Smoking the opposition: David Diamante interview
Photo (c) Wojtek Urbanek
Paul Zanon talks hair, cigars, the WBSS and much more besides with ring MC David Diamante...
After the weigh-in of the Callum Smith versus Nieky Holzken Word Boxing Super Series bout in Nuremberg, Germany, I crossed paths with the distinctive and extremely affable ring MC David Diamante.
We had a quick chat and there were a couple of things in our brief conversation that made me think: "This is an interesting guy."
My next question to David was: "How about an interview for Boxing Monthly?"
Two weeks later, after a window of opportunity appeared in David’s hectic globetrotting schedule, we managed to catch up over the phone. After David had an espresso at his Brooklyn base, we discussed roots on a number of levels - Brooklyn, hair and passion for boxing.
Diamante, a proud Brooklyn resident, was delighted to discuss his family lineage. “My family dates back five generations in Brooklyn," he said. "1868 is when my great great grandfather first came to Brooklyn. They were actually from Alsace, [on] the French/German border.”
Despite having a strong family tree rooted in the local area and being a well-known face in boxing circles, Diamante has also created his own legacy outside of the ring - in the form of a renowned cigar lounge which opened in Brooklyn in 2009.
“I’ve always loved cigars," Diamante explained. "It’s almost like this comradely situation wherever you go around the world. It’s like the barbershop culture we have in New York. [At this point, Zanon has flashbacks of the heated debate about Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis in the Eddie Murphy film 'Coming To America']. Cigar lounges are similar to that. You sit down with a bunch of guys and it’s like a social club. I really love that atmosphere.
“You never rush a good cigar. In New York especially, we’re always going at 100 miles an hour. Sometimes I want to sit and enjoy something without being rushed. It’s different when you smoke a cigarette. You run outside for five minutes, you’re huffing, you’re puffing and you’re on your way back. I love that pace which comes with cigars. Just for the record, I don’t smoke cigarettes or anything else part from cigars.
“I do a lot of travel for myself. Not just for the boxing, but for myself. I’m an explorer of sorts and I spent a lot of time years ago in Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, [and the] Dominican Republic, learning about cigars from seed to box. Learning about the history of how they’re made and the culture. Everyone talks about everything being organic these days. Well, cigars are one of those truly organic products. They’re hand crafted and really beautiful.
“Brooklyn never used to have a cigar lounge. I had to travel over the bridge to Manhattan. I was there every day. Then it hit me, ‘Why don’t we have a cigar lounge in Brooklyn?’ He soon addressed the niche in the market and opened 'Diamante's Brooklyn Cigar Lounge', the most populous borough of New York City's first ever cigar lounge.
Diamante’s passion for cigars not only means he has his own personal favourites, but also led him to design his own brand. “At Diamante’s we sell Cohibas and all kind of premium labelled cigars," he explained. "But I’ve also created my own brand which I’ve blended, which is the main seller.”
If you put boxing and cigars in the same sentence, the perfect crossover would have to come in the form of two words: 'Bert Sugar.' The late great fight scribe was known for his trademark cigar, which rarely drifted from his mouth. As luck would have it, Diamante was a friend of Sugar and was able to give us a brief insight into the man behind the tobacco smoke.
“I’d known Bert for years, just by being in the New York and boxing scenes. Many think the cigar was just for show, but he had a genuine penchant for them. Bert Sugar was a one of a kind guy. I miss him a lot and boxing misses him a lot. The sport of boxing breeds characters like him. You wouldn’t find characters like him in any other sport.”
From one trademark to another... aside from being a premier boxing MC, Diamante is visually known for his waist length dreadlocked hair, which he hasn’t cut since he was 17 in 1988. Diamante told me the history behind the locks. “It’s a long story. Kind of a personal one. I was living in Washington DC at the time and I was involved in the hardcore scene. Let’s just say it was an interesting time of my life.
"I ended up moving to California to get away from the gangs, the drugs and violence that were happening on the streets in DC. Back in 1988, Washington was the murder capital. It was a crazy place. There was a lot of street fights I got involved in. I’ve loved boxing from a young age, but, at the time, I was running with the wrong crowd and this was just fighting, not boxing.
“It seems like a lifetime ago when I think about it. I got clean and sober and I’ve been so for 25 years. There was a big shift in my life. Not just a spiritual one, but a lifestyle shift. And that’s when I stopped cutting my hair. It felt right not to cut my hair and I haven’t cut it since.”
Being an inquisitive sort of guy, I had to enquire how one would go about maintaining such an abundance of hair and whether one encounters any issues carrying said locks. Diamante laughed before saying: “It’s a good question. As far as washing it - shampoo. Just straight shampoo.
"[It] takes a little bit longer obviously because there’s a lot more hair, so I’ve got a big bottle! The rinsing and drying process is very important. I also go and see a lady every couple of months in Philadelphia, to kind of re-work it. She’s the one lady I trust and has been doing my hair for years.
“I’ve had the hair for so long, I don’t even think about. It’s just a part of me. It’s definitely heavy. If I was to cut it, my neck would feel so light. You know you see Mayweather [Jr] with the neck weights – I have that everyday. I reckon I have the best chin and best set of whiskers in the business, man!
“There’s certain times I do need to be careful with my hair though. I love water sports. Swimming, scuba diving, surfing. I’m an aquatic guy. But the problem is that when the hair gets wet, it becomes really heavy and that becomes a bit of a challenge. I also motorcycle a lot and I have to double my hair up to make sure it doesn’t get caught in the chain.”
Hair and cigars apart, Boxing Monthly also discovered where Diamante’s passion for pugilism evolved from.
“I had a lot of street fights as a kid. That’s just how I grew up. It’s those fights that got me really interested in boxing. My father always loved the fight game and we had a punchbag in the house. He taught me how to fight from a very young age. Then when I got clean off the drugs I started my boxing training at a gym in East Oakland.
"I did that for a long time and then trained in another gym in San Francisco for a while also. I also boxed at a couple of different clubs in New York. By that time I realised I was getting older and realised I was never going to be a great fighter, despite loving fighting.”
Diamante then laughed before adding: “My big problem is that I don’t like to train! I like to fight, but not the training. That takes a lot of commitment and that’s why I have this great admiration for fighters, because I know how difficult it is to prepare for a contest.”
With boxing in the ring off the table, Diamante explained how he still managed to be a part of a sport very dear to his heart.
“I’ve done a lot of different things in my life. Musician, DJ in some of the top clubs in New York and California. When I was on the microphone, people always talked about my voice. I never put two and two together. I did, however, like the old school MCs at the fights. Irrespective of the results of the boxing matches, the announcers would always deliver. I looked forward to that part of the show. As a boxing fan, that added value to the event.
“Then one day I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to be a pro boxer. How can you still be involved in the sport?’ It all went from there.”
Diamante omitted a few facts from his CV. Being a boxing MC opened the door to the NBA. He consequently went on to be the official announcer for the NBA Brooklyn Nets. He also hosted ‘The-Lights’ for the NBC Sports Network and starred in the movie 'Southpaw'. He also currently hosts the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame.
With the one-year anniversary of the World Boxing Super Series having just passed, and Diamante being the principal announcer to the finalists, the Brooklyn man then gave us his take on how he sees the competition unfolding.
“In terms of the cruiserweights – I love the fact that the number one and number two seeds are in there. Those guys are extremely dangerous and skilled fighters. Gassiev has incredible power. He’s dangerous, as he’s already shown that. It’s hard to see anyone standing in front of him, the way he punches.
"On the other hand, Usyk is a very, very talented fighter. If he boxes, he has a great shot of winning. It’s a 50-50 fight. I think it’s going to come down to what style these guys want to fight. I can’t pick a winner between them. The winner will be the fans.
“The super-middleweight final is also a very close one to call. Callum Smith against George Groves - I love this match-up. Again, the top two seeds. We need to see how George’s shoulder heals up. If they’re both fit, it’s a great fight. I also love the fact it’s an all-Brit match-up. Liverpool versus London! I’m going to give both men incredible intros and I hope the best man wins.”
Indulging myself with one last question, I asked Diamante who he would have most liked to have MC’d in years gone.
“Hmm, let me think. There’s so many great fights over the years. I think I’d preferred to have watched it instead of MC’d it. There’s a lot of contenders, but I’d probably go with the St Valentine’s Day massacre - Jake LaMotta versus Sugar Ray Robinson.”