Joe Rein was born Joel Reinlieb in Brooklyn on March 4, 1936. That night, nine miles north, a boxing show was held at the New Star Casino. It was a fitting welcome. All told, forty-one professional fights were held that week and one hundred sixty-one that month in the five boroughs. Boxing was at the peak of its popularity and New York City was its epicenter. James J. Braddock of Hell’s Kitchen was heavyweight king. Tony Canzoneri, the lightweight king, was living at 25 Central Park West. Barney Ross, born in the Lower East Side, ruled the welterweights and was already touted as the greatest Jewish boxer this side of Benny Leonard.
Joe was still a child when he met the then-retired Ross at Stillman’s Gym. He would never forget his kindness. “All the hardened types couldn’t wait to shake his hand and schmooze,” he said. “He was always so generous with his time, no airs; a big, warm grin. He made dads look good in front of their sons, acting as if they were fast friends.”
Joe and boxing became fast friends. At Stillman’s, he got lessons from a gallery of the greatest fighters who ever lived. He sparred with Willie Pep and Ike Williams and eventually became an amateur fighter himself. He was the Army Featherweight Champion in the fifties. In 1960, he was at the 5th St. Gym in Miami Beach, a ringside witness to the first rumblings of young Cassius Clay. A half-century later he was at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles, a special guest of Manny Pacquiao.
Joe wasn’t just a fighter and an observer with fantastic timing; he was also a trainer, boxing website editor, and, fortunately for us, a writer. He spent countless hours sharing his wisdom and memories with a new generation and he did so with an open heart. His life experience contains material for any number of Oscar-worthy screenplays, but he was a gentleman to all. He was what he called Ross: “All class.”
Joe was a guiding spirit behind the formation of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. At seventy-six and by then in the final stages of cancer, he was genuinely excited about the new possibilities for reform it signaled and was on-call as motivator and advisor.
On November 7, 2013 Joe Rein followed his heroes from the golden era into history. We carry his words with us:
“Stay close to what you love,” he said.
“You can restore boxing,” he promised.
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