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He’s Hard to Hit, and He’s Even Harder to Catch

How would you like to be known as a fighter who could take it?

Well, neither would Michael Nunn.

He had no desire to be “a good, game guy” with all that implied. He didn’t want to look like Jake LaMotta, a walking blood clot with scar tissue for a face and ears with no holes in them. He didn’t want to sound like a guy being strangled when he talked.

He adhered to Gen. George Patton’s principle that the art of war was not to die for your country but to get some other poor s.o.b. to die for his. He didn’t practice getting up, he practiced getting away.

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The fight mob was enraged. They hooted.

“A runner, not a fighter! What is this, a track meet? If we want ‘Swan Lake,’ we’ll go to the Bolshoi. Why doesn’t he wear a tutu?”

The networks and the fight doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, dismissed him as boring.

The way Michael Nunn practiced it, boxing was not a contact sport. He was like a smart old pitcher who kept the hitters swinging at where the ball wasn’t. And, like a smart old pitcher, he loved those wild, lunging, free-swinging young sluggers. He made sure they swung where he wasn’t.

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Nobody ever called him Mauler, or the Bomber, or One Punch, or KO. He was as far from Rocky II, III or IV as you could get. He put on a recital, not a rumble.

They hung the nom de ring Michael (Second to) Nunn on him, which is not exactly like billing him as the Astoria Assassin or even Iron Mike. But his manager, Dan Goossen, estimates that in the approximately 800 rounds of fighting Nunn has done--175 amateur fights, 31 pro--he has been hit, solidly, in about 11 of them.

Goossen is understandably biased, but his fighter’s face is corroboration. It’s as unmarked as Greta Garbo’s. Nunn looks as if he dances for a living. In a sense, he does.

Michael Nunn didn’t set out to be a fighter. He couldn’t stand the sight of blood, particularly his own. But he used to hang around the gym in his native Davenport, Iowa. It looked to Nunn like a convention of guys who enjoyed getting hit, but he had no intention of spending a life breathing through his ears or talking in a hoarse whisper. So, he played the game by his rules.

It is a fact of life that the brutes of this world get apoplectic at any foe who refuses to play into their strength.

“Why don’t you fight like a man?” they scream at a man who doesn’t stand toe to toe in center ring with them.

Baseball sluggers have been known to throw bats at junk pitchers who won’t give them that nice fat fastball they can knock out of the lot. Linebackers froth at the mouth at scrambling quarterbacks who won’t stand in the pocket and take their lumps.

Michael even missed out on that sure-fire entree into the big dough, the Olympic title, when he--barely--got eliminated in the box-offs by Virgil Hill.

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When he came to the Ten Goose Boxing combine to pursue a pro career after the Olympics--Nunn was first alternate but never got the call--the Goossen family was as solicitous of his well-being as he was.

“We tried to make sure all systems were go,” Dan Goossen explains cautiously. “We wanted conditions perfect. We didn’t want to have to have him fight inside when he didn’t know how to do it. We wanted to make sure he completed his apprenticeship.”

English translation: handpicked opponents.

“You can’t get to the title fighting a mirror,” sniffed the fight mob.

But longtime fight fans began to remember that Gene Tunney wasn’t a swarmer, either. And he lost only one fight in his career. They began to recall the original Sugar Ray, the peerless Willie Pep, Ali--artists all who packed the arenas for their concerts.

Finally, the Goossens thought their fighter was ready. They matched him last July with Frank Tate, the International Boxing Federation middleweight champion. Tate, who beat Nunn twice in the amateurs, thought he could call the round.

He could. The ninth. That’s when the referee stopped it after Tate was knocked on his face in the eighth and came out for the ninth looking like a guy trying to get off a cake of soap.

Like Tunney, Ali, Robinson and even Pep, Nunn can hit when he wants to. But, he explains that he’s like a general who will win without casualties if he can.

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He defends his title against the dangerous Juan Domingo Roldan Nov. 4 at the Las Vegas Hilton. Roldan is a swarmer, a brawler, a slugger. Is Nunn worried? Did Orel Hershiser worry about Jose Canseco?

“I plan to throw a shutout,” this nifty Nunn says with a grin.


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