I thought I was just shooing away another clown. I couldn’t have known at the time that I was shooing away a clown who would wind up becoming president of the United States.
The incident left little enough impression on me that I’m forced to make an educated guess on which card Trump tried to impose himself. I’m nearly certain it was the bullshit pay-per-view rematch between Ray Mercer and Jesse Ferguson at the Convention Center in Atlantic City in November 1993.
The rematch was bullshit because it only came about after Mercer was caught on mic begging Ferguson to throw their first fight, offering him a sum he surely had no intention of paying. “Man, I don’t got it tonight. I’ll give you $100,000 to go down.’”
Ferguson, a wily veteran of the fight world, used to unkept promises, didn’t take the bait, and continued to thump the out-of-shape Mercer en route to the decision.
It was on the dubious foundation of this in-ring proposition that Bob Arum charged suckers (although not many of them) money to watch two journeymen plod through a main-event rematch—the uninspired finale to a dud undercard on which one of my fighters was a losing participant.
Earlier in the evening, I’d been with that fighter and his trainer in a small room beneath the Convention Center. We’d have business upstairs in a little while.
Just past the perimeter of light, three figures huddled. They were conferring, hunched in an odd way that accentuated their collective bulk. These were over-padded men; trying to reduce the space they took up made them look unnatural and furtive.
The mafia not being what it once was, these guys had the general appearance of lower level mob muscle.
I recognized Trump, of course. I’d seen him at a lot of AC fights, where his entrance into the arenas brought a volume of frenzied cheering commensurate with what Anna Nicole Smith, Hulk Hogan, or David Hasselhoff got when they walked in, and came from the same people.
Since he’s become president, I’ve involuntarily found myself thinking about the kind of people with whom Trump liked to surround himself, specifically about those he kept company with in public places, in situations that were not necessarily business-related (that is, if anything Trump does isn’t essentially business-related)—the people who, through association, defined who he was as a figure of social discourse.
This is just an impression, since I don’t know Donald Trump, but I never got the sense that he had friends. He had satellites, people who felt they were benefiting from proximity to him. And, undoubtedly, people he felt he was getting something from.
He seemed to like yahoos, rubes, and lowlifes, often people who were a combination of all three—the Bobby Knights and Evel Knievels of the world. Always, people who came from backgrounds unlike his own. He reveled in the company of shiny women of little accomplishment, tough-guy men (generally boxers), and minor entertainers. The goal was to find people who could beam the gaudiest spotlight possible directly onto Trump while requiring no reciprocal illumination. A night out might be spent in the company of a representative trifecta consisting of Mike Tyson, Wayne Newton, and Paris Hilton (who’d signed with Trump’s modeling agency, T Management, as a teenager). But this equation was fungible; as long as people could stare, point, and gibber at them, and, as long there could be no genuine intellectual component to gum up the works, any three jackasses would do as Trump’s celebrity escorts.
Atlantic City in the early ‘90s wasn’t a bad locational stand-in for Donald Trump himself: overblown and built on a foundation of bullshit, sold with grandiose promises that couldn’t possibly be sustained in the real world, pitching to the needy and uneducated. It was a cold and impersonal town where a lot of money got tossed out for glittery gewgaws used to overstock gargantuan tasteless centerpiece hotels and casinos. The House looked out for its high rollers while conning the tourists. The wind off the ocean froze the asses off local black and Latino citizens living in the shacks just past the Boardwalk.
I always made money in Atlantic City, because I never visited the place recreationally. But I never liked going there. I knew that almost inevitably I’d hear a commotion near ringside, look up, and see the artificially colored face of Donald Trump as he made his way—like a tugboat navigating a swimming pool—to his VIP seat.
I’d occasionally seen variations of the behavior the three big guys were exhibiting when they spotted my fighter’s trainer. They wanted to brush up against him but they didn’t want to look fawning. This made what was, for most people, a simple expression of admiration into a covert operation.
The man Donald Trump wanted to meet was Floyd Patterson, the heavyweight champion of his youth and still a popular sports figure. Patterson was the trainer for a number of my fighters, including Martin Foster, an undefeated—for the next hour—white heavyweight from Kansas.
As approachable as Floyd generally was, even the obtuse Trump could see that he was occupied with carefully wrapping Foster’s hands for the night’s work, quietly giving him advice on what to do in the fight, so he sent one of his underlings to procure an invitation.
Wrapping hands is more than it seems. I won’t bother going too into the mechanics of it. Different handlers wrap hands different ways anyway. Hand-wrapping serves as an oasis of calm and control just before the time when those things can no longer be guaranteed. Hand wrapping is utilitarian and repetitive, all the while being a Zen exercise. It fucks mightily with time, slowing it down to the point that, for moments or more, it ceases to exist, and fighter and trainer are squarely in the center of nothingness.
In boxing, nothing is sacrosanct. But this ritual of wrapping hands is about as close as it gets.
It was into this pocket of stillness that the messenger came.
He didn’t want to do it. Although obtuse as Trump, this oaf understood that he was walking into the middle of something where he had no business—something he didn’t understand. But he worked for Trump, so had no choice but to gingerly lumber forward.
Patterson lifted his eyes to watch him. I could see he was unhappy at the interruption. His mouth tightened up.
“Mister Trump would like to … was wondering if he could have a few words with Floyd Patterson.”
Floyd looked at me. He was an accommodating man, but a somewhat peevish one. He’d earned his habits. I knew what the look meant.
“Floyd is working. Could you guys give us some space? Tell Trump he can meet Floyd some other time.”
The guy left, made the long walk back to his boss, whispered something to him. There was a general shaking of shoulders, nodding of heads. Trump looked over.
Then the three big men left, Trump giving us a small wave.
Postscript: Many years later I would pass on meeting an obscure senator who was wrapping up an afternoon campaign speech at the Cuban Club—el Circulo Cubano—in Ybor City, Fla., where I’d be playing a concert later in the evening. I wish I’d had the good sense to have met Barack Obama. That afternoon, they couldn’t pay people to spend a minute with him.
Charles Farrell has spent most of his professional life moving between music and boxing (with a few detours along the way). He has managed five world champion boxers and has 30 CDs listed under his name. His essay “Why I Fixed Fights” will be included in the boxing anthology The Bittersweet Science: Fifteen Writers in the Gym, in the Corner, and at Ringside, edited by Carlo Rotella and Michael Ezra, and published by the University of Chicago Press. He is featured in the 2016 film Dirty Games, directed by Benjamin Best.