Pierre Marchand is soaked in sweat. He stands before a full-length mirror in an East San Diego gym and throws jabs, hooks, and uppercuts at his own reflection. Six feet, four inches tall, 210 pounds, and classically handsome, he studies the movement of his body in the mirror.
He is in the fourth month of training for his first professional fight, and in twenty-five days he will climb into a ring at the Sports Arena to square off with another man before a mob of clamoring fans. For the moment, Marchand prepares. Eyes intense, arms and shoulders pumping, he is getting ready— like 10,000 boxers before him—to punch his way to the top. He is a blue-eyed Adonis from Montreal, and people who should know say there's nothing that can stop him.
“Four months ago he knew nothing about boxing,” says Dan Hamel, Marchand’s manager and architect of the twenty-five-year-old Canadian’s career. Hamel, Mission Beach skate-rental czar, is short and powerfully built. In the gym today, he wears a yellow Mickey Mouse T-shirt. “I met him at the Perfect Racquet in Mission Valley,” Hamel continues.
“He was lifting weights, and he had a perfect body. If my mind were in that body, boy, could I do something. I went up and asked him what he did.” Hamel mimics Marchand’s French accent. “He said, ‘I do joo-toe.’ I asked if he was any good at judo and he said he was number two or three in the world or something.
‘How much does that pay?’ I said, and he said no money, just a lot of travel.” Hamel had an idea. “I said to him, ‘Listen, as long as you’re interested in physical contact... ” Marchand resisted Hamel’s boxing idea at first, claiming an ignorance of the sport and an unwillingness to get beat up. Hamel persisted.
“I didn’t have his phone number,” he says, “but I knew when he worked out. I’d just show up at the same times and we would talk. I showed him how to throw a punch, gave him a little insight. I told him to think it over and gave him my card. About two months later we were talking in the gym and he said, ‘Okay, where do I come? I’ll be there tomorrow.’ ”
Marchand gets set to spar as Hamel watches from bleachers near the ring. Along with several other fighters managed by Hamel, Marchand trains at Dr. Michael Dean’s Boxing Club of America, Inc., a former square-dance hail on Fairmount Avenue in East San Diego once named the V-Z Barn. Black spray-painted graffiti mars the walls outside. Inside, fighters spar and skip rope and pound the heavy bags to the loud, thumping beat of taped soul and disco music.
An alarm sounds every three minutes to signal fighters in the ring, which is stained and sags in the middle. Another fighter helps Marchand slip into his red, sixteen-ounce boxing gloves and protective headgear. “He calls the headgear his hat,” laughs Hamel. Marchand begins to spar warily with a black light-heavyweight named Jesse Island, an ex-Marine from Mississippi who once punched his way into the brig by breaking an officer’s jaw. Hamel watches Marchand closely. Alert for error, he makes a mental note of each blow, every move and countermove. “See where Pierre’s hands are?” he asks. “You wanna protect your temples and your chin; that’s where you get knocked out. And the body. Jesse used to kill Pierre with body punches, but Pierre’s not giving up that body anymore. He used to walk into a lot of hands.”
He walks into at least one more — a jarring Island left hook that knocks Marchand’s hat askew. “You cannot make those kind of mistakes with Jesse,” Hamel says, shaking his head. “He’s got something for you if you do.” The music plays on. “It relaxes you,” Hamel says of it. “Gets those shoulders going.” He looks across the ring at Marchand, who is handing the red gloves to another man. Hamel claims that, for all his ring knowledge, he never did much boxing himself. “I was very good at weightlifting and surfing,” he says. “All those sports that don’t pay any money. There was always a little bit of regret in my mind. I feel I was not advised properly.
“But he’s the reason I’m into it, really,” Hamel continues, nodding toward Marchand. “A white heavyweight — every manager and trainer’s dream. Just imagine: This guy walks into a predominantly black gym, puts down his bag, and says, ‘Teach me to box.’ He took his lumps, believe me. People weren’t holdin’ back at all.” At the mirror, Marchand surveys the damage to his face. A reddish-purple bruise has begun to spread under his left eye. Hamel asks his brother Ray to get a bag of ice, and excuses himself to make a phone call about a real estate deal. Prancing the ring and cooling down like a prize racehorse, Marchand slowly unravels the gauze wrapping from his hands. Dan * Hamel returns to examine his fighter’s eye. “It’s okay,’’ says Marchand. “I don’t feel it.’’ His grin exposes a white wall of perfect teeth. “It just happened. You run into something sometimes.’’
It is ten o'clock on a sunny Saturday morning, eighteen days before the fight, and Dr. Dean’s gym is a ballet of glistening bodies. Jesse Island rhythmically pummels a heavy bag, which answers each blow with a quick hiss of air. Close by, Marchand works on another bag. The alarm jangles. Backlit by sunshine, a knot of wide-eyed boys has formed in the doorway near a wall poster of Muhammad Ali posing in white satin Everlast trunks.
Beneath a row of framed photographs of local boxers. Island advises a teen-age boy about to spar for the first time. The boy’s father watches apprehensively. “Don’t stand there and slug,’’ says Island. “Just box. Slow down. Use your jab. Relax.’’ Later, Island again faces Marchand, who takes several solid punches in the brief session, then paces the floor, mumbling. He stops to talk with Island. “I was dropping my hands there.’’
“Yeah, the right hand, Pierre. And you didn’t step into your right when you threw it. Plus, you were tense.” Marchand lowers his head in disgust. “You can't expect to be good every day,” says Island.
Marchand sits on a bench below the pictures on the wall, his dark hair matted against the smooth skin of his face. He breathes hard and sweat drips onto the wooden bench. “I’m not constant yet,” he says. “It’s still fairly new to me. I been boxing for only four months. My goal is to reach the top ten in two or three years. I’m in pretty good shape, if I can get to relax. Boxing is just a question of rhythm. If I get hit with a good punch, afterwards I tense up. But I have to be realistic, too. I said to myself before I started, 1 have to be really good or else I’m not gonna do it.” He says he is looking forward to the bright lights and noisy arenas. “As far as facing a crowd, it pumps me up. But sure. I’m nervous. The guy I’m going to be boxing has been fighting for many years. Am I going to run into a punch? If you ’re over-nervous before a competition, you’ll screw it up very often. But I’ve been exposed to one-on-one contact before.”
He began to learn the techniques of judo at the age of nine in Quebec, where he was born. Over the years, Marchand gripped and flipped his way to the Canadian championship, and by 1975 he was rated third in the world in judo. The following year he gained a berth on the Canadian Olympic judo team, but dislocated a shoulder before getting a chance to compete. “I was really looking forward to the Olympics, ” he says quietly. “I could have won a medal. I saw lots of international competition. But you cannot live on prestige. I was majoring in criminology at Quebec University and in the meantime I got married. ’’ He says he soon realized that a career in criminology was not what he really wanted, and, along with his American wife Barbara, quit Canada in 1977. The couple headed for San Diego, where Barbara’s sister-in-law had a home. But the Marchands themselves had little money, few prospects, and, at the time, Pierre spoke no English. “I decided the fastest way to learn English was to become a salesman, ” he says. “So I sold Kirby vacuum cleaners here and in L.A. It was hard when I started. I was knocking on doors and people couldn’t even understand me. The first month I worked sixteen hours a day, six days a week — but no money.” Marchand leans back against the wall. The sharp smack of leather across skin echoes in the gym. “I said to myself, hang in there. I’m a competitive spirit. I couldn’t stand the idea of starting something and not finishing it.” He soon broke through, he says, and not only sold plenty of vacuum cleaners, but gained his own distributorship. He left the business six months ago. however, blaming a dismal American economy. “They’re just too hard to sell now.”
Marchand. his wife, and their two young boys currently live in an apartment in Kearny Mesa and get by on money he receives from his manager. “Dan is willing to take care of the needs of my family. They do take care of me pretty good financially.”
“Let’s just say he works for Hamel’s,” says Dan when asked about the stipend arrangement.
Marchand was never a fan of boxing. “Didn’t like it at all,” he says, dabbing beads of perspiration from his forehead. “Didn’t like the purpose of it. It’s a brutal sport, and the purpose of it is to knock someone’s brains out. But most fighters have nothing going for them; they're mostly black. I do think there’s a lot of money, if I’m good.” He admits that his projected rewards for absorbing pain and punches go beyond money, and even beyond the heavyweight crown. “I hope zis will all lead to movies and commercials. Boxing would be a good tool for me to turn that around. I’ve already had speaking parts in several French movies. If I can even reach the top ten as a boxer, if I can get exposure, I feel the opportunity will come. ”
Though it is only mid-morning, most of the fighters have already left the gym this Saturday, ten days before the fight. Marchand is alone in the ring, moving, throwing punches, bending, stretching. Jesse Island watches from the bleachers. He is solidly built, thick-lipped, and his face fits his avocation. Island speaks in a low, Mississippi drawl, and is no one's idea of a movie star. When he was a teen-ager in the Marine Corps, he married a Mexican girl and they now live in Tijuana with their son and Jesse’s mother-in-law. He rides the bus and jogs every day from the border to the gym for his workouts. “I been boxin’ for a long time,” he says. “Fought four years in the Marine Corps and two years pro. I can fight six, eight, ten, twelve rounds. I won one and lost three professional. My record ain't that great but. . .” Island quiets and looks out at Marchand. “He comin’ along good. Good fighter. I feel that he could beat any four-round heavyweight right now. He’s good people, period. We been sparrin’ five months now; I won’t spar with him no more. He hit too hard and he hit right. He been trainin' hard. I know he’s gonna win.” Marchand does sit-ups in the ring. “It kinda bothered me,” Island goes on, “to see if he could take a punch. Pierre’s never been hit like he’s gonna get hit this time. They be usin’ lighter gloves. Four rounds a long time when you gettin' hit. But he have the heart to get in the ring and box anybody. I feel that Pierre can beat Scott LeDoux; he just don’t have the experience.”
There is no music today. Marchand pumps out a series of push-ups in the quiet building, then — as a leg-strengthening exercise — lopes around the ring like an ape. Island, who is scheduled to fight on the same card as Marchand, turns sullen when asked about his own upcoming bout. “I don’t know if I’m gonna fight or not,” he says, citing money and other problems with promoter Lou Lake. “Lou told me he don’t need me to fight. I know he do. I’m not gonna fight for no chump change; I’m not no chump. I been workin’ in the gym three months helpin’ people out. Now I need some help, and nobody want to help me. People trained for about thirty minutes today and left.” Island looks at the floor.
“I like to be right with everybody,” he says. “I like to be true and be right.” The talk returns to Marchand. “But I want to be at his fight. All these guys fight harder if I’m there. I want to see Pierre win and knock that guy out. I just pray that he can make it. But a white fighter got everything he wants. Average white fighter got money. Average black fighter got none. He knows he got to fight hard to make it. These black fighters and the Mexicans, they’re gonna be after Pierre. But if they move him right — get him easy fights; get him twenty four-round wins and then let him go ten rounds — he could be makin’ $200,000 a fight. Why can’t he do it? Supposed to be the great white hope.” Island sits up and points his finger at Marchand. “He’ll make it,” he says, as if the gods of boxing had already spoken. “He got no reason not to. Pierre got people behind him and people backin ’ him up. If I had me a manager that paid me $250 a week, I would not lose.”
“One of the things that makes Pierre such a sellable product is that French accent,” says Dan Hamel over the telephone. “And those blue eyes. He’s a good-looking man, a real loverboy. We want to appeal to the women.” Hamel says that plans for the Marchand campaign have already been drawn up. “We’d like to get him local recognition first, then go statewide. After six fights, we go to his hometown. This’ll be like one o'f their gladiators coming home. We have eighteen fights — at least one a month — then he’ll be in line for a shot at the title. Then we’ll start him on endorsements, and then on into the movie scene. There are people interested in him now,” he confides, though he declines to reveal details.
Hamel has exciting news. Former light-heavyweight champion and San Diego resident Archie Moore has talked of joining the Marchand boxing venture. “I saw him at the sportscasters luncheon today,” reports Hamel. “He’s very interested in coming into our organization as a trainer. There’s a real aura around Archie Moore. He’s sixty-seven, and when you shake hands with him it’s like grabbing a brick. He told me once that if you ever made it to the championship of the world, you’d need trucks to carry the money. And he should know.”
The manager offers the post-boxing success of Ken Norton as a precedent for the Marchand plan. “He went right to work for CBS,” Hamel says of Norton, “then did movies. So it’s not a dream. It can be done. Plus, it's easier to do it with a white man than a black man.”
But first things first. He says Marchand’s scheduled opponent is a black fighter named Zenous (zee-no) Thompson from Los Angeles. Hamel says that Thompson is no pushover, but is reputed to be a “real comer.” One ruinous right hand, it is suggested, could shatter the grand scheme at any time. “If Pierre loses,” Hamel responds, “we’ll look to see what went wrong. There’s always that little fear. Remember, Pierre’s never even had a single amateur fight. So in the event that he doesn’t do it anywhere along the line, it won’t be the end of the world; just a kind of fizzling out of a dream. But it would be nice if he’d win this first one by a knockout.” The fight is six days away.
Marchand never stops moving. He prowls the gym like a giant wind-up toy, mechanically flailing at the air. A black fighter named Big John Phillips works with him this morning, three days before his boxing debut. Phillips, who looks more like a Sumo wrestler than a boxer, once fought the notorious Eddie “Animal” Lopez to a draw. Each man, legend has it, knocked the other down three times.
“Keep movin’,” says Phillips, circling Marchand like a ring referee. “When you’re tired, that’s when you’re going to get hurt. Work it, work it. ” He braces the heavy bag as Marchand hammers it with rights and lefts, grunting at each effort. Phillips grabs a towel and wipes the sweat from Marchand’s arms and chest. “Even when you’re relaxin’,” he counsels, “you’re always thinkin’ about it. The one that puts the most work into it usually wins the fight.”
Side by side, the two men jump rope. “Try to do it on your toes,” says Phillips. “Get on your tippytoes. Get your rhythm down just like a choo-choo train.” Phillips makes locomotive noises as he skips. “On the toes, on the toes. ”
Marchand performs his ritual of exercises in the ring, and that done, he trots around the gym, passing a group of exhausted, sweating men on the bench. “Suffering,” he says with a wink, as he passes. The men look up at him blankly. “1 run four miles a day,” he says later. “I can run forever. I can run a marathon. I’m feeling nervous today, but I think it’s normal.
“But I’m ready,” he says, fists clenched, big arms raised above his head. “Gimme (World Boxing Council champion] Larry Holmes so I can make my money. I wouldn’t mind Holmes. To me, there’s not that much difference. It’s whoever has the most desire. I have a vibration that I had when I was in judo. I was winning before the match even started, even if the opponent was larger and stronger.” Jesse Island, not training today, lounges near the Ali poster and talks. Big John Phillips, toting a canvas equipment bag, walks by Marchand on his way to the door. “Monsieur Pierre,” he says with a mock bow, “bon voyage.”
At noon on the day of the fight, Marchand looks quizzically at his contract in the dim light of the Sports Arena. Lou Lake peers over his shoulder, pointing out the line which requires signature. Marchand writes. “Sign my life away,” he sighs. “Shit. Is my fighter sign zis contract? Where is he? I’d like to see him — psyche him out.” He throws a flurry of punches. Poised over a form, a balding official questions him about his judo background. “Was you rated?” the man asks.
“I was rated a black belt in judo.” Marchand wheels his shoulders, feints, hops up and down. Circles of sweat darken his gray T-shirt at the armpits. “It is necessary for you to have zis information for me to be fighting professionally?”
“Right,” says the official, not looking up from the form.
Jesse Island huddles in a dark corner with several men. Lake spots him and shouts, “You fightin’?”
‘‘I dunno,” comes the answer. “Gimme a couple of minutes.”
A tall, dusty Detecto scale stands in the doorway of a large room. Fighters strip to their shorts and step on the scale at the direction of a boxing commissioner with a clipboard. A bearded man, the ring doctor, stands nearby with a stethoscope around his neck. Seated at tables inside the room, managers scrutinize contracts, bicker over money and weight, shake hands and sign. Dr. Michael Dean, hypnotist, Tribune columnist, and boxing devotee, sits in arbitration with local matchmaker Ernie Fuentes. Dean is as pale as a cadaver. ‘‘Okay, okay,” says a man in a windbreaker, “we’ll take the fight.” Ray Hamel, his face red with rage, stomps into the room. Jesse Island has just bolted from the Hamel stable and signed with another manager. The Hamel group’s time and expense in training him for the past six months will now show them no return. “I will never forget it,” promoter Hamel fumes. “Somebody fucks me, I never forget it.”
“You’re gonna come in at 203, Marchand,” says the man with the clipboard. “What color trunks you want?”
“I don’t know,” he says, stepping from the scale. “Red? Okay? I can go now?”
The Big Cut
The small dressing room is thick with tension; sweat and liniment scent the air.
Dan Hamel talks in fatherly tones to Marchand, who towers over him. “Protect yourself at all times,” he says. “If you knock him down, go to a neutral comer. Watch the ref at all times. Don’t give anything away. I have your mouthpiece right here,” he says, patting the pocket of his jeans. “And I have an extra one in case you lose it.”
Down the hall, Zenous Thompson, in white satin trunks, is visible through a doorway. He looks trim and dangerous, even at a distance, flicking perfect left jabs at his handler’s open palm. A boxing commissioner rushes in and inspects the tape and gauze on Marchand's hands. Hamel laces his fighter’s gloves and talks on, recounting the lessons of five months. “Heyyyy!” Marchand cries suddenly, smacking himself in the head twice. Lou Lake enters wearing a three-piece suit. “Okay,” he says to Marchand, “you know what you got to do now. Get a sweat goin ’. Just be relaxed. What happens when you get hit?” He grabs Marchand in a clinch and moves him in a small circle. “Just until your head clears. And protect yourself when you break; body behind the jab.”
A man leans in the door and says, “Marchan’? Let's go.” Hamel helps him into a plain blue terry-cloth robe. “Well,” says the fighter, releasing a long breath, “that’s the real thing now, huh?” Hamel, who will work the corner, slings a towel over his shoulder and picks up a green plastic bucket. He, Lake, and Marchand walk along the corridors toward the rising noise of the crowd and stop before a huge curtain, beyond which is the arena, the spectators, and the future. The first fight of the evening is nearly finished. Marchand, as always, is in constant motion. Grim and silent, he sweats through the heavy robe. Hamel parts the curtains to look at the ring. The two young fighters in it are launching their final-second barrages as men and women rise from their seats and shout for a knockout blow. A dark figure walks from the shadows toward Marchand. It is Jesse Island, menacing and Vader-esque in a black, hooded robe. “Good luck, big man,” he says, extending a taped hand.
"Don’t take any of those two together," Hamel warns a photographer. “Jesse’s not with us anymore.”
It is time. The Marchand entourage files down the aisle to their comer of the ring, and Marchand climbs up and steps nimbly through the ropes. The ring announcer, in a white dinner jacket, introduces the fighters to the people who paid to see them fight. Marchand and Thompson meet in the center of the ring for the referee’s instructions and glare at one another like sworn enemies before a death struggle. When the bell rings, the fighters charge. “Jump in there, white boy!” shouts a voice near the ring. Marchand presses his attack at once, but pays for his unsophisticated aggression. Thompson scores with stiff jabs which rock Marchand’s head back, spraying sweat like water shaken from a mop. “Cover up, Pierre!” yells Hamel. The bell ends round one. In the second round, Marchand again pursues Thompson, and is again met with punishing jabs. The black man is the better boxer, but Marchand’s bull-like style and thumping body shots begin to wear him down. The men grapple near a ring post and exchange close-in blows. When the referee separates the fighters, a long gash is revealed on Thompson’s forehead. Blood runs down along the side of his nose. The referee interrupts the bout and the ring doctor inspects the wound. He rules that the fight may continue. In the third round, Thompson’s hastily mended cut is reopened and blood stains his white trunks; this time the fight is stopped. The victorious Marchand is led from the arena to a mixed chorus of cheers and boos. A short time later Jesse Island will knock out his opponent in two minutes and sixteen seconds of the first round.
Flanked by Lake and Dan Hamel, Marchand sits in the dressing room and answers reporters’ questions. “I did feel clumsy. I made a lot of mistakes. But I think I can take a punch.”
“He forgot everything he learned,” says Lake, smiling.
”No, I didn't feel his punch at all; just boom-boom and it didn’t hurt.” Another colorful mouse develops under Marchand ’s eye. “The cut I think was from a right hand over his jab. I didn’t pace myself. It’s all the tension. I think I had more heart. But I cut him bad, huh?”
A television news crew storms into the room with a minicam and powerful lights. Marchand keeps talking. Lake abruptly announces, “Here’s Mister Moore.” Archie Moore enters in a gray jumpsuit, and the newsmen swing their camera and lights toward him, leaving Marchand in shadow. “I think,” says the former champion, “you will have a contender here in short order. This guy’s got a lot of guts. He’s got what the people like. Things look good for Pierre. He’s one of those rare prospects that comes along. He’s what the game needs now.”
Zenous Thompson needs several stitches. He stands outside the Marchand dressing room, uninterviewed and bleeding. He claims that Marchand’s head, not his hand, did the damage. “It was a butt," he says. “I definitely want a rematch.”
“In 1976 Archie Moore told us if we could find a good, strong white kid, he’d only have to be a fairly good boxer, and we could still do big things and make a truck-load of money,” says Ray Hamel. “We didn’t realize then that we’d go through a truckload of our own money and a truck-load of white guys lookin’ for him.”
The Hamel brothers sit on a bench in a small shopping center near the Sports Arena. In their midthirties, both men see signs of boxing paydirt after years of prospecting. “We’ve been through a lot of guys,” says Dan, who does most of the talking. “We finally found a white man that is really interested. In fact, he’s livin’ and breathin’ it. So now we’ve got him. He’s under contract with me, and I get a percentage of every purse.” He explains that boxing contracts are regulated by the state athletic commission and that as Marchand ’s manager, the largest cut the law allows him is one-third. “But,” he adds, “I’m not tellin’ you that’s what I get.” His brother and Lou Lake, as promoters, share whatever profit the Sports Arena gate brings in, which, he admits, has not been much so far. “Their vested interest,” he says of Hamel/Lake, Inc., “is in bringing pro boxing back to San Diego, because it sort of died here for a while. Pierre is sort of a springboard for all this.”
(What life there had been in San Diego boxing took its sustenance from the San Diego Coliseum, an amiable bleachers-and-beer arena on the southwest comer of Fifteenth and E streets, downtown. From November of 1924 to December of last year, the Coliseum, which is now owned by furniture dealer Jerome Navarra, hosted hundreds of professional and amateur bouts. Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Manuel Ortiz, Art Hafey, Cirlos Palomino, Ken Norton, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, and many others fought there [one of its last big crowds was composed not of fight fans, but of movie extras, on location for the filming of A Force of One, a karate spectacular starring Chuck Norris]. The end came when Navarra, whose retail store is adjacent to the Coliseum, determined that he was losing money by not using the space for storage of his furniture, which he had been keeping in rented warehouses elsewhere in the city. Since its closing nine months ago, there have been only three evenings of boxing in San Diego, all of them organized by Ray Hamel and Lou Lake and held at the Sports Arena.)
Nurturing Marchand’s career has up to now shown a “negative cash value.” Hamel says. “Listen, we don’t need to do this. I do pretty well over at Loma Realty. But I’m an avid fight fan and a businessman . I don’t have a drinking habit; I ’m not into coke and marijuana. I’m into boxing. Something can develop from this. We’re only talkin’ eighteen months before there’s a good deal of money floatin’ around. As our group gets goin’, people are gonna start comin’ out of the woodwork.”
For the time being, however, the money is spread rather thin, according to Hamel, and big paydays are yet to come. Marchand, Island, and Thompson, for example, each received around $150 for their recent night’s work. “Listen,” says Dan, “I’ve got $60,000 in insurance bonds out; I’ve got my property in hock; I’ve even got my brother’s Jag in hock. Everybody’s got their hand out. I’ve even got to buy the boxing gloves. But we’re like these fighters. After a while, you get a little bit of compassion for these guys. Most of ’em don’t have a goddamn car. They’re takin’ a bus to the gym. But we’re just lookin' for the opportunity to get one crack at it. All we’re saying to the general public is hey, buy a five-dollar ticket. Watch these athletes work. And if you want to watch a champion develop, come and watch Pierre.”
Jesse Island is mentioned. “I was furious at the weigh-in,” says Ray. “It was a chickenshit thing. I thought he was more of a man than that.”
Dan interrupts. “We don’t want to knock anybody. The man was very dedicated to the sport, but let’s just say I think he made a mistake. We had a plan to clean up Jesse’s record by getting rematches with everybody he had lost to. But we had a disagreement. Jesse was supposed to get down to 170 pounds for this last fight, and he told me he wouldn't. I cannot let a fighter dictate to me. But Island's abrupt departure is really a mystery to us. I really can’t tell you what the hell happened. Nobody really knows. There’s only about four fight managers in town, and so far, Jesse’s run the gauntlet through all of ’em.” Island and Hamel operated on an oral-contract basis only, he says. “We gave him a lot of support. I really love the man. Before his last fight in L.A., I let him sleep in my waterbed. He’s just a misled young man.” Dan prefers to write off the Island matter as a bad experience and a failed business venture. “Moneywise,” he says, “Jesse Island was a one hundred percent loss. Value for value, it was not there.”
Lou Lake, arms folded across his chest, sits on a low table at Dr. Dean’s gym. Lake, the former director of Archie Moore’s ABC (Any Boy Can) Club — a late-Sixties program for wayward San Diego youth — cites an extensive boxing background. He says that after training fighters for a number of years, he got a promoter’s license in 1970 and arranged for several of heavyweight Ken Norton’s fights, including the famous 1973 jaw-breaker bout with Muhammad Ali. “I saw that in order to have a good shot, a fighter needs to have a promoter workin’ in his behalf,” he says. He also claims to have introduced the wild-haired and controversial promoter Don King to the world of professional boxing.
Lake sees great things in store for Pierre Marchand, who, since his victory, has been training under the tutelage of Archie Moore. “I guarantee you,” Lake says, “Pierre's gonna have skill. Archie Moore is, in my opinion, one of the best trainers in the world. But we won’t bring him along too fast. I believe in progressive development of a fighter. When Pierre gets in the ring, he’ll be able to fight at whatever level he is in. We hope we don’t get losses, but he’s gonna be in there with topflight people so he can learn — no rollover guys you pull off the street. This will establish him as a good-quality heavyweight contender. ”
Lake, a black man, says that a smart promoter must capitalize on the racial aspects of prizefighting. “There’s always been a great white hope. It goes back to the days of Jack Johnson. Everything is built on racial confrontation. You can sell it. That’s what boxing is built upon, whether you like it or not. It’s what I call promotional room for doubt.”
He admits to having doubted that Marchand was a solid boxing prospect and not just a glamour boy with visions of Gucci loafers and Beverly Hills. “I was workin’ with Pierre for over a month and a half before I made an evaluation. Then I said to Danny, you know that expression, never put all your eggs into one basket? Forget it, this is the basket right here.”
But the patina of hype cannot be ignored. Future heavyweight champions are simply not plucked — at twenty-five — from racquetball courts. It would seem that only hardened veterans of the ring wars ever get to wear the championship belt. Lake does not agree. He asserts that, first, Marchand’s age is not crucial because heavyweights do not “mature” until the age of twenty-eight or so. "And this would be a pipe dream with people who were not involved with boxing at the levels I am and that Archie is. I’ve been to the top of it. I know everything I need to know and all the people I need to know to get Pierre where I want. We have all the contacts to do everything we need to do in boxing. It’s like this big puzzle,” he says, with the wicked grin of a young boy at the cookie jar. “I know the various people to fit into the puzzle at certain times. Like I say, I been there before. It’s just a fortunate thing that Pierre ran into Dan Hamel, a very good friend of mine.”
He sees few obstacles between here and the top of the heavyweight heap, and considers time and work expended on the Marchand project a sound investment. “Right now, Ray and Dan and all of us are sort of takin’ care of Pierre. It’s on the come, I guess you’d say. But if he don’t die and I don’t die, one day soon Pierre will pay us all.”