a funny thing happened on the road to fame and fortune, Burgese got the fight with Pazienza. Rafuse tells me, "I know I could have beaten Vinny. We had boxed in the gym and I knew how to handle him." Another tough break in a game that is filled with them. John would go on to chal- lenge NABF Light Welter- weight Champion Harold Brazier in Brazier's home- town, but once again came up on the short end of a hometown decision. Johnny would continue fighting until 1991 ending his career with a decision over Jose Torres in Boston. John hung up the gloves due to an injured elbow. You'd figure a guy who came so close to crossing over into the big time only to have to deal with the politics of boxing would be bitter, but he isn't in the least. When I asked him John Rafuse Junior and Senior. what his favorite moment in boxing was he told me it was the victory over Burgese, but he was very quick to say, "That was my favorite time in the ring, but the greatest moment of my life occurred on May 16, 1987. That's when my son John Jr., was born." You can'hear the love he has for young John as he brings up this occasion. John has always been a tough guy both in and out of the ring, always in shape and never one to back do.wn. He still has an incredible work ethic that has served him well as a union car- penter, a profession he loves. Both John and his brother Michael tell me they found out where they got their toughness from four years ago when they discovered their 76- year-old mother Helen on the floor of her home. She had fallen and had been lying there for'27 hours with a broken hip and shoul- der. Just as Johnny had always stepped back into the ring after a loss, Mrs. Rafuse has recovered and 'will be in attendance at John's in- duction ceremony. You can never count a member of the Rafuse clan out. Ring 4 President Mickey Finn tells me he is honored to have Rapid Johnny Rafuse enter the Hall of Fame. "Even though Johnny was one never to step back from a challenge, he has also been a terrific friend to many people. There will be over 90 of those friends at the sold out Ring 4 Banquet. They couldn't ask for a better pal then Johnny." John Rafuse may have been deprived of the opportunity to be on top in boxing, but if you mea- sure a man by what he has put into and gotten out of life, John is an undefeated Champion. As we get up to leave the restaurant Johnny turns to me and says, "I'm a very happy guy, I have a great life." HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss As the Celtics commence the final fortnight of the season, frustration has be- come a common word by which to identify this cur- rent edition of the Green and White. The campaign has grown long of late as the losses mount and the Celtics fall farther and farther down the Slope of the relatively weak Eastern Conference. Note that frustration is dif- ferent than discouragement. The C's are not discouraged. They play hard and with spirit nearly every night. What is frustrating are the numer- ous nights that they have not been able to seal the deal and come away with the win. The home game against the Chicago Bulls back on March 30th was typical of this. The Celtics were in the contest throughout the night. Things were tied up at 96-96 with only a minute and 20 seconds remaining. It should have been a dra- matic conclusion to a game that would feature 16 lead changes and 19 ties by the contest's final whistle. But it wasn't. Jeff Green had knotted the count at 96 all when he canned a 23-foot jumper with 2:13 left. There wasn't another score until D.J. Augustin hit a 26-foot jumper to give the Bulls a 99- 96 lead with 1:19 remaining. And then things crumbled for the Celtics. A series of three turnovers -- followed by desperate attempts by the Green to get the ball back -- resulted in Augustin going to the foul line for six shots -- each of which he made. A couple of three pointers by Jared Sulltnger kept the C's alive but in the end the Bulls prevailed 107- 102. So near -- and yet the ability to finish the game and seal the victory was not there. In his postgame press con- ference Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens stressed the defensive side, noting that his players should win games when they manage to score 102 points. But since they allowed even more he said his team would definitely lose the next night in Chicago on the back end of the two-game set if it allowed 107 points again. The C's didn't do that. They only allowed 94 points the next night -- and still lost 94-80. It was their fifth loss in a row and 104 setback in their last 11 contests. It was also a: loss that carried with it an official announcement. By coming up short, the C's had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Once again the game had been close. Sl arting the fourth quarter the Celtics were only down by one at 71-70. But the Bulls came out and torched the C's to start the final period, going on a 17-2 run en route to the 94-80 victory. Anyone who has followed the Celtics this season .knows they have been in many more games in the late stages. Through 74 games the Celtics had lost nine games by three or fewer points. Take it out to five points and those nine games become 12. The word "If" is one of the biggest little words in sports but yes, if the C's had won those nine close games as they could've, would've, should've, they would have been tied with Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as March became April. The point is that it has been a fine line for the Celtics all season long. In a year where the Celtics have a poor .record, they have rarely been blown away, staying in contention in most games until the final minutes. Stevens knows that many people will judge the te am solely on the basis of its record. Asked in a press conference if he takes solace that games are close, Stevens replied "Nope. Zero." "We've talked about it in the locker room. We can sugar coat it. We can talk about it. We can say 'It's nice to be close' but at the end of the day it is what it is from a record standpoint." The coach added: "A lot of people in this position would not react well to that and that's not OK. You have to react the right way to it and that means we compete as hard as we can which I thought we did. Chicago was a tough, physical, hard- nosed, defensive basketball team that we scored over 100 points against. That should have been enough -- but it wasn't." One of the reasons it should have been enough is because it has been all season long. You see, in games where the C's score 100 or more points they actually have a winning record- 14-7. The end of the season is in sight but Stevens says that there are still lessons to be learned. He said he could not find fault with the effort put out by the players but "we've got to get better at executing and we can get better. We've got two weeks left. We've got to make sure that we keep plugging and keep identifying areas where we're not performing. (In the Chicago game at the ar- den) We weren't very good late. We put ourselves in a tough spot by not getting the ball, not getting shots up in that situation." Back in the fall, Sports Illustrated indicated that the Celtics would be challenged to win 30 games. That pre- diction was questioned early on as the C's played .500 ball into December. But now that prediction seems fairly accurate. With seven games left entering the first weekend of April, the Celtics would have to win them all to reach 30 -- a major challenge as the sea- son that many see as an interlude between success- ful eras sputters to a close.