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September 12, 2014

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Page 16 POST-GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014 Judging Greatness When You Can't Go to the Film How Do We Assess a Fighter's Greatness When We Have Never Seen Him in Action ? Greb and Tunney Who was the greatest pound for pound boxer who ever lived? Who was the greatest heavyweight? The greatest middleweight? Everyone has an opinion, and most are quite adamant about whom they pick as the best of all time. It's a fun topic comparing styles, power, speed, endurance, and the ability to take a punch. When discussing many of these past greats we can go to the films that are avail- able of their fights. Some of the older movies are not in very good shape and aren't very sharp, though a number of them have been cleaned up and have had their speed corrected. These movies add a lot to the discussion. You get to see Louis's demoli- tion of Schmeling, Dempsey destroying the giant Willard, Robinson's perfect left hook landed on the chin of Gene Fullmer. All of these record- ings of boxing history add so much to the debate. But what about those who Harry were never filmed or of whom only a few minutes of action were recorded? On just about any respectable list of all time greats, I see names mentioned of fighters for whom no visual record exists. Or, in the case of Charley Burley, only a very few minutes of his time in the ring can be seen today. In the case of Harry Greb, there are no films in existence of any of his bouts. Greb and Burley are two excellent examples of fighters that have not been seen in ac- tion by many of the boxing experts who list them at or near the top of their lists of all time greats. How can this be? For this col- umn, I will use the example of Harry Greb. First, let me mention that a number of years ago, some film of Harry Greb training was discovered. It shows him shadow box- ing, doing calisthenics, playing handball, hitting a punching bag and very briefly spar- ring. In the" footage where he is shadow box- hag and playing handball, you are able to see his great speed and agility. You can also see that he has the physique of a classic boxer. His muscles are long and well developed for punching, not like the muscle bound body builder boxers of today. The one clip that tends to raise eyebrows is of Greb sparring. I believe his sparring mate is Philadelphia Jack O'Brien. Greb does not look particu- larly sharp in this clip, but I would say this is just a few seconds of him fooling around with a friend in front of a camera. Some who have seen this footage say it is proof Greb was. not a very good fighter. That's hogwash! If the only footage we had of Muhammad All was from one of his exhibitions where he falls to the canvas after being hit by a local boxer, we would not be judge him too highly. Possibly the two toughest men that ever lived, Dempsey and Greb. So, how do we include these unseen boxers when it comes time to rate them on an all time greats list? There are a few ways. First, whom did they fight? We know that Harry Greb was the only man to defeat Gene Tunney, and he not only defeated him, but also gave Gene a fear- ful beating, breaking his nose in the pro- cess. He fought Tunney a total of five times with all but their final meeting being very close bouts. We have footage of Gene Tunney in action and there is no doubt he was a great fighter. He could box, he could punch, was always in great shape, and his only defeat was at the hands of Greb. What else do we know about Harry Greb? There is the well known story of the two days Harry spent in Jack Dempsey's training camp, sparring with the Heavy- weight Champion. It is said that he gave Jack such diffi- culty that he was sent away after that second day. It has also been recorded that Dempsey's manager, Jack Kearns, refused to sign for a Greb bout between Dempsey and Greb. That would have been quite a fight. Greb also fought and defeated such great fighters as Tommy Loughran, Mickey Walker, Maxie Rosenbloom, Bill Brennan, Kid Norfolk, and Mike Gibbons to name just a few. He kayoed heavyweight Gunboat Smith. In all, Harry Greb had 298 fights winning 262 with only 17 losses over the course of 13 years. According to Boxrec, he fought a total of 1,581 rounds. Oh yes, he fought and defeated these great fighters while blind in one eye. Greb was only stopped twice in all of those bouts, both occurring early in his career. One was when he broke his arm during a bout and the other was a knockout loss to Joe Chip ha his sixth fight. Even though it is unfortunate we have no filmed record of Harry Greb in action, can there be any doubt that he was an all time great? He not only fought almost three hundred fights with one. eye, he often fought opponents much bigger than he was, and he defeated them. He never drew the color line, so he ducked no one. I have never seen Greb in action, but I have no doubt that he was one of the greatest fight- ers who ever laced on a pair of boxing gloves. How would he have fared against Robinson, Hagler, LaMotta, Monzon? It's an interest- ing question, but I can assure you they all would have known they had been ha a battle after trading leather with the Pittsburgh Windmill. There is no reason to omit fighters from any discussion just because no films exist of them in action. There is plenty of other evidence that can be used in order to judge them. Harry Greb's career is just one example. RAPTORS SIGN STIEMSMA -- Former Celtic Greg Stiemsma is back ha the East- ern Conference of the NBA, having recently signed a one- year deal with the Toronto Raptors. The big man (6-11, 260 pounds) played for New Orleans last season where he saw action in 55 games (22 starts) for the Pelicans. He averaged 4.1 rebounds and just over 18 minutes per game but finished the year with only a 2.9 points- per-game average. This will be Stiemsma's fourth NBA team since he also played for Minnesota dur- ing the 2012-2013 season as well as with the C's in 2011- 2012. For a man associated with being large, it's interesting to contemplate the fact that he grew up in an opposite environment -- one in which several characteristics were small scale. The number of students in his high school was 185 while the total population of the town was only 1,800. It Was there that he led his high school to four Division 4 State Championships. But, as we Bostonians all know, there's a big world out there and Stiemsma discov- ered a piece of it when he chose to attend the Univer- sity of Wisconsin. There he found himself at a school that has over 40,000 students and a football team that consis- tently draws over 68,000 fans to its home games at Camp Randall Stadium. Talk about a seismic change. Stiemsma went on to play four seasons at Wisconsin, appearing in 95 games over that span while averaging 10 minutes, 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest. It wasn't enough to get him into the NBA but it met the threshold for playing overseas -- which Stiemsma did while seeing more of that big world as a member of teams in Turkey and South Korea. By then he started to appear on pro basketball ra- dar screens in the USA and so it was back to rural America -- in this case Sioux Falls, SD -- where he earned NBA Development League Defensive Player of the Year honors while per- forming for the Skyforce in the 2009-2010 season. Still, the NBA took a pass, so he went back to Turkey for another campaign. The next year he returned to the NBADL for a few games before the C's signed him in early December, 2011 -- during the abbreviated preseason that followed the NBA lockout that autumn. By the time he showed up at the C's training facility in Waltham he was 26, 31/2 years away from being the undrafted player that he had been in 2008. He would play ha most of the games during the shortened four-month regular season, seeing action in 55 contests while averaging 2.9 points and 3.2 rebounds. He became known as a shot blocker. By the time the shortened season ended, the C's wanted to keep him but Stiemsma wound up signing with Min- nesota. He was there for the duration of the 2012-2013 season, playing in 76 of the regular campaign's 82 games. He actually had slightly bet- ter numbers than in Boston but ha the end he was waived. It was off to New Orleans for a season where much the same took place -- borderline numbers and a waiver at the end. So, it's another team and a new country for the Big Man from the Big W. The Raptors think they got a good deal for one season while having to dish out "only" $1 million. We'll see. You'll have a chance to see how this scenario unfolds in person {both early and late) when Toronto comes into the Garden on Novem- ber 5  (only the second regu- lar season home game of the year) and on April 14 th (the final home game of the regu- lar season). By then we'll have a good idea whether Stiemsma will be staying with the Raptors or hitting the road to find another club as he continues to explore that big, wide world that basketball has enabled him to experience. SOME FACTS ABOUT BIRD -- Posted on the Celtics website are some facts about Larry Bird, the legend from Indiana who played his en- tire 13-year career for the Celtics. During that span, the C's won the NBA Champion- ship three times, while Bird was named the MVP of the league on three occasions and was chosen as the NBA Finals MVP twice. He also was a 12-time NBA All-Star, a 9-time All NBA First Team selection and a member of the Dream Team that won the Olympic Gold medal in 1992. He was also named to the NBA's 50 th anniversary team. When all was said and done the Celtics retired his number (33) in a memorable ceremony at the Garden. How did he earn all those honors? Through the work ethic that he devel- oped. As it says on the Celtics website: "Legend has it that Bird (during his high school years) would use every minute of his down time, including time between classes, to practice his skills in the school's gymnasium. That work ethic helped him become the school's all-time leading scorer." He brought that work ethic to the professional game. He never mailed it in by play- ing only half way. His final contract contained no incen- tives, just a straight salary. With Bird, the game was the incentive. Why was Bird showered with accolades? Because he gave the game his. all, not just some of the time, but all of the time. Something for all to think about as the new aca- demic year begins -- both in the classroom and on the fields, courts and rinks of competition.