isn't, as far as gimmickry is concerned. Fisher and Goldberg once had a
heavyweight named Curtis Sheppard who was putting opponents' lights out upon
request. That wasn't enough for them. They bought a hatchet, painted it gold
and gave it and the nickname Hatchetman to Sheppard. He carried the hatchet
into the ring with him every fight after that. When he fought Jersey Joe
Walcott, someone had to carry it out for him.
that come to Steelworkers don't want no gimmicks," says Hanover. "They
don't want no free T shirts. They don't want no free boxing gloves. They want
to see blood, that's what they want to see—blood. As long as it isn't
theirs." The boxers who turn up regularly on Eli's cards seem eager to draw
it or give it. "They are," he says, "ath-a-letes. You can't give
the people what I call tomato cans. You know, no fluff-fluffs, no boo-boos, no
ha-has. You do, you're out of business. You got to give the people
One of the fights
Eli dreamed of would have matched Wes Unseld, the redwoodthighed center of the
then Baltimore Bullets, with 6'5", 280-pound Bobo Renfrew. This is the same
Bobo Renfrow who, when asked to sing his school song during a tryout with the
old Boston Patriots, warbled the Schaefer beer commercial. Bobo turned to
boxing when football rejected him, and when boxing became too hard, he went
underground. "He's working on the subway in Washington," Eli says.
"I think he's holding up the street."
So Hanover must
settle for fighters of lesser physical stature but equally strange reputation.
Light heavyweight Josh Hall's performances at Steelworkers have led to rumors
of a jaw made by Libbey-Owens-Ford. But he is 4 and 0 in the parking lot of The
Frigate lounge in suburban Glen Burnie. It is surprising that welterweight
Buddy Boggs has time for boxing at all. He claims to have wrestled alligators,
driven a motorcycle off a bridge for the Annette Funicello classic, How to
Stuff a Wild Bikini, and come up swinging after falling 20 floors in an
elevator on a construction job. "Ronnie McGarvey, he's my Jesus freak,"
Hanover says. Once Eli paid McGarvey $650 for a main event at Steelworkers that
the undefeated featherweight thought was worth more. "But I didn't argue
the case with him," says McGarvey. "I just want to praise God."
is studiously watching the development of Leo Saenz, a 19-year-old middleweight
whom Greyhound brought him last spring. Saenz is one of 14 children born to an
itinerant Mexican-American fruitpicker in Edinburg, Tex. When he was 14 and his
family had journeyed to Kalamazoo, Mich., Leo set out on his own. He survived a
brush with the law over some stolen pants and began learning his way around the
ring. "I was just practicing with those other dudes," he says.
"They was using me. They thought I wasn't going nowhere. And one day, this
old guy—his name is Johnny Gale—he sees me practicing for the Golden Gloves and
he said, 'You got it, man,' and he sent me to Baltimore."
has held up through Saenz's first 13 professional triumphs, eight by knockouts.
Relentlessly aggressive, Leo is always hunting them. Trainer Terry Moore
remembers Leo's reaction to one of the five decisions he has won: "Leo kept
saying, 'I gotta knock him out, I gotta knock him out." I said, 'Leo, you
already done punched holes in the man.' He said, 'I know, but I gotta knock him
guy," Eli says of the kid, "is the best fighter I seen in the past 30
years potential-wise. If he don't become a champion, it's because he didn't
try. He can be what you'd call your Rolls-Royce of boxing." Of course Eli
says that, or something equally flattering, about every local product who
appears on his shows and whose fists are worth taping. "If Buddy Boggs
doesn't revive boxing in Baltimore," he once said, "then I'm getting
out of the game." Bobo Renfrow was "the hottest, livest fighter in the
country" and Ronnie McGarvey still "may be the best featherweight in
the country." To every such pronouncement, regardless of its accuracy, Eli
adds solemnly, "May this building fall on my head right now if that ain't
barker's pitch is for the public, but the boxers aren't immune to Hanover's
salesmanship, either. More than once one of Josh Hall's opponents has shown up
over the weight limit. "My manager will be standing there," Josh says,
"and I'll be trying to listen to him and Eli. Well, you know how Eli can
talk. He'll look me right in the eye and say, 'You want to fight, don't you?',
and the only thing I can say is, 'Yeah.' "
Hanover begins to
wonder if his magic is evaporating when he has fight nights at Steelworkers
like the one just past. The regular clientele showed up—Jack Pollack,
Baltimore's fading political boss, and Simon Avara, Governor Marvin Mandel's
barber, and a gang of old pugs remembered only by each other—but they wouldn't
fill the place. The thought of it grated Eli so badly that he made friends of
his non-paying customers buy tickets. "I'm sorry," Eli said, "but
even the pay phone ain't workin'."
Neither were the
somnambulists in the first preliminary. "Hurry up and knock him out," a
fan in the balcony yelled to lightweight Billy Bell, the local entry. "I
got somewhere to go tonight." "Yeah, knock him out," cried a
ringsider. "The man's got somewhere to go." Bell couldn't oblige them,
but he remained upright and proved again that is the best way to ensure victory
in Baltimore over an outsider.