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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Damon Feldman (l) and his friend Andy Stein of East Windsor, NJ.

Boxer and boxing promoter Damon Feldman doesn’t have much use for American artist Andy Warhol’s prediction that, in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. Feldman considers himself a “16-Minute Man,” not only because he gave himself some extra minutes of fame, but because he gives it to others as well.

“It’s easy to give up because you feel you’re an underdog. The challenge is to make as many comebacks as you need after life knocks you down. Anyone can stay down and figure their 15 minutes are up. It’s getting up again that makes you a champion,” he said.

As the founder and promoter of Celebrity Boxing, competitions that pit one-time famous celebrities against each other in the ring to raise money for charities, he says he gives the formerly famous something for which they yearn.

“Most of the people I’ve promoted on Celebrity Boxing have more than used up their 15 minutes of fame in the eyes of the public. I put them in the ring to give them that one extra minute to shine. My thing is always to give people one more chance,” he said.

Bar Mitzvah

For that reason, he entitled his new book “The 16-Minute Man,” a concept he feels well equipped to discuss. He says he has faced and overcome many challenges in his 42 years, but he thinks the one he is currently looking at may be the most meaningful: He wants to learn what should have been his bar mitzvah parsha 29 years ago and undergo the celebration.

“I’m studying with a fabulous rabbi from Baltimore, and, when he thinks I’m ready, I’m going to do it,” he said.

Helping him in this endeavor is his long-time friend, pharmaceutical and biotech entrepreneur Andy Stein, a member of the East Windsor-Jewish community. Last month, Stein and Feldman sat down for coffee in a Teaneck kosher restaurant, where Feldman marveled at the vibrant Jewish life in the community.

“This is the kind of community I’ve dreamed of,” he confessed. “It’s a real family environment that would be great for kids.”

Tough Childhood

A lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, Feldman grew up in a family of Jewish boxers. His father, Marty Feldman, a native of Paterson, New Jersey, was a pro-boxer with a 20-3 record from 1952 to 1963 who eventually became a trainer of six world champions. Marty inspired his sons, Damon and Dave, to continue the family legacy.

Jewish pro-boxers may sound like a contradiction in terms, but in the first half of the 20th century, there were 26 Jewish world boxing champions. Proud Jews, many of them wore Stars of David on their robes until all religious symbols were banned in the 1940s.

This was the world and culture in which Damon Feldman was raised, and it wasn’t easy. When he was quite young, his parents were divorced. He and his brother resided with their mother until, in a tragic car accident, she was pushed from the vehicle and suffered a broken neck. She was confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for the rest of her life.

Becoming Pros

After the accident, the two youngsters were sent to different families who were friends of their father. When they reached high school, they moved back in with their dad, and their professional boxing careers began.

“I started boxing professionally at the age of 12,” said Damon. “They called me the ‘Jewish Hammer.’” He had achieved an impressive 9-0 record when, once again, disaster hit. In 1998, he slipped and injured his spine, forcing him to stop training.

“That out-of-the-ring accident forced me to abandon my dream of becoming a world champion,” he said.

New Dreams

According to his friend, Stein, a lesser man might have given up on all dreams after that kind of injury. “But Damon just substituted one dream for another. His new dream became promoting boxing matches, and he threw himself into it. When you work like that, dreams come true.”

In creating Celebrity Boxing, Feldman began promoting fights unlike any the boxing world had ever seen.

Those who accepted Feldman’s offer for the chance of another minute—the 16th minute—of fame included former champion figure skater Tanya Harding, who went up against first Paula Jones, the woman who accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, and then pro-wrestler Brittany Drake.

Feldman set up marches for José Canseco, the Cuban-American former Major League Baseball outfielder, and former child actor Danny Bonaduce, whose claim to fame was playing Danny on the 1970s television sitcom “The Partridge Family.” Under the auspices of Celebrity Boxing, Bonaduce also went into the ring with “The Reverend” Bob Levy, a stand-up comedian and radio personality.

Feldman pitted Rodney King, the African-American taxi driver who became known as the victim of Los Angeles Police Department brutality, against former basketball player-turned actor Derek MacIntosh. Feldman and King became close friends and, before he died in 2012, King moved into Marty Feldman’s home so the older boxing pro could train him.

“After going into the ring on Celebrity Boxing, these former celebrities got a lot of media attention. We got sponsors, and they had a lot of doors open up for them in other businesses,” said Damon.

Blessing in Disguise

In 2010, Feldman was charged by former Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett with fixing fights through Celebrity Boxing, and the promoter agreed to arrange no more matches in Philadelphia.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” said Feldman, “because it motivated me to break into Hollywood.”

On the West Coast, Celebrity Boxing became more successful than ever. In Hollywood during the month of November 2011 alone, Feldman matched 16 personalities in eight separate bouts, including Joey Buttafucco, the Long Island auto-body shop owner who had an affair with an underage girl who subsequently shot Buttafucco’s wife, against Lou Bellera, the fellow who later married (and then divorced) the underage girl; and Amy Fisher, the former underage girl herself, against “Octo-Mom,” Natalie Denise Doud-Suleman, an unemployed welfare recipient with six children who, in 2009, gave birth to octuplets.

Depression

But, in 2017, just as Feldman was organizing what was billed as one of his biggest fights ever—Sugar Ray Robinson, Jr. vs. Marvin Hagler, Jr. on the 30th anniversary of their fathers’ famed match—adversity struck again, this time in the form of a bout of depression.

“My dad was dying, and it came at me like a brick wall. I hit rock bottom. I wasn’t addicted to drugs, but I did start drinking. I learned that depression is no joke and it can happen to anyone,” said Feldman.

Writing his book became part of the therapy to get him back on his feet again. And it renewed his determination to get closer to his roots.

Challenging Anti-Semites

Last month, that connection with Judaism led to a challenge the Philadelphia Police are hoping the culprit who desecrated an Israeli flag on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will accept. When Feldman heard about the incident, in which an Israeli flag was found covered in blood-red paint, he challenged the perpetrator, who has not yet been found, to go three rounds with him in the boxing ring.

“I’m offering a $10,000 challenge. If he wins, he gets $10,000. If I win, he has to clean all the Jewish community centers in Philadelphia. And I’ll give him $5,000 just for showing up,” said Feldman.

He believes the challenge to fight the anti-Semite who desecrated the flag is sending exactly the right message. “I’m not talking about stalking him on the street. I want to fight him in the ring. I’m coming down with my Israeli flag, and I intend to put this guy down,” he said. He is unimpressed by those who condemn anti-Israel behavior but do nothing about it. “The politicians all have a lot to say, but nobody steps up to do anything. I’m putting up my money and my fists. Let’s do this,” he said.

‘Beauty Battle’ and a Bar Mitzvah Special

It’s not as if Feldman has nothing else on his plate. In addition to selling his book, he is also planning a new series of competitions he is calling “Beauty Battle,” which will pit hair and makeup artists against each other, not in the ring, but in salons across the country.

He is also negotiating with companies who see his book becoming a blockbuster film.

On September 22, he intends to step back into the ring himself for a boxing match that will be televised over RVN-TV, and he is looking for sponsors. But like so much of what Feldman does, this endeavor will also be charity. “A portion of the proceeds will be used to help at least four Jewish boys have what they need to celebrate their bar mitzvahs correctly,” he said.

For more information about helping to sponsor the September 22 event, Feldman can be reached at [email protected]

But none of these activities keep him from his own learning sessions with his rabbi. “I wasn’t able to celebrate my bar mitzvah when I was 13, so I’m going to do it now. I’m studying Hebrew and I’m really into the Jewish community. I want my book and my activities to stand as a model for Jewish kids everywhere, to show them that adversity can result in something good if you work for it and that depression can be overcome,” he said.

Susan Rosenbluth is the editor of The Jewish Voice and Opinion.com