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Cutman Rich Schwartz – a View from the Corner

March 27th, 2013 at 10:00 AM
By Sharon Scrima

A retired New York City high school Health and Physical Education teacher, Rich Schwartz has been living his dream for the past nine years serving the boxing community as a cutman at various venues throughout the state.

A life-long boxing fan since watching Rocky Marciano knockout Joe Louis in 1951 on a 9" black and white television set while sitting on the couch at home with his father in Brooklyn, Schwartz retired from a 33-year teaching career in 1995 and turned his attention to his passion.

It was his friend "Big" George Mitchell, the 6'7" cutman with whom he had attended various boxing events and visited the International Boxing Hall of Fame every year, who suggested that Schwartz get certified with the New York State Athletic Commission and help out in the corner. After passing a short 20-question ‘True or False’ quiz, Schwartz was on a dream path.

"I've always followed the sport, loved the sport. Now I'm following it from a different angle because I'm in the corner with fighters, I'm in the dressing room and get to meet most of the legends of the sport," Schwartz said.

It was an "on-the-job" learning experience, with Mitchell showing him the ropes. Schwartz initially handled the bucket and cooled down the fighter while he observed Big George go to work on superficial wounds such as cuts, nose bleeds and swelling with the main objective to give the fighter one more round to be victorious. He soon began handling the full range of cornerman duties and has worked alongside renowned trainers such as "Iceman" John Scully and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.

Schwartz is a staple on the New York boxing scene, having worked over approximately 250 fights at various local venues including Madison Square Garden, Roseland Ballroom and BB Kings in Manhattan, Loews Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, the Plattdeutsche Restaurant in Franklin Square, LI and the Paramount Theater in Huntington, LI.

Now living in upstate New York, the Brooklyn-raised Schwartz does not have access to the same volume of boxing gyms as he had when living closer to the five boroughs. This has made it difficult to form relationships with local amateur fighters who eventually go pro and are in need of his services. However, the outgoing Schwartz often finds work as a cutman for out-of-town opponents coming to New York to fight in four or six round bouts through word of mouth, whether it's from the commission or at the venue itself on fight night by those who wait until the last minute to secure such services.

"I tell fighters that it's great having a cutman and not needing one but if you need a cutman, it is good to have one," reasons Schwartz.

Since he wants to give his assigned fighter 100% attention before, during and after a bout, Schwartz prefers to work no more than two corners a night. With more corner work comes more equipment for the always prepared Schwartz who, in addition to standard items such as enswell, sponges, vaseline, rubber gloves, Q-tips, tape and gauze (always bringing extra in case it's needed), brings his own buckets, towels of all sizes and extra corner jackets in the event he has to match different colored trunks of a fighter unexpectedly assigned on fight night. He once weighed himself and discovered he was 22 pounds heavier with his bag of supplies, likening it to over-packing for vacation.

While he might be light-heartedly chided for carrying so many items, Schwartz takes his role very seriously as a professional and prides himself on being prepared.

"On my business card, it is written: My job is crucial to a fighter's success in the ring."

Some cutmen only handle cuts, swelling and nosebleeds but Schwartz feels obligated to be more than just a "vaseline man".  Always eager to learn more about his craft, Schwartz astutely observes the activities of his counterparts and has noticed that many do not get involved with cooling down the fighter, an aspect he has found to be very important in achieving the ultimate objective of giving a fatigued combatant another round and keeping him in the fight. Schwartz has been complimented by his fighters for the refreshing ice cold towels he has draped around their head and back to help rejuvenate them during the course of a bout.

Another point Schwartz has learned from his studies is the importance of going to the enswell early before swelling develops and rocking it over the swollen area rather than vigorously sliding it across the cheek and eyes which can cause more damage to the blood vessels and cell membranes under the skin.

"There's no greater feeling than to keep your fighter in the fight and have him come out being a winner at the end," exclaimed Schwartz.

Most recently, Schwartz made the 160 mile round trip from upstate New York to Huntington where he spent almost 12 hours at the Paramount, returning home later that morning at 3:00 AM. With gas and tolls, this assignment did not result in the most financially rewarding net salary, which is typically 1-3% of the purse, but that is not the driving factor for this particular cutman.

"I'm not motivated by the dollar signs. I don't do it for the money. I do it for the love of the sport and I just like being in the corner working with the fighters. I'm sorry I didn't really get started 30-40 years ago," a reflective Schwartz said.

As fighter safety should be of paramount concern, the sport could benefit from the implementation of certain measures to ensure the fighters’ well-being and consistency throughout boxing without compromising the combat nature of the sport. A five-minute respite to work on a cut due to an incidental headbutt, similar to the time given to recover from an accidental low blow, is an example of the type of rule change Schwartz thinks would be beneficial. Additionally, Schwartz would also like to see alignment and standardization of guidelines across all states with oversight by a national boxing commission.   

Through his travels, Schwartz has met all of the top cut men in the business and has become very friendly with Miguel Diaz, who has worked the corner of elite pugilists such as Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao. Schwartz is very good friends with former undisputed welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith as well as three-division world titlist Iran Barkley, and can often be found interacting with a wide range of boxing personalities.

"Of all of the athletes that I've ever met, I have to say that the boxers are the greatest," proudly stated Schwartz, a devoted Brooklyn Dodger fan as a child and a long-time coach of high school basketball and varsity baseball teams. "They're the most noble, the most honest and what you see is what you get."

His love for these fighters and the sport of boxing extends to his extensive collection of vintage 8 x 10 autographed photographs displayed in the office of his home. A collector since 1990, Schwartz boasts of the various images of legends that are in his possession, including Hank Armstrong, Jack Dempsey, Max Baer, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Primo Carnera, Jack Sharkey, Fritzie Zivic, Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Carlos Ortiz, Aaron Pryor and countless others.

"I just love prizefighting and it's my way of honoring and keeping the memory of these great fighters alive."

Working the corner, attending fights, press conferences and the annual visit to the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend, along with his vast boxing memorabilia collection keeps this spry 70-year old youthful and content while never losing sight of the underlying sentiment he has for those who participate in this sport.

"I have the utmost respect for anyone who takes those three steps up into the ring. Whether they are an amateur making their debut in the novice division or they're a five or six-time world champion in four or five different divisions, I've got the same respect for that person," Schwartz said.

While well-known cutmen such as Miguel Diaz, Rafael Garcia and Danny Milano are most often called upon for the big fights, Schwartz views ”Big” George Mitchell, a protegé of the legendary Al Gavin, among one of the best in the business and his mentor.   

“If I had started a bit earlier, I think I would be up there now,” Schwartz told Boxing 101.

Nevertheless, this cutman keeps both himself and his fighter in the fight, always trying to get one more round.

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Tags: Boxing, Danny Milano, George Mitchell, Miguel Diaz, Rafael Garcia, Rich Schwartz

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