How to become a dirty fighter

Sunday May 25, 1973

The legal battles following the Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner free-for-all in March are certainly more interesting than their fight was. Referee Tony Perez filed a $20-million suit against Ali for “…marring his good name and credit … causing him public scorn and disgrace.” Within a week Al Braverman, Wepner’s manager, filed a suit against Perez for allowing “…deliberate and flagrant fouling by Ali.” Braverman further asserted, “Any referee with an ounce of courage would have stopped the fight.” The Braverman-Wepner suit raises some interesting questions, such as “Are there any rules in boxing?” and “Does anybody enforce them?”

The answer to the first question is “yes.” In addition to the rules laid down by the Marquis of Queensberry in 1867, most boxing commissions have their own; New York has 70 pages of rules. The answer to the second question is, “It depends.”
Let’s look at New York, known in the trade as a “tough” fight town. The fans would much prefer a 10-round toe-to-toe slugfest-or, better yet, a knockout – to an artful display of the sweet science. The writers glorify the destroyer rather than the skilled craftsman, e.g. Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Mac Foster, etc., vs. Jerry Quarry.

And then there are the “Tough Luck” rules: Tough Luck Rule No. 1 – No contest shall be terminated by a low blow because the protective cup selected by the fighter should be sufficient to withstand any so-called low blow that might otherwise incapacitate him. Tough Luck Rule No. 2 – If a fighter cannot continue a fight because of a cut (even if it’s the result of a butt); he loses via a technical knockout.

Tough Luck Rule No. 1 was not drafted by a select committee of professional fighters. I’m sure of that. Any fighter knows that foul cups are not failsafe. Therefore, a low-blow disqualification should be a discretionary call by the referee. Of course, it can be argued that if a low-blow disqualification rule were in effect, there would be an epidemic of Oscar-winning performances on ring floors by those who had been struck anywhere below the neck.

Tough Luck Rule No. 2 has attracted a lot of billy goats to New York rings. Let’s say that fighter A is pitching a shutout against fighter B (A has won every round). As the bell rings for the last round, B says to himself, “I’ve got to knock this bum out. But I’ve been trying for the last nine rounds, and it ain’t worked yet. Guess I’ll have to use the old noggin.”

What’s this? Fighter A has a 6-inch gash over his eye and the fight’s been stopped. I’ll bet he wishes he was in California right now because there, and in many other parts of the world, if a fight is stopped because of a cut inflicted by a butt, whoever is ahead on points wins the fight. But in New York, our bleeding boy must watch his opponent jumping ecstatically around the ring like a man just given a reprieve.

Don’t laugh. This is not fiction. I was fighter A in such a scenario. Fighter B was Chuck Wepner.

Today I am a dirty fighter. Didn’t start out that way, I guess you could say that I’m a product of my environment. In my first professional fight, Referee Tony Perez (it was also his maiden voyage) counted my opponent out- after my eye was cut by a butt. In my second fight, against Suitcase Simpson, I learned that one pair of gloves isn’t always enough. He needed a pair for his elbows, another for his knees and a 16-ounce training glove for his head.

After a dozen pro fights, I was a trial horse for an undefeated prospect from Argentina, Raoul Gorosito. The “book” on him was “be careful – he’s put his last opponent in a hospital with a low blow.” When he was thoroughly outboxed in the early going (in spite of his foul tactics), he started swinging for a homer in the later rounds. To show him the futility of it all, I ducked under a sweeping right, stepped behind him and connected with the first available target -the seat of his pants (with my foot). It was more colorful than painful. I was learning.

Well, I’ve been thumbing, butting, gouging and biting for a couple of years – skillfully. I’ve had some good teachers.
I learned the intricacies of butting from Gorosito in three tough lessons. My old friend Jerry Quarry showed me how I could increase my investment portfolio with a low blow. And it would be remiss not to mention a three-part seminar with grand master of both rabbit and kidney punches-Chuck Wepner.

On a recent trip to Nassau, the Bahamas, I saw a ray of light that I’d only heard mentioned before-strict enforcement of the rules. I was fighting an American there, and he started the rough stuff (my professional ethic forbids me to initiate fouls, but I swiftly return them). I was jabbing effectively and had his left eye almost closed after the first round.

He came out for the second round like a house afire. He ran into several more stiff jabs, then consumed me (he was 6 feet 4 inches and 238 pounds) in a bear hug and unloaded a bushel of rabbit punches.

What else could I do? I smashed down on his instep with my heel. He kneed me in the groin. The referee broke us up, sent us to neutral corners and stood pondering in the center of the ring for a few seconds, then raised my hand. I’d won on a disqualification – not because I was lily-white, but because I was the lesser offender.

It’s nice to know that there are places in the world where dirty fighting is not tolerated and fighters don’t have to fight, after the Biblical fashion, an eye for an eye.

Randy Neumann has been a professional fighter for six years and ranks among the leading American heavyweights. He is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and has written on boxing for Sport, Sports Illustrated and Argosy.