Low Blows

He manages wannabes, has-beens, and more than a few palookas, just like the big-money promoters do. But the ho-chunk casino is a long way from Caesar's Palace. and Ron Peterson is no Don King.

Peterson admits it is a lot harder to put on a quality show these days. "The Seventies was a great era, and I'm still proud of those cards," he says. "But now we're in a down cycle. We're running out of good fighters in Minnesota. You gotta do the best with what you've got. It's kind of like buying a CD. You get one or two good songs on a CD these days and you're happy. You get two good fights on a card now, you're happy."

But Peterson maintains that his friction with the boxing commission goes back to his early days in the business, when he sued the board in a dispute over a closed-circuit broadcast of an Ali/Frazier fight. "From that day on, when I'd go to a commission meeting, they'd change the rules on me day to day," he bellyaches. "It's just a pain in the ass. Stupid shit. At one of those meetings, I blew up, kicked the door off the hinges, busted chairs. I just went crazy. And that's what they wanted me to do, because it proved their point. That I wasn't stable enough to be a promoter. " Nowadays, Peterson admits, the bad feelings cut both ways: "They want to be the promoters. They want to tell you who to use, when to use them, how many rounds they can go. It's bullshit. And it's totally political. I'm the guy who is taking the risk. It's my money. And if it's a lousy show, nobody will come again and I'll lose out. But if you don't kiss the commission's ass, you're not in. Well, I don't fit in with them, and I never will."

And, since Peterson began working the casino circuit in the early Nineties, he hasn't needed to. That's because the state board has no statutory authority over fights held on reservations. These days Peterson hires a boxing commissioner from Iowa, Larry Dawson, to oversee his Minnesota cards. (Absent a certified boxing commissioner, the results of a fight card are not recognized.) Not surprisingly Dawson is sympathetic with Peterson. "He's like a lot of these matchmaker-trainer-promoter guys," Dawson explains. "He spends a lot of his time running around putting out fires." Dawson does not object to Peterson's willingness to bring in opponents with shabby records. "I don't worry about guys are 3 and 17, and I don't worry about guys who are 17 and 3. I worry about the guys who are 8 and 8. The guys who have too much heart for their own good."

 

"Opponents" are often the cause of embarrassment in boxing, but their use and abuse is commonplace at all levels of the sport. Peterson speaks about it more openly than most. A few years back he began managing one of the Midwest fight circuit's most legendary opponents: Walter Cowans, a onetime member of Stan Johnson's stable. Over the course of a 17-year professional career, Cowans compiled an official record of 27 wins, 104 losses, and 1 draw. Some of those defeats came at the hands of Peterson's fighters, and after a while Peterson grew fond of the palooka. "He was a loser. Couldn't break an egg. But he was very durable and he had good defensive skills. You couldn't get a shot off on him," Peterson recalls. "And he was a businessman. If I told him to carry someone, give a kid a break, he would. If I told him to go out and try his hardest, he would. When he moved to Minneapolis, he stayed at my house for a couple of days. I even got him some wins, five or six in a row. He was a real genuine, tough kid. But half nuts. Sometimes he was hard to be around. One week he'd be smoking crack, the next he'd be preaching God."

About a year ago Peterson got a phone call from Stan Johnson. "Stan had me crying when he told me about it," he says, recalling the news of Cowans's death. "Walter had put a garbage bag around his head, tied a cord around his neck, and then stuck his head in the oven. I don't know what the significance of that was. But how sad. How far gone. How pathetic. I mean, I knew Walter as a fighter and he never quit."

If Walter Cowans were still alive, he might have found a spot on the second half of the card at the Ho-Chunk Casino; two fights billed as a co-feature. The first is a four-round heavyweight bout between the local hero, Harry "Ho-Chunk Hammer" Funmaker and Harold Johnson, Stan Johnson's nephew. In the opening round, the plodding but determined "Ho-Chunk Hammer" looks as if he might live up to his name, staggering Johnson with a blow to the chin. And then the fight, and the evening's show, starts to fall apart. Johnson recovers, then decides to clown around. He grabs. He clinches. He runs. He spits out his mouthpiece. The lumbering Funmaker can't catch Johnson. By the fourth round the fight looks downright farcical. Not a fix. Not a mismatch. Just ugly. When the decision is announced, Johnson is declared the winner. A chorus of boos emanates from Funmaker's voluble supporters in the crowd.

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