The Ring Cycle

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

He started boxing, he says, as a way to stay clean. As an amateur, he won three St. Paul city championship titles and, in 1981, the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves. He turned pro in 1983, and has fought continuously since--except for the three years he spent in the Minnesota state prison system. (The TV set in his living room came from the commissary at Stillwater.) He is vague in discussing the reasons for his imprisonment. "I was kind of being radical," he says. "I was being a little sadistic and assaultive." According to court documents, Basting pleaded guilty to a second-degree assault charge stemming from an unprovoked attack on a black man outside an Anoka County bar in '93. He was given a suspended sentence, but his probation was revoked in '95 after an altercation with his ex-wife's boyfriend. Basting insists his case was mishandled. He is bitter about his lawyer. He is bitter about the system. And he is bitter about the way boxing is run in Minnesota.

"I'm sticking my neck out, because I'm near the end of my career and I don't give a fuck," he says. "My opinion about boxing in Minnesota? It sucks. To me, the promoters are a bunch of pimps and the boxers are a bunch of whores. And all the pimps are all looking for a quick buck and they use the boxers to get it." Asked why he keeps fighting, Basting stops his tirade to contemplate the question, as if he'd never asked it of himself before, then says, "I don't do it to get rich. I like the money, but I'm not getting rich." And then this: "We need some representation. The white race is fucking weak. There are no good stand-up white fighters out there."

In all the great fights, and even merely brutal ones, a boxer's display of endurance can be at once horrid and beautiful. It is the sort of test of spirit over body that few nonfighters can tolerate or, for that matter, even imagine. A boxer's willingness to accept pain, to continue fighting when any normal person would weep or lie down or flee sets him apart, in something like a species all his own. Boxing insiders often talk about the importance of ring skills, about the necessity of mastering the craft's finer points. But more than anything, they talk about "heart"--whether a fighter has it or not. Heart, in boxing, means a pure and nearly absolute willingness to suffer. It is considered the greatest virtue in a boxer, and, paradoxically, the cause of ruin for many--especially those who suffer too long before they quit. Having heart doesn't necessarily win championships or lead to money. But it can get a fighter that other coveted commodity: respect.

Daniel Corrigan

That may help to explain the attitudes some in Minnesota's boxing community have about Basting. His views on race are an open secret in the gyms around St. Paul and Minneapolis. He's been barred from several, yet remains welcome in others. And he has earned a fair degree of tolerance from some surprising quarters. "Jack deserves to be recognized as one of the toughest guys in the history of Minnesota boxing," says Dennis Presley, Grigsby's trainer and a black man. "He's never going to get his just due, because of his beliefs. I wish he didn't feel the way he does, but what he thinks about black people is not important. There is nobody in Minnesota who has more heart and determination than Jack. It's guys like him that keep boxing alive. They go down, they get cut, they get hurt, they get beat up. But the next time there's a fight, they're back."

Jack Basting--fighter without a manager, fighter without a gym--turns his attention to diapering his young daughter, who is at the apartment for her weekend visit. That done, he plucks a framed photograph off the wall. "Of all the souvenirs I got, this is the best," he announces. The photo shows a young Basting in the locker room with Bokkie Buys, a white South African national champ. The picture was taken shortly after the two men fought in Johannesburg back in 1991. Both are smiling. Basting looks as if he's just returned from a stroll in the park, unmarred, without a care in the world. Buys's face is harder to read, because it is a bloodied, swelled-up mess. The fight lasted all ten rounds. The decision went to Buys--in Basting's view, a classic robbery.

Basting scratches at his crooked face with a meaty finger. Seems like a long time ago now. Yes, the judges stole the win from him. And yes, what he's done for the better part of his life--pummeling other people's faces, annihilating their bodies, wrecking his own--is full of paradoxes and sick twists and as much heart as a man can muster while getting puréed into a bloody pulp. "It's boxing, man," he says, almost without bitterness. "It's boxing."

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