Mark Tessman, Sweet Scientist
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.”