Pete Ashlock, boxing manager and promoter, pushes back his $300 cowboy hat and contemplates the glories of the Florida sun and the complexities of his personality. "I'd say I am the most honest, generous, upright, benevolent person in the whole world," he says. And how would he describe himself if he were telling the truth? "I'd say I'm a sorry, no-good s.o.b., but if I was better educated, I'd do better."
No one questions Ashlock's savvy, but everyone agrees that in an earlier life he was probably a thorn. He operates out of Orlando. Among his detractors are the U.S. Government, which once filed a six-count tax-evasion indictment against him, and Orlando city fathers, who can't stand—or understand—Ashlock's brand of Old West individualism and straight talk. He says the cornerstone of his philosophy is "Don't ever say no until you hear the price."
Veteran fight manager and trainer Angelo Dundee says of Ashlock, "He's fair and his word is truly his bond." That's the scouting report on Ashlock. If he gives you his word, take it to the bank. His promises don't take funny bounces. Ashlock is among the last of those who think that all things are possible as long as you do them yourself. "When I decide to have a board meeting," says the self-made millionaire, "it takes about two seconds for everybody to get there and vote. And what you've got to remember is there ain't one Government employee who will ever help you do anything, but that every one of 'em will try to keep you from doing something."
A perfect example of how Ashlock, a former Texas rodeo cowboy, flies in the face of conventional wisdom is his boxing club in Orlando, which is both a club for boxers and an arena in which club fighters appear. Whatever made Ashlock think that a fight club, which stages pro bouts every other Tuesday night, would succeed in Orlando? "Nothing," says Ashlock. "I never thought it would succeed. Orlando ain't a sports town." So why try? "I like it. Besides, you got to build talent somewhere. Why not here?"
Sure enough, boxing isn't succeeding in Orlando. Indeed, it's an abject failure, financially. Townspeople stay away in droves from his Orlando Sports Stadium, which could seat 9,500 for boxing; the biggest crowd ever was 3,858, and 1,000-1,200 is closer to normal. But Ashlock perseveres, saying, "When a promoter quits dreaming about a full house, he'd better get out of the business. A good promoter has always got to have a good excuse. That's the most important thing. Like when we have a small crowd, I say, 'Well, the Winn-Dixie store stayed open too late.' It doesn't matter how good the excuse is, long as you got one."
Still, Ashlock's club—about 15 pros are under contract to him, and 25 or so amateur fighters are also members—is one of the busiest boxing facilities in the country. It is thus a blockbuster success, artistically. Dundee credits Ashlock with being one of the nation's most active promoters. New York matchmaker Gil Clancy says, "Ashlock isn't impossible to deal with. All he wants is the best match and the most money." There are only four boxing capitals in the U.S.: New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Orlando. Chris Dundee, the Miami promoter, says of Ashlock, "He's got to love boxing, because God knows how much money he has lost on it."
Ashlock has lost money on every one of his boxing shows. Conversely, he makes money on every one of his weekly wrestling shows. This year he'll stage 155 events in the Sports Stadium, including rodeos, horse shows, rock shows and boxing. The other night he took in $5,126 on a boxing card; his expenses were $7,000. "Don't matter," says Ashlock. "I just bought a $1,900 ticket and I had a good time." And in the post-midnight shadows of the barnlike stadium, he explains that "when you're trying to sell the public something you like, you're at their mercy. If we'd had more people tonight, I'd have lost less, and if we'd had less people, I'd have lost more. But boxing is an individual thing and I like that. And if I keep two or three kids off the street or out of jail, it's worth it to me."
But Ashlock really keeps going, he says, for one reason: "My hope is getting me a champion." Ever since that day in 1969 when Dean Chance, the American League's Cy Young Award winner in 1964, walked into Ashlock's office, said he owned a fighter and asked Ashlock to put on a card, Ashlock has been hooked. That only 1,200 fans showed up for the occasion is proof that Ashlock was easy to convince. His hopes for getting a champion are slim, like anyone else's, but a New York friend and promoter, Frank Curry, says, "The thing that's different about Pete is that he's willing to take a chance and to back up his conviction with cash."
Indeed, when the ABA was in business, league officials encouraged Ashlock to buy a basketball floor and hinted at the possibility of a franchise. Says Ashlock, "I spent $33,000 for a floor, got three ABA games, lost $7,500 on each one—and didn't meet a gentleman in the whole mess." He sold his floor for $12,500. When Ashlock got the closed-circuit television rights for Orlando for the 1974 Ali-Foreman fight, he spent $18,000 to advertise it on the side of city buses for a month. Seven days before the month was up, the fight was postponed. The delay guaranteed another money-losing event for Ashlock, but he did it all over again. "The only way you can kill a damn cowboy," he says, "is to cut his head off, then hide it."
Curry also says that anything Ashlock sets out to do eventually gets done. So if the phrase "...wearing red trunks, the world champion from Orlando, Florida..." doesn't sound very plausible, who's to say it might not someday? But even Dominick Polo, who trains Ashlock's boxers, is candid when asked to name the best fighter ever to come out of Orlando: "None."