J Russell Peltz has seen just about everything in Philadelphia boxing: the good, bad and ugly. So he decided to document that history in a book.
Peltz, a Pennsylvania Hall of Fame boxing promoter, has been in the business for more than 50 years. Once the pandemic started in 2020, he accumulated his memories, documented data and looked at old film recordings to describe the past 50 years of Philadelphia boxing.
“It’s something they’ve never read before in a boxing book,” said Peltz, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. “The inside story about what goes on at making fights at the top level and the club level.”
Peltz released Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, which details Philly’s boxing history. The memoir is available on Peltz’s website, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Target. It was important for Peltz to show the book through an honest lens. In some cases, fighters take jabs at him, and he was sure to include those sequences as much as fighter mishaps.
More than 30 fighters were interviewed for the book. Some said they liked working with Peltz, and others didn’t.
“That’s fine, that makes the book real,” Peltz said.
Peltz’s North Philly office is full of tickets, films and written articles of shows, but his memory is unmatched. He can recall Lower Merion High School football scores from more than 50 years ago, or Temple basketball games when he was in college. He remembers certain rounds of knockouts and knockdowns.
That memory is how the book got its name. He recalled his second ever promotion, where a boxer was insulted by being paid $50. The net pay after expenses was $30.50. He received his check at the end of night and said “thirty dollars and a cut eye” in a disappointed tone.
“Ever since then if I ever wrote a book, that would always be the title,” Peltz said. “It catches you.”
One area where Peltz opens up in the book is with numerical values. Fighters sometimes accused Peltz of being too cheap.
Throughout the book, boxers’ finances and figures are listed and in some cases, Peltz included how the numbers would be valued today.
“It’s something they’ve never read before in a boxing book. The inside story about what goes on at making fights at the top level and the club level.”
He also details behind-the-scenes experiences, like going behind the managers’ backs to convince Eugene “Cyclone” Hart to fight “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, or sending letters to boxing commissions to tell them not to license Briscoe when he believed Briscoe should no longer be fighting.
“I did the wrong thing for the right reason,” Peltz said. “I shouldn’t have gone public with it.”
“It’s got to be the truth, or I’d just be like everybody else,” Peltz later added. “It adds authenticity to the book.”
The life of a promoter is chaos. Fighters sometimes cancel, fail to make weight and have other unfortunate circumstances. That’s when people depend on the promoters to have a good replacement ready, but it’s not always that simple. Peltz describes several instances where he or another boxer saved his cards.
One in particular was his third-ever card, where he lost two prelim matches the morning of the fight. He needed one more match and, luckily, a guy in the lobby had pro boxing experience and agreed to fight.
“When I was a fan, I never knew about this side,” Peltz said. “You turn on the TV and watch the fight. You never thought about that stuff.”
Included in the book’s 57 chapters are details of Peltz’s experience with “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, fights in Atlantic City and the Spectrum, and Bernard Hopkins.
“This book has consumed me,” Peltz said. “You wake up in the middle of night thinking, ‘did I get the date right?’ ”
It also describes one of the most talented eras of Philly middleweight boxing, which featured Hart, Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, and Willie “The Worm” Monroe.
Peltz did matchmaking with these fighters during their primes. In particular, he spoke glaringly about Briscoe’s toughness and reliability. Briscoe (66-24-5) had 95 fights over a 20-year period.
“No matter how bad things were, I knew Briscoe was going to make it,” Peltz said. “If I never hooked up with Bennie Briscoe, the title of this book would have been 50 weeks in boxing.”
A book signing at 2300 Arena is scheduled on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. This was a 22-year-old college graduate who didn’t know if he wanted to continue promoting after his first year netted less of a profit than his previous job as a copy editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin. He also had a stretch where he lost money on an estimated 32 consecutive boxing cards at the Blue Horizon.
Peltz was being hit with haymakers, but he always got back up before the 10-count.
“This book is very emotional for me,” Peltz said. “To actually have done this, it’s a great feeling. And it’s even better because it’s true.”