By Thomas Hauser: In November 2003, I profiled Don Elbaum for this website and reported on his efforts to promote a series of fight cards in Nevada to be known as "BordelloBoxing
". Prostitution is legal in Nevada, and the plan was to promote monthly shows at an upscale brothel called Sherry's Ranch.
Things didn't work out. Advertising was considered essential to the venture, and it's illegal under Nevada law to advertise to induce people to come to a brothel.
"It's a shame, really," Elbaum said afterward, acknowledging defeat. "Boxing and prostitution is a marriage made in heaven, or wherever. The greatest thing anyone ever said about boxing is that it's the red-light district of professional sports. Red-light districts intrigue people. They don't want to be seen going in or out, but they want to be there. I love that description."
At any given time, Elbaum seems to be juggling ten balls in the air. Often, he drops nine of them. Sometimes he drops all ten. But he personifies Robert Browning's immortal words, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for."
Elbaum is always pursuing a dream. When he was fifteen, he left home to join a carnival.
"It was summer vacation," he recalls. "School was out, and a carnival was passing through town. It had throwing balls through a hoop, popping balloons, everything you can think of. One of the games was, you chose a number and they spun a wheel and, if your number came up, you won a doll. The girl spinning the wheel was the daughter of the guy who owned the carnival, and she was drop-dead gorgeous beautiful. I spent eight hours talking with her. I went home that night and told my parents that I was leaving home to join the carnival. My father understood; my mother had a different view. But I did it and ran a penny-pitching game with the carnival for a month The owner's daughter and I really hit it off. I had a ball."
The following summer, Elbaum left home again; this time, to play an Indian in a wild West show. "The owner of the show was named Wild Bill," he remembers. "I can't remember his last name. He had a beautiful daughter too, but I was less successful with her than with the carnival owner's daughter."
Since the failure of bordello boxing, Elbaum has continued chasing rainbows. His most notable venture was trying unsuccessfully to convince Oprah Winfrey to serve as the ring announcer for a fight card at the Blue Horizon. He's always "working on a few things."
* * *
No report on the subject of boxing and prostitution would be complete without a tip of the hat to Cedric Kushner. Where women of the night are concerned, the promoter is something of a ladies man. "One way or the other, you pay for it," Cedric observes. "I just pay more directly."
Kushner has a ceiling on what he will pay for services. "The end result is the same," he posits, "so why pay more?" The following stories are told without passing judgment and with Cedric's permission.
In July 2001, Kushner was at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to promote the heavyweight match-up between Michael Grant and Jameel McCline. Two nights before the fight, Craig Hamilton (Grant's advisor) was playing blackjack in the casino when an attractive woman in her early twenties walked over and stood behind him.
"Anyone could see what was going on," Hamilton recalls. "She was wearing an extremely revealing dress. I was up three or four thousand dollars, so there was a big pile of chips on the table in front of me."
Kushner came over and asked Hamilton, "Would you mind telling me what the story is with the girl behind you?"
"You figure it out," Hamilton responded. "She's about thirty years younger than I am; she's dressed like a hooker; and I have a big pile of money in front of me."
"Would it be possible for you to make an inquiry on my behalf?"
So Hamilton turned to the woman and said, "Look, we both know why you're here. I'm not interested, but my friend is. How much?"
The woman examined Kushner and answered, "Three hundred for an hour; seven hundred for the night."
That put the ball on Cedric's side of the court. ""With all due respect," he told her, "there's nothing I can do during the course of an entire night that I can't do in an hour."
And they went off to the elevator together.
But Kushner's encounters with women of the night have not been without risk. Once, in Atlantic City, he brought a hooker to his room and awoke the following morning, groggy and disoriented. She'd put "knockout drops" in his drink and stolen his watch, wallet, and everything else of value.
The lesson most people would learn from that experience is, "Don't bring a hooker to your hotel room." The lesson Cedric learned was, "When I bring a hooker to my room, I shouldn't drink anything that I haven't followed with my own eyes from source to mouth."
Thus, several years later, Kushner was robbed again. This time, it happened in Las Vegas. The hooker put knockout drops on her nipples.
"There's one thing you have to agree with," Cedric says, reflecting back on those experiences and his history of ups and downs in boxing. "I'm the same guy no matter what the fuck happens."
* * *
And while we're on the subject of Cedric Kushner --
There's something about November in Manhattan that spells trouble for the promoter. On November 4, 2005, the roundcard girls arrived for his show at the Hammerstein Ballroom only to learn that Cedric had remembered to hire them but had forgotten to arrange for round cards. Undaunted, they circled the ring between rounds holding imaginary cards in the air and signalling which round was coming next by raising the appropriate number of fingers.
Fast-forward to November 3, 2006. Heavyweights Darryl Madison and Clifton Adams entered the ring for the first fight of the night at Cedric's Roseland Ballroom extravaganza. But there was a problem. No ring stools. After a 15-minute delay, two stools were delivered and the fights began.
Through it all, Kushner soldiers on. Over the years, he has promoted dozens of fight cards in The Big Apple at venues as diverse as the Apollo Theatre, the Javits Convention Center, and Madison Square Garden.
"A lot of promoters shy away from New York because it costs more to promote here," Kushner acknowledges. "But New York is still the media capitol of the world, and I believe that doing business here is the best way for a promoter to accelerate the success of his fighters."
Four alumni of Kushner's "Heavyweight Explosion" cards (Hasim Rahman, Chris Byrd, Oleg Maskaev, and Shannon Briggs) have gone on to capture a portion of the heavyweight crown. His current promotional company (Gotham Boxing) will hold its next fight card at Roseland Ballroom on February 22nd with David Tua versus Robert Hawkins as the main event. Tickets are priced from $50 to $150 and can be purchased in advance at the Roseland Box Office, from TicketMaster, or by calling Gotham Boxing at 212-755-1944.
* * *
It looks like Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo will face off in June. Let me offer a suggestion. Both men had trouble making 140 pounds for their January 20th doubleheader. Hatton was so debilitated by the process that he blew off the HBO "fighter meeting" on Friday morning. And the process was just as difficult for Castillo.
Ergo, Hatton and Castillo should forget about Ricky's IBF belt and meet at a contract weight of 143 pounds. It would be a better fight, because each man would be stronger with more energy. It would be a safer fight without the dehydration that comes with struggling to make weight. And the fighters would save money by not paying sanctioning fees.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org