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Jim Murray

A Champion Who Doesn't Just Let Fists Do Talking

May 12, 1987|JIM MURRAY

You could tell right away the guy sitting across the table was an impostor.

I mean, he was claiming to be the light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world. But the eyes were clear, no scar tissue. He had both his ears, all his teeth.

True, he had a broken nose. But it had been broken in the gym, not an arena. And, it had been carefully restored. Otherwise, there was not a mark on him, a hair out of place on his head.

But the real giveaway was the way the guy talked. Words like unilateral, salability, aspirations and participatory crept into the general conversation. I mean, you ever hear Slapsie Maxie sound like that? Gus Lesnevich? This guy sounded like two Gene Tunneys.

When it came out this fellow was a member of the school board in Wanaque, N.J., you knew you were in the presence of one of the great con men of our times. On top of everything else, the guy was white, native-born, city-bred and a one-time straight A student in high school. Sound like a light-heavy champ to you?

By any yardstick you wanted to apply, Bobby Czyz didn't fit the profile of a pugilist. You had a hard job imagining Brando playing this character. He didn't talk through his broken nose, he pronounced his th sounds as well as Olivier.

But, the cold facts of the matter are, Bobby Czyz is a bona fide world champion pug with a 32-1 record with 23 knockouts. He may be the best at his trade in the division since Mickey Walker.

Usually, a guy becomes a fighter because the alternative is to get a shoeshine rag or a machete to cut cane. Compared to a lifetime of that, a career of bleeding for a living seems a small price to pay.

In the case of Bobby Czyz, though, he had other options. One of them, incredibly enough, was medical school. Czyz had the grades to get in--he graduated sixth in a class of 235--but not the motivation. He hankered to be a prize fighter. He opted to become a patient instead of a doctor. He even had an appointment to West Point. He'd rather be a ring general than a field general.

Ring general may be too generous a term to apply to Bobby. As one observer pointed out, he may be the first boxer in history to have no vowel and no left jab to his name. Bobby fights you the way the German general staff does. Advance or die.

Still, he seemed to have a terminal credibility gap. He had gone in the ring for an old familiar reason: he was acting out his father's life. Dad had been a pretty good middleweight himself in his youth, which had been cut off when his own father died.

Recalls Bobby, the son: "My father was obsessed with a ring career. But I had the boxing bug, too. We made a deal: I would have a few novice fights. If I had an aptitude I would go on. If not, I would go back to college."

Bobby Czyz had aptitude. Plus a good left hook.

The fight mob was not convinced.

"Here I was articulate, middle-class background," Czyz says. "I wasn't out of jail. I wasn't off the streets. I didn't necessarily have to fight."

As far as the fight game was concerned, fighters come out of the pen at Rahway, not high school malt shops. They're wearing numbers, not lettermen's jackets. The betting was, the first time Bobby Czyz got a major league hook to the ear, he'd go into another line of work.

So the fight mob nodded its head sagely when Bobby fought a tough, tricky old pro, Mustafa Hamsho, and seemed to get the lesson of his life. Also, the licking of his life.

What actually happened was that he broke his hand in the third round. He had to have reconstructive surgery with bone grafted from his hip to repair the broken fist.

A few weeks later, his heart was also broken. He found his father dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the bedroom of his home.

Bobby didn't fight for almost a year after that. Few expected him to fight again ever.

"A lot of people thought I had just dabbled in a career," he says. "They misjudged me. They mistook my motivation, my determination."

That isn't exactly, "I'll moider the bum!" Or "Leave me at that Hagler!" It's not even "I can lick any man in the house!" But it's the way Bobby Czyz talks.

Bobby Czyz may have a name like an eye chart, and a vocabulary like a school teacher. But he's also got a right hand like a paving block and a left that could open safes. The depression that marked his life after the suicide of his father--he was arrested for aggravated assault in the darkest period--has lifted.

He hopes to fight Thomas Hearns to unify the light-heavyweight title. Czyz holds the International Boxing Federation (IBF) version and Hearns the World Boxing Council (WBC) title in the alphabet soup that has become boxing today.

You'll be able to tell Czyz. He'll be one of the first light-heavy champions who doesn't sound as if he's talking through his ears. His opponent will be the one who can't talk at all.

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