ATLANTIC CITY - Bobby Bynum's eyes were the size of hubcaps when Skip Crumpler drove him into the parking garage at Bally's Atlantic City on April 1.
One day earlier, the 21-year-old Bynum had been cooking Quarter Pounders and Big Macs at a McDonald's in his hometown of Wilson, N.C. Now, he was about to earn $800 for a four-round fight against Millville junior-middleweight prospect Thomas LaManna.
"I took the fight because I needed the money," Bynum said. "I've been working at McDonald's for about two months, but I also live and work on my family's farm. We've got some horses, goats and one or two cows. We're trying to plant beans this year so we can get enough money for my younger brother, Tyrone (16), to go to college."
After making weight and providing proof he had passed all the medical tests, Bynum happily posed for pictures with LaManna that night before heading out to dinner with Crumpler and a friend.
The next evening, 15 minutes before their fight, LaManna was warming up outside his dressing room. He fired a steady stream of punches against his trainer's hand pads, each one producing a "thwack" that echoed around the arena.
A few feet away, behind a black curtain inside his tiny cubicle, Bynum was also getting ready for the fight. Crumpler was teaching him how to throw a jab.
Mismatches are commonplace in boxing, though promoters and matchmakers claim they try to avoid them.
Neither boxer wins in such fights. Notching a knockout against an inferior opponent does nothing for a fighter's progress. Boxers who end up on the canvas too often are usually banned from competing.
Fans who attend fights are hoping for exciting, competitive bouts. Quick KOs often produce resounding boos.
"Mismatches do nothing but hurt the sport," said Philadelphia promoter Russell Peltz, who frequently stages shows in Atlantic City. "Fans who are paying $50, $75 for a seat don't want to see cowboys and Indians."
But sometimes they do.
When boxing promoters and matchmakers need a fighter who is likely to lose, they call Crumpler.
A few months ago, Pound-for-Pound Promotions needed an opponent for LaManna, who was just starting his boxing career.
The 19-year-old graduate of Millville High School was scheduled to fight April 2 at Bally's Atlantic City.
More than 200 fans had bought tickets for LaManna's professional debut in February - when he scored a first-round knockout over Anthony Williams - and at least that many were expected to show up again at Bally's.
Matchmaker Nick Tiberi and Vinnie LaManna, Thomas' father and manager, reached out to Crumpler, who runs a boxing program at the Reid Street Community Center in Wilson, N.C.
Crumpler looked around the gym and spotted Bynum, a 21-year-old former high school basketball standout. Bynum owned an 0-2 record and had been knocked out in both bouts.
Three weeks later, the duo climbed into Crumpler's rental car for the 12-hour drive to Atlantic City.
Bynum was excited. He was getting paid a decent amount of money, and he was staying and eating in a casino for free. He hadn't trained much but still thought he was capable of winning. Crumpler just smiled and kept driving.
"When I get a kid a fight, my only rule is that they have to try," said Crumpler, who also is considered a top boxing cutman. "I won't bring a guy who's just going to fall down and take a dive because then I won't get paid.
"I bring guys who actually believe they can win. I know they can't, but who am I to burst their bubble? Besides, they could get lucky. It's like hitting the lotto. It can happen."
But it too often doesn't.
The website Boxrec.com lists 22 fighters from Wilson, located a few miles from Raleigh, who have had at least one pro bout in 2010-11. Fifteen of the boxers have yet to earn their first victory and are a combined 0-51. All but four of the defeats were by knockout or TKO. Five boxers from Wilson have fought in Atlantic City since 2010. All five lost. All five suffered knockouts or TKOs in the first or second round.
"I have some decent fighters in Wilson," Crumpler said in a phone interview. "But we also have a lot of fighters who stink."
A Southern tradition
Crumpler is not the only one training underdogs.
A lot of champions and contenders have built their records with wins against outclassed opponents. Certain areas of the country, especially the South and Midwest, are known for producing less-talented fighters.
"North Carolina, South Carolina and some other places have a history of not having a lot of good fighters," said Aaron Davis, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, which regulates boxing and mixed martial arts in the state. "But we have to look at them on an individual basis. You hope the guys have the skills they say they do, but you really don't know for sure until you see them fight. The guys that don't aren't invited back to New Jersey."
Promoters and matchmakers usually have to go out of state to find potential pushovers for cards in Atlantic City.
Local managers and trainers are reluctant to put overmatched boxers in the ring out of concern for both the fighters' well-being and their own reputations.
"I only did it once," said Egg Harbor Township trainer/manager Arnold Robbins, whose fighters include Galloway Township welterweight Shamone Alvarez (21-4, 12 KOs), Somers Point middleweight Patrick Majewski (17-0, 11 KOs) and Atlantic City lightweight Osnel Charles (9-2, 1 KO).
A few years ago, a down-on-his-luck fighter approached Robbins at the Atlantic City PAL. He said he needed to fight to make enough money to avoid going to jail.
Robbins got him a fight in upstate New York but was determined to not allow the fighter to take a beating. The fighter hung tough for the first round or so, but once he got hit on the jaw, Robbins grabbed a white towel and tossed it into the ring as a sign of surrender.
When it comes to finding bouts for his top prospects, Robbins tries to avoid such mismatches.
"I don't see the point (of having those kinds of fights)," Robbins said. "How can you go around boasting about beating somebody my grandmother could beat? There's nothing wrong with fighting in front of your fans, but at least make it a fair fight."
Fans don't want to see their favorite fighter lose. As a result, they often are matched against less-talented opponents, at least early in their careers.
"There are a lot of fighters from South Carolina and North Carolina who don't have a lot of skills, but are happy to take beatings because the money is decent," Vinnie LaManna said. "You use guys like that early in a fighter's career because it helps get their nervousness out, and (convincing wins) also sell tickets."
LaManna is among several local boxers who enjoy large followings and sell quite a few tickets. Fans from Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township and Galloway Township fill the seats to see Alvarez.
Cape May junior-welterweight Josh Mercado (5-1, 2 KOs) sold more than 100 tickets for each of his six fights.
Majewski is a favorite of fans of Polish heritage.
Perhaps the most popular local fighter is Wildwood light-heavyweight Chuck Mussachio (17-1-2, 5 KOs). The 31-year-old guidance counselor, known as the "Fighting Professor," is a Wildwood High School graduate who owns a master's degree. He enters the ring to Frank Sinatra tunes and sports a fedora and sometimes a Philadelphia Flyers or Eagles jersey.
Mussachio's first five fights - all held in Atlantic City or Wildwood - were against foes with a combined 1-19-2 record at the time they fought him. They were arranged by Al Mussachio, Chuck's father/manager/trainer.
"I had a big argument with my dad about it," Chuck Mussachio said. "I told him, 'How am I supposed to know if I'm meant for this (pro boxing) if I'm fighting guys my mom can beat up?' I understand (mismatches) are used a lot to get somebody's feet wet, but I don't agree with it."
In recent years, Mussachio has stepped up the level of competition. Since 2007, only one of his last 11 foes had a losing record at the time they fought him and had a combined record of 141-55-17. And though he suffered a loss in that span - a 12-round decision to then-unbeaten Tommy Karpency in West Virginia - Mussachio remains the area's most popular draw.
The goal is to have competitive fights featuring boxers of comparable ability, even if it's two C-level fighters.
Vineland's Diane Lee Fischer and Peltz are among the promoters known for staging cards that rarely feature blowouts.
"The worst feeling in the world for a promoter is to have to stand in the back of the room because the fights are bad and you're embarrassed," Peltz said. "No one wants to sit through a show like that."
Peltz did have to stand in the back of the room recently, however. His card at Caesars Atlantic City on April 23 included a four-round light-heavyweight bout between Glassboro's Derrick Webster (6-0, 4 KOs) and Jose Medina of Philadelphia. Webster's first-round knockout dropped Medina's record to 1-13 in his last 14 outings. He has now lost six in a row, all by knockout.
"I know people complain about mismatches sometimes," said Tiberi, who puts together cards for promoters such as Fischer and Pound for Pound president Pat Lynch. "But those are the same people who showed up to watch Mike Tyson knock out people in the first round when he was coming up."
'I ... took some shots'
Their scheduled four-round bout lasted one minute, 36 seconds, enough time for LaManna to thrill his fans by registering three knockdowns before referee Earl Brown mercifully saved Bynum from more punishment. At least it lasted longer than LaManna's previous fight against Anthony Williams, which ended in 51 seconds.
Like Bynum, Williams is from Wilson. Like Bynum, he is trained by Crumpler.
"I got something out of my second fight because Bynum at least moved around a little bit and took some shots," said LaManna, who is 4-0 with three knockouts. "I didn't get anything out of my first fight (against Williams). He didn't do much."
A few minutes after his loss, Bynum sat on a padded table back behind the curtain while a ringside physician examined him.
Two days later, LaManna was back attending classes at Millville in preparation for his graduation June 16. Bynum had made the 12-hour drive back to Wilson with Crumpler and was reporting for the morning shift at McDonald's.
Crumpler was back at the Wilson rec, waiting for the next phone call. Crumpler has no problem with supplying "opponents." He views the bouts as a way for the boxers at the Wilson rec center - most of whom struggle financially - as a way to legally earn some money.
He returned to Atlantic City on Saturday night with Reggie Jenkins, a 21-year-old who was making his pro debut. LaManna earned a first-round TKO victory.
"I wish I could bring some of my good fighters to Atlantic City, but promoters don't want them," he said. "They want the guys who are going to make their fighters look good. So I wind up bringing some guys who are just off the street or just out of jail, guys who are just trying to make a buck."
Money is also Crumpler's motivation.
Boxing managers who are anxious to see their fighter succeed will sometimes pay the opposing manager/trainer a bonus to guarantee a certain fight. Crumpler said he has received as much as $1,000 to supply a fighter, in addition to the 10 percent cut he gets of the fighter's purse.
"Once in a while I get worried," Crumpler said. "When I send a fighter out for the first round, I'm thinking, 'Oh, I hope he gets up and is OK.' And I know it doesn't look good for my reputation in boxing, but there's not much I can do about it.
"I've got to make a living, too. If someone is going to pay me to bring in a fighter, I'm not going to say no. It hurts my pride, but it helps my pocket."
He likely will not be back in Atlantic City.
After LaManna's easy victory Saturday night, an irate Davis stormed into the dressing rooms behind the stage at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom. He banned Jenkins from ever fighting in New Jersey again and confronted Crumpler.
"What I saw out there was a disgrace," Davis said after pulling Crumpler and Jenkins into stairwell. "If you ever bring another fighter back here, I will personally pull your license. What you're doing with these kids is not fair. It's not fair to the fighters and it's not fair to the fans."
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