The best eight minutes of boxing anybody every watched was 25 years and three days ago, and Stuart Kirschenbaum vividly remembers what Thomas Hearns told him afterward.
Hearns and middleweight champion Marvin Hagler had gone full-tilt for two-plus rounds in an outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Hearns staggered Hagler early and had him cut and bleeding in the third, but only moments later, Hearns’ handlers were carrying him back to his corner in defeat.
Kirschenbaum, who chaired the state boxing commission from 1981-92, slipped into Hearns’ dressing room to pay his condolences as the bleachers emptied. “Hey, Doc,” Hearns said, “don’t worry about me. I just made about $6 million.”
There’s a ferocious irony to that now. Half a million dollars behind on his house payments and $448,191 short to the IRS, Hearns signed autographs for $50 a pop a few weekends ago as an auctioneer gaveled off nearly 100 lots of his boats, off-road toys and memorabilia.
Kirschenbaum, still a podiatrist in Detroit at 65, had been too busy to take note of the anniversary. Reminded, he spoke of a plan he floated in 1990 that might have kept Hearns solvent — and explained how it is that a fighter can win titles in six weight classes, earn more than $40 million in the ring, and be broke at 51.
“People always ask me, ‘If a guy makes $10 million on a fight, how much does ” Kirschenbaum says. he get out of it?’
“The answer is $10 million.”
But that’s only the beginning.
Spending the take
There’s no middle class in boxing, or at least not much of one. You’re making $200 for getting your brainpan rattled on the undercard at an Elks Club, and then if you’re good enough a few years later, you’re making six or seven figures.
You’re not keeping it, though.
Take that $10 million. The IRS wants a third. State and local taxes chip away at it, too. The trainer gets 10 percent and the manager gets another slice — maybe a pre-arranged chunk, maybe 10 percent or 20 percent, maybe even 33 percent.
At the upper echelons, the promoter might pick up expenses like hotel rooms and sparring partners. Otherwise, that comes out of the manager’s end.
Everything else — the family members, the hangers-on, the fly-by-nights with the can’t-miss deals — falls to the boxer.
Assume for the sake of argument that Hearns actually came away with $16 million of his earnings, and it’s still hard to see how it could vanish. But Kirschenbaum has watched the disappearing act again and again.
“Your toys become more expensive,” he says. “You don’t buy one car, you buy a car for everyone you know. You don’t buy one home; you buy one for your mom and your brother and your sister and your girlfriend.”
With time on his hands and his hands on a checkbook, Hearns was ready to play. The auction catalog included a 1957 Chevy, three boats and six ATVs.
A fighter’s investments, often suggested or overseen by alleged friends, tend to fall somewhere between high risk and no chance. But a boxer figures he can always climb back into the ring and make more money, right up until he can’t.
A plan to remake Hearns
Hearns is talking about fighting again, maybe in Dubai. It’s unclear who would pay to see him, or why.
Kirschenbaum says he had another path laid out, but Hearns couldn’t bring himself to take it.
It was 1990, after Hearns had split from his longtime trainer, Emmanuel Steward. Family members approached Kirschenbaum about taking over his career.
He and Hearns met at Pinky’s on the Boulevard, a classic and long-gone old restaurant across from Belle Isle. “I said, ‘Let’s make you a world-recognized ” Kirschenbaum says. boxing legend for all time,’
Let’s go on a world tour, he said. Instead of hunting more $6 million or $10 million paydays, let’s fight for $1 million every other month — a European champion, then an Asian champion, then whoever else pops up. We’ll get endorsements in each city, and when it’s over, we’ll work on your future.
We’ll put you on some charitable boards, Kirschenbaum said. We’ll contact the big corporations, like Coca-Cola or GM. We’ll try to get you hired on in community relations, in a job where they’re really paying you to come to board meetings or golf outings to shake hands and tell stories.
“If you have $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000 coming in,” he said, “and the rest of your money keeps making money, you’ll be fine.”
Instead, Hearns opted for the boom-and-bust of big fights. He retired, fought some more, retired, spent some more, and wound up at an auction house on the west side.
“You never think it’s going to end,” Kirschenbaum says — but it always does.
Source:The Detroit News/Neal Rubin