The man works in the background, far from the glare of center ring. But he is linked irrevocably to that ring. And his career has spanned the world and kissed some of boxing’s most special moments.
Most fans do not know him. But fighters do. In fact, fighters trustingly put their careers in his hands. He makes this move, that move and the right move and they get their dream shot — a grasp at a world title.
Recently, though, Bruce Trampler found his way into the spotlight. Miguel Cotto had just scored that impressive victory over Mohamad Abdulaev, taking the next step in what is shaping up to be a golden career. Cotto had already said he trusts Top Rank and Trampler completely.
As Cotto was making his exit on that Saturday night, HBO’s Jim Lampley said Trampler might well be the best matchmaker in the business. Emmanuel Steward said, “He might be the best of all time in terms of developing a young fighter.
The 55-year-old Trampler has been the chief matchmaker for Top Rank for 24 years now. It is a career that has spanned the golden age of Oscar De La Hoya, the development of so many champions and one that even brought a minister named George Foreman to do his wedding.
It began almost as a lark, a young freshman at Ohio University interviewing a young boxer.
“It was January, 1968 and I was a freshman working for the school paper,” Trampler recalled. “I interviewed a young fighter and he needed some help with his career. I agreed to help him out, do some promotional things and get him a fight. I’m not sure how that first one worked out. He got knocked down three times, but he won the fight.”
The fighter was a young middleweight named Bill Douglas, the man who had a young son named James “Buster” Douglas.
“I had six or seven years with Bill,” Trampler said. “He was a great guy and he became a world ranked middleweight. For me, it was a tremendous experience. I was a young kid who got to travel the world — Japan, South Africa twice, London.”
Trampler continued his education, getting a journalism degree with a minor in psychology and English. He planned a career as a sports writer, but boxing scored a quick knockout over writing.
“In the course of sending out material — back then, it was all mail … no email or faxes — I met a couple of brothers in Miami,” he said. “Chris and Angelo Dundee. I was 21, just out of college and I planned to be a sports writer. The Dundees told me to forget that, come work for them. When I got there, they said ‘let’s go to the airport and pick up Muhammad (Ali).’ It was great training. I got to work with one of the top promoters in Chris and one of the top manager/trainers in Angelo.”
After two years with the Dundees, Trampler went out on his own. He then became the matchmaker at Madison Square Garden for a year and a half. Roberto Duran and Wilfredo Benitez fought there during that time. Trampler then went to work for Bob Arum and Top Rank early in 1981 — and it has been the greatest of matches.
“There were three things,” Trampler said. “I really did want to be a sports writer. And I loved baseball. So, there was writing and baseball and boxing. And I got seduced by boxing. I have never had a single regret. I’ve been involved in some great moments.”
Trampler talks about George Foreman’s amazing second run at a world championship, about the absolutely flawless development of the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, about so many careers, about a special boss.
“Bob Arum has been amazing to work for,” Trampler said. “He’s a genius.”
But, naturally, it is all the fighters who have truly swiped a piece of Trampler’s heart.
“It’s the kids who we’ve been able to help in their careers,” he said. “Oscar’s rise from his Olympic career to world championships. You know, we originally signed Fernando Vargas out of the amateurs. But they told him he didn’t want to be Oscar’s undercard and he ended up not coming with us. I think we could have done it (what they did for De La Hoya) for him, too.
“But there are a lot of kids people have never heard of,” Trampler added. “We were able to take them further than they might have gone. Now there is a kid like Miguel Cotto. He’s in a live weight class and there is also the possibility of him moving up in weight, like Oscar did. My favorite might be Erik Morales. He’s a wonderful guy, a standup person. When our promotional contract ran out with him, he just ignored everyone else and said ‘I’m always a Top Rank guy.’ I really like him.”
Of course, Trampler loves the sport and loves the men who have the courage and will to tangle with this sport.
“It would really be hard to find a guy, a fighter in this business that you don’t like,” he said. “They are street guys, tough guys. But you have to be tough or you wouldn’t be doing what they do. Normal people don’t do what these guys do. But you just like these guys.
“The last six months I’ve gotten to know Mike Tyson,” Trampler said. “He’s just a regular guy. I was amazed at how he interacts with kids and strangers who come into the gym. He says he’s trying to turn his life around. We don’t promote Mike and we won’t promote Mike. So he’s not browning me, not kissing my butt.”
And then there is that other famous heavyweight, the big man who presided at Trampler’s wedding. Foreman was the minister at Trampler’s wedding just over three years ago.
Laughing, Trampler said, “The wedding was outside and I was so nervous I was shaking. George took me into a room inside and told me to throw some punches, to get loose. He really did put me through a 30 second warm-up. Then he said, ‘Ready?’ and then he said, ‘Let’s go,’ and I followed him out. My wife asked him to do it and he just said whenever, wherever, he would be there. I look at the wedding video now and it’s amazing. That’s George Foreman.”
Throughout his long career, Trampler has always been the man in the middle … the man fighters have to trust. The matchmaker orchestrates the career, obviously under the control of Arum and Top Rank. But what does a matchmaker look for, what are the pivotal points to taking just the right care of every fighter?
“We’re like baseball scouts,” he said. “We go see them, evaluate their tools. A lot depends on what stage they are at. Foreman was 37 and had been off 10 years, but that’s an extreme example. You have guys like Oscar and Miguel coming out of the Olympics. You look at them and try to project. The level of amateur experience is important. Miguel Cotto was 21, but he was a tough, hard 21. Oscar was a fresh-faced, wide-eyed kid. Cotto … you could tell he was ready for business. He is still two years away from being his best.
“But you don’t force feed kids,” Trampler said. “You try to move them as fast as their abilities will let them. You also want to see who is their trainer. Is he a guy who has been there, done that? Or is he a guy who has been in the amateurs, who has no idea about professional boxing, about how professional boxing is scored.”
Of course, Trampler knows this business, from spit bucket to left hook to main event, and he knows there are exceptions bobbing and weaving everywhere out there:
“Michael Carbajal, the first million dollar flyweight, had his brother training him. Erik Morales had his father and he never butts in. Cotto is trained by his uncle. They just come with the attitude of whoever you say, we’ll fight ‘em. It makes you proud that they put their careers in your hands.”
For Trampler, for every fighter with hopes and dreams, it builds toward that special moment … that thrilling, gut-wrenching, glorious moment when you fight for a world championship.
“Every fighter is different,” he said. “But when you put guys in their first title fight, you hope they are ready to win it. I still remember Erik beating Daniel Zaragoza for his first world title in the El Paso County Coliseum.”
Though he is but 55, Trampler already has a treasure forever — a lifetime of memories.
Laughing, Trampler said he even has a few memories of actually being in the ring, of actually tasting the leather.
“Bill Douglas thought I would benefit from some amateur fights,” he said, still laughing. “I was 18 or 19. I had seven amateur fights and I won five of them. I got stopped twice in the Columbus Golden Gloves.”
Laughing yet again, Trampler said, “You know the saying that you never see the punch that knocks you out. That’s not true. I saw the punch. Then I remember looking out of the corner of my left eye and wondering why is the canvas coming up?”
Fortunately for his fighters, Trampler seldom puts them into that situation.