By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The disappointment over Funmaker's defeat dissipates quickly with the arrival of JJ Corn: 26 years old, movie-star handsome, and, until recently, the World Athletic Association's junior middleweight champion. (It's a minor title, a "cheese title" as they are sometimes called, but a title nonetheless.) A Menominee Indian from nearby Shawano, Corn is among the most popular fighters in Wisconsin. His professional record stands at 29 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw. Peterson blames the most recent defeat on a "meat-peddler manager" who sent Corn overseas to face a tough European champion with inadequate preparation.
Peterson doesn't plan to repeat the mistake. Corn's opponent tonight is another Stan Johnson fighter, Lonzie "The Polecat" Pembleton. "Yeah, the guy's a stiff," Peterson concedes later. "I didn't want to take a chance on getting JJ dinged up, because next week he's got a fight in his hometown." The ring announcer doesn't even bother to give a record on Polecat. According to Fight Fax, it stands at 0-13.
The knockout comes in the first round, and the crowd erupts in celebration. An exuberant Corn grabs a microphone and thanks the audience for turning out. He bellows out his trademark catch phrase," Native PRIDE! NationWIDE!" And then the lights in the bingo hall come up and the crowd begins to filter out, in search of a stiff drink, a slot machine, or both.
Ron Peterson heads to a backroom office. One by one, the fighters file in to collect their pay. Peterson's current stable of boxers all credit their manager with paying what he promises; a notable distinction in a sport where rip-offs are more tradition than scandal. And sure enough, there is cash on hand tonight. Four to six hundred dollars for most of the fighters. Two thousand dollars for the Ho-Chunk Hammer. Three thousand dollars for JJ Corn (not bad for less than a round's work). Everybody walks out smiling.
The financial transactions completed, Peterson sets out to tear down the ring. The best part of the night. "When I'm taking the ring down, I feel stronger. My body's working good. My adrenaline's going," he says. "It's the most relaxing high you can have, you know. It keeps an older guy feeling young, like I've really accomplished something."
A few days after the fight, Peterson is back in Mounds View. He says he has pneumonia. So he is subdued, a little morose even. The high is gone. "I'm really down on boxing today. I got to go the gym and I don't feel good," he says glumly. "You know, I don't even enjoy the actual fights. I don't like to see people get beat up and the thought of grown men hitting each other in the head, trying to destroy each other. It's just a strange phenomenon. It's kind of like deer hunting. You don't really start out wanting to kill a deer, but then you chase it around for a while, and then you just can't wait to shoot it."
Peterson is already making preparations for his next card, a low-budget show at the Fond du Lac reservation that will feature hometown hero Damion LaPrairie in the main event. Billing the fight as the "state lightweight championship," Peterson has even gotten a special belt made for the winner (a belt, it turns out, that LaPrairie will earn in a bloody ten-rounder). But on this day Peterson doesn't sound excited. Not about boxing. Not about anything.
"I'm making a couple of bucks these days. Getting back on my feet. But I don't expect anything big. I don't give a shit. If I can get by until my kids are grown, I'll be happy." He pauses for a moment, swallowing hard on his ambivalence. For a moment, the salty wisecracks and bluster give way to a moment of clarity; a bit of self-analysis. "I don't understand how I stayed in boxing so long," he says finally. "I've been doing this since 1973 and I don't got nothing. I guess it's like being a gold miner. You find a nugget here and there, but you're always waiting for that mother lode, waiting to find that one champion.
"When I started out signing fighters, an old boxing guy told me, a manager isn't anything but an idiot with a checkbook. And I said I'd be different. Maybe in some ways, I have been. But of all things I've been involved in over the years, boxing's probably been the most painful. And the only reason I keep doing it is that I'm too stupid to get out. It's a real funny sport."
Peterson sighs, then grins. "The longer I'm in it, the less I know."