I was very depressed when I read about Freddie Norwood’s knockout loss to Donnie Edwards on the Wednesday Night Fights. I used to manage Freddie when he was an unbeaten and (for a short while) unbeatable junior featherweight.
More than with any other fighter I’ve managed, Freddie Norwood’s career was one where cultural subtext played an influential role in contributing to his lack of success (and I say this although Freddie won the featherweight championship twice.)
Because he was small, black (black specifically in an East St. Louis-limited-access-to-white-people kind of way), taciturn, and consummately efficient in the ring, it was nearly impossible to get fights for him, no matter the terms.
I had a standing offer to all of the major promoters and TV guys that, if the opponent weighed 130 or less, they needn't bother asking me whether Norwood would take the fight: the answer would automatically be yes.
Even with that kind of open-ended proposal in place, almost nothing materialized. I’d get brave sounding phone calls asking whether we’d take chump change to fight some high-profile prospect or other. I’d always agree to the terms (knowing that, for a guy like Norwood, there’d never be any money until there was no choice but to pay him real money) and caution the guy making the offer that the other side would back out.
When the other side did back out, I’d ask why not drop Fighter X and keep Freddie? We all know the answer to that question.
Under the circumstances, it was almost inevitable that Norwood’s career would never completely develop. He was too much like the great black unwanted fighters of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s--too good, too subtly efficient and too culturally defined as “bad” black—black without crossover appeal.
By the time Norwood won the featherweight title, he was already a couple of years past his best. It says something about his level of proficiency that he was able to beat Juan Manual Marquez long after he’d hit his prime.
And it makes me wonder what a fighter like Freddie Norwood might have been if he’d been allowed to develop under more salubrious conditions. At 122, he was a better fighter than Floyd Mayweather has been at any weight (and a similar fighter, maybe not surprisingly.) It’s a moot point; he’s finished now and we’ll never find out.
I think a lot of the best fighters fade on the vine, unseen and kept far away from their less dangerous, more telegenic counterparts.