The Ring Cycle

Can Twin Cities boxing fight its way back into the fistic spotlight?

 

Brawl on the Mall--February 12, Hyatt Regency Ballroom in Minneapolis

Tim Eastman is pumped tonight, running on pure adrenaline. The wiry 47-year-old, who owns a siding business in Columbia Heights, is working the ballroom floor--gladhanding, mixing with the who's who, tending to details. He wears a cloth-and-leather letterman's jacket, emblazoned with the words World Boxing Promotions set against the company logo, a globe with a dangling pair of boxing gloves. This is Eastman's first boxing promotion--a foray into a world about which, by his own admission, he knew next to nothing. Never was a fighter. Just liked the sport. It is also the first pro card held within Minneapolis city limits in more than three years. And it is the first step in Eastman's ambitious plans to breathe a little life back into the local prizefighting scene--a total of six cards in town in '99, he hopes, culminating at the Minneapolis Convention Center with a New Year's Eve millennial extravaganza.

"Everybody thinks I'm crazy, that Minneapolis won't support the sport," Eastman says. "But I think the city's starving for something like this. Especially if it's done, you know, in an honest and ethical way." He lets that last phrase dangle in the air a moment. It's an expression he repeats often, like a mantra--"honest and ethical."

In the weeks leading up to the Brawl on the Mall, Eastman caught wind of some nasty rumors that were being passed along the fistic grapevine. Fighters wouldn't get paid. Fighters had phony records. The show would flop or get canceled. At the last minute three of the local boxers slated to appear backed out. Just before showtime, Eastman says, he had to come up with $20,000 in cash to allay the remaining boxers' fears that their checks would bounce. One night, Eastman says, someone even hurled a keystone through the front window of his home. Weighed 80 pounds. Landed right on the kitchen table. He suspects it was "a bad element" in the boxing world, though he won't point a finger. "I can't prove anything, so I can't say. Besides," he sighs, taking a pull off a Merit Light cigarette, "I don't need any more enemies. But if there's any more trouble, I'm gonna start taking it personal." As for the ugly infighting among promoters like him, he supposes it just goes with the territory, "like male dogs peeing on a tree."

Eastman's pre-gala troubles weren't exactly unusual. What is remarkable is his card tonight: All five of the Minnesota fighters come from different gyms. Typically, promoters in town wear many hats--as trainers, managers, backers. As a result, they have interests in both protecting their fighters from tough bouts (thus keeping the records win-heavy) and keeping them away from other promoters. Often, half of the fighters on a card come from the same gym; and, everyone grumbles, it seems like the hometown guys always come out victorious. "The promoter-managers use their own fighters, and you can pretty much run down the card and see who's gonna win," says Frank Quinn, a heavyweight from Blaine. "The promoters want to monopolize the fighters," agrees Scott LeDoux. "When I was boxing, I had 13 fights in my first year. I fought for five different promoters and I never left Minnesota. Now, the promoters say, If you fight for someone else, you don't fight for me. It's bad for boxing."

Tonight, there are no TV cameras, no laser lights, no bikini-clad strippers. In fact, Eastman recruited his card girl, a willowy brunette in a black evening dress, out of a church congregation. "I want it to be classy," Eastman says, "something you can bring your wife to." The Brawl attracts just under a thousand spectators, a decent turnout for a show that was barely advertised and received no press--though not enough fans show up, Eastman concedes, to turn a profit.

The most curious fight on the night's card is the pairing of two local heavyweights. Quenten Osgood, age 34, a former Upper Midwest Golden Gloves champ from St. Paul, enters the bout with a professional record of eight wins, five losses, and one draw. He has a reputation as a hard hitter. The five losses all came by knockout, though--not a good sign. "Poor Quenten never had the best chin," laments one local trainer. His opponent, Jack Basting, a 42-year-old trial horse from Maplewood, possesses one of the best chins in town and, by most accounts, not much else. Tonight's fight is a rematch. Last summer, when the two went six rounds at Treasure Island Casino, the judges awarded the bout to Osgood, a black man. Basting, who is white and lets no one forget it, noisily denounced the decision as a racist.

From the opening bell, Basting--red-faced, neck veins popping--drives into Osgood with visible fury. If the best fights are art, this is pornography: crude, to the point, absent nuance. The crowd eats it up for the first two rounds, as the fighters ricochet off each other, elbows flying. Basting shakes off some hard rights, stuns Osgood a few times, and starts to run out of gas. In the third round, Osgood lunges awkwardly and the two men tangle. They fall to the ground. Osgood, on top, throws a nasty right at the prone Basting, who jerks his head to avoid the blow. At that, the ref steps in and stops the fight. Osgood, disqualified, apologizes to Basting. He grabs him around the waist, tries to hoist him into the air. Basting, still pissed, wiggles away and stalks off.

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