Michael Nunn: An Olympic Alternate Goes for the Gold : Fast, Ferocious Puncher From Iowa Has Eyes on Championship and Chance to Be Somebody as He Makes Valley Boxing Debut

Times Staff Writer

It's mid-afternoon at a small bungalow with a boxing ring in the middle called the Ten Goose Gym.

Outside, the noise of traffic on the nearby Hollywood Freeway muffles the sounds of boxing workouts going on within.

There are only two boxers working out, but it sounds as if there are 50. At one end of the room a fighter is working on a speed bag, furiously pounding it to a beat that is music only to his ears.

The eyes of the few spectators gathered in the gym are not on him, however. Their attention has been drawn to the center of the boxing ring, where a young man wearing shorts and a blue shirt with USA in red letters on the back is ferociously pummeling his opponent--a cushion held in the arms of his trainer.

With each punch, Michael Nunn, 21, is providing his own sound effects: "Bam, bam, bam."

Nearby, Dan Goossen, Nunn's manager and the president of Ten Goose Boxing, is shaking his head and smiling.

"You see that? The kid's a showman," Goossen says. "It's not a facade, either. He's going to cause a stir with the fans, I guarantee it. It's going to be a love-hate relationship. They're going to come hoping to see him win, or hoping to see him get the hell beat out of him."

Last June, Dan Goossen took a trip to the Olympic trials in Fort Worth to search for boxing talent. Not just any talent, mind you, but the kind that could lead a young but growing boxing organization like Ten Goose to the top.

His goal was to sign one of the U.S. team's top 36 fighters to a contract.

"There were 12 guys who actually boxed on the team. The 12 who were alternates, and the 12 who finished third," Goossen said. "I figured we'd probably sign someone from the latter group, but we got lucky. We got Michael."

Nunn was the alternate behind silver medalist Virgil Hill, but Goossen believes he has more talent than any of the medal winners.

"I think Michael was the best fighter to come out of the whole Olympic movement," Goossen said. "Other guys may have signed goal medalists, but I got the gold nugget. I feel a talent like Michael comes around as often as an Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard."

Goossen, who says he used to manage Mr. T before the star became famous, says his young fighter has the same type of marketability.

"When I used to shop Mr. T around people would say, 'Are you kidding? What do we want with this muscle-bound guy with all this jewelry and a Mohawk hairdo?' Well, I knew talent then, and I know it now, and Michael Nunn has tal- lent."

In his brief professional career, Nunn, a middleweight, has done nothing to dampen Goossen's enthusiasm. His first two fights have been knockout victories.

In his debut, at the Showboat Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nunn stopped John Borman in the first round. In his second fight, Nunn knocked out Ishmael Templos at Caesars Palace in Lake Tahoe.

Nunn, who signed with Ten Goose for three years, will make his first local appearance when he meets Robert Jackson (3-1) in the six-round main event of a six-card fight program at the Country Club in Reseda Tuesday night.

Goossen isn't worried.

"At this level, no one is going to touch him, but we're bringing him along slowly," Goossen said. "It's not that we have to protect him. It's just that he still has some things to learn. Some managers feel they have to protect fighters in the early stages of their career. I don't protect Michael. He does that himself.

"At this point, my only problem is finding someone who will fight him. Ninty-nine and three-quarters percent of the main event fighters in his weight class couldn't beat him right now.

"He was definitely the guy we were looking for."

Nunn signed with Ten Goose despite offers from several better-known managers. He did so on the advice of Bob Surkein, former president of the American Boxing Federation, who first saw Nunn fight in his hometown--Davenport, Iowa--at 16.

"He was a great natural fighter," Surkein said. "Even then he had all the tools you look for in a good boxer--good natural reflexes and good foot and hand speed. All he needed was some guidance."

The problem: Iowa is not exactly a haven for boxers.

"There was no one to teach him and no one to box against," Surkein said. "The potential was there, but no one to exploit it. He'd go to a tournament and box himself into shape during the tournament."

With better training and preparation, Surkein says that Nunn would probably have defeated Hill in the Olympic trials and earned a spot on the team.

Nunn did defeat Hill at the Olympic box-offs at Las Vegas in July of last year, but Hill came back the next day to beat Nunn to keep his spot on the team.

It was that loss, says Nunn, that changed the direction of his career.

"I wanted that win. I wanted it real bad," Nunn said. "I have no complaints, though. I just thank God I got as far as I did. A person never knows how much they want to win until they lose. Now I try much harder. I don't ever want to lose again."

Nunn says his boxing idol is Sugar Ray Leonard, but he talks a little like Muhammad Ali--fast and confident.

Asked what would happen if he fought Hill again, Nunn replied:

"If I fought him now, I'd beat him real good. I'd knock him out. There were a lot of things I was doing wrong last time. I wasn't using all my ability. I didn't have the punching power I have now.

"I grew up wanting to be somebody and boxing was my way to be that person. It kept me off the streets of Davenport. It kept me out of trouble. It kept my family happy and it kept me happy. That's why I've dedicated my life to boxing.

"I know there's a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to pay the price. Boxing is just like any other job--to get paid you gotta punch the clock. I know I gotta pay my dues, but the harder I work the faster things are going to happen for me.

"When I fought Hill, I hadn't worked that hard. I wasn't in shape. I'm in the best shape of my life now."

For that he can thank Joe Goossen, Dan's brother and Ten Goose's head trainer. He has worked with Nunn since January.

Joe has him on a conditioning program that starts at 5:30 a.m. with 12 to 15 quarter-mile laps around the track at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks.

"He's supervised in everything he does," Dan Goossen said. "We want to make sure he gets the most out of everything he does. It's human nature to slack off a little bit and we're not going to let Michael do that.

"Sometimes you need someone looking over your shoulder saying, 'Come on, pick it up.' Sometimes that's the difference between a champion and an average fighter."

Joe admits he was a little skeptical when first hearing his brother's rave reviews about Nunn.

"It's not that I didn't believe my brother, it's just that I like to see for myself," Joe Goossen said. "The transition from amateur to pro is a tough one so I take a wait-and-see attitude. The first time I saw him I was convinced, though. He's made a believer out of me. His first two opponents I'm sure now also believe."

The people at Ten Goose are not only convinced that Nunn can win fights. They also believe Nunn is the star which its team should build around.

"Not to sell our other fighters short, but Mike is a manager's dream," Joe Goossen said. "He's a good looking kid with a lot of charisma. He's also a middleweight, which helps because that's a division with a lot of great fighters and big money purses. And, of course, he's a great fighter.

"If this kid would have had someone pushing him at the amateur level he probably would have won the gold. Some of our fighters may have bigger fights going right now, but as far as potential for being a big, big star, Michael is the one.

"I worked with Randy Shields for 11 years. Eight of those years he was ranked in the top 10. I've seen good talent. Mike Nunn, is my book, is a world class talent."

On the back of Joe Goossen's black Ten Goose Boxing shirt is an emblem that serves both as prediction and warning.

It says: "Massacre. The time is near . . . "

"We've kind of adapted that theme with all of our fighters," Joe said. "We have a good group and several of them are coming real close to a time when they're going to make their name in this sport.

"Michael is a prime example. He could, someday, be a champion. He's about a year away from being ranked in the top 10. In boxing, that's not a long time. The time, for all of us, is near."

Michael Nunn begins his after noon workout with 12 to 15 minutes of shadow boxing. As he circles the ring, displaying an assortment of punches and jabs, he pauses once in a while to look into a mirror adjacent to the ring. As he does so, he smiles and raises his fists in mock celebration.

Said Dan Goossen: "He'll be doing the same thing after Tuesday night's fight."

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