The legendary Johnny Bos (pronounced Boz), once known as the matchmaker’s matchmaker, is a straight-up dude. He tells it like it is, wears his heart on his sleeve, and cares more about the fighters than he cares about the fights. But due to some wrong turns in the road, augmented by personal phobias, impersonal politics, globalization and a free market, Bos finds himself locked out but trying to get in, smothering beneath an avalanche of medical bills and in need of help.
So boxing’s Johnny Bos, a man who’s been baked, boiled, sautéed, braised, barbequed, grilled and deep-fried during the course of his career, now gets to suffer the final indignity: Johnny Bos is getting roasted.
The Johnny Bos Roast, aka BosFest 2006, has been postponed from its original November 17th date, due to that date’s proximity to the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation Dinner on the 16th, and is in the process of being rescheduled for late January. One of men spearheading the event is jack-of-all-trades Michael Marley. I catch Marley, who was on the road with Shannon Briggs and Evander Holyfield and had just returned to New York, and ask about Johnny Bos and the roast.
“Bos made the executive decision,” Marley says. “It is his roast. All the money goes to him. So far we’ve had a tremendous response. Johnny’s really received a real shot in the arm. Some of the people, like you guys, were good enough to buy a table.
“We’ve had people who sent in checks from Houston, Texas, Las Vegas, Seattle, you name it. There were some checks that came in from overseas. Johnny has health issues. He was diagnosed four or five years ago with congestive heart failure. Doesn’t mean he’s going to die tomorrow. He was told he had five years, and his five years is about up. I’m not trying to be dramatic, I expect Johnny to be around for many years, hopefully, but his biggest health issue is that he has no health insurance, and he’s had huge medical expenses.”
In addition to mounting medical bills, Bos’ career, which was on the ascendant, took a hit when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989. The European promoters who were his bread and butter didn’t need Bos to find them opponents anymore. Now they could now find them in their own backyard.
“In those days the money was going in and out of Johnny’s hands fast,” says Marley. “Johnny blew a lot of it in his high-flying days, but he made so much of it of retained some of it. But in recent years, and I’m not going to name names, I’m sure you’ve heard stories, various managers, promoters, fighters, including some people who Johnny got into world title shots and into world titles, basically stiffed him. And that hasn’t helped.
“But the response to the roast shows that there are people out there who really like Johnny and care about him and appreciate his friendship and character, because of there’s one character left in boxing, it’s got to be Bos.”
For those who don’t know or have never seen him, Johnny Bos is larger than life. At 6'4″ and 235-pounds, you can spot him a mile away. With his Fu Manchu moustache, long blonde hair, dark shades, pimp threads, bling jewelry, swagger and hip-hip ethos, you've got a one-of-a-kind, solid gold, world-class, A-1 boxing, as Marley calls him, “character.”
But Bos also knows as much about the fight game as anyone alive.
“When I was a kid my father used to watch the fights at home on TV,” Bos tells me with a raspy voice when I ask him when his love of boxing first began. “The first fight I went to was the first Patterson-Liston fight on closed-circuit. First fight I saw live was Hurricane Carter versus Luis Rodriguez. I also hung out at the gyms. Bobby Gleason's when it was on 149th. Harry Wiley's on 135th. Jimmy Glenn's Third Meridian on 125th. Cus D'Amato's gym on 14th Street. Gil Clancy's Parks Department on 28th Street. That was basically my education. I didn't go through but nine years of high school. I remember Gil Clancy used to chase me out: 'It's not even three o'clock! What the hell are you doing here?'”
Bos was born to be a truant, but for someone who never graduated from high school he seems pretty smart, maybe even too smart for his own good.
“Different people get different educations different ways,” Bos says. “The smartest people you'll ever meet are drug dealers on the streets that have no education at all. But they know what they're doing, they know business, they know money. They must be running it pretty good because there's plenty of it around.”
Bos was a wild and crazy youth in his wild and crazy youth, and even as an adult he burned the candle at both ends, but he gave up demon rum, which was killing him not slowly but fast, twenty years ago and has never looked back, and if he hasn’t exactly been a choirboy during the last two decades, at least he’s not been a lush starting street fights in taverns.
I offhandedly tell Bos I gave up booze at 14, after three nauseous years of adolescence, to try my unsteady hand at other things (it was, after all, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius).
“Sunshine!” exclaims Bos with smile. “I used to get the clear light and drop it in a bottle of sangria and drink it, and whew! It was a helluva lot nicer. We would snort heroin to come down from the sunshine because there was so much speed in it. But like with LSD, I took that until I had a bad trip and then I stopped. The alcohol I couldn't. Went into a program. I'm scared sh– of booze. I'm not going to pick it up.”
Johnny Bos first made a name for himself in the 1970s alongside a boxing rebel named Flash Gordon.
“Me and Flash Gordon started Tonight's Boxing Program‚ which became New York Boxing World. I was writing that up and working in the post office and I believe it was Harold Lederman who called Dennis Rappaport and had him call me to put together a show in January of '78. I was 25 then,” Bos recollects. “From there the matchmaking kept growing.”
It was an auspicious beginning to what turned out to be a distinguished career.
“I was a matchmaker for most of the shows in the area,” says Bos. “In those days someone would come in and do a show when they didn't have their own matchmaker. They'd use a local guy, whoever they were, and fortunately I got chosen for a lot of them. Nowadays every one of these companies has their own matchmakers.
“Matchmaking is not matchmaking anymore. That's why you don't have the 10-8 fighters. When they bring in a fighter he's got to be 14-0 and the guy comes out and he can't even fight. Now a promoter comes to you and gives you one side of the show and tells you to find an opponent for the rest. That's not matchmaking.”
I ask Bos if he's alluding to the proverbial meat wagon.
“That's just what it is. I don't mind finding them, but f—,” Bos declares, “I'm not God. Somebody calls me from Europe and they're paying enough money and I'm gonna get paid and the fighter's gonna get paid, that's a big difference than paying some kid $400 to have his [effing] head handed to him, and making a hundred calls to do it.
“What I am really is a personal matchmaker. I handle fighters and I make the matches for them or I okay the matches. Matchmakers are not what they used to be. Managers are not what they used to be. Managers nowadays are just [effing] money guys that are going to do whatever the promoter tells them.”
Nothing is as it used to me. Bos tells me, as an example, “I haven’t worked since the Gatti-Gamache weigh-in.”
For Bos, the 1980s were the “money years. Europe was flourishing then because of the '84 Olympics, and you still had communism. I wish they [effing] kept communism,” says the politically incorrect former matchmaker. “What happened was once communism stopped that opened up a lot of other countries to professional boxing, and instead of paying the Americans what they wanted, they could go to Russia, they could go to Poland, and get those guys to fight 10 rounds for a thousand dollars — they were starving people — and it dropped the money so much that Americans didn't want to go to Europe any more.”
Bos made some good money in the good years and moved to Florida in 1988. He bought a condo and planned on making a fresh start, “But it's pretty hard to get up and work when you look out the window and see all these girls running around all the time.”
So Johnny Bos returned to the big city.
“Boxing as it is in the United States should be banned,” continues Bos. “Boxing is a brutal form of entertainment because nobody gives an f— about nobody. The gloves now, even though they're 10-ounces, have less padding over the knuckles than the six-ounce gloves used to have. That's why you're having so many hand injuries. But freaky things happen. Like how many times have you ever heard of a fighter dying in one round? But I'll tell you something. When fighters do die, it's usually in states where they give those exams.
“Basically what happens now is the fighters don't have the respect for the trainers and the managers. They've become their own bosses and that's not good. Some trainers are great in the gym and you put them in the corner and they're dog sh–,” Bos says. “Or you got guys who are great cornermen but can't train anybody. If the fighter tells the trainer he doesn't want to stop, half the time the trainer ain't gonna stop it, because he’s scared he's not going to get paid.”
It's the same old story, human sacrifice for filthy lucre, but Johnny Bos sees a solution to the problem.
“Instead of putting some idiot from the commission who's standing in the corner and don't know what the f— he's looking at because they've never been in the ring — if they got slapped they'd cry like bitches — get experienced cornermen who are not working that night who know what's legal and not legal and pay them. And if they think the fight should be stopped, it should be stopped. They have no ties to anybody.”
Bos was a player for years and knows the fight game inside out and upside down. With his knowledge, experience and rarified boxing sensibility, I ask if he has some parting words.
“I want to work,” Bos says. “I want to do what I do, without being prevented from doing it. Here I am dying — I'm 54, but I'm 84, if you know what I mean — but as bad a shape as I’m in, I may outlast the sport. I had a good run, but it looks like my luck has run out, so I really appreciate this is happening.”
If you want to help a brother in need, send a check or donation to the Johnny Bos Roast ($250 for an individual, $2000 for a table for ten) c/o Michael Marley/250 West 100th Street/Suite 1102/New York, NY 10025.