One of boxing’s true good guys gets the Hall of Fame call

Lee Samuels, center, on the day in 2016 when he was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, with me and Rich Marotta (R). On Wednesday, Samuels received the call that he’d been elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

There are people like Lee Samuels in most companies. They’re the ones who keep the trains on time, so to speak, and who play an oversized albeit frequently unnoticed role in their company’s success.

Sadly, their contributions to the overall success aren’t recognized or celebrated publicly. They’re like the gears inside of a watch; without them, the hands won’t move and the watch is useless, but no one ever raves about them.

And that’s how it has been for years with Lee Samuels, who has been one of Bob Arum’s most trusted aides for more than three decades and who has eagerly blended into the background and eschewed credit for Top Rank’s outsized success.

Top Rank is the greatest promotional company in boxing history, and the overwhelming amount of credit for that goes to Bob Arum.

Arum is a genius, a brilliant visionary with a gift for storytelling and the work ethic, even as he moves into his late 80s, that should embarrass men half his age. Arum innately understands how to promote and is relentless in pushing his agenda. He doesn’t have thin skin and he’s relished the fight it takes to get attention for a boxing match in today’s crowded sports landscape.

Arum is the four-star general who has not only devised the plan but who was out front fearlessly leading the troops into battle.

For as great as Arum is, however, he wouldn’t be a fraction of what he is without his staff.

Bruce Trampler is probably the best matchmaker in boxing history, and Arum and later Top Rank president Todd duBoef treated Trampler’s opinion on fighters like gold. If Trampler said no to a fight for a young star that Top Rank was building, the fight didn’t happen.

Samuels didn’t have the high-profile position that Trampler had, but he was also vitally important to Top Rank’s success. As the company’s publicist, it was Samuels’ job to get the word out and he did his job tirelessly, effectively and with a good humor and a sense of camaraderie that is rare in the sport these days.

He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Wednesday, an honor that, to be frank, usually eludes workers of Samuels’ ilk.

It is, though, richly deserved for one of the few men in boxing with no enemies. Samuels is the quintessential good guy, a man who (almost) always has a smile and a kind word.

For years, Samuels treated the late long-time boxing writer Jack Welsh as if Welsh were the lead columnist at The New York Times. Welsh was another kind soul, but was hugely eccentric and didn’t adapt well to changes in modern journalism. He was the kind of guy who is always described as a character, and just about everyone had their favorite Jack Welsh story.

Samuels went out of his way to make Welsh feel involved, and important, and a part of the hubbub that surrounded a big fight, even though the totality of his readers could probably be counted on the fingers of two hands.

He didn’t brush Welsh off or treat him as insignficant or as an annoyance. He treated Welsh like a king, but he treated everyone that way.

Samuels has revered Arum for years. He refers to him as ‘The Chief,” and is in awe of Arum’s business acumen.

I walked into the media center at a big Top Rank fight a decade or so ago. Arum was at a table with a large number of boxing writers, including Michael Katz and Ron Borges, who most definitely did not get along.

As I greeted someone at the door, I heard Samuels’ voice, clearly in a panic.

“Bob!” he shrieked, as he moved toward Arum like a Secret Service agent going to throw his body on a president who has been shot. As I heard Samuels’ voice, I looked and saw Arum’s feet go up in the air as he fell over backward in his chair.

Katz and Borges got into a minor skirmish and someone swung and the next thing you knew, Arum was going down. Samuels jumped in to cover Arum and move him from physical danger.

Samuels and I spent countless hours talking about fighters and fight writing, about journalism and interviewing techniques. He loved to read the newspaper, and couldn’t say enough great things about the work of his former colleague, Mark Whicker. Whicker would go on to his greatest fame as one of the elite sports columnists in the world at the Orange County Register, but I think I’ve heard every about every fight story Whicker ever wrote while he was working with Samuels in Philadelphia.

My greatest regret is that I wasn’t there for Samuels at the time of his greatest need. In 2016, I was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, covering the Summer Olympics. His youngest son, Eddie, died while I was in South America.

Samuels worshipped all of his children, but Eddie was something special. Eddie was a hockey player of some repute, and for years as Eddie was a young boy coming up through the ranks in Las Vegas hockey circles, Samuels was there for the games and the practices. It made him so proud when Eddie scored a goal or contributed to an important win.

Eddie died way too young and his loss impacted his father terribly. I got to know all of Samuels’ children, and they are all top-shelf people, which is no surprise given their father. Eddie, though, was special.

When I heard of his passing, my heart fell. I called Samuels from Rio and we had the most emotional, heartfelt conversation you could imagine.

Even in his grief, which he carries very visibly today, Samuels couldn’t help but think of his bosses, Arum and duBoef. Bob called, Samuels said, again and again, proud that his boss thought enough of him to call to console him about his son’s death. DuBoef went to the Samuels home and spent private time consoling Samuels’ wife, Mary Margaret. Samuels told me the story repeatedly, and of how important duBoef’s words had been to his wife.

Everybody who knew him in passing wanted to help Samuels, and to try to comfort him during the most difficult time a parent can face. He is the kind of person who evokes that type of emotion in people.

He’s a remarkable person with an often goofy sense of humor and a heart the size of the state of Nevada.

I’m so proud he’s received boxing ultimate honor, and I can call him a Hall of Famer.

But you know what? I’m most proud to call Lee Samuels my friend.

4 comments

  • Kevin: Your tribute to Lee Samuels was terrific. Just wonderful. You really captured that Lee is such a nice guy along with being a deserving addition to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. You tell how much he has done for Top Rank and how hard he has worked for Top Rank. My words don’t do justice to how outstanding your tribute is. Your tribute is very touching. It also has to make his family proud.–Royce

    • Thank you, Royce. Lee is one of a kind and it was a good day when someone so humble and kind and friendly got such a big honor.

  • Lee is tremendous and many of us, hell ALL of us should conduct ourselves as he does.

  • Terrific article…when I was collecting training camp info for HBO as part of my duties with CompuBox, Lee helped me out in terms of contact info for the people with whom I needed to speak. He was prompt, reliable and correct, and did his job with good cheer. It didn’t take me long to put a check by his name, and I’m happy that the majority of the electors opted to do the same. I hope he enjoys his big weekend to the fullest.

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