You Can Count Them Out

Palookas, tomato cans, 'opponents.' Whatever they're called, these are the fighters who go down so that the hometown heroes can go up.
Palookas, tomato cans, 'opponents.' Whatever they're called, these are the fighters who go down so that the hometown heroes can go up.
October 15, 1989

We fighters understand lies. What's a feint? What's a left hook off the jab? What's an opening? What's thinking one thing and doing another?
—JOSE TORRES
Former light heavyweight champion

*****

Four hours of interstate still lie ahead of Jake (the Snake) Torrence, so he stretches out in the front passenger's seat and sets his sights on refashioning the future. "After this fight, I'm thinkin' 'bout takin' some time off and makin' me a comeback," says Torrence, a junior middleweight. "I'm gonna make a little money now in the ring, and then have me enough to take some time off. Heal my hands up. Take care of these scars here." He points to his forehead and the outside edges of both eyes. "Get my body real smoooooth again. Then come back and make a run at the title."

This won't be easy. Torrence's record is no better than 17-31, and it's probably worse. Boxing as often as twice a month, he has lost 20 of his last 24 fights. He hasn't won in 16 months. He's 30. The current IBF middleweight champion is Michael Nunn, who's 34-0. He's 26.

"Jake's got all the tools," says the driver, John Taylor, a Gary, Ind., police lieutenant and Torrence's trainer, manager, backstage dresser and only true believer. He's taking Torrence to a fight in St. Paul. "He's got those voodoo moves. And that electric combination. Bam, bam, bambambam! He can run off five or six punches in a row, like Archie Moore used to, remember?"

Torrence has no job and no family. His mother, he says, kicked him out of her home in St. Louis last year because he wouldn't stop boxing. He was raised on that city's tough north side, has no occupational skills and has never held a job longer than six months. He has a slight stutter and an unsure smile. For the last year he has lived in the unfinished basement of a friend's home, where he keeps his clothes in a suitcase.

"I just need to get me away from the bad environments," says Torrence. "Get me a good vehicle. Get me to Chicago. Then I can travel on my own, move around when I want, boost my ego a little bit, maybe get some better fights. But now I got to take buses everywhere. Ain't got no vehicle."

He lost his license once on a drunken-driving charge and. though he has since gotten it back, he depends on Taylor to pick him up for running, fighting and training. Some days Torrence shows up to train and some days he doesn't. For instance, he didn't start training for this fight until three days ago. "I'm hopin' to meet me some movie producers somehow." he says. "I'd like to be one of them stuntman actors. Acourse I could do some acting, too, if they'd want. I just don't want to keep boxing so consecutively. I been boxing consecutively all my life." St. Paul is a long way off.

They used to be called tomato cans and billed as Joe Bagadonuts. Their names are the ones at the bottom of the poster. They're "opponents"—blank-fillers, setups, stand-ins. In football you schedule them for homecoming. In boxing you sell ads on the soles of their shoes.

Like Torrence, they travel from state to state for the privilege of having their faces redone. And there are hundreds of them. According to records put together by Ralph Citro, a consultant to the Association of Boxing Commissions, approximately two dozen fighters competing today haven't won at all, and dozens more haven't won in their last 10 or more fights, including William Reid of Baltimore, who, as of his last fight in Dec. '88, was 1-19-1. Says Citro, "at least a thousand" have been knocked out five or more times, and more than 100 have had losing streaks of six fights or more, including Jimmy Mitchell of Meridian, Miss., who, according to Citro, lost his first 29 bouts. Mitchell, though, has rebounded. He's now 3-38.

The opponent has been a legendary figure in boxing since the sport's earliest days. During the 1920s and '30s, Arnold Sheppard, the Human Canvas Burn, lost a record 146 bouts. In the '70s the Philadelphia Death Squads—teams of hapless pugs from the same gym—filled out entire cards. Opponents even had their own card in Ohio, the night promoter Don Elbaum held a World's Worst Boxer competition. He found two fighters with unblemished records—0-for-career—and matched them. It was agreed that the loser would get out of the game forever. Naturally, they fought to a draw.

Still, without opponents, without these knocked-out artists, where would boxing get its heroes? "These guys are potential stumbling blocks," says matchmaker Bruce Tram-pier. "They're trial horses. If you can't lick the trial horses, then you don't figure to go too far."

A lot of 21-0 contenders on ESPN are 21-0 because they have fought nothing but opponents. In the era of the mega-bout, television wants boxers with gorgeous records, and the only way to get a gorgeous record is to rearrange the faces of some dependably ugly rivals. New Jersey State Athletic Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. calls it "the sophisticated fix": A boxer with potential is spoon-fed wins until his record is sparkling enough to sign for a big-money bout. If he then goes out and gets clobbered, so what? He has made his score.

The New York State Athletic Commission is just down the hall from the Division of Cemeteries. "It's a standing joke around here," says Randy Gordon, the commission's chairman, "that that's where some local promoters are digging up their opponents."

But these are real people. Omaha's Jesse Abram once believed he could be champion; now, says Citro, he's 4-31-2 (Abram swears he has won "at least 10 or 12 times"). Either way, Abram hangs on, working at National Car Rental, punching a heavy bag in his basement, running three miles every morning, driving himself to a fight once a month, hiring a free-lance cutman, blocking a few punches with his head, taking his $200 and driving home.

Why does he stay with it? "I guess because it feels good to hit somebody and it feels good to be hit," says Abram, 31. To an opponent, the only thing worse than boxing is not boxing at all.

In New Jersey, Hazzard suspended 35 fighters for "poor performance" in 1986 and persuaded other state commissioners to ban them too. New York now has a rule that requires a boxer to appear at the commission for a medical evaluation if he accumulates six straight losses. Most states suspend fighters for 90 days after a knockout. However, because boxing is so disorganized—it has no national governing office, no central computer, no fighter-identification system—these rules are toothless. In recent years, several states have made efforts to coordinate their record-keeping, but much more remains to be done. "I suspended guys," says former New York commissioner Jose Torres, "but they went and fought in another state." Or they change their names, which is a way of life for a lot of opponents.

Besides, it's hard to ban a fighter if there's no way of knowing his record. Take Torrence. He says he's "thirty-two and twelve, something like that." Taylor has him at "about 15-19," not including at least a dozen unreported overseas bouts, all of which Torrence lost, Taylor says. Jim O'Hara, the executive secretary of the Minnesota boxing commission, has him listed at 17-27-1. As of Sept. 1, Citro had him at 10-30, and at the end of last year Texas had him listed at 6-17. New York has gotten wise to Torrence. "T never want to see him in New York again," says Gordon, who suspended Torrence last July after the fighter concealed a hand injury and then quit in his corner after the fifth round of a fight at the Felt Forum. Not that any of this matters. After all, the last thing an opponent wants in the ring with him is the truth.

Fighting as Mark French, Walter Cowans has a record of 9-2. As Big Jeff May, he's 4-9. As Walter Cowans and/or Raheem Muhammud, he's 14-52-1, says Citro. As Stan Johnson, he's 0-2. As Darrel Green, he's 4-2. As Johnny Bos, he's 0-2. All in all, Cowans figures his record is about 63-72-9, if you include the "seventy-five or 80" fights he knows were never turned in or were fought overseas or were fought under still other names. Truth is, Cowans would fight as Charles Lindbergh if it kept him in the ring. Banned in many states, including New Jersey and Illinois, Cowans uses phony names to keep the paychecks coming. Besides, says Cowans, "Mark French retired, so I figured he didn't need the name no more."

Even opponents have dreams. Cowans wants "to have more fights than any pro fighter in the history of boxing," though he has a long way to go. Len Wickwar, who fought from 1928 to '47, is credited with 463 fights. Cowans just turned 26, and he figures he already has 144 fights. He says he fought 46 times in 1986 and almost that many times over the next two years. Since Wickwar's daunting achievement is Cowans's primary goal, he has counted only the fights themselves, not wins and losses. "The more fights I lost, the more fights I got," he says.

A promoter, he says, once offered him $1,000 to fight a guy and another $1,500 not to beat him. That was in 1987. Cowans turned that one down, but he has had dozens of paydays for fights that neither he nor anyone else involved in the matchmaking ever expected him to win. This was especially true during a time when Cowans was addicted to crack and going through money faster than he could earn it. I said to myself, 'Man, I got to pay rent, keep the lights on. I'm facing reality here.' It depressed me."

Being hopelessly overmatched—often fighting two or three classes above his own weight division—became less depressing and more and more necessary. Says Cowans: "Stan [Johnson, Cowans's former manager] would call me and say something like, "Listen, I told the guy your record is 18-3. They're going to pay you $2,000! Eight rounds. But guess what? They're going to give you an extra $1,500 'cause there's no way you're going to beat the guy!"

"And I would think to myself, Why not? Hell, if I beat the guy they ain't gonna give me the fight anyway." It is true that Cowans once went 30 decisions without winning. So he would take the fight. Cowans would receive his purse and Johnson the extras. "I did that on numerous occasions—because there's nothing like having some money."

But even the money wasn't enough. Cowans took to stealing cars. He knew how to come by money. As a gang member in New Brunswick, N.J., he began carrying a straight razor in his fist between his thumb and forefinger. The straight razor is a clever instrument, Cowans says. "You jab a guy and he doesn't even know his face has been sliced."

He made the most of his chances with the gang's one handgun, robbing people in New Brunswick's lunchtime crowds. "You'd stick the barrel in the guy's side. And the guy would look in your eye and know you was serious," Cowans says. By the time he was 14, he was using PCP and shoplifting at grocery stores, stuffing hams and cheeses in the torn lining of his oversized coat. For a time, two Manhattan prostitutes took him in, and Cowans has had an affinity for prostitutes ever since. Who knows more than an opponent about what it's like to sell your body?

Cowans learned to box at the Willis Gym in New Brunswick. He is a quick, flashy tighter with long arms and a smooth delivery. "Man, I throw punches in bunches," he says. He won the New Jersey Golden Gloves 125-pound open championship at age 17. But when he turned pro at 19, he lost his first six fights, including two to Victor Flores. "About a month later I'm watching TV and I see this Flores guy fighting Jackie Beard, who was the NABF champ at the time," Cowans recalls, "and I'm thinking, Wow, why are these guys sticking me in fights like that?"

Stan Johnson took over as Cowans's manager in 1984, but Johnson wasn't exactly the Better Business Bureau. He now resides in a Franklin, Wis., prison where he is awaiting trial on charges of "theft-by-trick," for an alleged scam he pulled off while on parole for an armed-robbery conviction. Johnson also uses aliases. In Arkansas once, fighting under the name of Stanley White, he was knocked out in the first round by heavyweight Tex Cobb.

Cowans says Johnson would sign him up for any fight he could get. From early 1984 through early '86, Cowans lost 17 straight times, according to Citro; it was actually dozens more than that, says Cowans. Says Ron Peterson, now Cowans's manager, "Every town I'd go in, there'd be Walter, fighting under another name. I've seen Cowans fight three nights in a row. And he'd say, 'They're paying me $200. I'm not gonna win, but I'm not going down.' "

What hurts Cowans is knowing he had talent. But nothing hurt Cowans as much as Hazzard's drive to get him suspended across the country. Cowans got so depressed about it that on New Year's Day of this year, he spread out 15 grams of cocaine on his mother's coffee table, loaded a pistol and put it to his head. He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. So he twirled the chamber again and pulled....

Torrence and Taylor pull into the Emerald Inn off Highway 694 near St. Paul just before 1 a.m. the day of the fight. Torrence will sleep six hours before he has to make it down to the "official weigh-in" at nearby Gordies Bar, where he will pay his $5 license fee. He usually has to borrow the money from Taylor.

At Gordies Bar there are peanut shells on the floor, truckers at the bar, black curtains on the windows, and a bathroom scale ready for the weigh-in. Torrence, wearing gray sweats and a blue suit coat, weighs 151, but it's written as 154. His opponent, Minnesota state middleweight champion Dan Schommer, 21-0 with 18 knockouts, weighs 160.

The fighters have never seen each other before. In fact, Torrence had no idea until now that Schommer fights left-handed. Schommer thinks Torrence is a major test. "I heard he fought Donny Lalonde," Schommer says.

No, but Torrence has been pummeled by some of the best: Troy Darrell (20-0 at the time), Donald Curry (12-0), Buddy McGirt (10-0-1), Darrin (Schoolboy) Van Horn, Italian champion Gianfranco Rosi, Nino La Rocca, Matthew Farrago and numerous others. Torrence is a human notch in the ring post of boxing.

Like Cowans, Torrence once was a prospect. In the AAU 147-pound quarterfinals in 1979, he lost to the eventual champion, Curry. He was runner-up to Curry the next year in the national Golden Gloves. Torrence won seven of his first eight pro bouts. "I seen I had the talent," he says. "I knew I could make a little money in boxing. I seen Leonard and Ali. I was seeking fame and fortune. I pushed myself. Maybe I should have pushed myself more."

The truth is that "Jake wanted it too bad," says Taylor, and he began signing deals with three and four promoters at once. He would take the best check, even if it wasn't the best fight.

Pretty soon, Torrence had too many losses to be considered a contender. Taylor took him over and tried to ease him slowly out of boxing. He got Torrence a steady job as a garbageman, but Torrence kept quitting. "I was making $5.50 an hour then," Torrence says. "I'd probably be up to $6.20 now. I thought I was gonna have a big-time career."

Taylor was a fighter himself until his trainer, Eddie Futch, told him, "Go home, son, and get yourself a job." Now Taylor can't work up the nerve to tell Torrence the same thing again.

"What am I gonna do?" he says. "Jake needs a skill. He doesn't have no job. Am I gonna send a guy straight from pro boxing—with the applause of the crowd in his ears—right to the welfare line?"

Taylor has tried hard to get the most out of Torrence, but it isn't easy. "I'll be honest with you," Taylor said one day as he waited for Torrence to show up to train. "Jake messes with that cocaine. He gets a little money, and ain't nothin' important to him."

Now, Torrence is just a store-bought W for most fighters. In his career, he has fought at home in Gary only four times. The biggest purse he has ever gotten is $4,500.

It's 2:30 p.m.—about seven hours before the fight—and Torrence has a bowl full of spaghetti and half a baked chicken in front of him. That uses up more than the $10 food money the promoter allows him per day, but it's his best meal in a week. As Torrence eats, Taylor takes his turn at reworking Destiny. "We win this fight," Taylor says, "and we're talking about more recognition, more money, getting to fight at home for once. We're in the area now that it's either do or die. We're going to do it. One of these days, I'm going to stand in the champion's corner."

Perhaps, but not just yet. First, they're off to find a sporting-goods store. Need to buy something for the fight tonight. Boxing trunks.

There are boxing opponents, and then there is Bruce (the Mouse) Strauss, the Prince of Palookas.

At 37, Strauss likes to boast that he has been knocked out on every continent except Antarctica—"and not even James Bond can say that," he says. He has escaped victory 80 times under his real name and another "fifty or 60" under an assortment of a dozen aliases. "If you haven't seen me knocked out," says Strauss, "you're nobody."

He's the one opponent who doesn't live the lie. He has spent his whole life trying to become, in his proud words, "the greatest opponent in boxing history." He has been tucked in for the night by the best: Harry Arroyo, Bobby Czyz, Mike McCallum and Marlon Starling.

"I was born to be an opponent," says Strauss, and he might be right. At 16, he was hit in the head with a shot put. When he came to, he realized he had only a slight headache and—eureka!—his life's work was decided. From that moment on, Strauss knew he could do what he loved to do—box—and not be the least bit talented at it.

"I deserve to get knocked out for all the fun I've had," he says. And what fun it has been. Strauss has never broken his nose—but on nine or 10 occasions someone else has done it for him. He has also had his jaw broken once, ribs three times and his eardrums "numerous" times. He has been KO'd by punches to the liver and the solar plexus, and has been pounded in the kidneys to the point of urinating blood. He has suffered temporary amnesia twice.

He has been knocked out three times in a week, and twice in one night. That night Strauss found himself in a familiar position after his fight—waking up in the locker room. What woke him up was a commotion in the hall. The main-event opponent had gotten cold feet and left the arena. The promoter had a packed house, a hometown hero and no "opponent."

"Let me do it," Strauss said. "I can change my trunks and fight as somebody else."

"You? You just got knocked out!" said the promoter.

"So?" said Strauss. "Whaddaya got to lose?"

Strauss got $500 more than the scheduled bum was supposed to receive and, under another of his aliases, got knocked out in the third round.

Strauss will take any fight, anywhere, at any weight. He has a special pair of baggy trunks with pockets inside that are perfect for tailoring his weight to the necessary poundage; all he has to do is show up for the weigh-in with the requisite number of lead weights. For instance, most days Strauss, who stands 5'7", weighs about 155 pounds. Yet he can weigh as much as 180 with his trick trunks. To fight light heavyweight Poison Ivy Brown in 1979, Strauss came to the weigh-in with the trunks loaded up and made 172 pounds.

He can go the other way, too. Once, in Rome, where Strauss had gone to fight an undercard bout against Carlos Santos, a future IBF junior middleweight champion, the promoter discovered he suddenly needed a junior welterweight for the main event. Naturally, Strauss volunteered. That meant dropping from 152 to 139 overnight. He spent the entire night—eight hours—in the steam room, wobbled into the weigh-in, made weight, slept for four hours, and then came to the fight and stayed on his feet for almost five rounds. "And the guy gave me $2,000 extra!" says Strauss.

Three days later, in Totowa, N.J., sporting a purple right eye and a nice case of jet lag, Strauss substituted again at the last minute and, for $3,500, was stopped in eight rounds by Nino Gonzales. Three days, two continents, two face plants, two paychecks. Now that's versatility.

Not that Strauss hasn't landed a few knockout punches of his own. In one fight with a hometown hero, the referee seemed particularly eager for Strauss to lose—as if he needed any help. Every time he separated the two fighters, the referee would dig his fingernails into Strauss's chest, drawing blood. Fed up, Strauss threw an unfortunate roundhouse left that missed his foe by an easy two feet but caught the referee flush on the chin and knocked him out.

Strauss's formula for failure is simple. When he gets to the arena, he checks the padding in the ring. "It's not necessarily the punch that hurts you," says Strauss, "but your head can really get bounced on some of those hard rings." He fights hard the first few rounds—on the off chance that a lucky shot might knock the other guy out. But if he gets tagged, he looks for "the soft spot on the canvas," hits that spot and stays there. Strauss says that 90% of the time he gets up before the count of 10 so as to avoid the mandatory 90-day suspension that usually follows a KO. When the referee holds up fingers and asks Strauss how many he sees, Strauss deliberately gives the wrong answer, then protests loudly when the fight is stopped on a TKO.

That's not taking a dive, says Strauss, that's living to lose another day. "If I hit the guy with my best shot and he just grins, then I realize I don't have a competitive chance. I figure I'm going to be on my back sooner or later anyway, so why not make it sooner?"

To Strauss, who also works as a promoter, the ultimate opponent is somebody like himself, a guy who will win about half his bouts, beat up the club fighters, lose to the hometown contenders and never flunk an EEG. "There's no such thing as an 0-10 opponent," says Strauss. "Who can sell an 0-10 fighter?"

Unfortunately, nobody fits the bill like Strauss. And so, even today, he will fill in wherever a boxer doesn't show up. Have chin, will travel. In late May, Strauss substituted at the last minute on the undercard of the Virgil Hill-Joe Lasisi fight in Bismarck, N.Dak., and knocked his guy out.

Strauss can get bigger checks than Torrence or Cowans because he has proved he can give a contender eight or 10 rounds in a losing effort. And the way he does that, he says, is to aim a punch at his protective cup. "I do that in the first round of every fight with a contender," he explains. "I give him an uppercut to the crotch, and all of a sudden I've got his respect. Now he's dancing and jabbing, not charging right in."

Of course, the refs don't sanction this. One night, a referee came to Strauss's corner after the first round and said, "It ain't fair that you're hitting this guy low."

"Yeah?" Strauss replied. "Well it ain't fair that he's better than me, neither."

As Torrence and the lieutenant arrive at Aldrich Arena, two hours before the fight, they look up and see that Torrence's name is misspelled on the marquee: TORRANCE. Welcome to St. Paul.

Inside the arena, the boxing ring is not a boxing ring at all: It's a wrestling ring. And the mat isn't canvas: It's rubber. And the locker room isn't exactly a locker room: It has neither lockers nor showers. And the card girl is new too. After the first round of the first fight, she high-pumps around the ring holding a giant "1." You think Michael Nunn has to put up with this stuff?

Torrence will fight in the sixth of seven bouts. He's examined by the ring doctor, who checks his eyes, ears, nose, blood pressure and pulse and writes "O.K." on the sheet. As Taylor is taping Torrence's hands, a man rushes into the locker room. "Which one is Jake?" he hollers.

It is the second time tonight someone has rushed into the room and asked which one is Jake. It doesn't swell a man's confidence.

With one bout to go, there's nothing left to do but wait. Torrence stands in the center of the room, half-heartedly dancing and jabbing. There's one other boxer there, slipping his jeans over his trunks. Taylor stares down at the dirty tile floor and starts to mumble just loud enough for Torrence to hear.

"Got to let this kid know right away, this ain't no club fight anymore. You been around."

Torrence says nothing.

"We want some jaw," Taylor says, a little louder. "We're chest benders. He ain't ever been out of this town before. You been all over the world. Teach him something. Teach him something! He just wants to add you to his list. We're going to stop this crap, beginning tonight! He wanna win; you got to win! You got to win if you wanna stay in the business! You ain't no damn club fighter!"

Just then, a man rushes in and says, "Which one's Jake?"

"Right here," says Torrence with a sigh.

"You're up."

Boxing is lonely enough as it is—two men in the ring, stripped nearly naked, facing the worst kind of danger. There are no teammates, no backups, no injury timeouts. But lonelier still is the boxer for whom every fight is a road fight, for whom every arena is somebody else's arena. And so, as the tuxedo with the microphone introduces Torrence, there is only one man clapping: Taylor. To the 1,500 watching, Torrence is just one more potential blood donor.

Torrence gives away four inches to Schommer, who from the bell is decidedly the aggressor. In fact, Torrence does not throw a punch in the first round, much to the dismay of the crowd. One fan hollers, "Hit the 8 ball, Dan," a racist reference to Torrence's oversized forehead.

By the fourth round, Torrence has thrown a maximum of five punches and Taylor is screaming, "You're not doin' nothin'! Got to do somethin'! You ain't won a round!"

After the sixth, Taylor has seen that Schommer drops his left hand after a right. Still, Torrence does not exploit it. In the eighth, a frustrated Schommer traps Torrence against the side ropes and clobbers him with two furious rights. Torrence staggers but rights himself and runs again.

There will be no voodoo moves tonight. No electric combinations. All Torrence wants to do tonight is collect his paycheck without the use of smelling salts. Archie Moore wouldn't approve.

In the 10th, Schommer is throwing Torrence a leather-lasting party. Schommer has no fear. He's wading in on Torrence standing straight up, unworried. He deposits a few more rights before the bell, and everybody in the arena knows the score.

Torrence doesn't win a single round. As Schommer's name is announced, Torrence holds up Schommer's left hand with his right and turns him four times for the approval of the crowd. It's a kind gesture, and one that Torrence executes well.

He should. He has had enough practice.

When the pistol clicked a second time, Walter Cowans threw the gun down, left it and the cocaine in the living room, and got on a bus for Minneapolis. He knew of a shelter called People Serving People, where Ray Whebbe, a recovered user and fringe boxing character, worked as a supervisor. Whebbe set Cowans up with a room and promoter Peterson.

Since that day, Cowans says, he hasn't touched crack. He also hasn't lost a fight. Fighting as Raheem Muhammud, he has won six in a row and wants a chance at the junior welterweight title. This week he is scheduled to fight an eight-round main event against Mike Evgen in St. Paul for the Minnesota state junior welter title, the biggest chance he has ever had. Of course, even if he loses, there will be many more paydays. To box, to hit and be hit, that's ultimately his lot.

"I'm like Jack Johnson, fighting all the time," Cowans says. "Nowadays, a guy goes 18-1 and he thinks his career is over. Me, I'll fight tonight and tomorrow and the next night and the next night. I could fight 10 nights in a row. If I can't get in the ring, I might as well be dead."

Now Cowans is into vitamins and inspiration and long walks in the Minnesota cold. As he walks, he thinks about Willie Pastrano, a substitute for a substitute when he won the light heavyweight championship in 1963. Or Freddie Pendleton, who took his 21-15-3 record and beat 26-2-2 Ras-I Bramble for the U.S. Boxing Association lightweight title in July '88. Opponents have their gods too.

"I'm never gonna give up hope that I can be champion," says Cowans. "I have all the credentials to be champion. I'm still somebody. If it can happen to Freddie Pendleton, it can happen to me."

With that, Cowans is off on a walk around downtown Minneapolis, buoyed by new hope and confidence. Not to mention the straight razor in his right fist.

Sometimes, you're just too tired and sore and beat up to keep the lie propped up. For a while, Schommer has beaten the truth into Torrence and Taylor.

"I couldn't get nothing off on him," says Torrence. "He was strong."

Sitting alone on the wooden bench, Taylor can see the end coming. "Jake doesn't have that go in him anymore," he says. "He doesn't have no fire.... We're just an opponent. We're everybody's test. People pay us to let them beat upon us."

The beating is over. Now for the paying. Peterson brings in $1,200 in $20 bills and hands them to Taylor, who counts himself out $120, paper-clips another $120 for the match-maker and hands the rest to Torrence. Then Torrence and Taylor collect their clothes and head for the door.

"I ain't gonna say anything to the papers about this fight, Jake," Taylor says. "Just gonna keep quiet about it."

"Yeah," says Torrence. "They'll just make us look bad."

Outside, clumps of girlfriends and admirers and back-rubbers surround Schommer and the other winning fighters, all of them from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. In their jubilation, they don't notice Torrence and the lieutenant skirting around them.

Together, the two head up the concrete staircase, out the steel doors and into the light-less parking lot, where they will stuff themselves back into the Eldorado, start it up and begin driving down a road too long and dark to imagine.

PHOTOBRIAN LANKERBRUCE (THE MOUSE) STRAUSS WILL FIGHT ANYONE, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME—AT ANY

 

WEIGHTPHOTOBRIAN LANKERBOXERS LIKE JAKE (THE SNAKE) TORRENCE FIND THEIR NAMES-AND ALIASES-AT THE BOTTOM OF FIGHT POSTERSPHOTOBRIAN LANKERWALTER COWANS'S HANDS ARE QUICK WITH PUNCHES IN THE RING AND QUICK WITH A STRAIGHT RAZOR OUT ON THE STREETFOUR PHOTOSBRIAN LANKER

 

THESE GUYS, YOU SELL ADS ON THE SOLES OF THEIR SHOES

 

I GOT TO TAKE BUSES. AIN'T GOT NO VEHICLE

 

IT FEELS GOOD TO HIT SOMEBODY, AND IT FEELS GOOD TO BE HIT

 

HELL, IF I BEAT THE GUY THEY AIN'T GONNA GIVE ME FIGHT

 

IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ME KNOCKED OUT, YOU RE NOBODY

 

WITHOUT OPPONENTS, WHERE WOULD BOXING GET ITS HEROES?

 

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)