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Brenner's most impressive accomplishment at the Garden is that he has survived, his tenure being the longest of any matchmaker in the arena's history. "Let me tell you something," he says. "There have been all those grand jury investigations and district attorneys looking into boxing, and everybody else in boxing has been called down to Washington. But I've never even been called to testify anywhere. If they had anything on me, don't you think they'd use it? Well, there was that one grand jury in Chicago that subpoenaed me, but that didn't amount to anything. I went there for 20 minutes."
Teddy Brenner could hardly have lasted in his present job, and the same goes for Harry Markson, unless the Garden's boxing operation was paying its own way. In better times Madison Square Garden staged some 30 boxing shows a year in its own arena, another 35 or so at St. Nicholas Arena and an occasional super attraction at Yankee Stadium or some other outdoor setting. Today there are barely 35 shows, all told, a dozen of them in the new building's 20,000-seat main arena and the rest in the 5,000-seat Felt Forum. It is a rousing success to break even on a show in the Forum, which Markson calls an "incubator" for promising fighters, and the results are sometimes little better in the arena.
The boxing operation nevertheless manages to show an end-of-the-year profit, although the Garden's financial statements do not disclose, and Markson will not say, just how much of one. In any case, the key to staying in the black is the fact that all it takes to offset a lot of losing shows is a big success or two. One such success was the doubleheader that opened the new Garden on March 4, 1968, featuring two title bouts, Nino Benvenuti-Emile Griffith and Joe Frazier-Buster Mathis. That particular card drew a live gate of $658,503, which is a record for an indoor show.
Everybody in boxing will unblushingly tell you that a bout between a good black fighter and a good white one still makes for big box office, especially in the heavyweight division. For that and other reasons, it required no gift of matchmaking genius to conceive of the artistic and financial possibilities of pairing such brave-bull opponents as Joe Frazier and Jerry Quarry. Where the genius came in, to hear Brenner tell it, was in the negotiations that brought the two fighters together.
In dealing with Quarry, says Brenner, "the problem was in selling him on the idea of fighting the greatest offensive heavyweight around. With Frazier it was a different problem. He would rather have fought Jimmy Ellis, to clear up the heavyweight situation. The convincer was one thing, M-O-N-E-Y. A quarter of a million dollars. Frazier's manager, I love him. He gets right down to the nitty gritty: 'Talk money and I'll listen.' Besides, Frazier likes to stick with Madison Square Garden because, he says, 'That Teddy Brenner, he helped get me where I am.' With some guys it's always, 'What have you done for me lately?' "
Frazier is not the only fighter who owes his success to Brenner, according to Teddy's own scorecard. Harking back to his days at Eastern Parkway and St. Nicholas Arena, Brenner says that in his capacity as matchmaker he "discovered" Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, "introduced" Gene Fullmer and "nurtured" Joey Giardello. In making such claims Brenner employs his verbs interchangeably so that he may actually have nurtured Fullmer, introduced Jackson and so forth.
When it comes to judging winning form a matchmaker probably has an even tougher job than a horse trader, who at least has Thoroughbred bloodlines to go by. In horse racing Reigh Count won the Kentucky Derby, and his son Count Fleet and grandson Count Turf did likewise. In boxing Gene Tunney won the heavyweight title, and his son John was elected to Congress. Instead of studying pedigrees, the matchmaker has to keep individual images of countless fighters etched indelibly on his memory. And he must be able to graft any two of them onto the same image to picture them fighting each other. Brenner is said to have that turn of mind, probably not unlike that of a master chess player, that lends itself to subtle exercises of mental projection.
"Teddy will match a guy you wouldn't think had a chance against another," says onetime Fight Manager Marv Jensen, who remains an admirer despite Brenner's negative first reaction to Jensen's espousal of the cause of Gene Fullmer. "But he knows different. He knows this guy has a style or an asset that will offset advantages of the other guy. And he also knows the drawing power of the fighters. He can predict within a few dollars what a match will draw. He knows the heartbeat of a fighter—and the fight fan."
As the onetime proprietor of the House of Upsets, Brenner also knows the fan appeal of closely matched, unpredictable bouts. He openly prides himself on being able to lull favorites into overconfidence and to fire up underdogs with visions of victory, but he says he does all this merely for the sake of making the match. "Whenever there's an upset they always say, 'That Brenner must know something.' Well, let me tell you something. All the matchmaker can do is suggest the fight. It's the manager who says yes or no." Brenner also insists that he would never move a young and promising fighter into tough bouts before he was ready. One who begs to differ is Cus D'Amato, former manager of Floyd Patterson. "Brenner may make fights that the fans want to see," says D'Amato, "but he doesn't care which fighters get hurt in the process. He'll destroy a guy for a single fight. He's the kind of businessman who only worries about the present, but doesn't worry about protecting his investment for the future."
When D'Amato had Patterson on the way up, Brenner booked Floyd into Eastern Parkway no fewer than 13 times, with Patterson winning 12 of the bouts. Today D'Amato in one breath accuses Brenner of unsuccessfully trying to destroy Patterson while admitting in the next breath that he himself personally approved each of his fighter's 13 bouts. For his part, Brenner claims full credit for discovering—or nurturing, or introducing—Patterson, yet he then turns around and dismisses him as a "second-rate champion." If the Garden management wants another moneymaking attraction, it could do worse than book D'Amato and Brenner for an exhibition in mental gymnastics.