By Phil Doherty
The toughest, most honest fighter I will ever meet in boxing died Saturday–fight night, of course. He didn’t toil between the ropes like the legions of young men he managed, matched, promoted and protected. He didn’t have to.
If you knew Johnny Bos, you knew his suffering. Whether you acknowledged it and him was what separated his friends from his foes.
And he had plenty of both.
His battles raged on away from the glare of the squared circle: from New York City grand jury courtrooms and the “Mecca of Boxing” Madison Square Garden to a forced exile in a Florida backwater called “Clearwater.” He fell from the mountaintop as a matchmaker in the 80’s to a hired gun in South Florida’s cutthroat club circuit just trying to make a buck.
Yet he maintained his grim sense of humor. Johnny was eclectic to say the least. A six four white guy digging hip hop and counting heavy metallists like Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo a personal friend? To borrow the phrase from Iggy Pop, Johnny DEFINITELY had a “lust for life.”
Why did Johnny suffer for boxing’s sins so long? Simple, because when he opened his mouth the truth came tumbling out. And boxing, like so many other industries, is not a place where people like to hear that sort of thing.
Just like the rest of us, his hopes and fears defined his reality. Johnny so desperately hoped to break back into the mainstream of a sport that betrayed him far too long, while also fearing that day would never come.
He rarely rose before one in the afternoon. At least you couldn’t get him on the phone before then. But once you did, he was off to the races!
Johnny personally taught me so much about boxing. On those rare occasions when he couldn’t catch a train or shotgun in a friend’s car (he didn’t drive) I would update him on the results of a non-televised bout here in Ft Lauderdale or Miami. He soaked it up and would spit it out with some obscure yet on-point observation regarding the principals or their attendants, or the commission or all of the above.
Recently I saw him less and spoke to him less as I tried to balance the demands of a full-time job with my part-time addiction to boxing. But when I did see him, he would be standing there with that bemused smile on his face, whiskers lifted to the heavens above that knowing grin.
I would hug him and it was just like “old” times. Old in our case relative to the forty plus years he’d already spent in the game before a wide-eyed know-nothing like me had the outrageous good fortune to meet and know him.
Like the time I was doing PR for a local promoter. Johnny was the matchmaker. I was still new to the game and was tasked with taking 3 heavyweights and their trainer to get last-minute eye exams.
My car sagged with the weight of these behemoths as we screamed down the street facing the deadline of the following day’s weigh in. I was so hurried and so green that when we arrived back to the gym and he asked me how it went, I said: “Great!”
Then he asked me for the results and I weakly answered: “Results?”
The nearby assistant for the promoter nearly lost her mind with rage and worry. But Johnny was calm and he did something I will never forget.
He told her “It’s fine, he didn’t know. He did what you told him to. These fighters should know to get their own results, they’re the ones in the goddamn ring aren’t they?” Of course he managed to get the Orthodox Jewish doctor out of bed the next morning–another Saturday, to get the results.
He stood up for me.
And it’s a damn shame not enough of us did the same for him.