Boxing is in Damon Feldman's blood. His father, the late Marty Feldman, was a Philly boxer who had a 20-3 record from 1952-63 and went on to train six world champion boxers. Damon started training at age 12 at an Upper Darby gym and went on to become a boxer known as the "Jewish Hammer." But he had to leave the ring after slipping in 1998 and injuring his spine, which took him out of training for a year.
"I was on my way to a world championship, one of the only Jewish fighters out there, and hit a brick wall when I got injured," Feldman, 42, who still resides in the Philly area, told Metro. "Then I got into promoting. I had a dream, I worked on it. And pretty much all my dreams came true."
As Feldman tells it in his new book, "The 16 Minute Man," the slip and fall was almost a sign from fate. Because that's when he found the calling of boxing promotion, which wound up with him getting national attention for creating Celebrity Boxing, the competition that puts D-list celebrities in the ring to box and raise money for charity.
It's all in the new memoir, just published and to be celebrated at a South Philly book signing event on May 3 at Chickie's and Pete's, along with an unblinking look at the darker side of fame.
Celebrity Boxing got national attention for bringing D-list celebrities back into the spotlight for one last shot at the big time – their "16th minute," as Feldman calls it. A fight between disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding and alleged Bill Clinton sexual harassment victim Paula Jones was broadcast nationally on Fox. One of the biggest fights, he said, was Danny Bonaduce vs. Jose Canseco, "a child star versus the most controversial athlete of all time," as Feldman called it. There was even a Battle of the Mistresses, pitting Violet Kowal, Mel Gibson's ex-mistress, with Michelle McGee, ex-mistress of Jesse James (Sanda Bullock's boyfriend). One time, "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher fought "Octomom" Nadya Suleman; and Fisher's husband, Lou Bellera, fought her former lover, Joey Buttafuoco, whose wife Fisher shot in the face.
Feldman has also waded into controversy. He organized a boxing match between DMX and George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, but Zimmerman backed out, and Feldman claimed he hadn't known the details of the case. He set up a boxing fight between rival drivers from Uber and Lyft (Uber won). He even tried to put former Philadelphia meteorologist John Bolaris in the ring against Hollywood dad Michael Lohan, but Bolaris backed out for fear of damage to his reputation.
But along the road, in addition to the successes, there have been struggles. In 2010, Feldman was charged by former Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett with fixing fights through Celebrity Boxing. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and accepted a sentence of probation.
"It was a lot of BS and a politician trying to get his name out who ended up being the worst governor of all time," Feldman said. "They made me not do fights in Philadelphia, but it was a blessing in disguise, because then I broke into Hollywood."
But in 2017, as Feldman was organizing one of his biggest fights ever — Sugar Ray Leonard Jr. vs Marvin Hagler Jr. on the 30th anniversary of their fathers' famed bout — he was spiraling into depression. He said childhood events were suddenly hitting him, like being raised by a quadriplegic mom who had been brutally attacked by an ex-boyfriend. And at that time, his elderly father was slipping away.
"It was weird times, my dad was dying, and I was just in a bad situation," Feldman said. "I never knew what depression was until I hit the brick wall. … I hit rock bottom. I wasn't addicted to drugs, but I did start drinking. It was ridiculous, what happened with the drinking, but it made me a stronger person. Depression can happen to anyone."
Taking some time off and redoubling his efforts in the professional world helped him get his mojo back, Feldman said.
"I really got happy, man," he said. "Hitting rock bottom made me like a new person. Hitting rock bottom made me succeed."
Check out more info about Damon's book signing at Chickie's and Pete's on May 3, and other events he's organizing, including the coming Beauty Battle on May 6, hosted by former "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star Teresa Giudice, on DamonFeldman.com