By Jeff Jowett: His magnetic writing style inexorably drew the reader into his slightly off-center world. When you read something by Jack Obermayer, it was on his terms. He didn’t tell you what you wanted to know; he told you what you ought to know. A native New Yorker from Staten Is., Jack had the brash, confident, abrasive persona of nearly all Metropolitan Gothamites. But like everything he did, he made it his own. The fights weren’t about a pay-per-view contest between Jones and Rodriguez. They were a lifestyle experience, a tiny Odyssey to parts unknown, complete with travelogue, diners, side trips, logistics, delays, complaints, and peopled by the unique characters that he often renamed; Creepy, the Midge, Leroy, Mantequilla, Freddie BUMstein, Mustafa, The Tar Baby, The King. His self-centered abrasiveness and outspokenness just became part of the show, and everyone seemed to forgive him.
Jack came alive to the boxing scene in the early ‘Sixties, hanging out in Manhattan’s then-famed Telstar Gym under the peerless Gil Clancy. His first fight was Ali (then Cassius Clay) – Doug Jones at Madison Square Garden, 3/13/63. He would spend the next 53 years intimately a part of the game. He soon connected with the iconic “Flash” Gordon, then hawking his irreverent diatribe Tonight’s Boxing Program only semi-legally outside New York fight shows. Obermayer was soon a feature writer, and so the nom de plume “K.O.J.O.” was born as the byline to his often zany, always edgy column K.O.J.O. Says. It survived to this day, a testament to his creativity and ability to re-invent himself with the times.
K.O.’s next connection was with Mr. Nice-Guy, Lew Eskin (who also liked to take credit for starting the career of another Hall of Famer, HBO judge Harold Lederman), the irascible editor of Boxing Illustrated. The ill-fated Eskin, now long deceased, expanded K.O.’s presence from the New York scene to the entire boxing world. Over succeeding decades, the magazine would change hands, and titles, numerous times, but K.O.J.O. always went with it, an indispensable asset with a notable following. Obermayer survived the no-nonsense editing style of hard taskmaster (and Hall of Famer) Nigel “The Impaler” Collins, the anything-goes Wild West of another Hall of Famer, Bert Sugar, the both slick and serious Greg “Metro Man” Juckett, and the low key but keenly focused Shawn Sullivan. When BI, or whatever they were calling it that month, finally died along with nearly all other print media, K.O. would shake it off and live on, with British Boxing News and the Rinaldi Brothers’ USA Boxing News.
After a stint in the US Army at Cam Ranh Bay, K.O. broadened his horizons. Job and marital life took him to Philadelphia (“Philly”, as it’s better known in the boxing world), which rivaled New York at the time as a major hub. Hall of Famer Russell Peltz was running his legendary series of regular top-flight cards at The Spectrum throughout the ‘Seventies, until it was killed by the rise of the Atlantic City casinos. The move put K.O., like the Colossus of Rhodes, astride two of the most vibrant boxing scenes of the era and gave him a working base, not to mention education, possibly like no one else in the game at the time. He was threatened in Philly gyms and mugged on the Spectrum parking lot, not for any particular reason, he was just that noticeable. Scare him away? Not on your life. It just gave him more to write about!
K.O. lived the scene to its fullest, not one to cover an assignment and go home to submit his expense account and mow the lawn. He went everywhere and took in all the shows he could…maybe even more!...with no regard for finances or what it meant to his writing. Going to boxing became an end in itself. Didn’t it ever! It became little less than an obsession. He would describe the drive, the diners visited, the ambience, salient points and some not so salient. He relentlessly rode the promoters and commissions about late starts, “unnecessary” delays, redundant overdone renderings of the National Anthem, and late finishes. In the long run, they got used to it and seemed to accept it. It was just part of being K.O.J.O. He could be a bane to hard-bitten editors, but fans grew to love his so-what? style. They would regularly ask what diners he’d just visited, what he was going to nickname himself for his next report. Editors could never buy it, but the readers ate it up.
When he attended a “Cornflake” LaManna card in the burgeoning fight town(?) of Beach Haven, NJ, in September of ’15, it marked his 400th “new town” and estimated 3,534th show. This was probably slightly underestimated, and he would add a few more of both before he took the ten count. Among many boxing-related passions was the annual induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. He began this yearly pilgrimage, with indefatigable memorabilia collector Mustafa Terens, when he went to meet one of his heroes, Eder Jofre, in the third session, and missed only once, when doctors refused to allow him to travel after major surgery. He made the event this year for the final time, although too weak from extended illness to participate. But his indomitable spirit just couldn’t let it go.
K.O. was a member of numerous Halls of Fame himself, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Atlantic City. He was also lifetime President of the tiny and highly exclusive Don Elbaum Adoration Society, perpetually honoring the last genuine old-time boxing creative freewheeler of the Tex Rickard mold, who is fortunately still with us.
Jack missed just one major goal of his boxing life. But he came oh so close. With some help from a brief stint with Obiwan Cannobio’s vaunted Compubox, he made fight cards in 49 states. The one missing was Alaska, where there hasn’t been a fight three decades. Outstanding matchmaker and long-time friend Eric Bottjer was in process of arranging a show just for him, but Father Time beat him out. K.O.’s last show, fittingly, was a new town, Bristol, PA, for the Derrick Webster – Lenwood Dozier fight put on by “Doc” Nowicki and Dave Price on 6/4.
After years of fighting an extended illness, to which he never surrendered and never stopped giving The Fights priority over himself, Jack Obermayer, a/k/a “K.O.J.O.” passed to Eternity on 6/25 at 2:41 AM at his home in Lindenwold, NJ, circa 72 years of age. He was faithfully and wonderfully attended and supported by his sweetheart of many years, Darlene D’Antonville. He was survived by a daughter, Ellen, and two grand-daughters.
Where do people go when they pass on? Maybe he’s in Alaska…irritably anxious for first bell.