Alan Weintraub doesn’t have to moonlight. He has a good enough day job. In fact, it affords an affluent, South Tampa lifestyle.
The 42 year old is one of the pre-eminent gastroenterologists in the area. A waiting room typically packed with colonoscopy patients attests to it. Among his peers, he’s particularly well regarded for his diagnostic skills.
Although the Philadelphia native resembles Jerry Seinfeld, he’s not one to gather on-the-job material for a stand-up. He’s not about to add to the ample corpus of G.I. jokes; besides, he’s heard them all. Patients will tell you Dr. Weintraub is pretty much all business in his practice — and less than forgiving of those who are non-compliant. And some will tell you flat out they are alive because of him.
But there’s this other pursuit. Call it Dr. Weintraub’s parallel universe. Every couple of months you can find him at the A La Carte Event Pavilion on Dana Shores with a thousand or so fellow fight fans. In such an eclectic crowd — local VIP’s, jiggling hotties, ex-pugs, ethnic laborers — he stands out. He’s the one with a stethoscope.
“It’s the best party in town,” assesses Weintraub. “And everyone gets along.”
On such Friday nights, he’s not just Alan Marc Weintraub, M.D. He’s Alan Marc Weintraub, F.D. He is the Fight Doctor. They can’t start without him, the medical firewall in an often brutal sport.
“There’s nothing like fight-doctoring,” says Weintraub. “You’re involved. It’s the best seat in the house. It’s not that hard. I’m playing triage nurse for the most part. And I enjoy getting to know the fighters. There are some interesting characters.”
When he’s available, and that’s almost always, he’s the one requested by Tampa’s Starfight Productions. He’s also on the speed dial of the Florida Boxing Commission. He’s been doing it for about five years.
“Alan is a brilliant physician who also has a passion for boxing,” says Starfight promoter Randy Feldman. “He really knows his stuff.”
At ringside, he’s more Doc Holiday than Doctor Feelgood. He is very much in his element in what sportswriter Jimmy Cannon once dubbed the “red light district of sports.” Weintraub pulls no punches. He likes the sport — a lot — and he’d be there with his pretty, red-haired wife, Sharon, even if he had to buy a ticket.
“I watch 90 percent of the fights on TV,” acknowledges Weintraub, whose 80-inch Mitsubishi is the biggest Hyde Park screen this side of Madstone Theaters. The fights are often taped. Friends know not to tell him results. He passes on the sports page to maintain the blackout. Around the house, he’s as likely to have Ring Magazine as a medical journal — including ones where he’s been published, such as Cancer Research, Drug Development Research and the Society of Gynecological Investigation.
The love affair with boxing goes back to his Philly upbringing, says Weintraub, who didn’t grow up in the suburbs. He had his share of childhood scrapes, he recalls, and “more than held” his own — until “everybody else got bigger.” Even today, the 5-foot, 8-inch, 150-pound Weintraub would have to add a few pounds to reach junior middleweight.
He eventually became enamored of the Muhammad Ali phenomenon and classic fights between Ali and Philadelphia’s Joe Frazier. Then followed the memorably “mesmerizing” Sugar Ray Leonard bouts with Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler. He frequented some of Philly’s oldest boxing haunts and would later attend fights in Atlantic City when the University of Miami grad’s internship, residency (internal medicine) and fellowship (gastroenterology) brought him to Philadelphia’s Presbyterian University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
“I really do love boxing,” says Weintraub, who used to catch the fights at the downtown Tampa Hyatt in the 1990s. “I love watching it. I love the big punch and the big bout and all that surrounds it. And, yes, I always want to see a good fight, but I’m not there to be a fan when I’m the fight doctor.”
He is there officially to observe closely, to consult if necessary, and to be available in case of an emergency. In Florida, the fight doctor (actually two — one is a backup) doesn’t actually stop a fight. The referee does. But the ref confers with the doctor.
“It’s the ref’s call,” explains Weintraub. “But we’re on the same page. I’ve been impressed with the caliber of referees.”
Since roughly one in 10 fights results in such consultations, a big challenge for fight doctors is maintaining concentration through an entire card, typically six to eight bouts — and more if TV is involved.
“You have to make sure you stay focused,” states Weintraub. “You can’t have any distractions. I love the crowd scene, but I have to stay zoned in on the fight. You can’t turn your head or you’ll miss something. There’s no instant replay.”
As part of his responsibilities, Weintraub administers pre-fight physicals. He has failed only one fighter, a boxer with telltale congestion in his lungs.
“It sounded like bronchitis or pneumonia,” recalls Weintraub. “He seemed relieved.”
He will also check each fighter’s record to look for signs of a mismatch. Records, however, can often be deceiving. He relies on his own observations and instincts.
“Within 30 seconds, I can tell if it’s well matched,” he says. “I can tell if I’ll be involved. Good fighters rarely get hurt.”
When a fight is halted, it’s almost always for cuts.
“The key question is where,” explains Weintraub. “Is it bleeding into the eye and impairing vision?”
The fan in the fight doctor comes out when a combatant is bleeding — but winning.
“That’s the toughest decision,” he admits. “We may let that go a little longer. Permanent injury is what we fear. Cuts and fractures heal. Neurological is what we fear most.”
Weintraub’s duties can also mean post-fight responsibilities. For example, every fighter who loses by a knockout — which means concussion — is prohibited from fighting again for at least 30 days. The fight doctor’s recommendation — based on neurological-impairment clues –could extend that period.
One question that Weintraub has a ready answer for is this: Doesn’t it seem, well, incongruous for a physician to be party to such a bloodsport? More to the point: What’s a doctor — who’s sworn to first do no harm — doing being involved in boxing, the intent of which is to inflict harm?
“I agree that boxers are exploited,” concedes Weintraub. “But what would a lot of these kids be doing until something is done about that? It may be a cliché, but boxing still gives kids a chance to work their way out of the ghetto.
“Put it this way. You ever see a street fight where somebody will say, ‘You ought to take that to the ring?’ That’s what we do. But I’m no enabler. I’m there to make sure they don’t get hurt.
“You can be paralyzed playing football,” Weintraub underscores. “These are well-trained athletes. There’s a risk in any contact sport. Frankly, for all the fights and all the punches, I don’t think there’s an inordinate number of injuries