The sobriquets will be forthcoming soon enough. For those who can't wait; try on Minnesota Mauler or Bowlus Bomber for size. In point of fact, the size is 6'3", 205 and impressively proportioned. The square monicker is Duane Bobick and it belongs to a brash U.S. Navy quartermaster third class out of Bowlus, Minn. who has won the heavyweight division at the Olympic Boxing Trials. Bobick took the honor at Texas Christian University last weekend in the 100th fight of his career with his 58th knockout and 59th consecutive victory. If anyone loves to fight, Bobick does, and he did so joyfully, cleanly and overwhelmingly well. There was no smoldering anger in him. Instead, there was an air of benevolence. All week in Fort Worth, Bobick winked at children, teenage girls, old ladies, men and lampposts. He was solicitous of other fighters, too, including the three he knocked out in consecutive fights. One even lasted two rounds.
It wasn't that Duane Bobick went soft in that marathon. What he did was go toe-to-toe with Nick Wells, who is the national AAU champion and had 50 knockouts in 75 fights. Wells was also one of only three fighters in the trials who had registered knockouts in both his preliminary bouts. The fact that he is built like George Chuvalo out of Gargantua and lives in Fort Worth and had a hometown crowd out front didn't hurt, either. The sounds that filled the Texas night were these: a high-pitched, frenzied roar set against the bass of four blunt weapons pounding flesh. By the second round two of them beat an increasingly insistent rhythm. Those were Bobick's, and soon both he and Wells were bloody. Wells, who had never been cut before, wasn't allowed to come out for round three.
Bobick's coach, Panama Murph Griffith, who is Emile Griffith's uncle, said quixotically, "I don't want to jump before the horse, but you haven't seen this boy fight yet. You'll see a different fighter after a while. There's certain things I can't say, but you will."
Another coach simply said, "He's got the bombs."
July 30, 1972
In 1968 Bobick lost in an elimination tournament prior to the trials, and he was weeping in the dressing room when that year's Olympic coach, Pappy Gault, came in. Gault recalls: "I said, 'Don't cry, boy. You've got nothing to be ashamed of. One of these days you're going to be champion of the world.' "
Now, four years later at Fort Worth, Gault was saying, "I think the kid'll do as great as Muhammad Ali in bringing in money for the promoters. He's got a good jab, a good right, a good heart and a wonderful personality. He's way ahead of George Foreman at a similar stage of his career."
The dormitory at TCU is empty but for one small figure in a room on the third floor. Bobby Lee Hunter, a flyweight boxer, sits alone in the dark. The previous night he had been eliminated from the trials. So had many other fighters, but they had fuller lives than his. They had girl friends to go home to and jobs and open roads to run down—alone if they chose. But Hunter would return to South Carolina's Manning Correctional Institution. His story has been told and retold: the trouble in the Charleston ghetto five years ago, the verdict of manslaughter, the tiny 17-year-old folding sheets at Manning and, finally, the discovery of his talent. He won the national AAUs, both last year and this, and a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games. He went on international tours. Everything he had he owed to boxing—the sudden feeling of pride built on success after success, a sense of who he could be, and the focal point of it all was Munich. Now his friends were worried, fearful of what the disappointment of his defeat might do to him.
For a while there was talk that he would be picked as an alternate, and go to the Bear Mountain, N.Y. pre-Olympic training camp, but Hunter said that was not what he had in mind. Maybe, someone said, he just wanted to be asked, to hear he was still wanted.
"You've still got a chance to win it if you go," Hunter is told.
"Naw," he says.
"You don't like the idea of being a substitute?"
"Yeah," he replies.
"Bobby, you're going to have to pick your butt up off the floor and start living again."
"I'll think about it," he says.
The Old Man was happy. He still had a few good times ahead of him, it seemed. He had a young wife, only 22. He had his health, he was going to the Olympics at last, and besides, 25 wasn't that old. They called Sergeant Jesse Valdez The Old Man last week in Fort Worth because he'd been at it so long. It was his third Olympic Trials and, he had decided, his last, win or lose. Twice he won the national Golden Gloves championship, twice the AAU, but it didn't seem to matter much anymore. Come November his Air Force hitch would be over. "It's time I made something of myself," he said. Now he wanted a college degree—that is, after winning the welterweight gold medal at Munich.
From three distant points of a triangle, Bobick, Valdez and Hunter came to Texas: from a sprinkle of houses called Bowlus on the Minnesota plains, from a California Air Force base via a poor Mexican neighborhood in Houston and from a steaming South Carolina slum. One was gregarious and overpowering, one reserved and graceful and one was silent under pressures the other two could not begin to comprehend. This diversity was reflected in their movements in the ring. In Bobby Hunter's one and only fight, for example, there was no joy. He fought at Fort Worth as he had always fought, to survive, hooking viciously, missing, missing, taking three light jabs in the hope of ending everything with one hook. It had almost always worked before, but it was war, not art, and Olympic boxing judges are the aesthetes of their trade.
Bobby Hunter's loss was to Tim Dement of Bossier City, La., only 17, a pale, dreamy-looking boy with no indication of any strength at all. When they entered the ring fears were expressed for Dement's life. At ringside, mock preparations were made for retrieving his head, and the concern continued until the final bell, when it switched to Hunter. Dement had landed two or three punches, mostly jabs, to every one of Hunter's. Dement had the reach and Hunter was never able to follow up the punches he did land. Dement's nose was bleeding as they left the ring, but his head was high, unlike Hunter's, and he went on to win the flyweight title.
"Munich's been kind of a dream for me," Dement said. "Like Martin Luther King's, except a different kind of dream."
In the dressing room Hunter spoke in a hoarse, hurt whisper: "I looked bad, I looked bad. I was better than that in my very first fight."
His two traveling companions were near tears. "I lost the fight, not Bobby," said his coach, Red Douglas. "I overtrained him. Three years of preparation and I blew it."
"Yeah," Hunter admitted two days later. "A few times I wanted to quit. I was going to tell Red, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings."
One official, who had seen Hunter fight at least 30 times, said: "He wouldn't have done anything in the Olympics. They've got those tall, long-armed guys, and he'd shake their hands and that'd be the last time he'd touch them."
Jesse Valdez was having a fine time in Fort Worth. He smiled at his opponents between rounds or when he inadvertently fouled them. He fought without great passion. Rage never twisted his features, nor fear. In three fights no one hurt him, and only rarely did anyone land well, but Valdez scored no knockouts. Content to win on points, secure in the conviction that he could, he never bore down hard. "I could have tried," he said later, "but there was no sense taking a chance on getting knocked out." Valdez looked at home in the ring, always in control, though his opponents appeared stronger than he. They bulled him, but he spun away and shot his good jab out and piled up points. With his white teeth, skin the color of a pecan shell and handsome Spanish face he looked like a man a young Ava Gardner would fall in love with. Many women at the trials stared at him, but he never gave them more than a polite smile in return. He phoned his wife regularly.
"In sixth grade I had a buddy, Jo Jo, who thought he was tough until he picked on a new kid and got into trouble," Jesse Valdez says. "I came over, threw a few punches and the guy was on the ground with a bloody nose. That night when I was in bed the guy's momma came over and told mine that I'd broken her son's nose and I was going to jail. I pretended I was sleeping, but the next day I was suspended from school for a few days. My momma was very upset. I never got in any fights after that. If necessary, I'd talk myself out of them. I'd tell the other guy I knew he could beat me up so why bother. I started boxing as an art. I didn't need it to defend myself."
Valdez' neighborhood was poor, but it was safe. He went to a boys' club regularly and they taught him right from wrong. They also told him he had to get through college to succeed in life, so a coach who was also a friend got him a scholarship to Howard Payne College in Brownwood, Texas, a boxing scholarship. His record was 175-5 by then. It was the first boxing scholarship Payne had ever given. They had no boxing team and Jesse was the only boxer at the school, but they got him a punching bag and he ran track to stay in shape in the year he was there.
"I assumed the school figured it was good publicity," he says. "Everyone in Texas knew Jesse Valdez then."
Valdez soon found that he couldn't study and train and do justice to both, so he quit training, got a job as a court bailiff and began going to South Texas Junior College at night. That was the end of his boxing career, or so he thought, and he joined the Air Force to get a free education. They put him in the security police, though, which he didn't care for, so he mentioned that he'd done some boxing and....
Soon afterward Jesse Valdez met a WAF named Jacquelyn Fedrizzi from Niagara Falls, N.Y. "Where does a girl from Niagara Falls go on her honeymoon?" he asked her. It wasn't a proposal. That came later, and there was another Valdez to fret over Jesse on fight night. Jesse's mother saw his first fight, when he was 11, weighed 85 pounds and "got smeared" as he puts it. She never saw him fight again. Jacqueline doesn't go for the sport, either. "She doesn't care for me to box," Jesse says, "but she understands that I make the rules."
"I'm a good sailor," Duane Bobick says, though he admits he has been on a ship only once—at dockside. Sailors are supposed to like girls though, he explains, and vice versa, so Bobick is not entirely accurate. He is a superb sailor. At Fort Worth a coed approached him with a book of raffle tickets. She didn't know who he was. "Sure," he said, buying one. When he handed back the stub he said, "Put your telephone number on the back." He gave her his best grin, certain it would turn her knees to jelly. The sun glinted off his ocean of wavy chestnut hair. It shone on his jaw, casting a considerable shadow on the sidewalk, but the girl was curiously immune. She demurred and Bobick seemed surprised. It may never have happened before. But a minute later he had forgotten about her. For him there would always be girls. He knew he was dynamite. His conviction was unshakable.
Duane Bobick and his family, 13 strong, have been described in these pages before (SI, Aug. 23, 1971), but the boyhood of a champion has many facets, all of them illuminating. At five Duane was walking home from school with a girl cousin when two six-year-old boys started "mouthing off," so he punched one of them. It was his first punch. The boy ran off with a bloody nose and brought back a nine-year-old and, Duane recalls: "I proceeded to beat him severely around the head and shoulders, scoring my second bloody nose and chipping his tooth."
At a time when other children begin playing touch football, the Bobicks were already playing tackle. "I survived on guts alone in those years," Duane says. A friend recalls: "Duane and his brother LeRoy would get in a fight, a neighbor would try to break it up and he'd get punched out." Soon the other kids in town were told not to play with the Bobick boys. And if anything went wrong they were always blamed. "People were just jealous of us 'cause we were so closely knit," Duane says. Yes, close knit, like a Mongol horde. One can envision a dusty swarm of snorting Bobicks sweeping through the streets of Bowlus, Minn. to the accompaniment of tornado-cellar doors slamming shut.
But the good people of Bowlus are mellowing toward the Bobicks. Last July 2 they celebrated Duane Bobick Day. Posters were tacked to every vertical surface. Everyone wore pins. "This Is Your Day, Duane Bobick," the posters and pins read. In the morning the Bobicks went to services at St. Stanislaus Kostka. Then they went downtown, where there was a stage that Duane's father had helped build. The population of Bowlus is 278, but 5,000 people turned out. They came from Little Falls and Royalton and Holdingford, and Duane stood on the stage and spoke to them. He told them Bowlus was the greatest place in the world. He told them of his schedule in the Navy, how for 19 months he has risen every day at 5 a.m. and run four miles, how he rests at noon, works out for three hours and goes to bed early. There were women in the crowd who turned to their young sons and told them to listen carefully because Duane was going to be a great man some day, and there were some who in years past hadn't looked too kindly on the Bobick clan, and some of the women were one and the same.
Now Bobby Lee Hunter is alone again in the room at TCU. There are no curtains on the windows. The walls are a bilious pink-tan. The room contains a bed, a sink and the chair Hunter is sitting on. A TV set is blaring and Hunter stares at it vacantly, arms folded, unapproachable, all his hurt and frustration aimed inward. He hasn't been invited to Bear Mountain after all. Only his legs are moving, bouncing up and down, just the way they do before his fights. His toughest one may have just begun.
Downstairs, in the lobby, Jesse Valdez is relaxed and smiling. He has just phoned his wife to tell her the good news. Outside, Duane Bobick is flirting with girls and wrestling playfully with his 283-pound brother LeRoy, down from Bowlus for the fights. Bobick says: "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am," but his tongue is practically protruding through his cheek. There is another heavyweight who talks like that, he says, but he doesn't like his manners.