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?
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.