Rock Newman, Washington's newest boxing promoter, can make the best of almost anything.
Newman's first production is tonight at the Armory, with seven bouts headlined by Irish Mike Baker, who has been around for a decade. To keep it from looking like your basic local Friday night fights, which it is, Newman pumped up the evening by bringing in WBC light-heavyweight champion Dwight Braxton to box a four-round exhibition.
And he gilded the affair further with an awards banquet and celebrity roast last night at the Touchdown Club for boxing personalities from around the country. "Rock Newman Productions is going to be around a long time and this is our introduction to the boxing community," said Newman, grandly.
Newman, a Howard University graduate, became involved in boxing to feed his admiration for Ray Leonard, the world welterweight champion from Palmer Park. He's seen every Leonard fight since Leonard won the title in Las Vegas in 1979. But it rankled Newman to have to sit on the sidelines.
He proposed WOL radio coverage of the Roberto Duran fight in New Orleans in November 1980. "I told them I was going, anyway," said Newman. "I talked them into one phone report." Newman, a hustler, got his press credentials that way. He'd never been on radio before but his first report featured a live interview with Leonard.
WOL wanted more, so Newman followed with live interviews with heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and Duran's aides. WOL was impressed. Within a year, Newman had his own seven-day-a-week, two-hour talk show on WOL, and among his live telephone guests were Tony Dorsett, Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, Willie Mays, George Allen, Thomas Hearns, Leonard (frequently) and Brent Musburger.
How did he capture such big names? "It was one of my great achievements," said Newman, sounding not unlike all-time boxing hype-king Don King. "Every one of them said no at first. Sometimes I amaze myself. I guess it's a cross between persistence, sincerity and, don't forget, I was a car salesman for three years."
Newman, 30, the son of a cement-truck driver from Brandywine, had his weirdest brush with fate when he was attacked by a bird at the Leonard-Ayub Kalule fight in Houston.
Kalule brought along a Ugandan witch doctor, who was introduced at a press conference. The light-complexioned Newman was the only black at the conference "and they probably didn't know I was black," he said. The witch doctor "acted the stereotype," said Newman, "and I was insulted. I walked out."
As Newman headed past the hotel pool, "I looked up and saw this crow and it looked like it was looking at me. I said, 'I'm getting out of here.' " The crow, presumably following orders from the spurned witch doctor, dive-bombed Newman's head twice before he found cover.
That evening, after the story got out, Newman visited the pool again and, in front of 300 people, by his account, the same crow attacked him. Newman played it to the hilt, jumping in the pool to escape.
"It was the biggest event of the whole week, outside the fight," he said. " . . . Angelo Dundee, Ferdie Pacheco, Tommy Hearns, Bob Arum--they all know me now. They call me 'Birdman.' "