Boxing promoters usually position themselves to win, setting up their own guys with easy fights when they put on a show.
That wasn’t Scott Wagner.
“He just wanted to see good fights,” Wagner’s best friend, Dave Wilkerson, said.
Wagner, the founder of Ballroom Boxing, died early Saturday after a long fight with liver disease. He was 49.
Wagner won by setting up others.
“He did more for others than he ever did for himself,” Wilkerson said. “The amount of stuff that he would go out of his way to do for people, I’ve never seen it replicated by anyone else. Even if he didn’t know the person, he’d go out of his way to help somebody.”
When shows at his family business, Michael’s on Eighth Avenue, became televised in 1998, Wagner brought Glen Burnie boxing to 80 million homes around the world. His proudest accomplishment, Wilkerson says, was getting Ballroom Boxing on the American Forces Network so men and women around the world fighting in the armed forces could watch boxing in Glen Burnie.
Wilkerson and Baltimore Boxing owner Jake Smith both said Wagner was someone who would give you the shirt off his back. After getting his start fighting on Wagner’s cards, then becoming his business partner and friend, Smith’s fondest memory of Wagner is putting on shows for Wounded Warriors (Wagner’s idea) and literally lifting people up.
Smith recalled a moment when he and Wagner assisted a man who lost his legs, carrying him onstage.
“That was a bighearted moment for me and Scott. He did things like that for all kinds of different groups,” Smith said.
Wagner was recently accepted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame, his friends said, and they were hoping he’d make it to his induction ceremony in April.
“In his mind, he wasn’t worthy of the award, because he said (he) couldn't have done it without all of us,” Wilkerson said. “He would have never ever mentioned himself but he would have mentioned everybody who made it possible for him to be successful.”
After making their professional debuts with Wagner in Glen Burnie, Terrence ‘”Bud” Crawford became a world champion in two weight classes, Jimmy Lange went from the ballroom to a first spot on NBC show “The Contender” and Darnell "Ding-A-Ling Man" Wilson became known as one of the fiercest knockout boxers alive.
Wagner’s induction ceremony is still planned for April 29 at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, where his memorial service will also be on Saturday.
Wagner’s mother, Carol, said this is the first Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame induction in eight years, specially for him.
“He did more for boxing in the state of Maryland than anybody has done,” she said.
Along with his legacy in local boxing, Wagner carried the legacy of Michael’s Eighth Avenue. He started working at the business for his father, the late and former state senator Mike Wagner, at 18-years-old and continued through the time he graduated from University of Baltimore, for 30 years.
“Him and his dad were a team for their whole life together. When Mike died, he lost his best friend,” Wilkerson said.
Smith and Wilkerson also described Wagner as a brilliant mind and one of the smartest people they knew.
“He always had a business plan,” Smith said. “He was so smart, if he had an idea you knew it would happen. His mind was always working.”
In the last few months, Wagner began working on a meal-prep business from his home. “Great Scott” would be gourmet meals people could order from Wagner and freeze to plan out their week, Wagner’s mother said. He spent some of his last days cooking pasta dishes, filet mignon, crab cakes, lobster, pork and spare ribs for friends and family to critique. She still has the meals in her freezer.
“Every time we talked his brain was so alive and full of ideas and dreams.” Wilkerson said. “He was just really sick and was trying anything and everything he could not to be, or not to seem like it. He didn’t want anyone to be charitable to him. He wasn’t a receiver, he was a giver.”
Scott Wagner's memorial service is open to friends and family Saturday Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Michael's Eighth Avenue. In lieu of flowers, his family ask for donations to Hospice of the Chesapeake.