WAIL!... The CBZ Journal
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||Rinsing Off the Mouthpiece
What I Did on my Summer Vacation
The CBZ's resident poet/cutman, Tom Smario, has been on the Ol' Spit Bucket's case for about a year to come work with him in the corner. He bugged me over & over & finally The Bucket emerged from deep in his bunker in the wild, weird woods of The Pacific Northwest.
From the very first card I worked, I had an epiphany regarding boxing. I first started working in corners for my father's fighters when I was seven years old in Mexico. I carried the spit bucket, placed the stool in the ring, passed water, sponges, ointments, & towels as needed, rinsed off the mouth piece, made sure it got back to the fighter, mopped the corner, pulled the stool out of the ring at the ten second warning, did a final mop up & put back the cutman's paraphanelia back in his bag.
All this happens in about 40 to 45 seconds.
Later as a teenager I had seven amateur fights. My "career" ended suddenly & painfully when I suffered a first round KO which left me with a dislocated jaw & two cracked ribs. The guy that demolished me was a friend of mine who happened to look, hook & fight like a 130 lb. version of Joe Frazier. I used to spar with him & he'd use me for speed drills never really putting any heat on me.
I remember the first minute or so of the fight. I was bipping & bopping, doing my best Ali imitation, dancing, flicking & landing jabs at will. I remember thinking something like, "I got this sucker", & then I made the fatal mistake of throwing a right hand.
That's the last thing I remember.
When I woke up, Bull - that was my opponent's moniker - was leaning over me looking concerned. He asked me if I was okay & I gurgled out through bloody, foaming lips something like, "arrrggghh ..." Then he said, "I'm sorry man, I just wanted to make sure that you know, that I know, that you know".
After my aborted stint as a boxer I started writing for Rolling Stone & eventually got into the music biz & spent the ensuing two decades lost in a blissful haze of sex, drugs & rock & roll. I still kept up my passion for boxing but for the next 30 years I never attended a fight & was content with following it on TV.
Then in 1995 I got involved with my CBZ partner, the scourge of the New York islands, Mike DeLisa. Since then I've been writing about boxing on a continuous basis. Which brings me to the point of this lash-up:
All those years of watching the fights on TV made me forget the harsh realities of boxing. TV sanitizes it. It's impossible to gauge the true effects of a punch or the palpable violence on the small screen.
So ... Smario finally drags me kicking & screaming out of my bunker, to work the corners with him. My first experience was at the dog track in Portland Oregon.
The morning of the fight I attended the weigh in because I had to get a state license. In a large room were all the fighters & their corners. Everybody was milling around & I got a real feel of the camaraderie between all the fighters. They were all shooting the shit, being friendly even with their opponents.
Tom had told me that I would be working the corner with him for Virgil Bohenkamp, a tough looking, bone hard, jr. middle. Virgil was very friendly & I stood & talked with him & Tom. Smario pointed out the opponent, Chris Huntwork, a solidly built, also very tough looking, jr. middle. I don't know what I was thinking but I immediately started checking him out kinda giving him the "eye of my bullshit tiger".
It turned out that Virgil & Smario had crossed wires & Bohenkamp had already brought a friend to do my gig, which I totally understood. I told Tom it was cool & that I would be happy just watching the fights. He would have none of it & went over to talk to Huntwork & his manager/trainer wife, Winnie.
& presto, I'm suddenly working in the corner opposite Tom's! That's boxing. There was none of the chest thumping, trash talk that we've come to associate with major bouts. These guys were serious, focused & not
involved in emotional b.s.. They were there to do a job & all of them had respect for the other fighters. I have to say it was refreshing & knocked a lot of my preconceived notions for a loop. It also brought back memories of Newman's Gym in San Francisco, & I recalled that the fighters back then had the same respect for each other.
That evening when the fights started I was in for some more surprises. When the first bout started I walked around the arena watching the fights & the crowd. I kept feeling that something was missing until I suddenly realized what it was. I was watching the fighters & listening to the crowds approbation when it suddenly hit me. There was no Jim, Big George or Larry droning in my ear with their redundancy's.
I've gotten so used to TV announcers that unbelievably enough I thought something was amiss. But fear not, dear readers, The Ol' Spit Bucket got over it pretty damn quick.
I found all the fights interesting because of the far different perspective of seeing them in the flesh, blood & bone. The sound & the impact of the punches is readily apparent. What might seem like a minor punch or flurry on TV can be quite visceral live.
Then finally, it was time for my debut as a cornerman. First I'll give you the CBZ's ace fight reporter, Katherine Dunn's report on my fighter's bout:
"The fight of the night was between Chris Huntwork, 151 lbs, now 8-12-1 or thereabouts, and Virgil Bohnenkamp,150 lbs, now 4-4 both of Portland, who cooked up a 6 round jr. Middleweight barn-burner.
Bohnenkamp came out with faster moves and higher skills to dominate the chasing Huntwork until a big right connected toward the end of the first round, dumping Bohnenkamp. He beat the count at the bell and came out on the attack in the second. Huntwork spent plenty of time covering up or not, on the ropes, as Bohnenkamp peppered away at him, but on the rare occasions when Huntwork landed one of his patented wrecking balls, Bohnenkamp was clearly hurt. Hot cutman, Tom Smario kept Bohnenkamp going despite a bloody nose and mouth and gashes over both eyes. By the end of the fourth, Bohnenkamp was still pitching but his knees had an odd, locked angle which didn't improve in the minute break. Late in the fifth, Huntwork just shoved Bohnenkamp, who fell like a phone pole, flat on his back and got up just in time for the bell with wobbly legs. The ringside physician said Bohnenkamp was through for the night. A TKO win for Huntwork at the end of the fifth round".
From my perspective it was like watching Hagler - Hearns without the obvious skills. But Chris & Virgil put on a war that I will NEVER forget. Fighter's like them may never be contenders or make any real money but that's not what it's really about for them. They are warriors pure & simple. They went at it like Barrera-Morales I or Gatti - Ward, whenever they choose to fight. The courage, will & heart they both displayed is something I will never forget.
Working the corner was intense. Huntwork's trainer, his pretty little wife, was a revelation. She's a tiny, attractive, Hawaiian mother of two, who is as sweet & perky as all get out. But the moment she hops into the corner I swear, she begins channeling Lou Duva or Teddy Atlas. She screamed instructions during the rounds & in the corner she intently barked commands to her husband as she exhorted him to throw more jabs.
I was impressed. She knows her stuff & has real command presence in the corner. The fight itself was a blur for me. At one point Virgil was in my corner & Chris was hammering away at him. The impact of the body blows was incredible. I could feel the ring shake as I was leaning on the ring apron directly below the ring posts.
Suddenly Huntwork threw an uppercut that split open Bohenkamp's eyebrow. The blood & sweat was flying everywhere. I was bobbing & weaving like Henry Armstrong & somehow I got through the round without getting any blood, spit or viscera on myself.
Let's just say the whole experience was an incredible rush. The intensity, the adrenaline & watching YOUR GUY in the ring, is something else. The other thing that struck me is the real team spirit in fighters corners. You really feel like your part of something bigger than yourself as if you're
conjoined & intently focused on the outcome. Another surprise was that after the fight I spotted Chris & Virgil, who just a short time before were trying to tear each other's head's off, having a beer together with absolutely no animus.
I liked that a lot.
Since then I've worked three other fight cards. All of them club shows except for the Roy Jones - Clinton Woods fight on September 7th. The fight was in Portland, at the Trail Blazer's arena & was a HUGE deal in these parts.
Roy took the town by storm. In a promotion that included both Nike & The Trail Blazer's PR machines, the local press had a field day. Without a doubt it was THE event of the decade so far in Portland.
I attended the weigh in & final press conference with Smario & Katherine Dunn. It was held in a small chandeliered ballroom that probably could hold 200-225 people comfortably. Yeah, well ... There must have been 500 people there. The room was crammed asshole to elbow, with fight people, press, fanatical supporters of Clinton Woods & even more fanatical, really good looking, dressed to the nines, black women.
The damn room reeked of cologne, perfume & sweat. I was almost gagging the whole time I was in there. Woods was the first to enter. His surprisingly numerous fans were adorned with the flags of their local soccer team & they all had either a Union Jack or a beer in their hands. Upon Wood's Entry the already cacophonous room exploded with cheers from the Brits. The Americans & the foxy black women jeered equally vociferously. At times it almost bordered on the hostile but there were no incidents.
After a couple of minutes Roy sauntered in preceded by his own version of Tyson's favorite shill, Crocodile. He was roaring at full throttle about how Superman was in the house as he shoved through to the stage. Roy looked slightly bemused as he deftly worked the crowd. The Brits jeered, The black women screamed their well developed booty's off. I never realized until that moment that Roy was a huge sex symbol to women. They were almost as frantic as the teeny boppers in Hard Day's Night.
I was leaning against a wall as Roy left the room after the weigh in. During the whole proceeding the crowds loud banter,cheering & jeering barely subsided. When Roy passed by, just a few feet away I happened to be standing next to a group of shall we say, incredibly bodacious, young black women. They were all squealing as Roy went by & he happened to glance over at them.
As he passed, one of the women practically screamed, " Oh my God! He looked at me right in the eyes! I think I'm getting wet!". I couldn't help overhearing this & I immediately burst out laughing my ass off. All five of them instantly wheeled on me & I suddenly didn't feel long for this world.
Needless to say, The Ol' Spit Bucket knows when to hold 'em & when to fold 'em. In as decorous a manner as I could manage, I beat feet to the lobby.
It turned out the lobby was were the action is. It had the same mix of people plus a lot of local Portland fight celebs like Ray Lampkin, Thad Spencer, Stevie Forbes any many others.
Among the fight people I met & arranged for future interviews for the magazine were, Kevin Kelly, Harold Lederman, Winky Wright & Michael Buffer. All of them were very accommodating & gracious. I had a funny moment with Harold Lederman. I introduced myself as Stephen Gordon (my nome de reality), the editor of the CBZ. Harold, in his inimitable voice exclaimed, "Oh, I read the CBZ all the time! Great site. Hey, do you know that GorDoom fellah? I like his stuff."
I was momentarily taken aback & said, " Yeah I know him real well, you happen to be standing right in front of him". I made the rounds & also met, Big George - His hands are HUGE! - Larry Merchant, Raul Marques, Bronco McKart & so many other people I can't keep them all straight.
I have to say after my decades in the music biz, I found the fight crowd to be way more accessible. Very friendly & easy going. Everybody was excited about the proceedings. The huge reaction from Portland had really permeated the atmosphere. The international flavor due to the wildly fanatical, large, British contingent only added to the great vibe.
Finally it was fight time.
The Rose Garden was packed to the gills. They were all there to see "His Royness" & enthusiastic doesn't quite describe the crowd's demeanor. But I wasn't there to enjoy the fights I was supposed to work two corners. The first was for Joe Gusman, a good looking, well conditioned, young heavyweight. As Joe was getting prepared for his bout, a commission official informed us that his bout was canceled because his opponent was deemed unfit.
This was a monumental drag as Joe had been hard in training for over a month. It was really unfair because the commission could have decided this weeks before hand & saved Joe the arduous training. He was bitterly disappointed but he took it with equanimity. Perhaps Joe, who also has a budding career as a rapper, was solaced by the fact that he was the opening act for Roy's after the fight rap party at a local night club.
At any rate, Joe fought a couple of weeks ago & won a fight over a very awkward, stubby, opponent who was impossible to look good against. But Gusman has a lot of talent & I'm sure we'll be seeing more of him soon.
One last funny vignette: The fight passes we were all wearing around our necks were also serving as backstage passes for Roy's party. Late in the evening Joe was going around & collecting passes from the guys who weren't going for his friends & family for Roy's party. Tom Smario & I were sitting in the dressing room when Joe asked us if he could have our passes.
Tom said something about how we wanted to go to the party & get down. Joe with a disconcerted look on his face said, "Gee, I'm sorry fellah's but there's no senior citizen section at the club". I instantly felt like a million year old dinosaur, but Joe's obvious discomfiture at saying it was so funny me & Tom almost busted a gut laughing ...
But that's about all the laughing I did that night.
The other fighter who's corner Tom & I were working was 150 lb. William "Butch" Chapman. He is a quiet, good natured but serious guy who was very focused on his upcoming bout. The "Butch" moniker comes from his working as a butcher.
It turned out that it was a good thing that Bill is such a focused fighter. He got jerked around by the event organizers that night to an extent that amounted to cruel & unusual punishment. First Chapman was going to fight the opening bout so he got ready. Then it was changed to the third & then the fourth & so on during the night. By the time he finally got to the ring he was fighting the walkout bout for the night.
It was painful watching this kid get prepared & psyched to fight only to be told to hurry up & wait. After three or four times it was like a Chinese water torture for the poor guy.
But then, after forever it was finally time for Chapman to answer the bell. Here's Katherine Dunn's report on his fight:
"The lone remaining Portlander was William "Butch" Chapman, 150 lbs, now 6-0, whose four round tango with scrappy Jeff Horan, 152 lbs, now 5-6-1, 4 KO's, of Narragansett, R.I. kept getting re-shuffled as the show went on. The two finally met in a walk-out bout after most of the crowd and the press had vacated the arena, leaving a small but ardent core of fans snugged close to ringside. Half way through the fourth busy if messy round, Chapman ate a nasty right to the jaw from Horan and hung on to survive. Chapman won a majority decision, 38-38,39-37,39-37. But he was spitting blood after the final bell. The price he paid was a severely fractured jaw and, reportedly, the loss of several teeth. A source close to Chapman's camp says this may be a career-ending injury."
This fight really shook me & cast a pall over the entire event for me. William's jaw was not only broken on both sides, the palate was fractured also. To top it all off, his left hand which had been bothering him in the week preceding the fight had some small bones broken above the wrist.
The display of sheer guts that he displayed after getting caught by that right was remarkable. With over a minute to go he not only hung on but threw some damage of his own against Horan. Most fighters would have quit.
Not William "Butch" Chapman. The fight was on a Saturday. The next Monday morning Chapman went to work. Whatta man. Me? I would have been in bed for a year.
As a postscript to this lash-up I ran into Chapman when I was working a card a couple of weeks ago. The wires were out of his jaw & he said he was fine. However, his left hand was still in a cast. I asked him if he was going to fight again & he said he'd see how it went in the gym after his cast was removed.
He was there to work the corner for Joe Gusman's bout & he mentioned he might go into training fighters. I wish him the best. He's a good man.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill's injury was so severe it rattled my cage. Watching the thick, almost black, ropy blood streaming from oddly angled mandible was harsh. After the fight I questioned if I wanted to continue working the corners. When + mentioned this to Tom Smario he said to me I had to come work the next fight card & ride the horse again.
Well I did. & I'm glad. Because there's nothing like it & besides, I got just about the best seat in the house.
Well that's it for this ish but I leave you with a MASSIVE holiday issue to peruse over the coming weeks. We will be back in January with another cornocopia of fistic issues.
Enjoy the holidays everybody!
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