The Ring Cycle

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

Since that fight, Bonsante has rattled off eight straight wins, including four technical knockouts. He's getting hungrier--and promoter Tim Eastman is promising more meals. Bonsante is scheduled to appear on his next card on May 22, at the Brawl on the Mall II.

 

The Journeyman

It's a drab Sunday afternoon in March. "Timber" Jack Basting--the journeyman heavyweight who won at the Brawl by disqualification--is taking the day off from work. He runs a tree service, hence the nickname. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a sprawling brick complex in Maplewood. On this day, Basting is killing time in a pair of loose-fitting blue shorts and nothing else. The shades are drawn, and the place feels like a cave.

Basting is 42, under six feet tall, and thick-bodied. He has a muscled bulge of gut. Tattoos cover his arms and chest--the Rolling Stones' tongue-and-lip logo, shooting flames, the yin-yang symbol, a pair of boxing gloves, and, over his heart, a small crown topped by the letter "W." He has a shock of brown hair, soft eyes, and a ruined nose. By his own estimate, he has suffered eight bustings of that nose in the course of his 37-bout career (23 wins, 14 losses). "It don't get broke much anymore. It's pretty well flattened," he says with a dry laugh. "I never could get it fixed right." He offers the observation casually, as though his nose were not part of his person, but merely some trifling, worn-out possession.

At that, he pads off to collect his scrapbook, which is wedged into a bookshelf stocked with his collection of reading materials. How to Really Love Your Child. Are You a Psychic? The Mind of Adolph Hitler. Adult Children of Alcoholics. How to Get Women You Desire into Bed. A pamphlet titled "The Aryan Loyalist." A whole series of Anthony Robbins motivational tapes. Basting lays the scrapbook on the kitchen table. In it is a mess of scenic snapshots taken in foreign lands where he has fought over the years: Japan, China, Australia, France, South Africa. There are, as well, a series of studio portraits of male strippers--guys in sailor suits, leather-and-chain outfits, cowboy getups, and the like. "That's me there," Basting says, pointing to a picture of his much younger self. "I went by the name 'Jumpin' Jack.'" Did the full monty a half-dozen times in seven years of stripping, mostly at bachelorette parties, he says. "It was kind of fun, but I think it tarnished my view of women."

As for his career in the ring, Basting is known for taking fights against superior opponents. Few in local circles think much of his boxing skills, but, invariably, they mention his grit. Frank Quinn, the light heavyweight from Blaine, offers a typical observation: "Jack's a rough, tough fucking fighter. If he misses you with his glove, he might catch you with his elbow or give you a head butt. The guy is not easy to hurt, but he is too easy to hit." A lot of the boxers who have battered Basting over the years were ranked fighters, some of them real brutes: Orlin Norris, John Ruiz, Axel Schulz, Joe Hipp. Last year, Basting wound up on the wrong end of a third-round KO in a bout with Andrew Golota who, until Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear, was widely considered boxing's dirtiest fighter--a fierce, reckless, disturbed character straight out of the Warsaw ghetto and known in the trade mags as "The Foul Pole." "When I heard that Basting was fighting Golota, I made the sign of the cross," recalls the state boxing board's Jim O'Hara. Not long ago, in a ten-rounder with Hipp, Basting weathered such a severe beating that one spectator was moved to shout out, "He's not human!"

How has he managed to stay upright? "Man, I just got a thick skull," Basting brags. Neurologists who study the sport estimate that as many as 60 percent of pro fighters eventually suffer from pugilistic dementia, otherwise known as "punch-drunkenness." Basting allows that his fights have indeed taken a toll, though he's quick to stress that he has passed all mandatory prefight physicals with flying colors. He hopes to get in another 15 or 20 bouts before retiring. "I'm kind of superstitious," he explains, "and five is my lucky number, so what the fuck? I'll stop at 50 fights." He pauses and chuckles. "But I might change that. I might go to 55. That's doubly good."

A few years ago, Basting invented a rubber arm-strengthening gizmo he dubbed "The Roadworker." A patent for the device hangs in a frame on the living-room wall. Maybe, Basting says, he'll figure out a way to market the Roadworker after his career is over. That might help with the child support. Basting has three kids, and he's fallen behind on his obligations. Awhile back, he says, the state suspended his driver's license for nonpayment. Basting is bitter about that. He's bitter about a lot of things, beginning with a childhood he describes as vagabond ("My stepdad thought he was a fucking gypsy") and full of abuse ("I got the scars to prove it"). When he was 17, he says, he joined the Marine Corps in an effort to escape a nasty drug habit. One day while on duty, he swallowed an overdose of prescription tranquilizers and nearly died. He spent two weeks in a psych ward and, 30 days later, got his discharge.

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