Greg Haugen—Bad to the Bone

By Wrigley Brogan on October 10, 2017
Greg Haugen—Bad to the Bone
And he was smart in the ring, real smart. What he lacked was a punch. (Wrigley Brogan)

They called him the “Mutt,” Greg “Mutt” Haugen, lightweight champion of the world, a vicious mongrel dog and one of the meanest, nastiest boxers in history…

They called him the “Mutt,” Greg “Mutt” Haugen, lightweight champion of the world, a vicious mongrel dog and one of the meanest, nastiest boxers in history. How he won was irrelevant as long as he won. Hector Camacho learned. He received a full broadside of Haugen’s spite before their 1991 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. According to Haugen the “Macho Man,” 38-0 at the time, was not quite so macho as he claimed. In every interview he gave, Haugen stated that Camacho preferred young boys to consenting women. Camacho spent his time outraged and attempting to defend himself. Some people thought he protested too much which lingered in their minds. When the two men finally stepped into the ring, Camacho wearing military gear and army helmet to honor the troops fighting in the Middle East (the war that will apparently never end) he was livid and wanted to rip Haugen apart. Haugen, a 7-1 underdog, refused to touch gloves before the final round. Camacho viewed the slight as the final insult and jumped in and attacked Haugen with both hands. Haugen leaped into the air with a sadistic smile, knowing the trick had worked, as referee Carlos Padilla deducted a point from the Macho Man. Haugen again flashed the smile after the fight when he won, rather than drew, by a single point. He had won the WBO lightweight title. That is the Greg Haugen most people know, mean and sadistic.

Claiming his opponents were not really men was one of his favorite tactics. He used the same tactic when he fought Paul Nave for the WBF title. Nave had recently been paroled from San Quentin. Haugen said Nave’s “butt buddies” would probably attend the fight. If that wasn’t enough, he said that Nave’s sister had been caught on her knees pleasing the boys in the back room. Not just the family was outraged, the entire town wanted to kill him. He grinned when he stepped into the ring and shouted profane insults to everyone at the venue. Even Charles Bukowski would have blushed at the language. He was mean and wanted to fight and to get one he would tell a great fighter like Julio Cesar Chavez that he had beaten no one except Tijuana taxi drivers. No one was immune to his spite.

A tough determination came with that nastiness and he beat many of the best men in the division at the time including Jesus Mayorga, Ray Mancini, Miguel Santana, Jimmy Paul, Vinny Pazienza (for the IBF title), Edwin Curet, (for the NABF title), Freddie Roach, and Paul Nave, (for the WBF title). He was generally the underdog, a position he relished. If one is going to shoot off his mouth, one had better be able to back-up the insults. This caused him no difficulty.

Surprisingly he was often complimentary after a fight, even after a loss. He told Chavez, “Those must have been really tough taxi drivers.”

It was with some trepidation I took my son, Rick, out of school to see him while training for the Santana fight in Tacoma, Washington. (School gives you a diploma; experiences give you an education.) I always enjoyed Haugen’s clean classical boxing style. At times he looked almost elegant. And he was smart in the ring, real smart. He had no problems adjusting to his opponents. What he lacked was a punch.

The ring had been erected in a brightly lit annex on a hill. Adults milled nervously about. When a man moved toward the ring, Haugen shot him a glance like a right cross. The man lifted his belly over his belt and stepped back. I handed my son a notebook and a pen and, using him for protection, moved toward the ring. Haugen was leaning against the ropes. I pushed Rick ahead promising to give supporting fire if required. When Haugen saw him approach, he sat down with his legs outside the ring, leaned through the bottom rope, and reached for the notebook and pen. He smiled and talked to Rick for several minutes. When he returned to his workout, he again glared at any adult who came near him. He refused to speak to anyone except another boy who approached with a notebook. Apparently there was more to Haugen than people knew.

For his next fight he worked out at the Hillman City Gym near Seattle. I visited several times but remained in the shadows. He seldom just sparred for no reason and often worked on something specific, a different way to slip a punch or a different angle to throw one.

As we became used to one another we started to talk, seldom about boxing, just about life in general, little odds-and-ends about his life, although he was reluctant to say much. From others I learned about his tough man fights in Alaska. I learned his father had been a Marine and treated him badly. His father abandoned the family leaving his mother to raise six kids. Apparently the Marine motto “Semper Fi” did not apply to families. His father only returned when Haugen was earning decent money and found an opportunity to abscond with as much as possible.

He went through a terrible divorce with his high school sweetheart. The courts must have seen something in Haugen and awarded him custody of his kids. They were not always happy about the situation because he was determined to raise them properly. They had curfews, and household duties.

How much of the things I learned was true, or just hearsay, I don’t know. He never mentioned his father or his wife except to say a woman can beat down a man worse than any fighter can. In many ways he was a very secretive man, cautious of others, and often preferred his own company. I told him I was a photography teacher at a Junior High School. I also published “Boxing Prospects,” for eight years, the only boxing publication in the Northwest at the time. I have always believed in a practical education over a formal one and, to give the students some actual experience, I wanted to bring some of them to the gym. He agreed.

Kids are always funny to watch. They think of themselves as sophisticated and adult. Take them into the real world and they revert to shy kids standing on the sidelines. Their mouth’s hung out as they watched Haugen during his workout. Here was a World Champion, a person they would never meet on their own.

When Haugen finished he went to them rather than them coming to him. The subtlety was not lost on me. He gladly signed autographs, posed for pictures, and spoke freely with the kids. To my surprise he never once uttered an inappropriate word, something I thought was an impossibility. I did not realize he knew any other kind.

Brian Halquest, the most successful promoter in Washington, let me bring kids to the fights to photograph Haugen. Again, I believe in practical experience.

Being a World Champion is fraught with problems. One day Haugen got it into his head to teach me to play darts. We went with several of his friends to a small bar. We ordered soft drinks and he proceeded to show me which end of the dart to throw. I only broke two ashtrays in the process. Two water buffalo sized creatures in plaid slacks appeared and shoved him. “You can’t fight for shit,” they said. “You ain’t no champion.”

I expected Haugen to explode and leave their teeth scattered about the room like so many discarded dice. He simply stepped back and did nothing. As a professional fighter there is nothing he can do except rely upon the kindness of strangers. I was so outraged by their poor use of grammar that I stepped between them. Several other men grabbed them from behind and tossed them into the street. Haugen went back to tossing darts as if nothing had happened. I had never seen such composure, especially from such a potentially violent man.

He was training to fight Paul Nave in California for the WBF title. I didn’t believe any Junior High kids had ever sat ringside and photographed a world title fight. I suggested I bring several kids to the fight as official photographers. He thought it a grand idea and gave me the name and number of the promoter. The promoter agreed.

Before the fight I waited in the hotel room with John Weimer, publisher of the Tacoma Weekly. Weimer was extremely frustrated. The television picture was out of control flipping through channel after channel. I was equally frustrated. I was trying to call the kids at another hotel where they waited and I could not get the call to go through. Weimer, realizing our problems, slapped me upside of the head. I was using the TV remote to try and make the call.

When we arrived at the venue with Haugen, they refused to let in the kids. I realized later that accepting the kids, then denying their access, was a ruse by the promoter to frustrate Haugen. We all stepped outside as Haugen devised a plan. He said when we saw his hand signal, the kids were to slip in behind him. Haugen went back inside and fired a broadside at the people so vicious that the walls tumbling at Jericho seemed a simple sideshow. He motioned out the door with his hand and the kids slipped through. What a man!

The fight also proved how tough Haugen was. He put Nave down with a tremendous punch. I had just placed a 10mm lens on my camera, a focal length no boxing photographer would use. I got a beautiful shot of the knockdown. Strangely, Haugen, usually a great finisher, did not follow up. I was near his corner when he returned between rounds. There was no sign of injury on his face but he told Victor Machado, his trainer, that he had never experienced such pain. His shoulder and arm had gotten wrenched when he hit Nave and something had torn loose. Machado wanted to stop the fight. Haugen said, “I can beat this bastard with one arm.” He proceeded to do just that. Of course boxing being what it is, the decision went to Nave. Not surprising. Nave was so battered that, in the later rounds, I worked my way to his corner to photograph the finish. He was about ready to quit when the promoter stepped up and said, “Don’t worry; all you have to do is hang in there and you will win.” I wondered what he possibly meant. “Hang in there and you will win.” And he did.

The television commentators said that Haugen had landed more punches with one hand than Nave had done with two and were confused about the decision. They never suggested that something might be wrong with Haugen’s arm. Go figure. Nothing says television “experts” have to be observant during a fight. Haugen must have been in terrible pain but it did not show. (At the hospital the doctors discovered his tendons and ligaments had been torn from his chest and shoulder and they had to be stapled back to the bone.)

On the way to the dressing room Haugen walked the gauntlet of abuse and missiles of spit. He gave as good as he got. Later he ran a similar gauntlet through a few die-hards in the parking lot. When he saw the two photography students standing under a streetlight he walked over. The girl was crying.

“What’s the problem?” said Haugen.

“I’m sorry you lost,” she said.

Haugen laughed. “I beat him good enough,” he said. “I just didn’t get the decision. Life is often like that, you do a good job then get kicked in the teeth. The trick is to know you did your best and keep going.” (Later he returned to beat Nave.)

He gave the girl a reassuring pat on the shoulder, shook the boy’s hand, and flashed me that ingratiating smile. Then he walked from the streetlight and disappeared into the darkness.

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  1. Priya 04:12am, 01/03/2018

    He’s more mellow than these guys but I still say he got shafted by Emanuel Steward in the box-offs with Meldrick Taylor

  2. nev Tickner 10:17pm, 10/10/2017

    This crafted article is a good example of what makes Brogan (Baker) a brilliant writer.  His deep analysis of the human side of the man in the gloves breathes truth and reality into all his stories.  Two heroes in this yarn ...... Greg Haugen ...... and Rick Baker.

  3. John Wintergreen 11:38am, 10/10/2017

    Another great article, Mr. Brogan! You are quickly becoming my favorite writer on this site.

  4. John Garfield 09:13am, 10/10/2017

    Great write up!....guys like Greg and Jesse James Hughes truly are “Bad to the Bone” unlike the punk ass bitches that are constantly surrounded by body guards and their “posses”! Do you have anything on Andy Minsker in your archives? He’s more mellow than these guys but I still say he got shafted by Emanuel Steward in the box-offs with Meldrick Taylor in ‘84!