And Starring: Al Roth has made an impact in his
return to the
Al Roth looks back at his life,
and yes, he repeats the classic line from 1954's
On the Waterfront: "I could've been a
But his story
doesn't end with regret and despair. Seeing the
68-year-old Long Beach resident box—yes, box—at
Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn last Friday night
(which included a right cross that left his
67-year-old foe looking like he had lost a knife
fight) is a reminder that dreams don't come with
an expiration date. After turning down a chance
to make his pro debut on the undercard of the
1959 Floyd Paterson-Ingemar Johansson title
fight at Yankee Stadium, Roth's back—and taking
"When I'm in the
ring, I'm not the same person as when I'm
talking to you, and you'll see it for yourself,"
Milwaukee attorney Michael Tarnoff, flew in
especially for the bout and then practically
flew out of the ring. A right uppercut preceded
Roth's cross, and though Roth swears his best
weapon is his left hook, he didn't need it. The
fight went only two of the scheduled three
rounds, and Roth had completed the eighth fight
of his "comeback" unscathed. And he's loving
every minute of it. When the referee came over
to ask about the cross, Roth joked, "I was
aiming for you."
As for his second
chance in boxing, Roth is reflective: "Gosh,
it's like [saying], 'If I would've, I could've,
I should've.' Now I don't. Because I'm doing it.
It's something from within. Like, why does
somebody want to ride a bicycle in a 26-mile
race? It's something within you. And that's
within me. I'm a boxer. I'm not a pro. I could
have been. So, what it brings back is that what
I could've done, I can do now."
Roth, a native of
the Bronx, remembers winning 26 or 27 of his
30-or-so amateur fights in his youth and
expected to make a jump into the pro ranks. Even
after he turned down the Yankee Stadium fight,
he looked to have opportunities.
"When I was 25, I
had promotional groups that wanted to back me,
form a syndicate around me," Roth explains.
"They wanted a Jewish heavyweight from the city
of New York. Unfortunately, a fighter died, the
promotion got killed, and I couldn't wait around
By 26, he was a
husband and business owner who would go on to
have three children. Dreams and making ends meet
seldom get along very well, and Roth went the
responsible route. But in 2002, facing medical
and weight issues, he began a workout program at
Cannon Kickboxing in Long Beach. He lost 35
pounds, then came across a cable TV airing of
Gleason's White Collar Boxing (once a
month, the gym opens up a ring for sparring, and
when people show up, they are matched up by
size, age and ability and go at it).
"I said, 'I can
still do that,'" Roth recalls. "So I told my
trainer, 'Why don't you book me a fight? But you
have to find somebody my age.'"
His trainer, Long
Beach's Chris Wagner, a light heavyweight
kickboxing world champion, found a 62-year-old
who would fight him the following week. Roth was
concerned about the limited time to train, but
did the best he could to get ready for the bout.
When he got to Gleason's, his willingness to
fight again was put to the test.
guy never showed up," Roth says. "So they put me
against a 33-year-old guy. My trainer said, 'Al,
let's not do this.' "I said, 'I've got my family
here. I have to.'"
Wagner told Roth
to stay close to the guy, and in the beginning,
Roth admits he was a little apprehensive. "But
as it went on, I thought, 'I'm going to knock
him out.' And I came close to doing it. He was
so surprised. People around me were going, 'Come
on, Pops, knock him out.' So, I stayed with it,
and before you know it, I was back in the
ring—40 years later.
"It doesn't matter
that I'm over 65. We're not finished. I tell
this to all the people I see. I'm not saying
that everybody is a boxer. But we are not
through. And I am proving to people that we're
Had Roth just
proven this point to himself, he would have
accomplished plenty. But he has taken his
message to numerous senior citizens' homes, and
he isn't bashful when telling them about the
attitude they have to have.
"I lecture people,
I get in front of people [and say], 'Don't tell
me your troubles. I don't want to hear it,'"
Roth says. "I am a diabetic, I have sciatica, I
have high cholesterol, I have all that kind of
jazz. But so what? Everyone over 65 has an acre
"I spoke to a
woman once at one of the centers and she said,
'Mr. Roth, I'd love to walk a great distance,
but I walk with a cane.' And I said, 'How far
can you walk with the cane?' She said, 'I walk
about a block, and then it really hurts.'" Roth
asked her to walk that block for one week, but
then to walk a block and a quarter, regardless
of the pain.
"A week passes by,
two weeks pass by, and I see her in Waldbaum's.
She walks over and says, 'Mr. Roth, I walked a
block and a half.' I said, 'How did you do it?'
She said, 'I just did it.' I said, 'Did it
hurt?' She said, 'It hurt a great deal, but I
did it anyway. And I'm going to do a block and a
half from now on.'"
Roth cautions that
boxing isn't for everyone, but that excuses for
not working out are "a bunch of malarkey."
Physically, he feels better than he did at 45,
and any "if onlys" are a thing of the past.
latest challenge, he's currently writing a
screenplay about his experience, titled Just
One More Time. "I added some [fictional]
stuff to make it more entertaining," Roth
One sight of the
blood spewing from his opponent's nose on
Friday, and you just know he shouldn't have to