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.