Mark Tessman, Sweet Scientist

By Pete Ehrmann on November 30, 2016
Mark Tessman, Sweet Scientist
“I was so proud of him. As a boxer he was one of the best I ever saw in his division.”

While Tessman retained the exceptional boxing skills that marked his first ascent up the ladder, Charlie noticed something new…

Charlie Court will be there Saturday when Mark Tessman is laid to rest in Conroe, Texas. Charlie is 90, and will have a friend drive him to the funeral from his home in Benham Springs, Louisiana, because Charlie’s eyes aren’t too sharp now.

They were plenty sharp 56 years ago when Tessman’s father brought 14-year-old Mark to him at the Variety Boys Club in Houston to learn how to box, and Charlie saw right off he had the makings of something special.

It wasn’t long before Charlie advised Paul Tessman, “Mark is so head and shoulders above these other kids you should take him to a pro gym.”

At the A&B Gym in Houston Mark worked with heavyweight contender Cleveland Williams and boxers lured there by moneybags manager Hugh Benbow’s monthly ad in The Ring magazine seeking “boys from 18 to 23 years old that weigh around two hundred pounds and six feet tall who want to become scientific boxers and make a lot of money.” Guys like Dave Zyglewicz and Karl Zurheide.

None became as sweet a scientist as Tessman.

He knocked out 2-0 James Smith in his pro debut on April 1, 1966, and afterwards Smith told a reporter, “I thought I was pretty good, but I never saw anything like him. You sure this was his first pro fight?”

Tessman was 30-1 and The Ring’s third-ranked contender when he met Bob Foster for the 175-pound title on June 27, 1970. He out-boxed the champion for nine rounds, but the explosive Foster got him in the tenth.

Mark had a college degree by then and became a schoolteacher, but after a couple years he wanted to get back in the ring and asked Charlie Court to train him.

“We were always great friends,” says Charlie. “We had a bond that couldn’t be broken.”

The comeback lasted four fights, and while Tessman retained the exceptional boxing skills that marked his first ascent up the ladder, Charlie noticed something new:

“He was more interested in knocking guys out.”

A lot of trainers would encourage that interest, but it bothered Court because now in order to land a hard punch Tessman was willing to take one, something the defensive wizard had been loath to do before.

“It scared me,” says Charlie. “I couldn’t see him starting to get hit when he didn’t need to.”

On July 15, 1972, Tessman knocked down South African contender Pierre Fourie twice and by Court’s reckoning won seven of the 10 rounds. But the fight was in Johannesburg and the decision went to the hometown fighter.

Back in their hotel room, Charlie turned to Tessman and said, “I’ll never go back in the gym again if you won’t.”

They shook on it. Tessman was 26 years old, Court 38.

“He had a lot of fight left in him,” Charlie says, “but it wasn’t about money or the championship p— it was about him. I didn’t want him to just become an opponent and take a lot of punches, and it turned out good.”

Tessman’s son Paul thinks so, too.

“If Charlie hadn’t done that,” he says, “Dad would never have met my Mom.”

It was a good life until rheumatoid arthritis affected Mark’s vision and the high-powered meds he took for that so weakened his immune system he spent most of the last year with pneumonia. The struggle ended on November 22. He was 70.

“I was so proud of him,” says Charlie Court.  “As a boxer he was one of the best I ever saw in his division.”

That’s not all the old trainer will recall when he eulogizes his friend at Conroe’s First United Methodist Church Saturday morning.

“One of my happiest days,” says Charlie, “was when I heard he became a Christian.”

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  1. Bill Angresano 01:13pm, 12/05/2016

    Beautiful tribute to both trainer and Boxer. Could never really accept the idea that these great athletes and warriors succumb to the same “old age” maladies and diseases, the fate of mere mortals.

  2. Lindy Lindell 09:26am, 12/01/2016

    I agree, Ted.  Just read Pete’s piece (THE RING, Dec 2001) on his loaded-with-lore article on featherweight Jackie Graves.  This article discounts that tired chestnut about Willie Pep winning a round without throwing a punch, and also drops such nuggets that Joe Louis reffed a pro fight while he was still in the Army and that Bernard Docusen was getting two grand for boxing six-rounders in New Orleans.  The present piece on Tessman humanizes the man and takes him out of the stark line in the record book, KO by 10 by Bob Foster.

  3. Peter 08:38am, 12/01/2016

    Thank you for this interesting article. Mark Tessman, Karl Zurhiede, Hugh Benbow are names that bring me back to when I was a kid at the Jersey Shore reading about them in Ring magazine.

  4. Bob 08:17pm, 11/30/2016

    Great tribute, Pete. Dave “Ziggy” Zyglewicz, aka The Mail Order Heavyweight, used to regale me with stories about Hugh Benbow’s Houston gym and all of the fighters you mentioned in this great piece.  He spoke so fondly of Cleveland Williams, who used to say “Meow” before entering the ring with the sparring partners, many of whom would leave after one day (or one round); Karl Zurheide, who fought all over the world; and Tessman who I he always described as a great guy and a real technician in the ring.  Ziggy admired them all and could really spin a yarn.  I felt like I knew Mark Tessman and the others, and was stirred by your wonderful sendoff.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:49pm, 11/30/2016

    Bob Foster was KOd by Ali, Frazier, Ernie Terrell, and Doug Jones who wasn’t a big heavyweight. He was UDd by Zora Folley, but that was to be expected. Don’t think for a minute that he didn’t land that vaunted left hook on all of these fighters. It would be surprising to hear if Foster ever showed up fight night under 185…he was a heavyweight who became an ATG by concussing smaller men. If he campaigned as a heavyweight a couple of dozen of the KOs on his resume would have been KO losses.

  6. The Thresher 11:07am, 11/30/2016

    You can always rely on Pete to do a good historical piece.

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