Back in the early ’60s, a talent emerged from that fistic cauldron which laymen often refer to as Philadelphia. And, amidst this era of testosterone-laden monikers such as ‘Rocky’, ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Scorpion’, this fistic talent in question had the audacity and self-assurance to call himself ‘Kitten’. However, if there were those who scoffed at the name, they soon learned. This bad boy had claws.
DAN HANLEY: Kitten, you’re Philadelphia born, are you not?
STANLEY HAYWARD: That’s right, lived here my whole life.
DH: Tell me about growing up in a tough town like Philly.
SH: Well, all neighborhoods back then were rough because we didn’t have much. But the great thing was that you never knew how little you had or if you were poor, because everyone was the same.
DH: What interested you in boxing?
SH: Well, I wasn’t really into boxing at all. I was a one-on-one street fighter who was into baseball and basketball. But, when I was about 19 I went down to the West Philly Boys Club one evening to play a little basketball and there was no one there. I was told everyone was upstairs watching a fight card. So, I went up and was watching Candy McFarland - a good pro from Philly - and I was acting up saying things like “He can’t fight!” But then a fella in front of me turned to me and said, “Do you think you could do better?” And I said, “Sure!” Well the fella turned out to be McFarland’s father and he told me to come to the gym the next day to find out.
DH: Against a pro like McFarland? How did you make out?
SH: Oh, he did a job on me, so I waited outside for him to show him what a street fighter could do, but it was his Dad again who came out and saw me waiting and said, “Still got a bit of fight in you, huh? Come back again tomorrow.” So I did (laughing) and got my ass kicked again. But I kept coming back until I learned the ropes and was able to handle McFarland in the gym.
DH: What kind of an amateur career did you have?
SH: I had one fight, that’s all. I won a watch and was planning on packing it in. I wasn’t going to fight for watches. But then McFarland’s Dad convinced me to turn pro by saying, “You can make $5,000 a fight”. And I said, “I’ll be there tomorrow.” And I signed with him.
DH: How many fights did you have under McFarland?
SH: Only one. I beat a fighter managed by George Gainsford, Sugar Ray Robinson’s manager and McFarland suggested I sign with him because he had the right connections. But, you know, my mother was very intelligent. She was going for her doctorate when she passed away and she didn’t raise no dummies. I looked at the Gainsford offer and thought…noooo, he’s got too many fighters already. So then McFarland suggested George Katz, who promised he would only handle me alone and I signed with him.
DH: Where did you pick up ‘Kitten’? I mean, it doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of men.
SH: (laughing) I know what you mean, but there’s a story to that. My manager’s girlfriend asked him what was my nickname and George told her something like…they called me ‘Stonewall’ or something like that. So, she said that that was no nickname and suggested since he was a Katz, that I should be a Kitten, and the name stuck.
DH: You turned pro in ‘59 and through mid-’63 you compiled a respectable 16-1-1 record, beating some decent fighters like Carl Hubbard and Henry White along the way. But, dude, these were all 8 rounders. Looking back, don’t you think it was a little over-ambitious jumping into the ring with the #2 welterweight contender in the world in Jose Stable in Madison Square Garden?
SH: First of all let me correct you. He was the #1 contender and despite catching a cold on the way to New York I felt I was ready. It was a very close fight and I almost had him in that 10th round. He was falling all over the place but I couldn’t finish him and he won the decision.
DH: Your next two fights were tough wins over Philly prospects Percy Manning and Dick Turner. Today they would never throw prospects at one another. Is it just the sign of the times?
SH: It is. I don’t think they’re giving the fighters today the chance to learn their trade like we did. I not only learned to fight, but I learned to entertain.
DH: I recently re-watched your 1964 fight with future world champ Curtis Cokes. I thought you had a very compact style and seemed to really enjoy working the body. Tell me about the fight.
SH: Y’know, I won that fight on sheer guts, that’s how tough it was. I was dropped in the 2nd round and went back to my corner at the bell actually thinking I had slipped. I had never been down before. But my corner set me straight by saying, “Oh, no, you were knocked down!” But they got me going again and like you say, I liked working the body. I had that ’sooner or later I’ll get you’ attitude and I knocked out Curtis in the 4th round. I should mention also that Curtis and I have been best of friends over the years.
DH: The Cokes win as well as follow-up wins over Vince Shomo and Tito Marshall really put you on the map. Was the showdown in December of ‘65 with Bennie Briscoe inevitable?
SH: Yes, it was and I took Bennie Briscoe very seriously…although (laughing) I must admit I did spend some time with a girl during training. But I was in great shape regardless and Bennie and I could have fought that fight in a corner. We stayed to-to-toe for 10 rounds and I won the decision.
DH: Didn’t you spend time in the hospital after that fight?
SH: Yes, but it was just one night for observation. It was that kind of a fight.
DH: With the win over Briscoe you received a signed contract for a shot at the welterweight title against Emile Griffith in Las Vegas for September 30, 1966. Why did this fight not take place?
SH: Because in April, Griffith won the middleweight title from Dick Tiger and they vacated his welterweight title even though he said he could defend both. I was left out hoping to fight whomever won the eliminators.
DH: You were out of action for awhile and then returned against Gypsy Joe Harris in October of ‘66. Why the inactivity?
SH: At first it was because we thought we had a title shot, but then nothing materialized for me. But this fight was what caused problems between me and George Katz. I’m out of the ring for about a year, I’m not training - I won’t tell you what I was doing, although I think you can imagine - and who does he have me fight without a tune-up? Only the hottest kid in the division, Gypsy Joe Harris. Man, he was beating on me until I managed to drop him. But then he gets up and starts whuppin’ on me some more. The fight was stopped on cuts and I was just upset with George for sticking me in there so unprepared. We parted ways shortly after that. I was managed briefly by Dan Bucceroni and then Bernie Pollock, who was a mink farmer, took over.
DH: Who was training you throughout your career?
SH: For awhile I was trained by Yank Durham, Joe Frazier’s trainer. But (laughing), Yank only had one way of training. Go in and slug. Eventually I was trained by Quenzell McCall, who had trained guys like Percy Bassett and Len Matthews.
DH: In late ‘67 you traveled to Paris to fight former world title challenger Jean Josselin. Although the fight was ruled a draw, I understand his own fans were booing that verdict.
SH: Oh, I won the fight alright. I decked him twice but got a draw in his hometown.
DH: You continued your winning ways again while finally getting a fight with Emile Griffith, who was an ex-champ by now. Tell me about that fight.
SH: Bernie kept me locked up at Deer Lake - the same facility Muhammad Ali would later buy - training for this fight. Keeping the Kitten locked up was the best thing for me. It paid off with a win.
DH: I understand Griffith and Gil Clancy made a big stink about the officiating in this fight. But ringside press was equally divided on the decision. It just sounds like it was a good close fight.
SH: That’s exactly what it was, a good close fight.
DH: At this time there was talk of a promise of a shot at Nino Benvenuti’s middleweight title for the winner. Also, that Philly promoter Lou Lucchese had offered Curtis Cokes - who was welterweight champ by now - a $50,000 offer to defend against you. Could you have made either weight comfortably?
SH: For a shot at the title I could have.
DH: They split it down the middle and you received a shot at the vacant junior middleweight title against Freddie Little in Las Vegas. Tell me about your shot at the world title.
SH: Well, Little butted me in the 2nd round and split my left eye open. After that I wasn’t in the fight. And y’know, that’s the only scar I have today.
DH: 154 was still in its infancy back then. How was junior middleweight perceived in the business?
SH: It was not important. It was just to say you collected something while hoping for the real one to come along.
DH: In ‘69 you fought a 12 round rematch with Emile Griffith in Madison Square Garden. Again there was a promise of a title shot at Nino Benvenuti for the winner. I understand you started very well in that fight until getting cut in the 5th.
SH: Dan, let me tell ya, Griffith’s manager, Gil Clancy, was a very shrewd manager. He insisted on that fight being signed immediately after the Freddie Little fight. So what happens? Before I even have a chance to heal I’m fighting Griffith in the Garden and my left eye opens up in exactly the same spot.
DH: Were cuts becoming an issue with you by this time?
SH: Yeah, but it was always the same spot that was re-opening. Over the left eye.
DH: In 1970 you ventured off to Europe for an extended stay, fighting four times while you were there. Was your style well-received?
SH: My style, my performance and my personality. As you can see I’m a bit of a talker, so I was having a good old time over there. When I wasn’t fighting I was making friends with Yul Brynner and Omar Sharif.
DH: Was it a lucrative tour?
SH: Ahh…it was alright. I didn’t really make a lot of money during my career and I was a bit of a spender as well. Since the money in those days wasn’t big I would supplement my income by working sales with Ballantine Beer. My biggest purse during my career was $50,000 for the Griffith rematch in the Garden.
DH: After the ‘Cyclone’ Hart debacle in ‘71 you retired, but made a comeback at the age of 34. Did you just get the itch again?
SH: Yeah (laughing), I got the itch…because I was broke!
DH: You rattled off a couple of nice wins before running into upcoming hotshot Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroe. Tell me about that fight.
SH: Dan, this was no fight. This was a run and grab session. And I wasn’t doing the running or the grabbing. But it was cuts again.
DH: You had enough in the tank for one more go at Bennie Briscoe in ‘75. Tell me about the fight.
SH: Oh, I won the fight, no doubt. I fought him clever this time and took him for a walk, but he got the decision.
DH: You packed it in for good in ‘77 after a very hard career. What did you get into after boxing?
SH: I became a Court Crier with the city of Philadelphia and stayed in that position for 33 years. I finally saved my money and bought some property and I’m doing very well for myself at the age of 73.
DH: Kitten, what was the one fight out there that you wanted bad and wasn’t made?
SH: Man, I don’t even have to think about that one. A rematch with ‘Cyclone’ Hart. Getting stopped in the 1st round?! That wasn’t me and I knew I could do better. That one has always bothered me to this day.
DH: How would you sum up the life of Kitten Hayward?
SH: Dan, years back I got to know a great Philadelphia welterweight named Gil Turner and I learned so much from him. Not only about boxing but about life. I would hang out with him and he could just ooze charm. I learned I could be a fighter and a playboy and enjoy life. In my late age I’ve also been taken by the ladies a few times, but I’m a people person and have made some great acquaintances too. I’m very good friends with Muhammad Ali, Dr. J. and Steve Wynn. As a matter of fact Steve asked me to come to work for him out in Vegas at one of his hotels. But I had to turn him down. Las Vegas would not be a good fit for the Kitten.
DH: Why is that?
SH: Oh, man, do you remember when Prince Harry came out to Vegas? Well (laughing), that would be me. And we all know how that turned out.
There are absolutely no airs about Kitten Hayward. Whether talking accomplishments or what has escaped him in life he lays it all on the line in his own unique manner. And, as a product of the Philadelphia gym wars, this bad cat left his mark on the business and in life as only the Kitten could.