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12

Boxing Digest, November/December, 2003
MaxBoxing, December 11, 2003

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Bos Knows Boxing

 

 

Part I
Part one of this five-part series introduces one of the fixtures in the world of professional boxing for the last quarter century to fight fans who may be new to the sport, one of the fight game’s true characters — Johnny Bos, who explains in his own words and style the delicate art of matchmaking. Also, MaxBoxing’s Michael Katz tells why he considers Bos a patron saint of the sport and his personal boxing “guru."

Since 1977, when Johnny Bos (pronounced Boz) made his first match, thousands of young men have called on him to find them a perfect partner. Bos is a matchmaker of the highest order, but “partner” is not the proper word, exactly. "Opponent" is more apt, since Bos matches boxers, not lovers.

In theory, a matchmaker pairs boxers whose talents balance each other, making for a crowd-pleasing contest. For instance, one may be a slick counter-puncher with old legs, the other a crude slugger who can wing ‘em all night. Put them together and you may have an entertaining fight. Matchmakers, however, have also been known to engineer lopsided mismatches, as once typified by Joe Louis’ “bum-of-the-month” tour.

In prizefighting, the matchmaker is an unsung operator who works behind the scenes. Even when he does a masterful job moving a fighter up the ranks, he receives scant credit in terms of public acknowledgement or money. Bos usually takes 10% as opposed to a manager’s customary 33 1/3% cut.

Seated at a table in the rear of his favorite haunt, the midtown Manhattan boxing bar Jimmy’s Corner, Bos flags down a buxom waitress and orders a Coke. It is a cold night and he’s suited up in his winter uniform: White fur coat, wraparound shades, Rocawear scully and bright red sneakers. He’s draped in more chains than Mr. T. At a brawny 6-foot-3, he is imposing, but is more teddy bear than bouncer. A blond handlebar moustache pulls down the sides of his mouth, but is balanced by a steady smile. A long mane of light hair touches the back of his shoulders. Like an old routine, he tries to pull the passing waitress onto his lap. She rebuffs him by grabbing his cheeks and pinching them together, handling him like a 51-year-old baby. As she slips away he takes a playful whack at her backside, which she sidesteps with the nimbleness of Willie Pep.

Bos prefers the title “fight agent” to matchmaker. The boxing media often refers to him as an “advisor.” Perhaps “consigliere Johnny Bos” fits best, as his services go well-beyond picking fights.

Bos discusses fight strategy with a boxer, when the trainer allows it. He is media-savvy and will aggressively push a prospect’s name. Not above sneaky tactics, Bos has planted moles in opponents’ training camps to gain intelligence — maybe a guy’s having marital problems, hurt his shoulder, or loses composure when you talk about his momma.

"I do what the managers used to do — and I don't take no 33 1/3%,” Bos says. "But there are no real managers anymore. Nowadays they're just money-men."

Teddy Brenner, who made fights for St. Nicholas Arena and Madison Square Garden, was the prototypical matchmaker. His sole concern was the public’s satisfaction, rarely the welfare or the future of the boxers.

"Brenner's idea was to knock fighters off,” says veteran boxing columnist Michael Katz.

Unlike Brenner and others in his trade, Bos has never worked exclusively for a venue or promotional company. He is hired by a fighter, or a manager, to pick logical opponents: Opponents who present risk, but not so much risk that his fighter might lose, or worse, come out psychologically damaged. Boxing people talk of savage bouts that age a boxer or “take the fight out of him.”

Though Bos looks to avoid these bouts at all costs, sometimes they are unavoidable. Take Bos’ light heavyweight George Khalid Jones, who killed Beethavean Scottland during a match two years ago. Jones’ first bout after the tragedy was against a tough opponent, Eric Harding. Bos observed a new passivity in Jones that suggested fear not only for his opponent’s life but for his own. He retired Jones immediately. (Jones has since come back, but only after proving to Bos that he is now mentally and physically fit to box.) Understanding the X’s and O’s of the squared ring is one thing, grasping the psychology of fighters is another.

Known for his skepticism, Katz is not one to gush over most people or things in boxing. Yet on the subject of Johnny Bos, he comes close: “If I had a choice of a czar in boxing, I would go with Johnny, because not only is he knowledgeable, he’s honorable. He really loves these guys. He understands there’s a lot of danger in the game. He’s been railing about the gloves. Recently, they’ve been changed and are not protecting kids’ hands, and that’s why you’re having injuries. He sees all the warts and pimples and would like to change it.”

Yet Katz would not be discussing Bos if not for the matchmaker’s ability to coldly analyze boxers’ styles, skills, and experience, and project who would beat the pulp out of whom and why — what is called in boxing parlance “building a fighter.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the game who is better than Johnny at matching guys, especially in terms of making fights they learn from,” Katz says. “He’s probably the most knowledgeable guy in the game.”

Katz, who has covered the fights for a quarter-century and is dubbed by his peers “The Dean of Boxing Writers,” bows to Bos, calling him “his guru.”

Crunching ice between his teeth, Bos considers Katz’ praise, then parries it.

“In order to be a good matchmaker,” he says, “first off you gotta be a good conman. You gotta convince both sides they’re gonna win.”

He offers an example from 1978, a six-round fight he made between John Davis and Dwight Braxton — later known as Dwight Muhammad Qawi— for the reward of $175 a piece. (In this instance, Bos wasn’t consulting either fighter, just making a match on behalf of the promoter.) Club fighters then, says Bos, would do a six-rounder for $150. For the $50 difference, which he put up, fans got to see Davis beat Braxton in a war. Davis eventually fought for light heavyweight and cruiserweight titles. Braxton/Qawi didn’t lose again for years and “went on to become one of the greatest world champions in the last 30 years,” says Bos.

Most people, even in boxing, don’t appreciate what goes into choosing the correct opponent, or as Bos says, “matching a fighter right.” He cites Tommy Morrison vs. “Merciless” Ray Mercer (1991). Morrison was a bankable white heavyweight with blond locks, a mean left hook, and a 28-0 record. Mercer was 17-0, possessed an unwavering style, and had won a gold medal at heavyweight in the 1988 Olympics in Korea. Some of Mercer’s recent wins had come by decision, whereas Morrison had 7 KOs in a row — to Morrison’s management, Mercer seemed like a good move.

“That was probably the worst opponent Bill Cayton could’ve picked out for Morrison at that time,” says Bos. “Mercer’s got a great chin, he was a puncher himself, and a young guy. Cayton was always around boxing, he just didn’t know anything about it.”

Cayton, Morrison’s manager, didn’t know the score because he was just a “money-man,” having made his fortune amassing the greatest sports film collection in the world. In the fifth round, Mercer caught Morrison on the ropes — his arms literally got tangled — and administered the kind of drubbing that could leave a boxer eating through a straw for the rest of his days.

After that defeat, Morrison’s career fizzled, except for a unanimous decision over George Foreman. So who would have been a better match for Morrison?

“He would’ve been a lot better off with Larry Holmes,” declares Bos. “And I think Morrison would’ve knocked Holmes out at that time. Timing is key.”

Holmes had been the heavyweight champion from ’78 to ‘85, making 20 title defenses during his reign. He was still a dangerous fighter in 1991, but not the puncher Mercer was, and a victory over the distinguished former champ would’ve conferred considerable status on Morrison. A win by KO would’ve likely set-up a blockbuster fight with either Evander Holyfield or Riddick Bowe, the two biggest draws at the time.

Part II

Part two of the series tracks the worldly matchmaker/advisor’s transformation from a high school misfit to a fight fanatic to a boxing insider. Bos recalls his mentor, the great Mickey Duff, and some of his favorite fight stories. Plus, legendary fight scribe, author and publisher Bert Sugar gives his take on Bos and the changing face of boxing writers.

As a street kid in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Bos learned to con from an early age. An asthmatic, he feigned sickness when he wanted to, barely ever seeing the inside of his grammar school (don’t even ask about high school). On the rare occasion that he did attend, he was teased mercilessly for a severe acne condition.

dHe’d get into fights, and quickly realized he was better suited as an enthusiast of, than a participant in, the “manly art." But the boxing bug bit him as a child. His father was a diehard fight fan and watched TV’s Gillette Friday Night Fights religiously; Bos can’t recall a time before he watched fights with his father.

By the time he was 11, he was combing the city for boxing gyms. When asked about the first professional fight he attended, he replies “February 12, 1965. Hurricane Carter vs. Luis Rodriquez.” To hear him say it, you’d think he was recalling his first time with a girl.

By the time he hit his teens, he was hopping the F train every morning. He’d get off at the Time & Life building, where he would scour every newspaper that covered boxing, duly recording salient facts in his burgeoning boxing file. He consumed boxing information in this manner for decades, his study encompassing both current champions and past greats.

One might compare talking boxing with Bos to talking Orson Welles with Peter Bagdanovich. Bos possesses not just the dry facts, but the juicy back-stories, anecdotes and unusual insights that appear to come so naturally to him. The 'Dean of Boxing Writers' Michael Katz relates that among Bos’ attributes are his “very good ears.” Bos agrees, but puts it thus: “Let’s just say I know where the bodies are buried.”

Once Bos was done with the papers, he’d head uptown to the boxing gyms that used to populate Harlem and the Bronx — Jimmy Glenn’s Third Meridian on 125th, Harry Wiley’s on 135th, and Gleason’s, then on 149th. (Midtown mecca Stillman’s Gym was closed by then.)

He met other boxing addicts and gleaned from the likes of Bruce Trampler, who became the VP for Top Rank and orchestrated Oscar de la Hoya’s brilliantly mapped out career. The guy who had the greatest influence on Bos, however, was the fabled Mickey Duff. Bos credits Duff as being the closest thing he’s known to a mentor, and defers to him as “probably the smartest man that ever was in the business.”

The son of a rabbi who moved his family from Krakow, Poland to England in the late 1930s, Duff’s real name was Monek Prager — his new name was borrowed from a character in a James Cagney movie. He learned to box during the war and won most of his amateur bouts, which numbered over 100. He went pro at 15, won 61 of 69 fights, and retired at the ripe age of 19. He turned to matchmaking in England and, over the course of a storied career, worked with 16 world champions and virtually every world-class British fighter.

“Mickey would sit down and talk to you, which a lot of other guys wouldn’t take the time to do,” Bos says. Duff would entertain him with stories of his hardscrabble days as a pro. “He used to get paid in eggs. There was a ration on eggs in London at that time. It was easier to get eggs in small towns than it was in the cities. He could bring them back with him and sell them for a lot more. That’s how he started makin’ his money.”

Bos narrows his eyes at a monitor across the bar, which plays an endless flow of classic fights. Light heavyweights Charlie “Devil” Green and Floyd Patterson (1970) are going at it. Bos nods his head at the pugilists and clucks approvingly. “I was the president of the Charlie “Devil” Green Fan Club when I was 14!” he exclaims.

Like Duff, Green took an avuncular interest in the young Bos. The boxer, who had also been a successful club owner, used to generously slip him money. “Charlie always took care of me.” While his classmates treated him as a pariah, these elders welcomed Bos into their brotherhood.

Accompanying the action on the screen, Ray Charles’ rendition of “America the Beautiful” comes on the jukebox. It conjures up a memory Bos has from 1969, a night of “drinking booze and smoking reefer” with Green in front of Madison Square Garden.

They’d planned to see a fight with former light heavyweight champion Jose Torres. At the last minute, Torres’ opponent pulled out of the match, and one of the organizers of the fight spotted Green and asked him to fill-in. Green obliged unhesitatingly. In round one, Green splattered Torres — they had to scrape him off the canvas and carry him back to his corner. Illegally, Torres was allowed to continue (the ref never even began a count). Somehow Torres recovered and knocked Green out in the following round. Still, no small achievement by Green considering his pre-fight elixir. Torres never fought again. “Green is doin’ life upstate for killin’ five people,” says Bos. “He was a real good puncher.”

Bos signals the waitress for another Coke, his sixth in about an hour. Back in the day, when he was known as “Boppin’ Bos,” he would’ve kept a similar pace, except the Coke would be complemented by rum. He took his last drink on November 17, 1986, and hasn’t fallen off the wagon since.

“Johnny was one of those who drank,” says boxing historian and Bos-fan Bert Sugar. “And he was wonderful! He still is, but he ain’t ‘fun’ anymore the way he was. And I think he knows that. But his doctor said ‘don’t drink,’ so he doesn’t.”

Sugar, who once remarked, “I believe being a good liver is better than having one,” doesn’t just feel deserted by his former drinking buddy. He believes that sobriety has worked against Bos’ career.

“He’s no longer the Voice he used to be, because he can’t corral the ears of the writers who will make him the folk hero that he should be,” says Sugar, who explains it’s not only that Bos’ personality has tempered (he’s still anything but bland), the personality of the boxing writers has changed, too.

“I sit at bars and talk boxing,” says Sugar — he of the wide-brimmed hat and cigar variety — “and the old-time guys do, by the by. The new guys go up to their hotel room to figure out on their computer how many flier miles they just got.”

More lamentable, feels Sugar, is that today’s young writers, having been conditioned in a corporate world, look beyond a small operator like Bos.

“It’s greened to the point where they don’t remember the anti-establishment figures anymore,” he said. “You’re talking about 30-year-old writers who now speak of [Don] King and [Bob] Arum as if they are Sprint and AT&T. These are the monolithic groups. But boxing has been made of the small guy.”

In spite of the obstacles, Sugar believes boxing will always accommodate Bos and his ilk, seeing the sport as uniquely entrepreneurial and lacking the homogenization of sports that have a major league — such as MLB or the NFL — where everybody has to conform to the league’s rules. “Boxing makes it up as it goes along,” Sugar says, “and it not only allows, it welcomes a Johnny.”


Part III
Part three documents Bos’ involvement with maverick journalist Malcolm "Flash" Gordon, his first matchmaking jobs — from Billy Costello to Main Events (Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker) to Mickey Duff’s fighters (John Mugabi, Barry McGuigan) to Gerry Cooney, Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson — his glory years, tough times and recent betrayals.


In the late ‘60s, when he wasn’t conducting his research or hanging out with his boxing cronies, Bos was hustling for nickels and dimes as a shoeshine boy (“One time I shined George Chuvalo’s shoes,” he says, sounding like the rugged Canadian heavyweight had Laid Hands on him), or delivering the World-Telegram and The Sun.

2 Ever resourceful, Bos managed to score writing assignments for magazines such as Boxing International. He admits to having been a poor writer, though, what with all the missed English classes. Nevertheless, the acknowledgement made him feel special: “I’m 15, 16 years old and got people comin’ up to me, all wantin’ me to write somethin’.”

Before long, he hooked up with legendary underground boxing writer, Malcolm “Flash” Gordon. With help from his cadre of boxing junkies, “Flash” published an alternative, mimeographed report called Flash Gordon’s Tonight’s Boxing Program & Weekly Newsletter — a pre-cursor to the scrappy boxing websites so prevalent today.

Launched in 1968, Bos and “Flash” sold it in front of Madison Square Garden before fights for $.35. It quickly became the hottest boxing rag around. The newsletter’s in-your-face, caustic prose took on corruption in boxing and broke some major stories: In 1977, The Ring magazine editor John Ort provided fraudulent boxing records for a Don King-promoted tournament to be shown on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Boxing commentator Alex Wallau (who at that time was working in ABC’s mail room) learned of this through “Flash,” informed his bosses at ABC, and the event was summarily cancelled. It is, to date, one of the biggest scandals in a business rife with scandals.

(Malcolm “Flash” Gordon — “The greatest anti-hero boxing ever had,” says Bert Sugar — vanished in the mid-80s; Bos’ last sighting was in April 1986, at the Mark Breland-Daryl Anthony fight in New Jersey.)

As his forays into writing didn’t make the rent, Bos took a job with the post office in 1971 and worked there for years. Harold Lederman of HBO Boxing fame recommended him for his first assignment as a matchmaker in 1977. He landed his first bright prospect, junior welterweight Billy Costello, in 1979. They clawed their way up the division for over four years, gaining 27 wins without a loss, until they reached boxing’s Promised Land, a world title belt. From that time on, Bos turned out world champions like gangbusters.

He was the matchmaker for Main Events from 1983 to 1990 (getting paid by the fight and allowed to make matches for whomever else he pleased). While at Main Events, he guided the careers of boxing immortals Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker and Mark Breland; he gave second wind to super featherweight Rocky Lockridge’s career, arranging epic fights when others considered Lockridge washed up.

Meanwhile, Bos matched fights for Mickey Duff’s champions in Europe, names like John “The Beast” Mugabi, James Boza Edwards and Barry McGuigan. He picked fights for popular English heavyweight Frank Bruno. He’s earned titles for Germany’s Sven Ottke and Henry Maske. For years he was the principal American matchmaker in Italy, exporting American fighters for their champs; Francesco Damiani and the Stecca brothers, Loris and Mauizio, can thank Bos for their belts — their country, for what was perhaps its golden age in the sport, 1982-1990, can do likewise.

Bos moved Gerry Cooney into his fight with Larry Holmes — it was one of the hugest, most-hyped heavyweight title fights in the history of the sport. (Actually, Cooney is a sore subject for Bos, as the common perception of the reluctant Great White Hope is that his record was built on tomato cans. Not so says Bos, who reminds the uninformed that within Cooney’s first 16 bouts he fought a future world champion – at cruiserweight – in S.T. Gordon, and Eddie “The Animal” Lopez, who became a top-five heavyweight.)

The man was doing 26 shows a year — from 1984-1988 — at Harrah’s alone!

The litany continues, and just when you think he’s run out of names, he slips in, “Yeah, I picked Tyson’s early opponents.”

Offhand, he guesses he’s had a part in the careers of roughly 50 world champions. In an uncharacteristic moment of braggadocio, he downs his Coke, wipes his sleeve across his mouth and says: If you look at it, I worked in developin’ more world champions than anybody else in the history of boxing. If you wanna call it braggin’, f__k it! I’m just bein’ honest. There’s nobody can touch me when it comes to buildin’ a fighter. There’s nobody close.”

Bos made a bundle in communist Europe where, surprisingly, the TV money for mid-level fighters was better than in the States — “Guys could be makin’ $2,500 over there for an 8-rounder, compared to $750 here,” he says. When the Berlin Wall crumbled it nearly put him out of business.

“It destroyed the money value in Europe,” he says. He could’ve sought security then by working exclusively for one promotional company and making a steady salary. But then “you gotta live by their rules,” he growls. I don’t wanna go to no office in the morning.” More to the point, Bos asks, Why should he make a company millions off his expertise, and never get paid what he knows he’s worth? He’d rather be independent, even if that means tougher times.

Some of these tougher times are due to the rotten deals Bos has repeatedly made for himself. For eight years, he picked Canadian heavyweight Kirk Johnson’s opponents. Bos never drew up a contract with the boxer’s management, settling instead for a handshake — and the gullible belief that they would honor his work when the big money came.

They didn’t, and he never got paid a cent. They dismissed Bos soon before Johnson fought John Ruiz for his WBA belt last year (a fight in which Johnson was disqualified for low blows, but still made seven figures). This past June, Johnson was scheduled to fight Lennox Lewis at LA’s Staples Center for another seven-figure purse, but had to pull out due to injury. Should he have won, his purses would have increased exponentially.

“Johnny’s just so generous with his knowledge,” explains Michael Katz. “People call him up and ask, ‘What should I do?’ And he can’t help himself.” Katz recommends that Bos hire a secretary to screen his calls, and charge people for his time like a lawyer.

But Bos hasn’t really learned from his missteps. Whoever got screwed worse than I did with Floyd Patterson?” Bos asks. Former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson’s son, Tracey, was a New York Golden Gloves champion, but few believed he would do anything as a pro. Bos matched him from his first pro bout until he won a world championship eight years later. It took 46 fights to get Patterson the title, with only two losses coming along the way.

“Once we won the title, Floyd tells me, ‘What do we need you for now? Now they can call me. Why do I need to pay you 10% to get me fights?’”

This time Bos sued. But the politically connected Floyd Patterson, who had been the New York boxing commissioner and was backed by the NAACP as a fighter, was a hard man to beat. On the advice of his lawyer, who told him he would never win, Bos dropped his case.

These betrayals sting for more than the money.

Part IV
Part four of the series chronicles the master matchmaker’s success with building up fighters that few believe in (Jameel McCline), making money with ‘opponents’ (Tyrone Booze and Bruce the ‘the Mouse’ Strauss), and his take on the changing politics and economics of boxing (and it’s not for the better, folks).

Moving a boxer from his first pro fight to the title — especially one considered a long shot — is like nurturing a kid “from kindergarten and bringin’ him through college,” says Bos.

And the lower the expectations, the more gratifying the success. Taking a blue chip amateur and making him a blue chip pro isn’t hard, he claims. Much rougher is taking a no-name kid who seems a potential “opponent” and molding him into a “contender.”

1 Recently, Bos has done this with heavyweight Jameel McCline, who had no amateur experience and became a boxer in his mid-20s after doing time. McCline was 4-2 when Bos got him, now he’s 30-3-3. (McCline blew his title shot in December 2002 against the mechanical Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko; but being a heavyweight, which, in terms of talent, is the sparsest of divisions, he will get several chances at redemption. Bos is used to tall orders — fortunately, they are his favorite kind.

Tyrone Booze is a case in point. Booze was a cruiserweight with a 14-10 record when Bos and he got involved around 1990. Booze had retired from fighting, but Bos urged him to get in shape and immediately got him a title shot that had eluded him for years. He lost a disputed decision, but it got him a high rating. Then the pair began to make some serious coin.

“Hell, I made as much money with him as anybody,” Bos smiles. Booze retired in 1998 with a record of 22-12-2.

Other partnerships were not so fruitful, at least if judged by wins and losses.

Bos picked
fights for Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss, who is distinguished for getting knocked out in every continent except Antarctica; he also got stopped in nearly every state in the Union.

“I think I put him in all those fights,” Bos says somewhat sheepishly. A charismatic huckster, Strauss drew crowds that came to see him get starched, in the spirit of audiences who used to gawk at circus geeks. They even made a movie about him (“The Mouse”, 1997), starring John Savage and Rip Torn. Lest you think Bos was exploiting Strauss, a casualty in a brutal business, the matchmaker puts a different spin on it. Strauss, he suggests, was not a victim but a cagey practitioner of the “sweet science.”

“He was the type of guy you put in there and it didn’t matter who he was in there with,” Bos says. “The crowd would never go home disappointed. Remember, sports is entertainment. And he knew how to make it work. He actually promoted his own fights, had his own fighters. He was beloved in his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska.”

Bos continues, “[Strauss] had what he called ‘the three-round theory.’ For three rounds he tried to take your head off. And if he saw there was no hope after that, he would get out without gettin’ killed. Just ‘cause a guy is losin’ fights doesn’t mean he’s gettin’ hurt. I’ve seen guys winnin’ fights and get more hurt.”

Bos seldom saw Strauss box in person — the journeyman had over 300 matches as a pro, often fighting under aliases like Ruben Bardot to avoid suspensions — because he’s never been on an airplane.

From an early age, Bos’ mother instilled in him a fear of flying that he never shook. He appreciates this great irony, saying, “God, I’ve put so many people on airplanes . . . I coulda seen the world a thousand times over.”

And being an inveterate city kid, he never learned how to drive. So he only makes it out to Las Vegas for historic fights with special meaning to him, like Gerry Cooney-Larry Holmes, at Caesars Palace, in June 1982.

“This good-lookin’ broad chauffeured me roundtrip,” he winks.

Another road trip-pilgrimage was made for Joey Gamache-Julio Cesar Chavez, in Anaheim, California, 1996. (This would not be characterized as a “mega-fight,” but it was momentous for Gamache, and the two have been remarkably close friends as well as partners throughout the boxer’s career.) Needless to say, Bos catches every bout shown on TV, and gets tapes of whatever else he can.

Even though his acumen and experience is widely recognized in the boxing community, Bos must either tap into the pool of overlooked local talent or forage far-flung places for young blood. He’ll never scoop up that dazzling talent fresh off the Olympics; those kids sign (sometimes for a million plus) with bigtime promoters like Bob Arum (Top Rank), Cedric Kushner (CKP) and, of course, Don King, or powerful managers like Shelly Finkel. In lieu of mainstream status he must insinuate himself in the mix.

“Bos operates between people, floating loosely somewhere in there,” says Bert Sugar. “He has a fighter, he’ll go to a promoter; he has a promoter, he’ll go to a fighter.”

Last April, Bos was scouting talent at the New York Daily News Golden Gloves finals, held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. He took notes of the better amateurs on a fight program. Even at a fight, with all the gaudy characters and their bling-bling, he is hard to ignore — “I stay in the background mostly,” he says coyly. On the other hand, his look — one part hippie, one part homeboy, with some pimpitude thrown in — does not scream “legitimate businessman.” Surely his sense of style hasn’t helped him when dealing with the suits. Even Don King throws on a tie sometimes.

“Boxing is f__ked,” Bos says, implying that any struggles he’s had have nothing to do with his wardrobe. “Crooks don’t run boxing now, white-collar crooks do. They don’t know nothin’ about it, and they have made it worse for fighters. Used to be the money was better, more spread out. Now only a certain few make it.”

Illustrating boxers’ economic depreciation, he explains that in the 1950s they earned $3,500 to $7,500 on fights of the week (the “Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts” on Wednesday’s or the “Gillette Friday Night Fights,” for instance). Now, main events on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights get only $10,000 to $15,000. “$3,500 then would be like $35,000 today, right? A fighter could make a livin’ in those days. Nowadays a fighter can’t.” He speculates that only about 15 current boxers make a “good living.” Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones, Jr. will make money forever, but they in no way reflect most fighters’ financial prospects — nothing trickles down.

In fact, the majority of pros live in poverty, holding down full-time jobs to support themselves and their families. Another reality that Bos resents is that he knows of two boxing announcers on ESPN2 making over $200,000 a year. “So a fighter can do 12 main events a year on ESPN2” — an impossibility, as even four showings in a year is extreme — “and make less than the announcer.”

Of the sundry problems afflicting boxing and, hence, Bos, there are too many to list here.

The corrupt, “alphabet soup” sanctioning bodies — WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF, NABF, etc. — and their phony ratings systems discredit the sport. So do the state commissions, which are headed by governor-appointed politicians with no business in the game.

Maybe most damaging to the sport and a freelancer like Bos are promotional rights. The big promotional companies have an interest in virtually all the quality fighters from the time they turn pro, and are free to structure any type of agreement, for any length of time. As the promoters’ primary investment, fighters are often protected; they are “matched soft,” and infrequently at that. “You can’t make fights anymore,” Bos complains. “Everybody is tied up with somebody. The fans suffer for that.”


Part V
The final part of the series gets the matchmaker’s take on what’s wrong with the sport, how boxing can improve and what keeps him going after all of these crazy years.

Bos believes
the title “promoter” no longer applies in the sport of boxing: “You don’t have promoters anymore, you have [people putting together] TV packages. A guy will bring a fight to TV, TV will give him this much. The guy’ll go to the casino and say ‘I got HBO, I need this much from you.’ So why’s he gotta promote the show? He knows what he’s makin’ before the fight starts.”

Bos allows that Don King is more of a promoter than Bob Arum because he takes greater chances with “live gates.” He respects King as a superb publicist, but wonders, “Would he be doing this without television?”

4His idea of a promoter is Tex Rickard, who put on Jack Dempsey’s grandest fights. Rickard would sometimes build an arena for the event, as when Dempsey fought Jess Willard (1919) in Toledo, Ohio. Or for Dempsey-Carpentier (1921) held at Boyle’s 30 Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey — boxing’s first million-dollar gate.

“You had to be a promoter then, you had to put asses in seats” — say, 120,757 for the Rickard-promoted Dempsey-Tunney I (1926) — “and you had to get out and work to do it. Today they don’t.”

While Bos kvetches tirelessly about what ails boxing, he also has thoughtful ideas on how to restore it to health. Some of his reforms are admittedly unrealistic, but they are invariably in support of boxers’ physical and financial well being.

As others have petitioned, he proposes a national commission, granting boxers one license that permits them to fight anywhere in the U.S. (Today fighters must apply for individual state licenses.) This would reduce the number of crooked or inept commissioners, and their minions, in the game, standardize requirements to obtain a license, and prevent suspended boxers from fighting under aliases.

He wants 1% of all U.S. TV revenue coming from boxing — pay-per-view, cable and network — put towards fighters’ medicals.

“Tyson-Lewis grossed over a $100 million,” he says. “That would cover a lot of medicals.”

Right now, fighters must pay for them. This, in addition to 33 1/3% for the manager, 10% for the trainer and/or cutman, licensing and sometimes sanctioning fees, and Uncle Sam’s take, leaves boxers with a fraction of their hard-earned purses. He thinks a fledgling pro, with less than a year’s experience or under five fights, who is clearly not ready for the step-up in competition, should be allowed to go back to the amateurs for a minimum of one year.

“Baseball has the minors, the NBA has the CBA,” he says. “Sure, it’s professional sports, but at a lower level.” Keep in mind, when a basketball player gets schooled, he’s humiliated; a fighter’s lesson may result in death.

If Bos were boxing czar, his masterstroke would be to abolish promotional rights as they exist today. He’d rule that a promotional company be allowed to sign a fighter for five years at the beginning of his career. After that, a fighter becomes a free agent and is able to sign with whomever he pleases — but for only up to three fights at a time or one year.

This way “the boxer may have a chance of making some money,” he says. “If the promoter could only sign a guy for 1 year, he’d know he’d have to treat him fair — if he expected the kid to sign back with him. A fighter could go out and make the best deal for himself. And, hey, if the promoter’s done a good job with him, he’ll more than likely stay there.”

The way things currently stand, “Promoters want more money than the fighter, just to let you use them.” Consequently, fans are not seeing the bounty of competitive fights they used to. And when they do occur, fighters aren’t pocketing an equitable share of the money. Roy Jones Jr. is an anomaly, in that he’s as shrewd out of the ring as he is in it, and has bargaining power not enjoyed by other boxers. There’s an irony in all of this that Bos finds farcical. He submits Frankie Carbo, Blinky Parlemo and James Norris — the organized crime triumvirate who controlled boxing in the ‘50s through graft — offered prizefighters a better life.

During an intermission at the Golden Gloves, L.L. Cool J’s “Mamma Said Knock You Out” quakes over the Garden’s speakers. Bos nods his head to the beat while jotting down a few notes on his fight program, and places it on the seat next to him.

He’s suddenly swarmed by a posse of diminutive toughs with flattened noses. One stands on his tiptoes and has the bearish Bos in a headlock. On closer inspection, it’s just an unrestrained hug from his client, Paulie Malignaggi, a Brooklyn-bred lightweight who’s 16-0. The boxer, keeping his arms wrapped around him, looks like a cub yet to be weaned. Bos couldn’t look happier.

Close by, another rugged-looking short guy looks on warmly. It’s Joey Gamache, who has made the transition from boxer to trainer and has a promising welterweight (Chris “The Mechanic” Smith) that Bos is advising. Various movers and shakers circulate the arena, talking business and shooting their cuffs; legions of leather sniffers try to get close to the towering Klitschko brothers, who have come to receive an award. Disregarding them all, Bos prefers to hang with his crew of scar-tissued bruisers.

He leaves the Garden shortly before the last fight — a pair of 106-pound Lilliputians he’d never make money on. His studio/office is a close walk from the venue. It looks as if burglars have ransacked it; clothes and dishes and tchotchkes strewn everywhere.

Beyond the mess, what you notice is the endless boxing memorabilia: Autographed pictures, record books, fight tapes, posters; every scrap of paper in the modest space — and there are thousands lying around — relates to boxing.

Bos walks over to his entertainment center and reaches for a pair of boxing gloves, encased in glass, stored on top of it. The gloves look old, brown, weary, like a worn pair of boots. Turns out they were Sugar Ray Robinson’s. Half-Century-old mitts worn by the greatest pound-for-pound fighter that ever was. He handles them with the same care as he would The Golden Fleece. He peers down at them, presumably reflecting on the genius of the man who wore them. Or maybe he’s thinking about his own wild life, and his unlikely encounters with greatness.

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