MEMORIES WITH MLADINICH: Bruce Trampler

BY Robert Mladinich ON February 16, 2010
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As a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey, Bruce Trampler always dreamed of being a sportswriter. His passion was baseball, but by the time he was in high school he had developed an affinity for boxing. Back in the 1960s, when nearly every major city had at least two newspapers, Trampler used to scour the New York and New Jersey dailies for fight results.

Long before he even knew that The RING record book existed, he had become an inveterate data collector. In July 1967, he attended his first live fight, a heavyweight bout between Joe Frazier and George Chuvalo at the old Madison Square Garden.  It was there that he met muckraking journalist Flash Gordon, colorful matchmaker Johnny Bos, and future HBO broadcaster Harold Lederman, who was then a young ring official.

That same year Trampler began attending Ohio University in Athens, where he majored in journalism. While there he remembers hitchhiking, sometimes in blinding snowstorms, to small club shows throughout the region.

It was in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1967, that he met rock-solid middleweight Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, the father of future heavyweight champion James “Buster” Douglas. After Douglas beat Larry Tatum  by decision, in a bout Trampler recalls as being “bloody and brutal.”

Trampler made his way to the winner’s dressing room.

He interviewed Douglas for the college paper. Although the article was never published, a relationship was forged that propelled Trampler into the fight game.

Although too young to be licensed, Trampler began acting as Douglas’s de-facto manager.

Despite the fact that he worked a full-time job, Dynamite was known for never turning down a fight. Trampler’s credentials were solidified in the Douglas camp when he imported Hilton Whittaker from New York to fight Douglas in January 1968.

“I think Billy was down two times in the first round and again in the third round, but he went on to win a decision,” said Trampler. “He really beat the bleep out of Whittaker. Billy was such a tough guy, he loved having fights like that. People were saying what a great matchmaker I was, but I was really clueless. I just knew the guys who handled Whittaker, and wound up getting lucky.”

Another fond memory of that era is putting young Buster, who was all of nine or ten years old, on his lap and teaching him to drive a car. His relationship with Buster lasts to this day.

Trampler would go on to become the busiest matchmaker in the game, and he has been the architect for the careers of such champions as Michael Carbajal, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales and Kelly Pavlik.

He was also instrumental in the early career development of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the extremely successful comeback of George Foreman.

Joe Dwyer, the president of the NABF, which Dwyer refers to as “the Triple A of professional boxing,” calls Trampler “the best career builder in the business, bar none.”

Along with manager Shelly Finkel, referee/commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr., promoter Wilfried Sauerland of Germany, and longtime Associated Press journalist Ed Schuyler Jr., Trampler will be inducted, in the Non-Participant category, into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in June.

Modest to a fault, he still seems somewhat surprised at his hard-earned and well-deserved induction. “I honestly don’t think it’s hit me yet,” he said.

During Trampler’s college days he attended all of the fight cards he could, regardless of what it took to get there. He also obsessively cut all the clippings he could find, and became friends with promoters Chris Dundee, who was based in Miami Beach, Don Elbaum, who operated throughout the Midwest, and Teddy Brenner, who handled the matchmaking duties at Madison Square Garden.

Trampler concedes that Dundee and Brenner had reputations as “cold and austere men,” but says that he found them both to be “warm and friendly.”

They were impressed by his youthful exuberance and enthusiasm, as well as his keen attention to detail in his record keeping. Brenner would often call Trampler to get his opinion on fighters he was thinking of bringing to MSG to fight local attractions like featherweight Davey Vasquez.

“I was just an upstart kid, but I think he saw the fire in my belly,” said Trampler, now 60 and the matchmaker for Top Rank for nearly 30 years. “Even if I proposed a dumb matchup, Teddy never scolded me.”

Trampler remembers joking to Brenner that he would one day take his job. Brenner responded by removing $10,000 in cash from his pocket and telling him, “Take it, you can have it.”

When Trampler took a matchmaking job with Dundee, he tried to get Douglas as many fights as he could. Despite his outwardly nominal record, Douglas’s warhorse reputation made him hard to match. When Trampler began an association with J. Russell Peltz, doors began to open for Douglas, who had no compunction about traveling to the City of Brotherly Love to take on such tough Philadelphia fighters as Bennie Briscoe and Willie Monroe.

Trampler left Florida in the mid-1970s to run shows in Ohio. It was there that he met Dean Chance, a boxing manager who in his past life as a baseball legend had won the Cy Young Award. After a short stint there, Trampler went to work for Pete Ashlock, a onetime Texas cowboy who owned the Orlando Sports Stadium in Florida and had fighters Mike Quarry and “Irish” Gene Wells under contract.

Around Christmas 1974, Trampler flew to Orlando where he was picked up at the airport by Quarry. Over the course of three years, he made matches for approximately two shows a month. He also handled the publicity, and even transported visiting fighters to and from the airport.

“I wasn’t looking to build my resume, I was just happy to be learning the trade,” he said. “But it could be a nightmare. There were no cell phones back then, so you’d be driving on the Interstate, hoping there’d be a working pay phone at the next rest stop. The weigh-ins took place on the day of the fight. If the phone rang, I didn’t want to answer it because it was probably a pullout.”

On some nights Trampler would leave the arena with great pride, while other nights he’d be furious over what had transpired. All in all, however, he said, “No one made money, but we had a good time.”

Unbeknownst to Trampler, Brenner had called Ashlock to request permission to speak to him about helping him out at MSG. Duke Stefano was retiring, and MSG, which had a vibrant fight schedule, needed to fill the void.

Trampler enjoyed what he was doing in Orlando, and felt a strong sense of loyalty to Ashlock. Two things, however, sealed the deal for Trampler: The always gracious Ashlock told Trampler that he’d fire him if he didn’t accept Brenner’s offer, and Brenner told Trampler he’d be forced to give the position to Don Elbaum if he didn’t accept it.

“Orlando and Pete Ashlock will always be in my heart, but it was time to go to New York,” said Trampler, who took an apartment on West 23rd Street, which was a short walk from his new office.

Brenner was soon fired from MSG, and Gil Clancy became the full-time matchmaker. Clancy kept Trampler on, but was forced to let him go with a year’s severance package in order to fulfill a hiring quota.

“It was the politics of the time,” said Trampler. “It had nothing to do with my work performance.”

Trampler did freelance work for Don Chargin and Aileen Eaton in California, and Steve Eisner in Arizona. Brenner soon called and asked him to write up a proposal for a weekly boxing series on a fledgling network called ESPN.

Not long afterwards, Brenner and Trampler drove to the ESPN offices in Connecticut to make their pitch. ESPN loved the idea, but contracted Bob Arum’s Top Rank to do the actual shows. Brenner was angry, but his feelings were mollified when Arum hired him as the matchmaker. Brenner then brought Trampler aboard.

When Brenner had triple bypass surgery in the early 1980s, Trampler took on more and more responsibilities in the Top Rank organization. Among the early ESPN stars he helped develop  were Freddie Roach and Doug DeWitt.  He has been with Top Rank ever since.

As long as Trampler has been doing what he does best, and as much due diligence as he puts forth when selecting opponents for prospects, he is candid and honest enough to admit that he can still get awfully nervous as a fight unfolds.

He said he was “sick to my stomach” in the first round of the recent Yuri Foreman-Daniel Santos fight, when it appeared that Foreman might have been overmatched. Although trainer Freddie Roach and manager Shelly Finkel had signed off on the faded Kassim Ouma as the first big name opponent for 2004 Olympian Vanes Martirosyan, he was uncomfortable for the first couple of rounds.

He remembers having butterflies when a young Oscar De La Hoya was dropped by Giorgio Campanella and Narisco Valenzuela, as well as when Miguel Cotto was put on the canvas early in his career by DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres.

“I felt both of those guys were weakened by the weight they were fighting at,” said Trampler. “When they got up, I could see that their eyes were clear. Once they moved up in weight, they didn’t have those problems anymore. But, yes, there are times when your heart is in your throat.”

In 1987, during the early days of George Foreman’s seemingly improbable comeback, Trampler was introduced to Foreman hours before he was going to fight Bobby Crabtree in Springfield, Missouri. Trampler had met Foreman years earlier, through Brenner at MSG, and didn’t care for him.

At this meeting, Foreman’s advisor, Ron Weathers, asked Trampler for an assessment of Crabtree.

“George was in the back of a limo, and I said that Crabtree was a southpaw,” recalled Trampler. “George glared at the promoter, Rick Parker, and said to me, ‘Don’t tell me anymore.’”

“I told George that I had seen Crabtree knock Renaldo Snipes down,” continued Trampler. “I told George that he’d beat him, but he’d make him pay.”

Foreman stopped Crabtree in the sixth round, and later told Trampler that he had hit him even harder than Ron Lyle did.

Foreman took a liking to Trampler, who arranged for him to fight Rocky Sekorski in Las Vegas in December 1987. After the first round, Foreman told his corner that they better tell the referee to stop the fight because he was out of gas. Foreman wound up stopping Sekorski in the third round.

For a man who has accomplished so much, over a long period of time, and with no end in sight, Trampler can be frustratingly modest. He is quick to credit Arum with being “a genius emeritus,” who recently engineered the lucrative deal that will see Manny Pacquiao fight Joshua Clottey in Dallas in March.

Having spent so many years behind the scenes, it seems that he is much more comfortable being there than in the limelight. One thing, however, is certain. Trampler never forgot where he came from, nor has he lost his enthusiasm for the sport that has come to define so much of who he is.

As recently as 2008, he did a high profile show in Puerto Rico on a Friday night, but caught the first flight off the island the next morning. He jetted to Newark, New Jersey, then to Columbus, Ohio, so he could attend a small club show in nearby Gloucester.

While there he vividly recalled the time, four decades earlier, when he paced off the space at the Athens Armory, in the town in which he had attended college, to gauge if there was room to erect a ring and put on a show.

He won’t call it an epiphany, but describing the moment seemed to dredge up an emotional reservoir.

“Bob (Arum) still gets fired up when he talks about signing some young prospects,” he explained. “He’s really passionate about the young blood. It’s hard not to share that passion, especially when a young fighter, and their family, entrusts their career to you. It’s a big responsibility, and one that I will always take very seriously.”

The IBHOF induction weekend is scheduled for June 10-13, 2010. For more information call 315-697-7095 or log onto: www.ibhof.com.

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