Before the weekend wraps up I’d like to say a final farewell to my old press row buddy Jack Obermayer, who passed away on June 25, 2016 at the age of 72 after a long bout with cancer. I liked KO-JO because he was an old school boxing writer with a passion for traveling to new and obscure places.
Unlike many boxing press who get “in” by kissing up to promoters and fluffing stories to get close to fighters – Jack was a true professional who was valued because he was not afraid to give an honest opinion. JO’s work was so well-regarded, he was honored with two Hall of Fame plaques (from New Jersey and Pennsylvania) over the course of his 50 year career, a rare feat for a writer.
I first met Jack in 2005 while ringside at the Blue Horizon. The old-timer was holding court at the press table between fights, telling us young bucks how Emile Griffith would beat anyone out there today.
During my time covering fights I would regularly run into him at various east coast boxing shows over the years. We crossed paths in venues that ranged from Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan to the National Guard Armory in the armpit of North East Philadelphia. He always seemed happy to be around regardless of who was on the show.
I vividly remember him busting my chops really good one night in Newark because I told him that I ate at a Waffle House while passing through Atlanta. Those who knew him were clearly aware of his love for original, greasy spoon type diners.
My two strongest memories of Jack both took place in Atlantic City on separate nights, years apart. The first of which was not such a happy one.
I think it was 2010 – he made the trip to Bally’s Casino for a Peltz Boxing show and had his usual spot on press row – but he was extremely tired and could barely keep his eyes open throughout the night. He may have even left early. It was now obvious that the man was seriously ill. I couldn’t help but wonder how much time remained.
Soon after that night, I took a long hiatus from writing and we lost touch for a while. Fast forward to the last time I saw JO, which was 2014 at Boardwalk Hall for the Bernard Hopkins vs. Sergei Kovalev fight. Just after I pick up my press credential – I’m walking out from the back stage area ready to find my seat – and I hear a guy yell out “Phillly Keeeeeeith, ya baaaaaack!” in his unmistakably New York accent. I turn around and there was JO, big smile on his face, looking healthy and strong. He gave a nice firm handshake and we caught up for a little while.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to kick it with him one last time. They say he covered boxing in 49 of the 50 states, in over 400 cities across America. Once I find out for sure if the remaining state on the list was Alaska or Alabama – I’m going to take a road trip in his honor.
Salute to a Vietnam vet who always made a young kid feel like he belonged. It will be weird not seeing you next to your boys Jowett, Hissner and Abrams. Rest Well KO-JO!
Check out his Facebook page to read the tributes left by many people he met during his boxing journey at https://www.facebook.com/jack.obermayer