By Thomas Hauser
Okay, gang. Listen up. This is a good one. It has long been said that boxing is the red-light district of professional sports, but this takes things to a new level.
If one were to make a list of great statesmen of the past century, it would most likely be headed by Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. Any compilation of great minds would include Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell. Sports figures of note would feature Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. Towering above them all is Don Elbaum.
Elbaum was born in the late 1930s and grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. When he was nine, his uncle took him to see Willie Pep fight. I was mesmerized by it, Elbaum recalls. And ever since then, all I’ve wanted out of life is to be in boxing.
Elbaum started boxing at age 13 and compiled an amateur record of 40 wins against 10 losses. I had a great chin," he reports. "And I was a good boxer, but I couldn’t break an egg. In fifty fights, I scored three knockouts. The first, when my opponent threw up between rounds and couldn’t continue. The second, when an opponent who was pounding the crap out of me broke his hand on my head and couldn’t continue. And the third, when I cut a guy and they stopped the fight.
Meanwhile, Elbaum’s father was taking him to professional fights on a regular basis. At age 15, he was matchmaking for established promoters. Three years later, he promoted his first bout. One year after that, he got married.
"I was 19," Elbaum recalls. "She was twenty-nine, Irish and English, a great dancer, on her way to Paris when she met me. And then she made the biggest mistake of her life. She married me."
The marriage lasted on paper for 14 years.
Meanwhile, over the decades, Elbaum has been the matchmaker for at least 10 thousand fights. As a sideline, between 1960 and 1971, he had 10 pro bouts of his own, compiling a record of 6 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw with no knockouts either way.
Don Elbaum is the traveling salesman who sells magic potions from town to town. He's a poet at heart and adds a touch of romance to the sweet science. Like many in boxing, he is both sinner and saint.
Elbaum has been described by critics as a low-life, a hustler, pond scum, and a character. "Don't call me a character," he says. "I hate that word."
Don Elbaum is the man who introduced Don King to boxing.
Once, when Elbaum was confronted with the fact that a fighter he'd advertised as being seven-feet-one-inch tall was really only six-seven, he explained, "He's short for his height."
While serving time in prison for tax evasion, Elbaum observed, "It's not bad in here. I'm running into a lot of old friends."
It's also worth noting that there was a time when Elbaum promoted fights in Steubensville, Ohio. "It was a wild town with some of the best-run whorehouses in the country," he remembers. "The guys who ran them gave me professional hookers to use as round card girls for free. From my point of view, it was great. I didn't have to pay the girls, and I sold extra tickets because the people who ran the whorehouses bought seats for their customers in order to display their wares."
That brings us to the matter at hand.
Earlier this year, Elbaum decided it would be profitable to promote a series of fight cards in a bordello. Prostitution is legal in Nevada. So boxing's greatest personality [remember; use of the word "character" is forbidden] did some on-site research.
"It was fascinating," Elbaum reports. "The place is called Sherry's Ranch. It's the number-one bordello in Nevada; a real class operation; not like some of those places that are just trailer-trucks lined up on the road. They're located about seventy miles from Las Vegas. They've got a limousine that runs back and forth from Vegas and a helicopter that flies people in from Los Angeles. The place is like a resort. It has twenty-five rooms and about three hundred girls that rotate in and out. I met some of the girls. A bunch of them are married. Others are working their way through college. The girls are independent contractors who pay thirty-five dollars a day for their room and split their earnings fifty-fifty with the house. There's a $250 minimum for whatever you do, but I don't think you can get much for that."
Those who want to know more should read on.
"They've got what they call a 'house menu' with 'house specialties' written down," Elbaum continues. "Straight lay. Half-and-half; that's when the girl gives you oral sex so you get an erection and then you penetrate. Two-girl shows. Two-girl parties. A lady massaging you with her big breasts. Two ladies massaging you with their big breasts. A bondage room. An S & M room. They were looking to make the fights a monthly show. They figured, if a fight card cost them $60,000, they'd get back $150,000 the same night. The problem they had was, you need advertising for fights; but under Nevada law, you can't advertise to induce people to come to a bordello. You can have an internet site, but you can't have billboards or newspaper or radio or television advertising. But they thought they could get around that by making this some kind of charity venture."
Alas! As Robert Burns once wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft a-gey."
In late October, the powers-that-be in Nevada declared their unwillingness to relax the restrictions on advertising for Bordello Boxing.
"It's an image thing," explains Elbaum. "They don't want boxing tied up with prostitution."
Probably, they thought it would be bad for prostitution.
Award winning author Thomas Hauser can be reached at