After the Wilfred Benitez fight, when Sugar Ray Leonard finally was welterweight champion of the world, they had a party. Everyone in Las Vegas was there except Ray Leonard. He was too banged up.
Mike Trainer, his lawyer, rushed to the hospital, barging into room after room looking for his client. He was thinking how he had told ray right after the fight: "You don't have to do this anymore," and how they always said, in jest, when it was all over they would have it out, just the two of them, and "whoever walks out of the room is it."
Trainer pushed open another door and "there he was all by himself, lying on a stretcher." Trainer looked at his client, the hottest property in boxing, and said, okay, bub, put 'em up. Challenged him right on the table.
Leonard tried to smile. "I figured if he can smile a little, than it's not the end of the world," Trainer said.
But it was the end of the parties. "If infuriated me that I could go it the party and he couldn't," Trainer said. "I said, 'No more parties.'"
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Mike Trainer of Silver Spring is a "very short lightweight" who makes heavyweight deals. Trainer has been in the ring once in his life, when he was 12, and the gloves felt as if they weighed 20 pounds. He is not a fight guy.
But right now, Trainer is at the top of the card in promoting circles. It is a measure of how powerful he has become that promoter Don King, often his adversary, called Trainer to ask whether he should agree to be interviewed for this article.
In the last four years, under Trainer's guidance, Leonard has earned $21 million. Last June in Montreal, for defending his WBC welterweight championship against Roberto Duran, he was paid $9.7 million -- "mind-boggling figures when you think about it," Trainer said.
So, if you want to do a deal, you park your limousine on Bonifant Street, in the heart of Silver Spring, and climb the stairs to the offices of Michael Trainer, attorney at law. You will find Linens of the Week in the bathrooms, two plastic ferns in the waiting room and wood-paneled partitions that don't quite reach the office ceiling. You think, Trainer says of what it would be like dealing with himself, "this is going to be fun. This is going to be like stealing."
You find him sitting behind a desk in an office shaped vaguely like the state of Nevada ("Don't call it dinky, I like it here.") He is wearing no socks and carrying on identification.
His officemate and childhood friend, Jim Ryan, whose office is at least rectangular, said: "The first time we went to Montreal on Leonard- Duran I, we had a hard time getting him (Trainer) out of Canada because he had no ID."
Why no identification? "He knows who he is," Ryan said.
Who is this high-powered Silver Spring lawyer who some say has rewritten the rules of boxing, or, as Janks Morton, the man who brought Leonard to Trainer, put it, "instilled rules that should have been there a long time ago?"
"He's the exterminator," said Leonard. "He clears out all the bugs."
"He's a real smart dresser," said Angelo Doundee, Leonard's manager. "We play checkers on his slacks."
"He's the Don Rickles of our group," said William Turner, a friend of Trainer's for 15 years.
"He's a cold turkey," said two fight guys.
"He's one tough Irishman," said others who deal with him. (He's Welsh.)
"He's a very warm guy, once you get past the first glacier," said Top Rank's public realtions mam, Irving Rudd, who likes him.
And, said Ryan, "He's not the kind of guy who will ask you, 'Did you have a nice weekend?' Some people write down birthdays on their calender so they can send cards. Mike's not that kind of warmhearted. But that's not coldblooded."
"He's a very private person," said his wife Jill. "If he wasn't a lawyer, he'd want to be a trucker, driving back and forth across the country alone."
Tainer is a self-made man. If he is confident enough about who he is that he carries no identification, it is perhaps because he has created his own identity. Trainer, who grew up in Bethesda, was born 40 years ago on Franklin Roosevelt's third inauguration and adopted by his parents at birth.
"I knew it before anyone told me," he said. "I'm no dummy. I can check noses and ears. The feeling I got when I knew was that I was all by myself, that you do it on your own. I had no uncle I could go to for a job because I had no uncles. Either you hack it on your own, or you don't hack it. I won't kid you, I'm not always crazy about people who had things handed to them."
Four years ago, when Morton handed him a client named Ray Leonard it was a fluke. "What infuriates me is the people who think I just lucked into it. I like to think I helped develop it. I wasn't always worth what I am worth today. Sometimes when I see someone who's made it, I wonder if they could do it without a leg up."
There was something else about being adopted: "I always wanted to see somebody look like me." Trainer and his wife have two daughters, Theresa, 15, and Tamara, 12. Trainer has no interest in seeking out his natural mother. "Mike's world is black and white," Jill Trainer said. "I think this is part of that. 'She didn't want me, so I don't want her.'"
Trainer does not like to rely on anyone but himself, his own common sense and honesty. "It's not like the Frank Sinatra song, 'I Did It My Way,'" Ryan said. "But he's not the kind of guy who comes and asks for advice."
It is very important to Trainer that you know he was doing just fine before Sugar Ray Leonard; and that he will be fine without him. "There is life after Sugar Ray Leonard," he says.
But, either way, he doesn't think his life is very interesting. "We only have one star," he said, and he says it often. He is uncomfortable with the attention. Next thing you know, people will want to interview Ray's accountant; maybe his dentist, too. Trainer only agrees to be interviewed because, he said, he hates to see people get things wrong. And, while he's on the subject of getting things right, he wants it known that Morton is as much responsible for Leonard's success as anyone else. "You probably hear this a lot," Trainer said."But I'm just a team player."
Granted. But, it should be noted for the record that when Trainer became the manager of the Wildwood Exxon softball team, where Morton was his third baseman, "we won a lot of games we weren't supposed to win," Morton said. "We beat them with a lot of brains."
And that, according to Trainer's friends, is how he has beaten the fight guys at their own game. "He's too smart for them." Ryan said. "Too honest for them. He has no patience for them because they are incompetent."
Trainer worked his way through the University of Maryland law school (class of '66), bagging groceries and delivering mail. "It's kind of nice to pit yourself against the people from Harvard and Yale and the people from the 30th floor of a building in New York City," he said.
And now that he has, he thinks he overestimated them. "In retrospect," he said, "I hope I have struck a blow for the guy from the University of Maryland, who maintained a C average and went out and hung up a shingle. . . I hope I have struck a blow for the Bonifant Street lawyer."
Trainer says he was never threatened by those guys on the 30th floor, the A students, because they never wanted t "get down in the dirt and practice law the way I believed it to be." Which was exactly what he was doing when Ray Leonard walked in the door. A third of his practice was real estate. He had a dozen retainer clients and spent the rest of his time on cases dealing with drunk driving, personal injury and divorce. "There is nothing like the thrill of litigation," he says, "because the punishment is so severe."
He was billing 30 to 40 separate fees a month and grossing more than "probably six figures" annually, he said. One day, he evaluated his estate and was suprised to find he was worth between $500,000 and $1 million.
He is reluctant to discuss his financial arrangements involving Leonard. But, he admits, he no longer charges Leonard his hourly $75 fee. He now gets a fee per fight that depends on the particular deal. "If you say am I worth over $1 million now?" he said "yes."
His representation of Leonard, which began as a hobby, a favor to Morton and a diversion from the sometimes depressing facts of criminal law, has become a full-time job. Leonard takes up 90 percent of his time. Ryan does the firm's court work. Trainer says he will go back to his normal practice when Leonard retires.
Shelly Finkel, a rock promoter who met Trainer when they were trying to put together a deal for the second Leonard-Duran fight, asked Trainer what he would do after Leonard retired and got the same answer.
"I told him, 'You can't go back to mundane divorce cases,'" Finkel said. "Mike said, 'I guess you're right.' He doesn't really have an answer. He loves to con you and say he won't miss it. That's bull. He loves it."
Trainer said: "It's like being a rookie and coming up to the plate and hitting a grand slam to win the World Series. The next year is a down. But I'm not going to become an alcoholic over it."
For the first two years, Trainer's relationahip with Leonard was purely professional and somewhat indifferent. Leonard would come to the office and look out the window. "I was bored," Leonard said.
There were those "who thought I would drop Mike and get a black attorney," Leonard said. "Race not the thing. The guy took care of me."
Morton, who is also one of Trainer's clients said: "I knew I didn't have go to to bed worrying about Ray's money."
They trusted Trainer but they didn't really know him. "I think at first Ray and Janks thought I was from the country club set," Trainer said. f
Hardly. Trainer remembers coming home from camp one summer and finding that his "father, now dead, had gone blind and that my mother had broken her leg in 17 places. I later found out that the state was paying for my lunches at school," he said. "If I had known that, I would have behaved better."
"I doubt it," Jill Trainer said.
Trainer and Leonard became closer when they started traveling together, and finding they had more in common than they had thought. Now Trainer thinks of Leonard as a son. Charlie Brotman, Leonard's public relations man, says Trainer is one of the few people who can come into the dressing room before a fight and these Leonard. Before the fight in Montreal, Trainer walked in, looked Leonard up and down and said: You got ugly legs."
Trainer, alias Rickles, knew they were friends when they began to kid each other about soul food and street talk. "I'm trying to learn him, teach him street talk," Leonard said, laughing. "He'll say, 'Right arm, Ray, right arm,'"
Trainer insists that he knew it was "right on. I was putting Ray on."
Either way, there is no doubt that Trainer is Leonard's "right-arm man." And there is no doubt, as promoter Bob Arum, boss of Top rank, put it, that Trainer has done a magnificent job for Ray Leonard.
Where would Leonard be without Trainer? "He would be where he is today with or without Trainer," said Neal Pilson, vice president for business affairs at CBS. "I'm not sure you could say the same thing about Angelo Dundee, his fight manager. When we and ABC chase a property, the competition tends to drive the price up."
The fact remains that Trainer has engineered several precedent-setting deals in the boxing world. He arranged for Leonard to own himself and his profits, "just like a dentist," Trainer said. Trainer, who describes himself as "a conservative guy," says he has never gambled with leonard's money, though he gambled on Ray's future when he advised him to turn down a $250,000 offer to turn professional and remain a free agent.
Ray Arcel, Duran's manager, said, "I applaud him (Trainer). It's wonderful to see one fighter end up with something. Most end up broke."
When it came to negotiating with the television networks, Trainer refused to allow Leonard to be the property of one network, a la Howard Davis. He believed if Leonard belonged to no one, he would be coveted by all. "That's probably the greatest job he did," Arum said. "I've never seen anyone pull it off so well." Trainer spread the early fights around among the networks, so "by the time his product had caught, he wasn't tied to anyone.
Trainer orchestrated the first million-dollar purse for a nonheavyweight fight and the biggest single payday in boxing history. He has nonplused the regulars by often opting for a percentage of the take instead of the traditional guarantee, and by working to eliminate the middlemen in boxing, the promoters who, he says, get a percentage of the purse "and don't do a thing."
"He has done it over the objection of every promoter in the country," said Teddy Brenner, the former matchmaker for Madison Square Garden. "They said, 'You're wrong; we've been doing it this way for 40 years. You're asking me to put up my money to gamble on Sugar Ray Leonard's ability to put people in the seats.' But no one who has gambled has lost money on Leonard. They can say, 'You held me up.' But they can't say, 'I lost money.'"
Trainer has not endeared himself to everyone in boxing. But if everyone doesn't like him, most respect him. "Look," Brenner said, "nobody likes success from the new boy on the block. They say, 'Who the hell is he to dictate to us?'"
King, operating on the principle that if you can't lick 'em, ask 'em to join you, offered Trainer a job after the first Leonard-Duran fight."He's a funny little guy," King said. "He's very difficult to deal with because to him, there's nobody else in the world but Ray. The opponents don't exist. I have a lot of arguments with him about being fair and equitable. He epitomizes that he powerful give nothing to the powerless unless it is demanded.
"He's arrogant in a sophisticated kind of way. He's an intimidator. It's almost like fighter in the courtroom. Every point is grudgingly and reluctantly given. I like it. The dialetic (sic) is electrifying."
One longtime Leonard observer maintains that the judges for the first Leonard-Duran fight were picked in order to stack the odds against Leonard so that they could get rid of Trainer. After Leonard lost in Montreal, Trainer got a call from a friend in New York who told him the word is that, "The big loser is Mike Trainer because his reign of terror is over."
Paul Fulford, an old friend and one of the orginal 24 investors who put up $1,000 each so that Leonard could be independent, said: "In negotiations, he'll present somebody with something that is the opposite of what he wants. They dislike him so much, they say, 'No, I want it.' He'll say, 'Okay, I'll give it to you, if you give me that.' He twists it around so he gets what he wants."
Trainer says that sometimes when he askss for something, people automatically assume he knows the value. The key, Trainer says, is to get the other guy to name a figure first. "If I say I want it, they say they want it. So I say, 'Okay, tell me what it's worth. And if the guy tells me, I, in effect, buy him.
"Say a guy wants the site rights. He says they're worth $1 million and I know they are worth $2 million. I say, "That's what you got. I'll take the rights.'"
Trainer says he never intended to get involved in negotiating fights. He says he only did it when it became apparent to him that Dundee, who had been contracted to book Leonard's fights, failed, in Trainer's view, to do so. When Dundee's contract was rewritten, Trainer began to negotiate the deals. "I did it to fill a void," he said.
There were strains in the relationship with Dundee, he said, but they are gone now.
"I'd like to tell you that what's been done is terribly unique and I'm going to patent it," he said. "I didn't study six years in a convent to come up with it. It's common sense that people in business use every day of the week.
"I'm sure there are people in boxing who say, 'Who is this guy, coming in here and doing things differently than they've been done before?'" he added. "It's bad for boxing because it's good for boxers. I've never worked witih intermediaries. Never had people brokering things. I never paid someone to get me a phone number or to call a guy and say, 'Hey, put this deal together.' I can call somebody. That hurts feelings."
Once early in Leonard's career, a local fight promoter greeted Trainer at the arena with a request for two tickets for the local godfather, Ryan recalled. "Mike said, 'Well, can he buy them?'"
He was equally uncompromising last spring when Leonard was invited to the White House. Rudd, who was doing the public relations for Top Rank on the Davey (Boy) Green fight,t, Leonard's first title defense, arrangedd for the fighters to meet Jimmy Carter. "That was (worth) 1,000 tickets,"," Rudd said.
But trainer said no. He felt the Carter people would use the appearance for political purposes. Later Leonard went to the White House in connection with the proposed alternate Olympics. "What happened was exactly what I thought would happen," he said. "They started calling him at home, interrupting conversations, saying, 'This is the White House calling.' I didn't appriciate it."
Boxing people say that Trainer could not have done what he has without the right product.Trainer's success, they point out, also has a lot to do with the fact that he has only one client, no horsetrading to do for other fighters for the future.
Arum said: "A good negotiator makes the best deal for his client, but he's also smart enough not to squeeze the other guy. Mike's smart enough not to squeeze the other guy."
But, more than anything else, what has made Trainer so tough in his negotiations is that "he knew what he had right from the beginning," Brenner said. "While everyone else was running around saying, 'Who the hell is Sugar Ray Leonard?' Mike knew."
Trainer's belief in Leonard as a draw has been the bedrock of his negotiating position. He talks about an executive of the Superdome "who took the terrible approach of trying to minimize the product," and his voice quivers with indignation. "He had the nerve to tell me what Ray weighed."
Because Leonard is unique, it is more likely that he is the excerption to the rule, rather than the harbinger of new rules in boxing. "Trainer has not changed boxing," Brenner said.
"He hasn't saved boxing," either, King said. "the image that has tainted boxing for many, many years comes from the mob influence of yesteryear, the old movies with Cagney going blind, getting enough money so his brother could become a concert pianist at Carneie Hall, the movies where the mobsters have the gun at the mother's head and say, 'We got your mudder; you gotta go in the tank.'"
King says he likes to think he also contributed something to the sport. "I think Mike, knowing he had a super attraction, took a leaf out of my book and went on to embellish it. How could I ever say anything getting down to the nitty-gritty of negativity against Mike Trainer when all he is a student of what I taught?"
"Wow," said Trainer. "That's the same guy who offered Ray $10,000 to sign in a bathroom in Yankee Staduim in 1976."
Boxing has not changed, Trainer said, "and that's the most disappointing thing. I don't see people emulating Ray Leonard, saying, 'Ray did it on his own; I want to, too.' Ray's had a lot of success. But it's a matter of degree: $1 million or $10,000, the principle is the same. You can be an independentt contractor. Boxing is free enterprise. It is capitalism at its best and worst."
The most gratifying thing for Trainer has been the people who tell him he has improved the image of lawyers by not exploiting Leonard. He is most proud of the financial deal at Montreal but, of course, there wasn't much to celebrate when Leonard lost. Still it is hard to believe that there aren't moments on the golf course, or sipping a light beer, when he would say: "Look what I did."
He says he hasn't had the time. "When it's all over," he says, "I'll go out and tie one on and scream."
Ryan remembers such a moment after the Benitez fight, the first $1 million fight for Sugar Ray Leonard, which they watched on a monitor in Leonard's dressing room. "I hugged him and told him he should be really proud," Ryan said. "Mike said, 'Yeah, we did it.'"
Trainer walked back to the hotel alone. "It was a time I wanted to be by myself," he said. Leonard had the title. He was financially secure; he could quit the ring. And it had taken the three years Trainer had said it would back in 1976. "It was as big a goal for me as paying off my first house," Trainer said. "I almost cried and I can't remember the last time I did that."