Certainly boxing, a sport in which a Harvard Law School grad and former aide to then-U. S. Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy--Bob Arum--competes for top billing with a convicted killer--Don King--can make room for a former wrestler and hockey player who stumbled into boxing in quite the same manner that boxers often stumble out of the ring.
And so it is that Tom Brown, who came to California for a brief visit seven years ago but fell in love and then said goodby to the wicked cold of Minnesota, now finds himself glued to a telephone in Van Nuys, searching frantically for a man he does not even know, a man who must weigh roughly 119 pounds and be perfectly willing to absorb perhaps 150 heavy whacks to the head and face.
“That’s the offer,” Brown says when he finally locates the man. “Take it or leave it.”
Brown, 31, is the matchmaker for the Van Nuys-based Ten Goose Boxing Club. It is his job to locate two men of equal weight and somewhat equal boxing ability, then get both to climb into a ring at roughly the same time on the same night in exchange for American currency.
It sounds rather simple.
Of course, so does shaving a polar bear. Razor. Fur. Shave. But in practice, all kinds of bad things can happen.
Much like in Brown’s job.
Take the heavyweight who traveled from Milwaukee to fight at the Country Club in Reseda last month and discovered just moments before his bout that he had forgotten his boxing trunks and protective cup. There would be no fight, Brown was told, unless replacements were found. Well, finding trunks wasn’t a problem. Off came the blood-soaked, white-and-red satin beauties worn by a still-groggy J. R. Frye, a heavyweight who had been pounded senseless just five minutes earlier.
But even a boxer who travels three-quarters of the way across the continent without his shorts is not quite goofy enough to step into a ring without a cup . And Frye, although still a bit glassy-eyed, did not think much of the idea of having his worn by a complete stranger. Finally, though, he relented to Brown’s pleading, and the man from Milwaukee became perhaps the only boxer in history to step into a ring with blood-splattered trunks.
He won the fight, by the way, giving the trunks a .500 record for the night.
Then there was the guy who bailed out on Brown and Ten Goose president Dan Goossen on the day of a fight, forcing them to scratch a scheduled four-rounder. The reason? His mother had been in a horrible car crash, the fighter told Brown, and he had spent the entire night pacing the emergency room at the hospital and was in no condition to fight. Two days later however, the man fought in Hawaii, in a 10-round fight, which just happens to bring with it considerably more money than appearing in a four-rounder.
Now, Brown and Goossen thought, either the young man’s mother was in such bad shape that doctors in Los Angeles could not help her and rushed her to specialists in Kona, or the guy had lied to them.
And wouldn’t you know it, he had lied. And the California Athletic Commission forced the fighter to honor his contract with Brown and Goossen by fighting a four-rounder on their next show.
“It didn’t take much of an investigation by the commission,” Brown said.
Brown’s adventure began innocently enough in 1983, when he headed to Los Angeles after leaving the University of Minnesota where he was a two-sport athlete. He came to California just to visit a friend from college.
But he liked it here.
Soon, he was offered a job as an assistant football coach at Valley College. And then he met Sandi Goossen, sister of Dan the boxing man. And one thing led to another and before you could say, “Tyson is groping for his mouthpiece,” four years had passed and Brown found himself married to Sandi and immersed in the Goossen family business.
He began working as the matchmaker in 1988. And while he wasn’t very good at it, at least he was desperate.
“At first I just thought the job was impossible,” Brown said. “Just impossible. I mean, there was no way to deal with all the problems. And the only thing I tried to do was to somehow get two bodies into the ring at the same time. If I did that, I considered it a success.”
The matchmaker admits that early in his new job he created more than a few mis matches, turning an accomplished boxer loose on an opponent who--and these are two very undesirable traits in a boxer--could neither punch nor duck.
“We had a guy a few years ago who looked good and brought in tons of fans for us,” Goossen said. “He bought 450 tickets every time he fought, giving them out to friends and girlfriends. It was great.
“But the problem was, he couldn’t fight. I mean, he really couldn’t fight. So I told him, ‘Tom, don’t overmatch this kid.’ I told him, ‘Tom, this kid can’t fight.’
“So Tom puts him in the ring with a guy who had a real bad record. And the guy just stiffs our guy. Knocks him out. That was the night Tom found out that you have to check past a guy’s record, that you have to dig down and find out how good a guy is before he gets into the ring. You’ve got to know what a guy is going to do in there . “
In the real world, of course, you never know precisely what a boxer is going to do in the ring on any given night. Otherwise, there would have been no Buster Douglas, heavyweight champion of the world, resting on one elbow on the canvas in Atlantic City late last year, all but counting along with the referee as Evander Holyfield stood nearby with a smirk on his face.
But even Brown, who lives in North Hollywood, concedes that his knowledge of the sport has increased dramatically.
“From just getting two bodies into the ring, I can now watch a workout in a gym or watch a guy in a fight and have a pretty solid idea of who he is, of what he can do,” Brown said. “And when it’s time to find an opponent, I know right away whether this guy will provide a fair, close fight.”
Most regulars at the Country Club, where Goossen stages his boxing shows, would agree. Gone are the days of mismatch after mismatch. Throughout 1990, the club put on monthly boxing cards that sold out and often brought roaring fans out of their seats.
There was still an occasional dog, but no longer a pack of them.
Do not think, however, that Brown’s job has become easy. He still deals on a day-to-day basis with managers and trainers and fighters from the darkest recesses of a sometimes-dark sport. Brown is routinely lied to and cussed at.
But now, Brown knows his business. And he knows that sometimes--maybe even often--there isn’t much else to do about all of his problems than laugh.
“Had a guy call me a few weeks ago, said he wanted a 10-rounder, wanted to fight a main event for us,” Brown said. “The guy was not very good. He had a record of 1-6. I offered him a four-round bout, and he turned it down.
“So then his manager called. And you know who his manager was? His manager was the guy the kid had beaten. The manager was the 1 in the 1-6.”