Chauncey’s Big Payday

By Wrigley Brogan on November 23, 2017
Chauncey’s Big Payday
Boxing has little to do with fighters and everything to do with money. (Wrigley Brogan)

No amount of training ever trimmed his muscles into steel and he always resembled a lumpy couch potato. But he was a better fighter than he knew…

Chauncey Welliver vs. Marcellus Brown

I photographed and wrote about heavyweight Chauncy Welliver’s pro debut against Thomas Eynon in 2001. He was an unlikely boxer, big and fleshy and with a constant smile on his face. He could not be disliked. I pride myself in writing the truth about boxers and the fight game, something not always popular, especially when dealing with small club fights and new boxers who expect constant praise. Being honest can cause a lot of trouble, threats from boxers and being barred from venues. Being honest has nothing to do with friendship. If my father were a lousy boxer (according to my mother he was during his brief 0-3 career) I would say so. That has nothing to do with how I feel about my father. Doing one’s job was something I learned in the war in Viet Nam. I once wrote that Welliver threw as many punches as a flyweight—and just as hard. Most boxers, who are often insecure, would have come gunning for me. Not Welliver. He thought it was both funny and also true. We have been friends every since.

I have followed his entire 55-12-5 career. He is the ultimate professional working boxer and has experienced everything that can happen in boxing: no pay, bribes, under the table cash, shoddy promoters, great promoters, fixed fights, honest fights, a bit of glory—especially as “The Panda” in China—which fights to accept or not accept, and a means to earn a living for twenty years.

On a night in Tijuana, Mexico, during his last bout, Welliver waited patiently in the dressing room with manager Ray Frye. Welliver is a man of considerable charm and personality. He beams confidence and optimism. He is extremely fast for a heavyweight. Some boxers are born with certain gifts. Welliver was born with incredible stamina and speed. He carried as much energy into the last round as he did in the first. Unfortunately he lacked a punch and was also born with a body of Jell-O. No amount of training ever trimmed his muscles into steel and he always resembled a lumpy couch potato. This cost him big money fights including fights with several world champions like Klitschko. The look was deceiving and often worked to his advantage. Muscled fighters occasionally took him lightly and were demoralized as they staggered from exhaustion around the ring after the 5th round trying not to step on their drooping tongues, while Welliver danced about like Baryshnikov, a smile on his face, punches darting out like a flies’ tongue as he waved and clowned to the crowd. He was always a better fighter than he knew.

He was now at the end of his career and fighting in a dump in Mexico against Marselles Brown, a fighter under the influence of rather shady characters (always difficult to tell in boxing) determined to secure Brown a big-money championship shot. Welliver was meat, a set-up, at least as far as they were concerned. He had lost his last four fights and they knew he was done. Even worse, he had lost his enthusiasm and took the fight at the last minute to earn some extra spending money. The fight was only an 8-rounder and he could hang in there that long. Who was Brown, anyway? With a record of 30-18-1 he had gone nowhere and was still going nowhere regardless of his skeptical backing.

Ray Frye leaned against the counter of the dressing room, a bottle of water in one hand. Ray Frye, the bad boy of northwest boxing, had arranged the fight for Welliver. People either loved or hated Fry, a no-nonsense manager who has pushed his short-man syndrome into a successful business leaving behind a trail of curly hair in his wake, follicles never to return. He views the lack of hair as an asset. No amount of trouble causes him to pull out his hair since only a bristle of scrub remains. Managing boxers and fights was his sideline, a form of relaxation in a sport that causes most people debilitating anxiety and ulcers. Frye enjoyed his own kind of fighting. The tougher the skirmish the more he enjoyed the fight. He had managed fighters like Alex Bunema and often worked with legendary northwest manager Roland Jenkelson, former manager of Heavyweight Champion Pinklon Thomas and Joe Hipp. People always knew where Frye stood, and it was often on their feet. His words are straightforward; a relentless left jabs of sounds. What he said goes, and he said a lot. If you made a deal with him he demanded you follow through.

The door to the dressing room opened and Welliver started to rise. Frye pushed him back down. A boy stuck his head inside and indicated Welliver was up next.

“He ain’t going nowhere,” said Frye. The boy looked confused. Welliver looked up. “Tell your boss we want our money.”

The boy shook his head and backed out. Welliver looked up.

“What are you doing?’ he said.

“Just sit,” said Frye. “No money, no fight.”

“I wouldn’t mess with these guys,” said Welliver. “I swear; they’re some kind of Mexican Mafia guys, or something. Let’s just fight and get out of here. Forget about the money. I just want to get something to eat.”

“They’re going to screw you,” said Frye. “I’m not buying it. The deal was for cash, the money paid before the fight. A contract is a contract.”

Welliver felt uneasy. The fight game was not like most businesses. Deals came and deals went. Almost none of them came off as planned. Fighters generally got cheated. Sometimes not. Sometimes they earned an unexpected bonus, a little something extra for the ladies or the kids or the wife, if he was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have one.

The door banged open. Three men entered, one in a silk suit with a white tie. His hair looked unwashed and he had not shaved in several days. He did not speak. The larger man beside him scratched at his chin and his eyes felt out Frye. His suit was too tight as if an abundance of meals had caught the threads by surprise.

“You’re up next,” he said. His voice was not loud but firm. He was not the kind of man who needed to raise his voice to be heard.

“The money,” said Frye, to the promoter. “No money, no fight. That was the deal.”

The other two men looked at the promoter.

“We don’t have time. He has to go on. You’ll get the money after the fight.”

“Cash up front was the deal,” said Frye. He looked the promoter in the eyes. He had been in the game too long to believe anything many promoters said. “It’s in the contract.”

“All right,” said the promoter. “But I’ll remember this. You won’t fight here again.”

“Not until next time you need me,” said Fry. “And not that…” He nodded to the checkbook the promoter pulled from his pocket.

“What do you mean—not that?”

“Do I look like a twit to you?” said Frye.

Welliver looked toward the floor and tapped his gloves together. He did not need a fight now, not with these three. He could tell by the shadows filtering through the door there were more outside. Sometimes Frye was too tough, did not think things out. He had no sense of danger and only thought of contracts.

“The deal was cash, up front before the fight.”

“You think my check’s no good?” said the promoter. “I don’t have to take that kind of disrespect.”

“No disrespect intended,” said Frye. “A contract is a contract. We’re here to fulfill our part of the deal. Now fulfill yours.”

“You’re crazy,” said the promoter. “Do you know who you are dealing with?”

“I don’t even remember your name,” said Frye. “I’m not interested who you are. You made the deal, not me. No money, no fight.”

“How am I going to get that kind of cash minutes before the fight?”

Welliver started to stand. Frye pushed him back down.

“It’s O.K., Ray,” said Welliver. “He’ll pay. Let me go out and everything will be fine.”

A grin edged up the promoter’s cheek. Frye did not like grins, especially on a promoter. He found enjoyment in boxing, not humor.

“You’re going nowhere,” said Frye. He put his hand on Welliver’s shoulder to keep him down. “On second thought,” he said. “Get up and get dressed. We’re going home. I don’t like my time wasted.”

The three men closed tight around the door. The promoter crossed his arms. One of the men nodded into the hall and placed his hand on the door. The door started to ease shut. The promoter nodded his head. Frye kept his eyes on him.

“Wait here,” the promoter said.

The three men exited. After a minute the third man reentered and stood by the opening.

“They’re going to kill us,” said Welliver. “I didn’t count on this. What difference does it make? I can’t beat this guy, anyway. I’ll stay away from him and we’ll go home and that will be the end of my career. You said it was an easy fight. We would fly to Mexico, work up a small sweat, and have a big meal.”

“You won’t take a dive?” said Frye.

“I’ve never taken a dive,” said Welliver. “I won’t start now. I just can’t beat this guy. I haven’t been in the gym for months. I’m out of shape; I’m here to make some spending money, that’s all. I’ll run around so I won’t get hurt and we’ll go home after some tacos.”

“We’ll go home with the money, and then some,” said Fry. “We’re the ones on top. Without us they don’t move up. They don’t have crap. They’re trying to push their guy. They need a fight and a win. They know you can’t beat Brown. Do you think they would offer that kind of money, that kind of deal, if they thought you could win? They couldn’t buy you. You have too much integrity. If you didn’t you might have earned a lot more money than you have during your career. No, you have to be some kind of ethical schmuck who fights guys you know you can’t win. You can beat this guy. Maybe you’ll surprise these guys.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Go out there. Kick his ass. Show them the kind of man you are.”

“Wait a minute.” Welliver stood up and grabbed Frye by the shoulders. “You didn’t bet the purse on me, did you?”

“I bet the works,” said Frye. “I bet every cent on the fight. I’m no fool. This guy can’t fight. We’ll go home with more than we planned. That’s the only way to slip into retirement.”

The man at the door stepped aside and the man with the silk suit entered. He carried a brown paper bag. He circled Welliver and tossed the bag on the table. Frye looked inside, pulled out the bills, counted them quickly and nodded.

“You ready?” he said to Welliver. He placed the bag into his corner-man’s kit. “You’ve got a fight to win.”

The event was packed. Fighting in Mexico was not like fighting in the U.S. Mexicans take their boxing seriously. Fighting is a tradition, almost a religion. No rising boxer knew if he was any good until he beat a Mexican. They never quit regardless of how badly they were being beaten. A Mexican would die rather than quit. Brown was not a Mexican. That did not matter. He was fighting in Mexico.
Frye had hired a Mexican to help with the corner, a local boy he had met before the fight, one who spoke English.

Welliver eyed Brown carefully, an ugly brute whose 18 losses showed in lumps, welts and scars on his face. At seven foot tall, Brown was a lofty peak to climb. He was even more bald than Frye and looked just as mean. That spare dome caused Welliver to chuckle to himself. Frye’s baldness was a running joke with Welliver and suddenly he was not worried about Brown. The joke would carry him through. He decided not to run but to fight, to give Brown his best effort.

Welliver was surprised how fresh he felt after the first round. Brown was no one to be feared. He had no punch, none that he reveled, anyway. And he was slow. He lumbered around the ring dragging his feet.

“I told you he was a schmuck,” said Frye.

“And I was going to run,” said Welliver. “Run from what?”

“Go get him champ. Don’t blow everything too soon. Give him some space.”

Welliver stalked across the ring. He was an underdog so he stood to earn a nice payday with Frye’s bet from a win. He tried not to think about the money. Money always messed up a fighter. Toward the end of the round he landed with a clean right. Brown tumbled to the canvas. The referee stepped in and helped him up. He looked to the promoter sitting ringside. The referee waved off the knockdown and called it a slip. Welliver, the grin falling from his lips, flopped back into his corner.

“I put him down,” he said. “The knockdown was clear; anyone could see that.”

Frye dribbled water over his head. “This is boxing. Don’t worry about a crooked call. Put him down again, just not too soon. Don’t go right after him. You don’t want to blow everything too soon. Play him along. Put on a good show and maybe we can get you another fight.”

“He’s going out this round.”

“Take it easy. Give it some time,” said Frye. “Play him along, like I said.”

“I’ll get tired if I wait too long. I won’t be able to put him out.”

“Have some confidence. You’ll feel better if you get in some rounds.”

The joy of knocking Brown down, then having the knockdown called a slip, had taken some of the energy out of Welliver. Fatigue started to seep in. He was still winning the rounds, only not so easily. By the 6th round he knew he had the fight won. Brown could not knock him out. He did not want to take any chances. He could use the remainder of his energy then coast for the last two rounds. Again he mustered the strength to land a good clean punch hard enough to put Brown down. The knockdown was so obvious that even the referee had to call it, although he took his time counting as Brown slowly rose to one knee then stood on shaky legs. Welliver rushed after him. All he could think of was putting him away. But time was too short. Brown lunged forward and held on to Welliver. Welliver tried to break free, to get some punching distance but Brown managed to hold on until the bell. Welliver watched him stumble to his corner before he sat down.

“I got him now,” said Welliver. “There’s no way he can last. I’ve got one more good punch in me.”

“Stay calm,” said Frye. “We still have two rounds to go. Keep playing him for as long as you can.”

An announcement, in Spanish, echoed through the venue. Frye looked at his helper who shrugged.

“What did he say?”

“No more fight,” said the boy. “It’s over. No more fight.”

“You don’t mean the old no mas do you?”

“Finished,” said the boy. He held a bucket of water in his hand.

Frye looked worried. The crown fidgeted in mass, seemed to rock from side to side in a unified dance.

“We won?” said Welliver. The victory started to sink in. “The fight’s over. I won by TKO.” He started to smile and he slapped his gloves together. He strutted around the ring tossing punches at an imaginary opponent. Frye did not look happy. He tapped Frye on the head. “I can almost taste the money. I’m going to buy us the biggest meal in Mexico. You must be the best manager in history, better even than Tex Rickard.”

“No, no,” said the boy, to Frye. “They say the fight just six rounds, not eight. The fight over.”

“I knew it,” said Frye. He gritted his teeth. “They knew Brown couldn’t go another two rounds. The judges are going to steal this fight from you.” He looked down at the bag of money in his kit. He looked at the audience and glanced toward the promoter. He was gone. Only the man in the dirty silk suit was there and looking hard at Frye.

“I clearly won,” said Welliver. “Everyone saw me beat him. It wasn’t even a contest. I kicked his ass.”

“Sure,” said Frye. “Everyone saw you beat him. This is boxing. Nothing is certain when money is involved.”

The referee called both fighters to the center of the ring. The announcer did not read the judges’ scorecards. He said, “The winner, by unanimous decision, is Marselles Brown.”

The referee raised Brown’s arm in victory. An equal number of cheers and boos rolled across the thick air. Several empty cups flew into the ring. Welliver congratulated Brown, tapped him on the shoulder as if he had lost and needed consoling. Brown, obviously embarrassed, did not look him in the face. He feebly attempted to raise Welliver’s hand but Welliver pulled back and walked to his corner. Frye had already picked up his kit. He had stuffed the money deeply inside and tied a rope around the kit. They pushed through the crowd. He had taken one last look at the man in the silk suit. He was gone.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “Some places you don’t want to stick around too long.”

Welliver walked quietly to the dressing room. The hall, green paint peeling in curls, seemed constrictive. He had been fighting a long time, too long, maybe, and he had seen a lot of questionable decisions. He had been screwed more than once by hometown decisions and maybe even received a few himself. Corruption, or business as usual as people in the boxing game understood, happened behind the scenes, not in the ring. A fighter’s job was to fight, nothing more. For the rest, a good manager was essential.

“Come on, get dressed,” said Frye. He sat the kit on the counter. A single light bulb flickered from the ceiling. “I don’t need those goons coming in here and messing things up.”

“Messing things up?” said Welliver.

“O.K., us up,” said Frye.

“So, we lost everything?” said Welliver. “All your tough talk and we go home with nothing because you bet everything on me. You’ve got to be the worst manager in history. We can’t even buy a burette.” Frye helped him remove the gloves.

“Let them come in here and start trouble,” said Frye. “I feel like kicking someone’s ass. I’d like to knock that greasy one’s teeth out. I can beat anyone my size and men a whole lot bigger.”

“Herve Villechaize is retired,” said Welliver. He let Frye pull off the gloves. He had never felt so low. No one wants to go out on a loss. Frye tossed the gloves on the floor.

“Leave the shoes on,” said Frye. “You can change later. Slip on your pants and let’s go. You need to move faster here than you did in the ring.”

“I’ll have to get another fight,” said Welliver.

“Don’t worry, I’ll match you up with a thalidomide baby,” said Frye.

“No wonder these goons came up with the money,” said Welliver. “Now they get everything back and we get nothing. Smart move—some manager…”

“You don’t bet with clowns like that,” said Frye. “They can’t be trusted. You need a better class of individual for bets, one you know will pay up if you win and who will expect to be paid if you lose. Hurry up. We need to take care of business and catch that plane.”

The building seemed unusually quiet. Welliver was dressed now and Frye pushed him to the door. Frye looked up and down the hall. There was no one in sight, not even a guard. He shoved Welliver along.

“All that money gone,” said Welliver. He sighed as the anger left him. The bet was a smart move. He might have made the bet himself. “I can’t blame you. The odds were so great against me we stood to make a bundle if I won. Those are the chances you take. I won, that’s some consolation.”

“Ha,” Frye laughed. “Do you think I’m stupid? How long have I been managing you? Have you ever been screwed over? The trick is for you to win and for me to win. How many managers can do that?”

Frye stopped and put a finger to his lips. They stood motionless. He thought he heard footsteps. They waited quietly for a minute before moving toward the exit. The exit was in the alley.

“What do you mean?” said Welliver. “About being stupid, I mean. We already know the answer to that.”

“We just got to get out of here and everything will be fine, said Frye.”

“You’re not stealing the money, are you?” said Welliver. “They’ll kill us for sure. These are Mafia guys, or even worse. Even if we get away they’ll hunt us down.”

“I never broke a deal in my life,” said Frye. “My word’s good as gold. Ask anyone. We just have to finish up this deal and we’re away free. It’s not as much as if I had bet on you but it’s still more than we had coming into this fight.”

“What do you mean?” said Welliver. They had walked quickly through the alley and stopped in the parking lot as Frye flagged a cab. A group of men mingled around the event’s entrance. Frye opened the door and shoved him in headfirst. He handed the driver an address. The driver looked at them before driving off.

“We got a bet to collect,” said Frye.

Street vendors stood behind smoking and steaming carts. There seemed an unusual number of streetlights along the road. Welliver felt hungry. He liked a good meal after a fight.

“I lost,” said Welliver. “I’m hungry. Let’s get a taco. We have that much money.”

“You won and we won,” said Frye. “I’ll buy you a dozen tacos and all the refried beans you can eat.” Frye kept looking out the rear window to see if they were being followed.

“What do you mean—won?” said Welliver. “You bet on Brown?”

“Sure, I bet on Brown,” said Frye. “Do you think I’m stupid? I was worried you would knock him out and we would lose everything. I counted on him going the distance and you wearing out. But no, you had to play tough guy and almost blew everything. When they realized he wasn’t going to last, they shortened the rounds.”

“You said I could win,” said Welliver. “You said I could beat him.”

“You did beat him,” said Frye. “You do the fighting; I handle the finances. That’s always been the arrangement.”

“I don’t get it,” said Welliver.

“This is boxing,” said Frye. “I knew you would beat Brown, and you did. What you couldn’t do was win the fight. Whether it’s these small-timers or the big fights like the first Pacquiao/Bradley fight, the right fighter, the one who can earn the most money, always wins. Boxing has little to do with fighters and everything to do with money. It’s a business, after all. A manager must use his head. Now, let’s collect our money and go home.”

“I’m hungry.”

Frye reached into his gym bag and pulled out a plastic container. “These cemitas and flautes should hold you over.”

“Wow, Ray,” said Welliver, opening the container, “You are the best manager in the world.”

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  1. peter 07:32pm, 11/28/2017

    Welliver is no angel. It’s well known that Welliver promised Iran Barkley a payday when Iran flew out to make an appearance at one of Wlliver’s boxing events to spar him, but Iran was cheated out of his money and never paid.

  2. eric bottjer 10:28pm, 11/24/2017

    I hope this is fiction. I would hate to think that a licensed manager in the United States bet against his own fighter and would be stupid enough to admit such. And insinuate that the biggest promoter in Mexico staged a fixed match. And that someone is ignorant enough to believe that ANYONE would take a bet on such a match.

  3. Brian Schleinstein 02:48pm, 11/23/2017

    Nice write up about really shitty goings on! Shoulda’ woulda’ coulda’.....maybe the extra padding was his greatest asset after all….still…truth be told…. if he really meant it….with his fighting heart and skill set….big punch or not…. he could have been an honest to goodness contender at Cruiserweight!

  4. Mike Curtis 12:40pm, 11/23/2017

    The name of Marselles Brown rang a bell especially when you described his height. Sure enough, that was the same guy that Tommy Morrison leveled in the 3rd round of a bout broadcast on ESPN back in ‘95. Brown had a full head of hair back then, no matter, it didn’t help against Morrison. Easy tko victory for the “Duke.”

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