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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Zachary Wohlman Has Died

Zachary "Kid Yamaka" Wohlman died on Sunday, February 14 at the age of 32. He was a charismatic and kindhearted man. I got a chance to know him, and I'm devastated that he's gone.

I was fortunate enough to have some nice long talks with him on the phone. During our first talk he flattered me by saying that he always checked out The Jewish Boxing Blog's articles about his fights first, even before he read the mainstream outlets such as The Ring, known as the Bible of Boxing. He claimed he cared more about my opinion than that of the big shots in the industry. It was a very gracious thing to say. I would come to learn that he said gracious things because he was a gracious person.

I met him in person in Brooklyn at the first ever boxing event at Barclays in 2012. I was there to cover Dmitriy Salita and Boyd Melson, and he had traveled from California to support his stablemate Peter Quillin and his friend and idol Paulie Malignaggi. He was full of energy and optimism about his nascent career. We met at a bar in the arena and watched a couple fights together. He was there with friends, a drink in each hand, while I was there alone, but he was so welcoming I felt like I belonged in his circle.

A few weeks later he suffered his first lost, and I attempted to console him. I remember him grasping for reassurance, "A lot of great fighters have lost before, right?" We continued to have talks on the phone; the kind that left you feeling good afterwards. We emailed a lot, too. He always called me with news of his career, but more and more we discussed other things. We talked about being Jewish in this country, debated about other boxers, and, well, just talked about life in general.

I know he truly admired his coaches, Freddie Roach and Eric Brown, and he looked up to Malignaggi like an older brother, soaking up his advice.

While training Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines one time, Roach said something nasty to a Jewish reporter. I was angry, and I wrote an article about it. Zac read it and called me, not necessarily to defend his mentor but to explain. He walked me through the rough upbringings many boxers endure and the culture of a boxing gym. I could see how the remark wasn't meant to be malicious to a group of people. He made me understand. And afterwards, my anger over the comment completely dissolved.

I loved his hit-and-don't-get-hit style in the ring. He once told me tongue-in-cheek, "It's called boxing, not stand there and get punched in the face." As smooth as he was inside the ring is as affable as he was outside of it. But no one's perfect. He struggled with alcoholism and self-doubt. Zac was able to rebound after his first lost and in that comeback victory he explained, "I wasn't concerned with my opponent. I was concerned with myself. The thoughts that were going through my head, that was the real fight." Coming back from the loss showed Zac that he has "a lot more character than I give myself credit for."

Sadly, we fell out of touch. It was nothing more than the drift of time. My attention focused more on family and work while Zac continued to be in the public eye and soon finished up his career. He married and moved to Texas to help disadvantaged kids find an outlet in boxing. He also worked with those who possess special needs.

And now he's gone. It hurts a lot. May his memory be a blessing.

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