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"Toy Tiger" the movie/documentary on the life and career of Canadian boxing great, Art Hafey, directed and produced by Brad Little, premiered this past Saturday, October 3, 2009 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. It was part of the Valley Film Festival, which was taking place during the weekend.
Most of the fighters that were featured in the film were present for the film's premier. The boxers that came to show their support for Art Hafey, included Bobby Chacon, Ruben Olivares, Bobby Chacon, Ruben Castillo, Frankie Duarte, Rudy Ramirez and Rick Farris. Also there was my friend , retired former sportswriter and past President of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, Bill O'Neill. During the first hour everyone had a chance to get reacquainted, or in some cases, acquainted for the first time.
The movie began at approximately 3:30. The movie,or more correctly, the documentary chronicles Art Hafey's early years, but centered primarily on his years in Los Angeles during the time that has come to be known as "The West Coast Featherweight Wars", written and detailed extensively by Dan Hanley Jr, who also contributed to the film. There was tons of good fight footage in the movie and Director Brad Little did his research during the making of the movie.
Hafey comes across as a deserving and sympathetic person. It's no secret that his career was mishandled by his management. It's also no secret that Hafey, despite being the number one contender for a time during the 1970's, never got a crack at the Featherweight title. It was revealed in the film that Hafey, in eight years as a professional boxer, never made more than $75,000 during his entire career. Beyond shameful. The movie also discusses his life long battle with a neuromuscular disorder "Thompson's disease".
Hafey, like his compatriots, George Chuvalo and the late Arturo Gotti, was a blood and guts fighter, taking two or three punches just to land one of their own. Guys like Hafey fought their hearts out. They left nothing in the ring. Unfortunately, for Hafey, there was no payoff. No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and more's the shame.
If you like the fight game, even just a little, you'll love "Toy Tiger".
My own personal memory of Art Hafey goes back to the Danny Lopez-Art Hafey fight in 1976, at the Forum in Inglewood, California. I was scheduled to fight Chris Gonzalez that day on the undercard. My trainer Mel Epstein and I saw Jerry Bilderrain, Burke Emery and Art Hafey in the parking lot getting out of their car. I didn't know Burke or Art but Mel introduced me.
Art was dynamite in a small package when he fought but I was surprised by how frail he looked to me that day. He looked preoccupied as if he had something on his mind. I didn't get a sense of confidence. Maybe it was my imagination. Jerry I had known for a while. He was a trainer but I can't recall right now who he trained. I do know that he worked with Art. Jerry had a route as a Budweiser distributor and I would go with him once in a while when I needed cash.
My own fight was canceled the day, as was becoming the norm for me. I got dressed and Mel and I went up and got us some seats. They were good seats too. Bazooka Limon was also fighting that day against Ruben Coria and stopped him in the fourth round.
When Both Danny and Art were in the ring, the size difference really became obvious. Danny and I are the same height 5'8". Hafey is 5'2". The fight is somewhat of a blur to me after all these years. But I can still remember what I was thinking. Hafey looked frail and weak. He was fighting back but he didn't look strong. At about round five it became obvious to me that Danny was going to hurt Art. The records say he was down in the 6th. I remember that but I just can't remember how many times. Whatever it was I knew the end was near. Danny stopped Art in the 7th. I always felt there was something wrong with Art that day. Nothing fishy, maybe a cold, stomach flu, something. He wasn't right that day.
I remember Art Hafey as a humble, quiet, polite, reserved and respectful person. Thirty three years later, that is still my impression. He could not thank my wife Jeri and I enough for coming to see the movie. We are the ones that are thankful.
Our thanks to Brad Little for the invitation.