Class of 1959
For someone who never drove a car, Mike Katz wrote a pip of a good auto-racing story. For a fellow born in the Bronx and reared in Brooklyn, he was equally at home in the Alps writing about winter sports. And for a man who saved most of his heated arguments for his editors, he was among the most acclaimed boxing writers in America. In 1981, he became a recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for “excellence in boxing journalism” by the Boxing Writers Association of America, that organization’s highest honor. And in 2012, clad in his familiar black beret, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Katz was born in the Bronx on Dec. 2, 1939, but raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He attended Lafayette High School and said he once saw Sandy Koufax, then a fellow student, walking in the hallway. When Katz entered City College in 1955 at the age of 15, he was thinking not about journalism, but about chemical engineering. Nevertheless, he joined the sports staff of The Campus. Recalling that, he said: “The Campus rescued me, and probably thousands of innocent people, from any formulas I might have discovered.”
Over the next couple of years, Katz was sports editor of The Campus twice, and was also its editor-in-chief. While at school, he served as a stringer for The New York Times, covering City College sports. Never formally graduating, he joined The Times as a copy boy in 1961. Before long, he worked his way up the ladder to news assistant, and then to the sports desk. His first assignment was getting a sardine and mustard sandwich for the sports editor. He nailed it.
Doing even better on other assignments, he transferred to Europe as a Times sports correspondent in 1966, fell in love with Paris, became sports editor of the newspaper’s international edition and, in 1968, went to Stockholm to cover his first heavyweight title fight, a bout that ended with defending champion Jimmy Ellis winning a controversial decision over former champ Floyd Patterson. In 1970, Katz started freelancing in Paris, covering European sports events and contributing articles to The Times, Newsweek, Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. He also had a stint as sports editor of The International Herald Tribune.
At his Boxing Hall of Fame induction in 2012, Katz is flanked by his daughter, Moorea, and boxing writer Royce Feour.
He returned to the U.S. in 1972, resuming his duties in the Times sports department and covering a variety of sports, including boxing, auto racing and the football Giants. During the 88-day newspaper strike of 1978 — second-longest in New York City history — Katz and fellow Timesman and CCNY alumnus Gerald Eskenazi wrote sports for The City News, a weekly publication that expanded to a daily during the strike and was staffed by striking reporters from The Times, The Daily News and The Post. According to Eskenazi, Katz laid out the sports section, sized the photos, composed the heads, and wrote stories, lots of them.
When the strike ended, Katz returned to The Times and began covering boxing full-time in 1979. In 1985, he went over to The New York Daily News, working first as a general sports columnist before focusing exclusively on boxing. Katz left The News in 2000 and became one of the first writers for a major print publication to go digital. He moved to Las Vegas and signed on with houseofboxing.com (“which quickly went out of business trying to pay my princely salary,” he said) and then wrote for about a dozen others, including maxboxing.com, and boxingscene.com, as well as showtime.com and msgnetwork.com.
“The best fighter I ever saw was, of course, ‘The Greatest,’ but I caught Ali at the end,” Katz said. “Best writers were A.J. Liebling, Hugh McIlvanney of Scotland, and Vic Ziegel.”