|Tyler's 'Real Bite' w/ Paul Johnson
By David Tyler, Doghouse Boxing (April 29, 2014)
A former professional boxer and Vietnam Veteran, Paul Johnson has spent the last 25 years determined to establish a Union for Professional Boxers. Semper Fidelis to this ex-Marine and his efforts to help our sport. Please welcome Paul into the doghouse.
David Tyler: Hi Paul, please tell our readers about your background and how you became a professional boxer.
Paul Johnson: I worked for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. I was the union rep for the RR cops nation-wide. After the last merger with the Frisco Railroad, a guy named Harold Burton became our new boss. He had a meeting with everybody at a nightclub in St. Paul to get to know the department. He came up to me and asked who the guy was that was doing such a fine job at the security desk for railroad computer banks? I said, "Oh, you mean Eric Collins?" to which he replied, "Shit, I ain't talkin' about Niggers!" I stood their shocked. Eric was a friend of mine and still is. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard the comment and after Harold Burton left, I went over to the bartender and asked if he had heard what was said, and he said yes. The next day, I wrote a letter to the VP of Labor Relations for the BNSF Railway and related this episode. Well, all hell broke loose. Harold threatened to fire me and he started to abolish our jobs in order to get to my seniority. We complained to the unions and the railroad. I had just started my professional boxing career, and after my first couple of fights there was a picture of me in the St. Paul Pioneer Press with an article saying that my knockout of Ossie Quast in my first pro fight, had been had been the best fight of the night. That picture & article was on the wall of my regional boss's office. After the mess with Burton, that picture was taken down. That was in the 1980's. Burton was eventually fired. Recently I talked to retired BNSF Railroad CEO Wayne T. Hatton at his home in Wisconsin and he said that they were so worried about Harold (we carried firearms) that when they fired him they had to escort him off the property that very day.
DT: Did you continue with boxing?
PJ: Yes, and I won the biggest fight of my career when I knocked out Chuck "Kid Polack" Daszkiewicz at the old Carlton Celebrity Room in the Twin Cities. He was undefeated at the time and he was the son of Papa Joe Daszkiewicz, the manager of Scott LeDeux. Scott was a friend who supported the union and has since passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). After that fight with “Kid Polack”, Papa Joe wanted me to fight his kid again for $800 bucks. I said sure. At the time, there was a St. Paul Pioneer Press sports columnist named Don Riley who had written a nice column about my fights. He told me that Nick Mancini, owner of Mancini's Char House in St. Paul, wanted to manage my career and I would be advised not to fight the kid again. I said (like an idiot), "Ah what the heck, I'll fight him again and then we can talk." At the time, I was married, had a couple of kids and 800 bucks was the most I had ever made. They had said not to, but I did anyway and of course lost a terrible decision. Now, the kid's dad, Papa Joe (who later helped train me and we became friends) was the promoter and promoters hire the referee and judges. I have since learned very important lessons about the business of boxing and the differences between promoters and managers as well as the importance of boxers having good management. After that, I lost a few and won a few as most club fighters do. I always worked out and sparred with the best fighters at the Civic Center gym in St. Paul, including Doug Demmings, Clem Tucker, Pete Holmes and others.
DT: Paul, what prompted your determination to establish a union for boxers?
PJ: One night in 1984 or 1985, I was at the gym and there was a State Senator named Phyllis Kahn, who is still in the Minnesota State Senate, and she came up to the gym to meet with the boxers. She told us that she was considering abolishing professional boxing in our state because as she put it, "You wouldn't give someone a gun to shoot someone, why would you let them box?" We were shocked. I told her that we don't try to kill anyone and that sometimes we box with friends. I told her that we hit as hard as we can but if an injury or death occurs, well that is just an unfortunate accident. Certainly it can happen, but that's not the purpose or the intent of our sport. I realized then, that boxers needed a voice and my union experience made things happen naturally. I notified my railroad union that I wanted to start a union for boxers. They notified the AFL-CIO and I received a letter from Lane Kirkland's office (then the President of the AFL-CIO) saying that they had spoken to the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and that Executive Director Gene Upshaw had offered to fly me to his office in Washington, D.C. to talk. I did and Gene thought a union for boxers was a great idea. We received two letters of support from Gene and the NFLPA in 1988. Then, years later, during their contract negotiations, Gene Upshaw decertified the NFLPA when they were negotiating for free agency. During that time we talked to the United Auto Workers and they gave me an office in their Bloomington, MN headquarters with a phone and secretary. That was 1996 and organizing with paid long distance was welcome news for me (and my wife) as I was spending my own personal money at the time. I had started my boxing career after coming home from Vietnam (U.S. Marines - DaNang from March 1968 to March 1969 during TET) and I've got some unbelievable stories to tell you...maybe someday.
DT: Who are some of the people that helped you continue your efforts to form a boxing union?
PJ: I got my start in boxing after a brief football career as a cornerback at the University of Minnesota. I was looking at some property owned by Jim O'Hara, who was then the Minnesota Boxing Commissioner. Jim was a great guy and a good friend. I had just formed the Boxers Organizing Committee (BOC) and Jim told me about a guy named Irv Abramson who was helping boxers (Kid Gavilan and Beau Jack). Irv was from New York and was at that time living in Florida. He was very involved in boxing and was the owner of a boxing newspaper and the head of the original ranking group, the National Boxing Association (NBA). During that time he introduced me to his fiend John Branca, the former NYC boxing commissioner, whose brother Ralph Branca was the guy who threw the pitch to Bobby Thompson and the famous shot heard ‘round the world’ in the World Series between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then around 1998, I was at the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota listening to Norman Mailer talk. Knowing he liked boxing, when he was through I went up to him and told him we wanted to start a union for boxers and did he have any advice. He said I should contact former world champ Jose' 'Chegui' Torres. I met Jose' at his home in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan and the BOC began to make a lot of progress. I was invited to be a speaker at a Fordham University School of Law Symposium entitled, 'Union Formation in Professional Boxing'. On the Dias with me, were Lou DiBella, then VP of boxing at HBO (before he became a promoter) and Jay Larkin, then head of boxing at Showtime. I have a copy of the panel transcript and I think you David and boxing fans would find it very interesting, Then, Jose' and I went to the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY on June 6, 2003 and the BOC got a petition supporting the effort to start a union for boxers signed by Arron Pryor, Michael McCallum, Donald Curry, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Carmen Basilio, Livingstone Bramble, Goodie Petronelli, Budd Schulberg (author of 'On the Waterfront'), Auther McCante, Jose' Torres, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Earnie Shavers, Gil Clancy, Juan LaPorte, Carlos Ortiz, Iran Barkley, Christie Martin, Marlon Starling, Emile Griffith, Leon Spinks, Terry Norris, and Ken Buchanan. Remind me to tell you how Budd Schulberg told me he came up with the famous line by Marlon Brando, 'I coulda' been a contenda'".
DT: Paul, has anyone else in this sport offered help?
PJ: Let me just say David, we've talked to Muhammad Ali, George Foreman (Georges brother Roy is on our committee), Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, George Chuvalo and many, many other professional boxers – champs, contenders, club fighters and beginning pros. We've talked to (and have letters of support from) U.S. Senator John McCain and former Governor Bill Richardson. We also have received support from the AFL-CIO, NFLPA, TCU, ILWU, SAG, MLBPA, NHLPA, NBPA and currently the OPEIU is providing us with support, encouragement and much needed assistance. Most recently, we had a banner above the ring at the HBO fight in Atlantic City last year. Last January BOC had a ring corner post at the ESPN fight in New Jersey during the Super Bowl Weekend, that said 'Boxers Need A Union'. We will have another corner post at the HBO fight in May of this year in Phoenix. I should also mention that a manager and friend Tom Moran, introduced me to Tim Witherspoon and Tim wore BOC on his back a few years ago (I just saw Tim at a fight in Minneapolis a couple of months ago). Also, a fighter named Kassim Ouma... when Kassim fought on ESPN and took his robe off in the ring, the announcers almost lost their breath when they saw BOC on Kassim's back. Max Kellerman, who at that time worked for ESPN, did a piece on the BOC after that.
DT: How can boxing fans help you?
PJ: David, fans can help by continuing to support professional boxing and to support a boxer’s union. Boxing fans will be rewarded by getting what they want, and that is undisputed champions once again. There will be more and better contenders with an honest and verifiable ranking system that will be coordinated into a single professional entity – the boxing corporation. Neighborhood club fights will be re-invigorated. Boxers will have a voice in their own safety and business interests. Boxing fans will be happy and tune their televisions sets and devices on to great boxing events… and that will be better business for everybody. Fans will get a ranking system that will be structured upon all licensed professional boxers being given a 'weighted ranking’ that will go up or down depending on a few things: how good the boxers are, how good their competition was and how spectacular or not their victories were. The fans will once again know who boxers are, including the contenders, champs and local favorites. Fans will also be assured that boxers, the ones who take the risks, will be taken care of once their careers are over. We will work with gyms to make sure that corporate affiliated gyms (we've talked with Bruce Silverglade of Gleasons) will keep track of boxers’ sparring sessions for safety reasons. There could even be a process that would allow the boxing public to watch the ongoing training of boxers (up to a point of course) and to have complete log-on access for up to the minute rankings.
DT: Have you spoken to any promoters about your ideas?
PJ: We’ve spoken twice before the Boxing Promoters Association (BPA), once in New York and once in Las Vegas. We've met with Richard Schaefer and Oscar De la Hoya in LA and received a letter of support. We’ve spoken with Lou DiBella, Joe DeGuardia, Bob Arum, Gary Shaw and others. We are still waiting to hear from Floyd Mayweather and Al Hayman. We walked the line in Las Vegas in front of the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) for two months, asking that as a professional boxer, Floyd be treated fairly during his incarceration. At the time we were told Floyd wanted to talk to us and we are still trying to make that happen. My brother is a cop and I understand that when you do the crime, you do the time. However, sometimes incarceration can especially hurt the famous. Floyd is a great world champion and he is a hero to kids around the world. We’ve been working to get Floyd and maybe Manny Pacquiao, to fight each other in what would be a great promotional launch of the boxers union in a professional boxing corporation. It would be a tremendous legacy fight.
DT: In your opinion, who would be a good commissioner for the Boxing Corporation?
PJ: We met with former Governor Bill Richardson, and told him that it would be great to have him be the first ever Commissioner, of the first ever corporation for professional boxing. He laughed and said he would have to take a pay cut...but it would be a powerful thing to have a man of his experience, take the reins of this thing at the beginning. Once things settle into place, a guy like Marc Ratner would make a great commissioner going forward. A corporation would track the analytics of boxing and it would look like this. Imagine a triangle. On one point is the boxer...and with the boxer's would be managers and trainers (Jose' Torres once told me that Cus d'Mato told him that the job of a manager is to 'take' fights he thinks his boxer will win and the job of a promoter is to 'make' fights they think the public will enjoy). On another point of the triangle is the Promoter and on the third point is the Commissioner’s office, like the commissioner in the NFL…private not public. Because of current Federal regulatory laws in boxing, the corporation would have a government liaison to make sure that all federal and state laws are in compliance. The Commissioner's office could have oversight, verification and assignment responsibilities for referees & judges, with television replay for close calls. Also, the Commissioner's office will have total oversight of the ranking processes. I've met with ranking people and it will be imperative that ranking groups understand that the public's attitude towards ranking is not good and when the public is not happy, it affects the bottom line for everyone (we have not even begun to discuss things like the relationships between promoters and television).
DT: How would you run the ranking system which was so important to this sport in its glory days?
PJ: One of the first responsibilities of the professional boxing corporation will be to have a ranking process that boxing fans and the public in general believe is legitimate. The corporation must convince ranking groups that if they are to be corporate partners, it must be this way. Take the top four, WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF, each takes 20 top boxers and ranks them. There could even be a 'rankings assignment process' at the beginning of the season. It would be a big deal just like the draft in other sports. HOWEVER, there can be no double-ups. That is to say, once a boxer is ranked in one ranking group they cannot be ranked in another. This change will solve much of the ranking confusion that has plagued the sport and boxing public in the past. This will be great for the boxing industry. It will mean more work for boxers and more business for the industry. It will also give the public a chance to get to know the boxers once again while finally being able to believe in the boxing ranking system. This will be imperative for a healthy boxing industry. Boxers most certainly will fight boxers from other ranking groups and the one that wins moves up or stays the same and the one that loses moves down or stays the same. However, each of the four ranking groups will be like divisions in the other major sports and there will be a process in the boxing corporation for tournaments to determine true and undisputed world champions once again…just like in the glory days .
DT: Paul, what would you call this proposed organization?
PJ: What about the United Boxing Association. Get it? Can't you see the t-shirts, UBA fan. (YOU BE A fan)
DT: Paul, you have some great ideas for this sport. Thank you very much for the interview and let's stay in touch.
PJ: David, anytime. Let's do this again soon.
Readers: Agree with Paul's views about a boxing union? Please let me know and I will pass along your comments. Thanks for visiting doghouse boxing and reading this interview!
***David Tyler replies to all his e-mails and loves to hear from the readers. Comments, Questions, Suggestions, E-mail David now at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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