If you know professional boxing, you know Joe Cortez, a legendary referee. His words may not be as famous as Michael Buffer's "Let's get ready to rumble," but his pre-fight admonition to boxers from Larry Holmes to Oscar de la Hoya -- "I'm fair but firm" -- is trademarked. Cortez has been the third man in the ring in more than 175 world championship fights, including Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez, Manny Pacquiao, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Ricky Hatton, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and on and on.
Now he's in the ring with Kimberly-Clark's Depend brand for another bout, this time to talk to Hispanic men -- and anyone who will listen -- about prostate cancer and how to detect it early. Yes, men -- that means having to put elbows on the examining table and getting that exam that's about as much fun as having to ref a Tyson fight. (And Cortez has done that, too). Cortez, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2006, and had a nerve-sparing prostatectomy, is one of a handful of athletes and sports icons tapped by Kimberly-Clark to talk about the disease as part of "The Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer," a four-month effort culminating this month, which is also Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
As part of the effort, Kimberly-Clark is putting a blue ribbon signifying prostate cancer awareness on all Depend packaging through 2010, and putting a Prostate Cancer Awareness Month paint scheme on the No. 27 car driven by Jason Keller in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Cortez, who is Hispanic and bilingual, will be speaking with outlets like ESPN Deportes, Univision and sports magazines all month. There is also a section on dependpca.com that is translated into Spanish.
Marketing Daily laced up the gloves with Cortez to talk about his involvement in the project.
Q: How long have you been involved with this program?
A: About four months. [K-C] read about my situation and me on the Internet. They approached me and I was more than willing.
Q: The other people involved are well-known. How well-known are you outside of boxing?
A: Everyone knows me around the world. I was just in Budapest -- we were doing interviews there, and it was a powerful experience. I have also been in four movies ["Rocky Balboa," "Play it to the Bone, "I" Spy," "Ring of Fire" and (TV's) "The Contender"] so a lot of individuals, even if they don't know you from boxing say, "Oh, you're in the 'Rocky' movie."
Q: Is this effort, your part of it, specifically for fight fans or Hispanic Americans?
A: It's for everybody. I'm the only one on the team who speaks the language. But one in every four Hispanics comes down with [prostate cancer] versus one in every six men overall. African-Americans and Hispanics are the highest. So we are trying to get the message out there for everyone. There are over 200,000 diagnoses every year. I had regular PSAs done. The number kept going up little by little. Four years later they did a biopsy, and I had it. I was blessed -- I had good doctor who was able to do good surgery. Nerve-sparing surgery.
Q: When were you diagnosed?
A: Three years ago. After surgery I was back in the ring in six weeks. But two weeks after surgery I was up. I said, "I feel fantastic, I could get in the ring right now." People said, "Joe, you're crazy."
Q: What are some of the appearances you're doing as part of this?
A: I'm going all day today -- talking to different media and newspapers, TV, radio -- talking about awareness for prostate cancer, and will continue to do so after the campaign. If I can help save lives out there, I will continue to do so even though the campaign will be over.