Jimmy Lennon has been tackled by a wrestler, peppered by debris and stomped by angry fans, but boxing's senior ring announcer still has the fight in him.
Jimmy Lennon was the most surprised man in the house.
Vaudeville was his gig. Singing was his game.
So what the heck was he doing standing in the middle of a boxing ring?
It was during World War II. Lennon, then barely 30, was a Los Angeles butcher who made a nice living on the side by emceeing and singing in shows at the Santa Monica Elks Club.
On this particular night, he had shown up to work at the Elks but discovered, to his dismay, that, although no one had bothered to inform him, the program had been switched to boxing.
Like any good performer, he knew the show must go on.
He entered the ring and, to introduce the night's fighters, employed the melodious voice that had gently handled so many popular tunes.
He was a novelty. Fight announcers usually sounded like auctioneers, like the old newspaper vendors who yelled out headlines from street corners. They sounded like the men they introduced: big, booming voices with minimal articulation.
But here was this frail Irishman, with a rich voice and the articulation of a speech teacher, making this two-bit fight card sound like Louis-Schmeling.
The promoter asked him to go to work on the spot.
"Doing what?" Lennon asked.
"Announcing fights," the promoter said.
"I don't know anything about announcing fights," Lennon protested.
"I just heard you," the promoter insisted.
"Well," Lennon said. "this is the first time I've ever done it."
The promoter couldn't believe it. "It sounded like the 100th time," he said.
Thus a career was born.
Last night, at the Country Club in Reseda, Lennon, 72, was honored for his work as a ring announcer. He's been at it ever since that night at the Elks Club.
He has always been in demand. On one occasion, he may have qualified for the Guinness Book of World Records, not to mention Trivial Pursuit, by being the ring announcer for two world title fights in two different cities on the same day--hopping between Cincinnati and Detroit by jet to handle both events. He also has done wrestling matches and motorcycle and auto races.
The names Lennon has called out in boxing alone sound like a hall-of-fame list. Working all over the country, he's introduced them all: Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Emile Griffith, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Leon Spinks and Rocky Marciano.
He's even introduced Rocky Balboa.
Which brings up yet another of his many careers.
His work as the ring announcer in Rocky III is one of many roles he has played in films over the past four decades. He's been in everything from "State of the Union," starring Spencer Tracy, to "Kid Galahad," with Elvis Presley, to "Raging Bull," featuring Robert De Niro.
Lennon has done series ranging from "Mission Impossible" and "Lou Grant" to "Taxi" and "Archie Bunker's Place." He was in "Rich Man, Poor Man" and "Ring of Passion," the story of the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fights. He appeared on variety shows with Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante.
He was there too, back in the '40s, when radio was the nation's main medium. He sang on the old "Al Pearce and his Gang" show and also worked with Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Guy Lombardo.
He sang at funerals for a mortuary for 10 years. He sang at Al Jolson's funeral.
Before that--the man's accomplishments do seem endless--he was a baseball, basketball and tennis player at Venice High School. As a 14-year-old junior high school pitcher, he got the chance of a lifetime when he faced Babe Ruth in a 1927 exhibition game. Lennon struck out the legendary slugger.
A car accident, however, left Lennon with torn ligaments in his arm, prematurely ending his athletic career.
So, he turned to singing.
"I always loved to sing," he says. "I used to go around the neighborhood in Venice, offering to sing one song for a nickel, three for a dime."
Winners and losers, good decisions and bad. The crowd always learns the results from the ring announcer. And sometimes, when there is unhappiness over the message, it is taken out on the messenger.
"Where do you think most of my hair went?" Lennon asks, that seemingly perennial smile crossing his face. "I've got marks all over my head from coins and various other items thrown at me from the crowd."
Even the participants sometimes get into the act.
On one occasion, Lennon announced a decision that went against wrestler Kenji Shibuja.
"When the match was over," Lennon recalls, "the first thing he saw was me. He tackled me and I went right through the ropes into the seats."
Another time, Lennon announced an unpopular decision at the Olympic Auditorium, triggering a riot. While security guards struggled with the crowd, Lennon and several other officials decided it was a good time to leave.
Lennon never reached his car.
"There he is!" one fan shouted, as Lennon hurried across the parking lot.