Lou Messina: a gentleman who has worn many hats

The family photo above is of the Messina Clan taken 73 years ago on the family’s front porch. It includes Mother Mary Messina, her two oldest boys (l to r) Louis (Lou), Hubert and at the bottom (l to r) Susie, Jimmy, Victor and Mary. As you can imagine, the six children were a handful.  
Each and every Sunday morning, Mom had her six almost perfect angels attend Church.

It didn’t happen overnight, but after 27 years, along came this miracle worker by the name of Patrica Diaz who started making the necessary changes and this free-wheeling, sports addict by the name of Lou Messina gradually became an exemplary head of household. The new hard charging Produce Manager from Food Basket was soon working Sundays and Holidays to make certain his wife and four children were well taken care of so he’d have the necessary time off to be there at his boys sporting events. The lackadaisical lifestyle had become a thing of the past.

Why would a man so set in his ways (out late most nights, sports, sports, sports) be willing to change? All the credit goes to his lovely wife Pat, who as they say was a one of a kind, real good looker, a treasure.
Truth be known: Over the years there was a lot of give and take and after a while there was the sports addict out dancing with his wife or she was tagging along to one of his many sports functions.
The Messina Family (all of whom turned out to be exceptional, especially in football): Mike, Eddie, Pat and Marc for whom we should add is an extraordinary cook, in French they say Haute Cuisine (High Cooking). Photo taken while the family was out celebrating their Mom’s birthday.
After refining her man’s footloose and fancy free ways, Lou was given a longer leash which he took full advantage of and before you knew it, he had become fully invested in the Sport of Boxing. Here we see Lou Messina with one of his favorite boxers, Sugar Shane Mosley at a function celebrating his career.

With his considerable background in the sport many have suggested Lou Messina would be an ideal candidate to host his own Boxing Podcast since at the age of 77 it’s likely he knows more people in the sport than anyone, from boxer to manager, from the various Commissioners to the Promoters.

Here is just one an example of the many storied/classic tales Lou witnessed firsthand: “When I first met Ken Norton it was through a mutual acquaintance Lou Lake, the local promoter of this Mohammad Ali vs Ken Norton fight to be held here in San Diego at the San Diego Sports Arena (now the Valley View Casino Center). Lake and Norton were both Marines stationed here in San Diego. Two weeks before that historic Norton showdown with Ali, there was Lou invited over to Lake’s house. Also present was the irrepressible Ali joking around about how he was going to beatdown Norton. Lake interrupted Ali and said, “If I was a betting man, all my money would go on Ken Norton.”

“That was a time when all sorts of things were being reported by the Press: 1) that Ali, stunned by that remark from Lou Lake began to train extra hard.

“At the time, Norton was training nearby with the well known trainer Eddie Futch. The same Futch that is now credited with training four of the five boxers who defeated Mohammad Ali, …Norton, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. He was also called on to help Riddick Bowe and Montell Griffin when they handed both Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr. their first defeat.

“That week, reports of Ali’s devil-may-care attitude were widespread: ‘Ali flirts with an attractive travel agent; Ali seen whacking golf balls at a local driving range and sprains his ankle in the process; Ali signs autographs and is seen posing for photos in a hotel parking lot just a few hours before the opening bell.’ As a result of all that tomfoolery, our very own Sports Arena got to reap the benefits of hosting one of the biggest upsets of all time. Shortly after came the news that Norton had broken Ali’s jaw in the very first round. In other words, it was a miracle that the great Mohammad Ali was able to deal with so much pain and finish that fight.  

“In the audience watching the fight was the great Joe Frazier who knew something Ali didn’t. After all, it was Frazier who had paid Norton $400 a week to spar with him and learned it was in the military at nearby Camp Pendleton where Norton first discovered the rudiments of boxing and began to train seriously.

“So, despite Norton’s 29-1 record, being such a gifted athlete and Frazier sitting there at ringside, it appeared Ali was unconcerned. As a gifted all-around athlete but not a boxer, Norton would dominant his foes in track and field and there was that legendary tale about Norton entering eight events in the same meet and winning five of them and placing second in the other three. This then prompted the State of Illinois to pass the “Ken Norton Rule” to limit an athlete to just three events. While also being a standout in football, Norton all of a sudden dropped out of school in his sophomore year, and soon after joined the Marines. 

“After basic training in North Carolina, Norton ended up here in Oceanside at Camp Pendleton, and finally left the service in 1967. He then remained in San Diego and decided to try his hand at professional boxing receiving the backing from a group of local businessmen. Then, in 1973 came this Sports Illustrated article reporting that Norton and his young son were being forced to live on just $100 a week. As a single parent after his marriage failed and living on such a pittance, one can only imagine how desperate he had become. And then to get that promise of a $50,000 paycheck to fight Ali? It must have sounded out of this world great. Wow! We can finally get ourselves out of this bottomless pit.

“So, in front of a crowd of 11,000 plus, there was the great Mohammad Ali entering the ring all spiffy wearing this fancy robe given to him by Elvis Presley and emblazoned with the words “The People’s Champion.” And sitting at ringside was the usually venomous Howard Cosell announcing: “This has to be the biggest mismatch in boxing history, a disgrace.” 

Early in the first round or perhaps as Kenny Norton suggested late in the 11th round, Norton (right) landed this thunderous left hook which ended up breaking Muhammad Ali’s jaw.

“Then, after the bell rang this cat and mouse game began. Suddenly, the match lacked the usual high drama of an Ali fight. There were no knockdowns, and not all that much action throughout. But after it was done, there was Mr. Cosell, the Donald Trump of Boxing, recalling his earlier pronouncement before the fight. But unlike our beloved President, Cosell actually apologized to Norton, “Kenny, you made me look silly.”

“Norton’s quick-witted, memorable comeback: “That’s okay Howard, you always look silly.

Lou Messina: “Is it any wonder that I and so many others have a lasting fondness for Mr. Kenny Norton?”

His daily schedule is often jam-packed with committments to his family, close friends, grand children, especially his number one guy Edison, plus the world of Professional Boxing.

Moving right along, Lou became more and more involved in every facet of the sport, from helping a boxer secure his or her much needed physical to his or her negotiations with the various promoters. Watching and learning at the various sparring sessions gave him a better grasp of which boxer or boxers had promise and which were just spinning their wheels.

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