Braverman New World

By Robert Mladinich on March 9, 2018
Braverman New World
His ruggedly handsome face looked like a boxing glove that had been whacked with a bat.

Braverman said he was “thrown in…the nuthouse,” where he described the other inmates “making sounds like roosters and reading bibles upside down…”

Al Braverman’s ruggedly handsome face looked like a boxing glove that had been whacked with a bat. His nose didn’t know which way it wanted to bend. He spoke in expletives and, right up until his death at the age of 78 in July 1997, he was what used to be simply called “a boxing guy.”

He was portrayed by actor Ron Perlman in the 2017 film “Chuck,” which chronicled the exploits of Chuck Wepner, who challenged Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1975 and became the prototype for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” character.

Braverman was a former fighter, manager and trainer, but best known as a top aide to promoter Don King, for whom Braverman went to work in 1975. As King’s director of boxing, Braverman negotiated contracts for his large stable of fighters.

The late boxing expert Bert Sugar said Braverman “brought the mashed face and the mashed pronunciation into the 90’s.”

Braverman managed 30 boxers, including Billy Bossio, Carlos Ortiz, Jimmy Dupree, Frankie DePaula, Mustafa Hamsho, and Wepner.

Before the Ali-Wepner fight, which Ali won in the 15th round, Braverman told reporters that he had a salve to put on Wepner’s face to stop him from bleeding. According to the New York Times, “no chemist had ever been able to completely break down the compound, Mr. Braverman said with a straight face.”

“But Al,” someone asked. “Won’t they complain about using a foreign substance?”

“It ain’t a foreign substance,” Braverman deadpanned. “It’s made right here in the United States.”

Wepner was a notorious bleeder, who in 1970 required neatly 100 facial stitches after being stopped by Sonny Liston in the tenth round. Liston was asked after the fight if Wepner was the bravest opponent he had ever faced.

“No, but his manager is,” replied the stone-faced Liston.

Braverman had a brief career as a heavyweight, fighting and winning three times in 1941. His first bout was auspicious for reasons that were not so obvious.

“I was the only fighter in history who needed smelling salts before a fight,” admitted Braverman.

He recalled his bout at Laurel Gardens in New Jersey, which he described a “real bucket of blood.” The promoter was Willy Gilzenberg and Braverman had come there with his trainer Ray Arcel.

Arcel instructed Braverman not to look at his opponent until he was in the ring. Braverman continually asked nagging questions, such as how many fights his opponent had. Arcel repeatedly answered, “Don’t worry. He’s new, like you.”

Suddenly, Braverman’s opponent vaulted the ropes to a thunderous applause from his legion of fans. Braverman turned to Arcel and said he would kill him.

Arcel told him to “take it easy, they’re just excited because he vaulted the ropes.” Braverman started to feel faint, which resulted in Arcel busting a few smelling salts under his nose.

Braverman went on to win the fight, but railed at Arcel for the deception. Arcel defended himself by saying, “Al, if I told you the truth you would have jumped out of the ring.” 

Braverman was paid $15 for the night’s work.

After being drafted during World War II, Braverman was stationed at Camp Livingston in Louisiana. While serving as a boxing instructor, he said he challenged fellow soldier Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion of the world who was barnstorming the country doing exhibitions at military installations. 

“Thank God he didn’t take it,” said Braverman. “I guess I was too unimportant for him, but I had a great reputation in the camp.”

While Braverman did receive one good conduct medal, he was also court-martialed five times. In one instance, he said he punched an officer who made an anti-Semitic remark.

“He said, ‘We’ll send this Jew to Eden,’” which Braverman described as “the hottest place in Cairo.”

Braverman said he knocked the officer out cold, which resulted in him being “thrown in the O Ward, the nuthouse,” where he described the other inmates “making sounds like roosters and reading bibles upside down.”

Braverman was nicknamed Showers because, he said, “every time I wanted to hurt someone, I took a shower instead.”

Upon his discharge, Braverman immersed himself in the fight racket as a trainer and manager. He picked up the contract of a fine Coney Island lightweight named Pat Marcune, who soon thereafter complained about Braverman taking one-third of his purses.

Marcune went to some mob friends to lean on Braverman, who refused to give an inch.

“I was a crazy Jew who defied everybody, and Marcune was going to pay me no matter what,” said Braverman. “I even told them that I could shoot as straight, if not straighter, than them.”

There were few tricks that Braverman didn’t know. Years later, in 1973, Braverman put Wepner in with Ernie Terrell. Terrell was giving Wepner the business and busted open Wepner’s ear that had been injured in an earlier fight.

“Suddenly blood was everywhere,” recalled Braverman. “I started screaming at Chuck to jump on him because Terrell was cut. Terrell kept dabbing at his face looking for a cut and the tide changed. Wepner was like a madman and wound up winning a decision. Chuck used to cut himself worse shaving.”

In a 1980s publicity stunt, Braverman outfitted middleweight Mustafa Hamsho in Arabic garb at the height of the oil embargo.

Braverman would have been old school even in the old days, and said the biggest victory of his life was against a man named Perez in an Irish tenement on Ninth Avenue in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1948.

Braverman’s father owned a pawnshop and had just turned away a drug addict trying to sell a stolen coat. According to Braverman, the man had actually murdered a woman while stealing her coat. Braverman saw a ruckus that involved a detective named Terry Rogers engaged in “a life and death struggle” with Perez, who was wresting control of the officer’s gun.

Braverman hit Perez with a left hook, but couldn’t put him away. The dazed detective whacked Braverman in the head with his blackjack. Braverman barely budged, and the detective, realizing his mistake, yelled for him to put the handcuffs on Perez.

More than four decades after that incident, Braverman still loved to show off his citation from Mayor William O’Dwyer, which he said helped get him out of traffic tickets.

During Braverman’s many years on the road, he cultivated his passion for antiques by attending yard and barn sales throughout the country. At the time of his death, from complications of diabetes, he and his wife Renee owned the City East Antique Store on East 31st Street in Manhattan.

One of the last times this writer met with Braverman, he had me bring him a pastrami sandwich from a nearby deli. I was under strict orders to not tell his wife about his culinary choices because of his many ailments.

As I left that day, the phone rang, which it did incessantly when you were in his company. I could hear him snarl into the receiver, “I’m doing everybody, does it matter how the bleep I’m doing” before engaging in a discourse about an upcoming undercard.

Braverman was often described as Runyonesque in deference to the colorful newspaper man Damon Runyon, who wrote about hucksters of every sort.

Perhaps calling Braverman Runyonesque should have been the other way around.

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  1. Lucas McCain 06:15am, 03/11/2018

    C. H.—“Flash Gordon.”  How I loved that guy’s newsletter/program.  Laughed myself sick over his pseudonyms (Willie Getup; Kenny Breathe; and best of all:  K. O. Pectate).

  2. C.H. 06:01am, 03/11/2018

    Remember the nasty + heated feud between Braverman and Flash Gordon during the 1970,s ? It got pretty ugly…c.h.

  3. Peter 07:26pm, 03/10/2018

    Braverman was one of those colorful boxing characters I’ve always heard about, but didn’t know much about. Robert Mladinich, in his unique journalistic style, offers us a few new details about this Runyonesque character.

  4. Buster 06:40pm, 03/10/2018

    So Al Braverman “a top aide to promoter Don King” during that criminal sociopath’s heyday. That tells me all I need to know about this character

  5. Pete 05:49pm, 03/10/2018

    Terrific, Bob. I talked to Al one time on the telephone, and remember how he said when I thanked him: “At…any…given…time.”

  6. Lucas McCain 08:27am, 03/10/2018

    Great piece for a Saturday morning!  The Liston anecdote is the thing that always comes to mind when I read about Braverman, and it didn’t cast him in a good light (if that’s even possible!) This at least makes him more human.

    I used to wonder if Liston knew the name, “Braverman,” which lay behind his answer—he never met a braver man—but puns weren’t part of Sonny’s sense of humor (though he did have one under all that menace).

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