The Last Detroit “Manager” Billy Gutz, 86, Dies

By Togorashi

By Lindy Lindell

Billy Gutz died last Thursday, August 11, but he had been so reduced by a second stroke that his ability to talk had been impaired in getting a whole sentence out without faltering. He would pound his kitchen table in his frustration to enunciate. This was a killer for Billy because of the delight. He told stories over and over, but one was always compelled to listen because he almost never failed to add previously-unsaid, juicy bits. When we parted that day, he hugged me. It was the only time he initiated a hug with myself. But he always shook hands. No shaking, really. Just squeezing, giving one the impression that he really meant it. I think he did.

Billy had two careers in boxing–the first under the reign of the International Boxing Club, as an admitted gopher for Sam Finazzo during the time in the 1950s when Finazzo ruled boxing in Detroit from the Motor City Boxing Club on Woodward. Motor City Boxing was televised nationally (though the beams of the telecasts rarely extended beyond Toledo) for two straight years–that is, for 104 shows–until the beer sponsorship, Pfeifer, was yanked, thus killing regularly scheduled boxing in Detroit. Gutz continued to work with matchmaker-turned-promoter Julius Piazza, whom Gutz greatly admired for Piazza’s promotions put on in outlying cities such as Saginaw. During this time, Gutz “managed” high school friend Lester Felton, and sometimes took Henry Hank out of town; in both cases, Gutz was a kind of handler of Felton and Hank, probably the two best Detroit fighters of the fifties.

By the end of the 1950s, the IBC had dissolved and Billy Gutz was, except for taking fighters to ports of foreign call, out of the game at that point. By the early 1960s, Gutz was out of boxing until the early-1980s when this journalist was contacted by him shortly after Joe Louis Arena opened in 1980. Who did I recommend, Gutz asked, among the current crop of boxers? He was jonesing to get back into the game. I pointed to the disgruntled lightweight in the western part of the state who was under contract with Henry Grooms, Greg Coverson. Gutz arranged to get Coverson a salary for $80,000 a year and soon steered him into three televison gigs. Toward the mid-1980s, Gutz picked up the contract of the former Kronk boxer, middleweight Lindell Holmes and then Holmes’ Toledo, Ohio, friend, cruiserweight Bernard Benton. Both Holmes and Benton won world titles.

Holmes failed to get big fights with the “names”–Hearns, Hagler, Duran, due in part because he refused to sign with Bob Arum, a mistake Gutz admitted more than once: “The biggest mistake I made in boxing was not signing with Bob Arum.” Former stablemate Hearns refused to fight Holmes despite two offers; Hearns’ manager, Emanuel Steward, claimed that Tommy’s mother didn’t want her son to fight Lindell–which was the excuse that Gutz had to accept, while not believing these refusals for a moment. Gutz’ failure to land that big fight against Hearns, Hagler or Duran, each of which would have generated a million-dollar payday, frustrated him to no end and so he moved up to super-middleweight where he fought and beat Detroiter Frank Tate for the IBF title in 1990 before being knocked out by Darrin Van Horne in his fourth defense in Italy in 1991.

That was it for big time boxing for Gutz and Holmes. Gutz was a bonafide manager in steering Holmes and Benton to their titles. He advised the fighters; made their fights after scouting their opponents; negotiated their purses; hired their trainers (including Bill Miller for Holmes); ran their training camps. By the time Holmes played out the string, the game had changed: promoters ruled the boxing roost and televison, particularly with the advent of HBO and Showtime, dictated to the promoters. I’m leaving out the sanctioning bodies, which more than ever, began to dictate how boxing was run, but the point is this: the manager, as was depicted in practically every boxing movie made, was out. Gutz and Detroit’s most important manager, Emanuel Steward, lost their fighters when the Tyrone Trices and Gerald McClellans of the world decided to become their own managers.

Gutz made a stab at continuing to manage with middleweight Joseph Laryea, but admitted to me, “It isn’t the same, son. There is too much out there you can’t control.”

Gutz is survived by two daughters, a son, and his wife, Sandy, about whom he told me more than once in his final years, “She’s a lot more than I deserve. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

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