Blast From the Past: The Local Boxing Scene Blows Chunks (1981)

Here’s an article that ran on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune sports section back in 1981.  Yes, that’s page 1C.  I wish I were nearly as good a writer as Joe Soucheray, and I wish that any columnist in Minnesota were inclined to give boxing as much ink as he did here.

For what it’s worth, this column presents a great object lesson for those of us who have grown accustomed to local promoters, managers, matchmakers, et al, airing their dirty laundry on boxing bulletin boards.  This is what comes from people who can’t (or won’t) work together with civility and professionalism.

This article is used without permission, by the way.

Originally published October 7, 1981 in the Minneapolis Tribune

Rochester Ben stays at Met and fight fans stay frustrated

News comes by way of some small print and a couple of phone calls that a local threesome of boxing promoters, Bill Cooley, Ron Peterson and Ed Sharkey, made attempts to secure the franchise at the Met Center, a franchise being the right to promote fights.   Normally, this would be water under the bridge, because any news of boxing in Minnesota usually turns out to be no news at all, which is not exactly the same as no news being good news.

Cooley, Peterson and Sharkey offered to post a $5,000 bond in lieu of staging five strong shows in  a  year’s time and also touted the fact they could produce Joe Frazier, at least once, on his comeback trail.  Joe might be 37 and he will probably get his bell cracked somewhere along the line, but he would have been a big name on a local fight card, especially if he climbed into the ring against Scott LeDoux.

And all of this might have happened, except that the Minnesota Boxing Commission, in its finite wisdom, granted the Met Center franchise to Ben Sternberg, thus allowing Rochester Ben to succeed himself as a franchise holder who has excelled at doing exactly nothing.  Maybe there are people around who remember when Sternberg put on a good show, but he has had the Met territory going on three years now and there haven’t been any Rochester Ben fights, unless Bert and Ernie got into it during Sesame Street on Ice.

Local boxing doesn’t deserve as much ink as it will get here, but once in a while, against all odds, it is worth trying to explain how the local action takes place, or in most cases, doesn’t.  Sternberg, for example, already sounds like a villain in this caper, which isn’t necessarily true, while Cooley, Peterson and Sharkey sound like guys who got robbed, which isn’t necessarily true either.

It seems that one day Cooley, the land developer who helped put together the purchase of Metropolitan Stadium, and Peterson and Sharkey, ex-professional wrestlers and part-time promoters, heard about Joe Frazier coming out of retirement.  Cooley dove in.  He contacted a Columbus, Ohio, promoter named Jan Aronson of the Frazier camp.  They taked about this and that and pretty soon Cooley had a role, as they say in boxing.  He was to secure front money for Frazier as well as a local franchise and Aronson would deliver a Frazier-LeDoux match to the Met Center.  This was possible because Aronson and LeDoux’s manager, Joe Daszkiewicz, know each other and in boxing a friendly nod might be as good as a lifelong relationship, particularly if either party smells money.

“But I knew we’d never get the franchise,” Peterson said Tuesday.  “Maybe the commission doesn’t like me.  I know Sternberg doesn’t like me.  I have a reputation of being uncouth.”

Peterson has been known to chase boxing comissioners around a room while trying to break chairs over their heads, but he swore he was on his best behavior for this meeting.

“I wore a brand new jogging suit,” Peterson said.  “OK, I wore just the top to the suit.  But my jeans were clean.”

At the meeting in question, Sternberg applied for the license and produced a letter of intent from LeDoux, meaning that yes, LeDoux would fight an opponent of his choice for Ben.  Sly old Ben had been working with Daszkiewicz.  But sly old Daszkiewicz also thought he had committed his fighter to the bout against Frazier, as conceived by Aronson.  Remember, the ground work for this fight was in Cooley’s hands.

Now up pops Cooley at the meeting and makes his pitch – late in the proceedings – for the franchise, but according to Harry Davis, the chairman of the boxing commission, Cooley couldn’t produce any letters of intent or telegrams.  The commission took its vote.  Sternberg won.

“The other group could only say what they might have,” Ben said yesterday from Rochester.  “I had signed telegrams.”

“Right or wrong,” Davis said yesterday, “Ben’s got the franchise.  But he’s been warned to produce or we have to look for somebody else in that location.  I would have loved to see LeDoux fight Frazier in this state.”

Cooley was really a victim of his own bad timing.  He only got involved in the first place because he could provide the front money for Frazier that Aronson lacked.  A week after Rochester Ben got his beloved franchise, Cooley asked for a special meeting of the commission, to show them that he had LeDoux and Frazier all locked up.  If he did, it was principally because Aronson’s deadline had passed for getting front money to Frazier and he had to drop out of the picture, making him the most severely burned party.

“I didn’t know about the war those people had going on up there,” Aronson said yesterday from Columbus.  This guy won’t work with that guy.  What a mess.  I dropped out completely.”

The war, of course, is the war between Rochester Ben and anybody who tries to cut in on him.  Peterson has tried for years to at least occasionally acquire the Bloomington franchise, so there was no way Ben would work a LeDoux-Frazier fight with any goup that had Peterson involved, new jogging suit or not.  And there is no way that Rochester Ben will promote a Frazier fight if it means cutting Joe a slice of money before the house is counted, which means that the only guy who could produce Frazier in Minnesota now has no place to display him unless he wants the Zumbrota Fairgrounds or the Stillwater Armory.

Sternberg doesn’t do business with money he can’t lay eyes on.  It involves risk, or worse, trust.  Rochester Ben figures that anything involving a risk is very bad business in the business of boxing.

Holmgren to fight Strauss

Gary Holmgren (22-4) of St Paul will fight Bruce Strauss (55-17-2) of Omaha, Neb., in the 10-round welterweight headliner tonight at the Prom Center in St Paul.  The boxing card, starting at 8:30pm, features five other bouts, including four-time Minneapolis Golden Gloves champion Scott Papsadora against Timmy Miller of Kansas in a four-round middleweight bout.

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