Don Majeski knows more about boxing history than almost anyone and his knowledge of the sport has seen him employed by almost everyone in the sport, writes Jack Hirsch
WHEN you are goaded into a debate by Don Majeski it is advisable that you put your ego aside, because by the time the 67-year-old resident of Queens, New York gets done stating his case you come away realising just how little you know about boxing history compared to him. As Philadelphia promoter Russell Peltz once jokingly said, “Majeski knows what toothpaste John L. Sullivan used.” There are boxing historians and then there is Majeski who has the answers to questions few would even think to ask.
As one who speaks with him on the phone more than I do anyone else in the business, the conversations can easily range from who founded the Pelican club in England in the 1880s to who was the premier promoter in Japan in the 1920s. Although Majeski’s legacy might predominantly be that of a boxing historian, it has been as an international agent working in various capacities over the last 50 years where he has left his mark.
Born on Halloween day of 1952, in Elmhurst, Queens, Don never met his dad Richard Majeski who passed away from a rare disease a month before he was born. Raised by his mother Joan, Don’s goal at a young age was to be a zoologist, but that started to change when he saw a newspaper report detailing the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch in 1965. The following year Majeski attended his first live event, Jose Torres retaining his world light-heavyweight championship against Wayne Thornton at Shea Stadium. Being that the laws in New York at the time prohibited anyone under 14 from attending a boxing event, Majeski got mom to take him to the show.
On July 19, 1967 Majeski sat in the rafters at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, and expressed his anguish at seeing Chuck Wepner box Jerry Tomasetti in the main event. Majeski started complaining about never seeing the likes of Jose Napoles box in New York. Overhearing him were the trio of Johnny Bos, Jack Obermayer and Malcolm Flash Gordon who were seated nearby. They invited Majeski to sit with them. It was the start of a relationship which saw Majeski and Bos start touring the local gyms together. Gordon published a controversial newsletter called ‘Tonight’s Boxing Programme’ which he sold outside of the arenas on fight nights. “I started selling the programmes for Flash,” Majeski reminisces. “The programmes went for 35 cents. I got 15 cents for each one I sold. We sold them not only in New York, but for shows in New Jersey and Philadelphia as well. We had to be discreet because technically it wasn’t legal. Madison Square Garden would sometimes crack down on us and confiscate all the programmes.”
As fate would have it, Majeski’s mother was employed by the airlines. This enabled Don to fly for free and experience things that were rare for a teenager. “While we were on vacation in California, I went to the Lionel Rose-Ruben Olivares show at the Inglewood Forum  to cover the show for Flash Gordon,“ says Majeski. “I must have looked like a 12-year-old when I walked into [promoter] George Parnassus’ office to ask for a credential. Afterwards I interviewed Mando Ramos, Jackie McCoy, Cuco Conde and my idol Jose Napoles as well. I did a big report on all that.
“In 1970 I went to California on my own to cover the Jose Napoles-Ernie Red Lopez fight and saw my story on Parnassus’ desk. When
I got to the arena [Inglewood Forum] I did not even think I would be ringside, but was put in front of all the other reporters by Parnassus. I remember hearing Jim Murray [Los Angeles Times] muttering who the bleep is that kid!
“In December 1970, I started to write for Boxing Illustrated for $75 a week. I was with them for a few years. Because I could fly for free it allowed me to cover some big fights for the magazine that I otherwise would not have been able to because of budgetary concerns. I went to the George Foreman-Joe Frazier fight in Kingston, Jamaica and also covered the second Carlos Monzon-Emile Griffith fight in Monaco.” But as would become custom throughout his career, Majeski started to wear several hats. Booking agent Dewey Fragetta reached out to Majeski. “It was my job to act as a tour guide for the fighters he booked to box in New York,” says Majeski. “I took Carlos Monzon, Tony Mundine and Jean Josselin around town.”
There is a picture of Majeski with typewriter in tow, at ringside, right behind NFL great Jim Brown who was working as a commentator for the Rumble in the Jungle, on October 29, 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ironically Majeski’s most poignant memory was not what took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, but what happened shortly after both men exited the ring.
“The walkout bout was between heavyweights Roy Williams and Henry Clark,” says Majeski. “They were set to box when we heard a loud boom. Then there was a torrential downpour resulting in their match having to be postponed. Williams stood in the ring with a forlorn look on his face, one I’ll never forget.”
Even at a very young age Majeski was never shy in letting others know what he wanted to see get done. He clearly remembers chasing after MSG matchmaker Teddy Brenner to arrange a fight for Napoles in New York. By then the boy wonder was practically a part of the world welterweight champion’s camp. They greatly valued his opinion despite his youth. “Brenner wanted Napoles to box a rematch with Griffith at a catchweight. He had previously defeated Griffith in a defence of his welterweight title. However, the money offered was not substantial and Napoles boxed Pete Toro in a non-title match [October 1970] instead. I had a role in making the fight,” says Majeski. Napoles won without a fuss, stopping Toro in nine rounds, but two months later Majeski temporarily lost some of the goodwill he had built.
“Napoles had two offers on the table to defend his welterweight title, one in Chicago to box Eddie Perkins, the other to box Billy Backus in Syracuse. Cuco Conde trained and managed Napoles, and was a legend in the sport. He handled other great fighters besides Napoles such as Sugar Ramos, Luis Rodriguez and Florento Fernandez. I strongly urged Conde to take the Backus offer. It’s an easy fight, I said.”
Napoles suffered a bad cut, was stopped in four and lost his title in the process. “Afterward, George Parnassus said to me half-jokingly, I will never listen to you again,” Majeski remembered. “It was a fiasco because Napoles’ cut man, Angelo Dundee, was not in the corner that night, he was in New York City with Ali, who was getting ready to box Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden a few days later. Syracuse is only a short airplane ride from New York City. Angelo could have flown in on the afternoon of the fight and left early the next morning without compromising the time he needed to be with Ali. But it was supposed to be such an easy fight for Napoles that it was thought Dundee’s services would not be required. Napoles regained the title from Backus six months later, so in the long run it really did not matter. If anything it might have been a very good thing that Backus won the title, because had he not joined his uncle Carmen Basilio as Canastota’s second world champion it is conceivable the town would not have started the International Boxing Hall of Fame.”
Majeski went to work for Don King in the mid-70s. Although he got along fine with King for the few years they were together, the relationship took a turn for the worse after Majeski left. “He was a good guy to work for,” Majeski says of the boisterous promoter. “I put together shows for him that featured Carlos Monzon and Victor Galindez at Madison Square Garden and the Roberto Duran-Edwin Viruet fight card at the Nassau Coliseum. King was enthusiastic. He would say make me big. I never saw him steal from fighters as some have alleged, but I do know instances where he overpaid them. I quit working for King because of a conflict I had with someone who was very close to him. He tried to get me to come back, but I wouldn’t as long as that person was continuing to work for him. After that we became competitors. We spent the next 25 years clashing and it was more my fault than his. Although my relationship with King deteriorated my admiration for him never did. He is without a doubt one of the greatest promoters in boxing history.”
Shortly after leaving King, John Conteh contacted Majeski telling him about his plans to defend his WBC light-heavyweight title against Yaqui Lopez in Kampala and would he be interested in serving as the promoter? Of course Don would. The financial parameters were seemingly in place. However, the government proved to be unstable and the plans never materialised. The fight was rescheduled for Denmark, but at that point Majeski was no longer involved. Majeski was hustling to find work, living paycheque to paycheque. “I know how it feels to be poor, to be overdrawn at the bank, to have the power turned off at your residence. Once you have experienced poverty it always looms in the back of your mind,” he says.
Majeski took off for Albuquerque, where he partnered with Bob Foster’s trainer Billy Edwards in putting on club shows and later the closed-circuit showing of the first Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard fight. From there it was off to Nevada, where he handled the boxing affairs for Joe Conforte. It was there where he was introduced to Marvin Camel and he became part of the future world cruiserweight champion’s management team.
Majeski also did work for Emanuel Steward. “I made Thomas Hearns’ fight with Pedro Rojas in Detroit in 1978, and then made eight more of his matches,” he says proudly.
In 1981, Majeski moved back to New York, and went to work for promoter Butch Lewis full-time. “I was his matchmaker, publicity agent, site coordinator, and handled the foreign TV sales. Butch could be difficult and was short tempered. My relationship with him was both good and bad, but at least he gave me free reign to do my job. However, the final straw that made me decide to leave his company was in 1985, when he insisted I go to Memphis on a religious holiday to look into obtaining the closed-circuit TV rights to the Hagler-Hearns fight. I liked Butch as a friend, but not as a boss,” says Majeski.
As the years rolled on Majeski seemed at one time or another to work with every promoter of note. There was Bill Mordey’s Classic Promotions in Australia, in which Don made matches for Jeff Fenech, Kostya Tszyu, Troy Waters, Joe Bugner and Jeff Harding. In fact, Majeski would go on to manage Harding for four of the former WBC light-heavyweight champion’s title fights.
When a call came in for Bugner to box Frank Bruno it led to Majeski being introduced to Barry Hearn for whom he acted as an agent for many years afterward. Majeski also did work for Frank Warren and Morgans Palle. “Through Barry Hearn I met Frank Maloney and Roger Levitt and that resulted in me making Lennox Lewis’ early matches. I remained as a consultant throughout most of Lennox’s career,” says Majeski. And of course it did not stop there. Majeski hooked up with the Canadian group Interbox in which he served as a salaried matchmaker for Eric Lucas, Jean Pascal, Lucien Bute and the Hilton brothers.
For a dozen years or so Majeski was on the payroll of Germany’s Wilfried Sauerland working as a strategist in helping get fighters into the world ratings. However, when Sauerland lost his television deal it meant Majeski’s financial arrangement with them (him) changed. Currently Majeski is working as consultant for Devin Haney, the Moloney brothers from Australia, and other fighters. During these tough times where Covid has reduced boxing activity worldwide, Majeski feels fortunate that he has enough friends in the business who are helping keep him afloat until the crisis passes. “Bob Arum, Todd DuBoef and Carl Moretti of Top Rank have helped me enormously these last couple of years, allowing me to make a living,” he says. “Arum in my opinion is the greatest promoter in boxing history in large part because he hires the best people to work for him.
“The WBC has always been like family to me. Mauricio Sulaiman has been very supportive. I hate to start giving names because everyone in boxing has been good to me in one way or another.”
For approximately 25 years, Majeski was part of a three-person executive committee entrusted with deciding who made it onto the ballot for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He took the responsibility seriously and boned up on the facts, studying every facet of boxing history. This writer for one always discusses his ballot with Majeski before mailing it in, learning important facts on the candidates I never would have known existed otherwise.
“You can’t just judge a fighter on his record,” he explains, “you have to read and research how he won, who he beat, and under what circumstances. For example, the reason I rate [Benny] Leonard over Duran at lightweight is that he fought much better opposition. As a lightweight, Duran only faced one Hall of Famer [Ken Buchanan], whereas Leonard defeated many.”
Majeski has been married to his wife Trudy for 40 years and has a daughter and stepson. He retains a close bond with his mother. “This pandemic has affected everyone in the business. If you are not on a salary you really have to hustle to make a living,” says Majeski, who has been doing that for more than half-a-century, while loving every minute of it.
MAJESKI’S CHOICE OF THE BEST OF ALL TIME
1- Muhammad Ali
2- Joe Louis
1- Sam Langford
2- Gene Tunney
1- Harry Greb
2- Stanley Ketchel
& Charley Burley (tied)
1- Sugar Ray Robinson
2- Henry Armstrong
1- Benny Leonard
2- Roberto Duran
1- Willie Pep
2- Abe Attell
1- Eder Jofre
2- Pete Herman
1- Jimmy Wilde
2- Pascual Perez