How a Young Boxer of 18 Became Old, Tired and 28

November 20,1977

Randy Neumann, left and Duane Bobick before their 1975 fight

I started when I was young. I was 18 years old and a freshman in college. Now that I’ve finished, at 28, I no longer feel young.

The lure was never one of title or riches; it was more of a quixotic adventure that ended poetically. The rashness of youth provided the consummate will; it was skill that was wanting. But over the years, a trade-off took place that eventually reversed this relationship. Things that are commonplace in the Hades of professional boxing can melt the steel from the strongest of wills.

I made an august entry into prizefighting in 1969 at Madison Square Garden. My opponent butted me and opened a cut over my left eye. I was young and willing, so the blood didn’t bother me; I waded in and flattened him.

After 10 more victories, I was dubbed a “white hope,” a distinction given to any fighter who weighs more than 175 pounds and has the right complexion. I thought it more than coincidence that the first time my hopes were dashed (I lost my 12th fight) was the first time my manager cut the purse (he took 50 percent).

In the next few years, I became a journeyman fighter. Among those I beat were Jimmy Young, Chuck Wepner and Boone Kirkman, and I lost a tough fight to Jerry Quarry.

In the Quarry fight, my will reached its high point, with skill not far behind. I gave Quarry a boxing lesson for five rounds, but I lost the step I had on him after he pinned me against the ropes and hit me with a most outrageous low blow. I lost the fight in the late rounds.

That night, I had sufficiently steeled my will so that the only way I could leave that ring was on a stretcher. That’s what the fans pay for.

Let me be more specific on what I mean by “will.” In professional boxing, it comes close to irrationality. A rational person doesn’t make a good fighter because he is too cognizant of the imminent danger-being in a coop with someone skilled in beating your brains out-and wouldn’t take the risks sometimes required to win a fight. The successful fighter leaves his rationality with the seconds before the opening bell. Once, I could do that.

In March 1974, I fought Wepner in the Garden. I had won our first fight. In the second fight, 10 of 11 sportswriters at ringside thought I won, he got the nod.

I was doing well until the sixth round when Chuck’s head smacked my brow. Within 20 seconds a blood-soaked referee stopped the fight.

My manager said, “It’s not that bad. He shouldn’t have stopped the fight.” And Chuck went on to grab a $100,000 payday against Mohammad Ali.

After nine months of healing and soul-searching, I returned to boxing without a manager. I understood this bizarre business enough to handle my own affairs (I also had a degree in business) and decided that a 50 percent partner who never got hit was expendable.

I had eight fights in 1975, the last with Duane Bobick in the Garden. A victory would have got me a title shot against Ali. Alas, I didn’t win. I was knocked down too many times in the fourth round. I retired to what one writer called “the real work of my life”-writing and acting. I wrote stories for magazines, acted in television commercials and studied at the Warren Robertson Theater Workshop. Then they rattled my cage.

Like unslingers of the Old West, it’s hard for fighters to quit. Somebody always wants a piece of you.

Made to Order

I turned down offers for a year before I got one I couldn’t refuse. It was a three-fight television package for $50,000 and a new division with a ceiling of 200 pounds, and I was favored to win the title.

It was too late. It didn’t matter that I was still young enough, in excellent shape and a better boxer than anyone else in the division.

That iron resolve and that steel will I once had were gone. The bad decisions, the short purses, the disqualifications, the blood and the anguish over not being able to make ends meet, despite dedication to an arduous task, had taken their toll.

Last April, I fought one Ibar Arrington on national television. To use an expression from the fight game, “The guy can’t fight.”

I was having an easy time until he missed with a right hand, but caught my eyelid with his elbow. It started to bleed. When I sat on the stool after the fourth round with blood in my eye, I was ahead by 3-1 on the cards. I said to my trainer, Chickie Ferrara, “I think I’ve got enough.”