Michael Bentt impressed the hell out of me, as a human being, with his showing on episode one of the new Netflix show “Losers.”
I won't spoil it, because I want you to watch it, but I will give some basics. The NY-bred Bentt was a more than fair amateur who turned pro…and lost his debut. He hit the reset button, soldiered on, and in 1993 was chosen as the “gimme” title defense for Tommy Morrison before a Morrison versus Lennox Lewis match was to take place.
Bentt grabbed the script on Oct. 29, 1993, and did a massive re-write; it was a hit, for Bentt, who smashed Tommy Gunn and snagged the WBO heavyweight title.
In the “Losers” ep, we learned whether that win was all it was cracked up to be, and on the Everlast “Talkbox” podcast, delved in even deeper, about a better definition of winning.
I've messaged back and forth with Bentt, age 53, since I saw “Losers” and asked him to come on “Talkbox.” We chatted about our first encounter, on Nov. 25, 2011, after I saw a play Bentt directed, called “Kid Shamrock.”
The other day, we talked about our first encounter; it was a bit fascinating, how we each remembered it. Memory is so subjective and selective. I had told him then I'd grown up in Massachusetts, and I recommended he watch the Sport Illustrated doc on the Yankees comeback and takedown of the Boston Red Sox in 1978.
Bentt is not foremost a former fighter, that's really but one part of his being. He is an artist, and sees life through a sharper lens than most beings, who more so shuffle through existence and seek to avoid the jagged edges, of interactions with family and loved (or hated) ones, which have sliced and shaped them. These are his words, as he riffed on what those Yankees meant to him, a kid growing up in Queens, and talked about a lingering memory from his fighting days. –Publisher Note, from Michael Woods
“The 1978 one game playoff at Fenway. Whew! Moments after Craig Nettles cradled that pop-up like a baby in his mitt on the third base line (off of Yaz's bat, right? I am not going to Google it 😉 all of my childhood friends, also massive Yankee lovers, ran out into the street. When we played stick-ball or baseball all nine of us adopted the names of Yankee players. I absolutely adored the quiet conceit and dignity of Chris Chambliss. Hence, I was Chris Chambliss on the 209th Street Yankees.
I would walk like him, bat like him, stand in the ‘on deck circle'- a patch of grass near a fire hydrant- like him, scoop up balls thrown in the “dirt” to first base like him…… When the 209th Street Yankees (in Cambria Heights) ran from our homes -moments after TV images of a desolate Don Zimmer cut to inside the Yankee clubhouse- onto the street that summer day in September, I think, we hugged and celebrated like we won. In essence we did win, we won as a team that practiced and played every single day together with passion.
The only time I experienced anything remotely close to that 209th Street Yankees moment was during the 1986 World Amateur Championship in Reno, Nevada.
I was the American rep at 201lbs aka 91 kg. The previous year I was shutout 5-0 by Alexander Yagubkin, the great Russian heavyweight.
When we met for the second time- I'd worked with Georgie Benton while under the sponsorship of Shelly Finkel as a sparring partner for Evander Holyfield and Tyrell Biggs. That camp primed me. I was able to nullify Yagubkin's most critical weapons his: jab and right hand, a right hand that dropped me our previous fight.
“Not this time, my man!”
I outboxed him (on May 13, 1986) with what Benton referred to as “running numbers,” i.e. combinations. I was completely in the zone, the rarest of places that visit us as reward for diligence to the craft. I beat the Russian!
That was a biiiig deal, that. I would lose and received a bronze after being slapped by a lanky, scary looking Dutch heavy who had awful mechanics of craft.
Welcome back to Plummetsville, Michael.
But here's the thing about the Yagubkin fight. As I'm exiting the ring, from the corner of my eye I see someone fighting to get through the throngs of the casino arena. He's frantic, unbalanced maybe. Chants of “USA, USA, USA” flood the venue and this person is pushing and rushing toward the ring and the further he gets from the packs of people chanting “USA, USA, USA” the closer he gets to where the ring was.
Holy shit, it's Loren Rossmy light heavyweight team member.
The closer he struggles to get to where I am- near the ring steps- I see it. Tears are flowing down his face. Not hysterical, but controlled hysteria. His chocolate cheeks are glistening from the waterfall. Projectiles of spittle land on my face as he moves in screaming, closes in on to me, gently grabs my head in his hands, nearly cupping my ears and half yelled, “Yeer mang, You did it. You beat him, mang. You did it, mang.”
Tears continued, he embraces me in a bear hug.
“You did it, mang! You did it! You beat him!”
Through more tears and cracking voice a strong Memphis drawl takes delight in every syllable he spoke to me.
That was the first time another man or teammate ever embraced me, post victory or defeat. He was the only person I know crazy and or beautiful enough to express those specific set of emotions so unabashedly.
I spoke to Loren for the first time in perhaps a decade and a half or even longer in 2012. We did what all boxers do, talk about the past, share memories of our odyssey as elite members of the US National Team and our various travels, etc etc.
I tolerated the conversation but I didn't want to talk only about our time as amateurs boxers. But we did. And promised to remain in touch.
Then I read he was murdered in Nashville in 2013.