Imagine this: you've amassed a $20 million fortune in real estate, and you never have to work another day in your life. You're pushing the big Six-Oh, but you've got a tan to rival George Hamilton, you're slim and fit enough to look two decades younger, and you've still got enough hairline and chutzpah to sport a ponytail. You can wear collarless shirts and off-white linen trousers and Italian loafers with no socks -- in Washington! -- and nobody even kids you about "Miami Vice" being off the air for years. You've got a townhouse near the Washington Cathedral and a summer home along the Chesapeake, and you can afford to cover the walls with paintings by the likes of Julian Schnabel and Donald Baechler and Jiri Dokoupil Deokopio. You've got a 1961 Corvette ragtop to tool around in, and a 53-foot yacht waiting to take you down to the Caribbean anytime you like. You've got a head-turner of a girlfriend who's almost half your age.
Thus blessed, you could think of plenty of things to do with your time, right? So you probably wouldn't be spending your mornings inside a dark, humid gym behind a shopping center in Hillcrest Heights, where the only works of art on the walls are posters for old prizefights, the fashionable attire is Everlast headgear and gloves, and the only leisure is a few seconds' rest between rounds. Chances are, you wouldn't be sitting on a hard wooden bench alongside a boxing ring, studying the gyrations of a lithe, muscular young man in plaid shorts and a t-shirt who's bouncing back into the ropes, twisting and turning to dissipate the force of blows from the sparring partner hammering his abdomen. And undoubtedly, you could find more immediately pleasureable things to do with your money than to invest nearly a half-million dollars of it over two or three years in this particular prizefighter and three others, in exchange for the privilege of becoming a boxing manager.
But then again, you're not Barry Linde, whose idea of big fun is watching his pride and joy, a 24-year-old welterweight named Derrell "Too Sweet" Coley, get some work, as he simultaneously negotiates to get a bout on his cellular phone. "Okay, then, we'll be waiting to hear from you," he says, straining slightly to make his voice audible over the thud of leather on bone and flesh.
Linde turns to his secretary, Barbara Wilkerson, who's joined him at ringside. "I'm not going to say anything to Derrell," he explains, "but the guy's manager said that he'll give me an answer in about an hour."
It's two weeks before Coley is supposed to fight on a card at the Washington Convention Center, in a main event that's going to get him national television exposure on the USA cable network -- a vital ingredient in his quest for a top ten ranking and an eventual shot at a world crown. Everything's set, from the posters to the ticket -- except that the management for Coley's scheduled foe, Anthony "Baby" Jones, suddenly seems to be getting weak in the knees. Linde thinks that somebody tipped off Jones' people that Coley is a little tougher than they might have realized. Now Linde has to scramble to line up another worthy opponent. So far, 14 prospects have turned him down. He can't help but worry about the effect this turmoil might have on his charge, who's been preparing for the important bout without even knowing for sure whether he'll be fighting a right-hander or a southpaw.
"Derrell doesn't look sharp today," Linde frets. "He's upset. I know him."
Of course, it takes a practiced eye to notice such nuances; if Coley is troubled, his way of expressing it is to pound his sparring partner with a fusillade of uppercuts, hooks, and overhand rights.
When the workout ends, Linde talks to Coley's sparring partner, who's explaining something to the manager in a hushed tone. Linde responds by reaching for his wallet and fishing out a twenty. Then he checks up on Coley, who's catching his breath as trainers help him slip out of his gloves and hand-wraps. When he's mixing it up in the ring, Coley looms large and ferocious; in repose, he's oddly slender and wasp-waisted. His handsome features, with their unmarred smoothness, testify to the skills that captured Linde's fascination a year or so ago, when he went to a fight card at the Convention Center and came away thinking that he'd seen the second coming of Sugar Ray Leonard.
"Derrell -- you got everything you need, then?" Linde asks his young charge, who nods appreciatively.
Call Linde a dilettante, if you will, or a Walter Mitty-esque patrician whose fantasy is to be Rock Newman, the feisty, flamboyant Washington-based manager of former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe. But despite his eccentric appearance and his odd choice of a new career, you've got to give him his due. As a real estate developer, the Harvard- and Whartoneducated Linde built hundreds of townhouses in Captiol Hill and Dupont Circle and the D.C. suburbs from the 1960s through the mid-'80s. He made his fortune before he was 50, twice called it quits -- in 1981 and 1988 -- and tried to kick back and live the good life. He sunned himself in Key West, played in tennis tournaments, added more pieces to his museum-caliber art collection. He even tried writing a novel, a Robert Ludlum-style thriller.
Ultimately, Linde discovered that he was about as good at retirement as Frank Sinatra is at giving up the microphone. "A lot of people retire, and then they go downhill," Linde explains. "I don't mean that they die or something, but their mentality changes. Their life just sort of closes in on them."
That kind of life would fit Linde about as much as a pair of black wingtips and a paisley necktie. He has this urge to be a little different, to seek out some crazy new challenge. Most people, if they got a sore heel playing tennis, would use it as a reason to hang out in the Jacuzzi. For Linde, it was an excuse to wander over to Finley's Gym in Northeast and work out on the bags, skip a little rope, hang out with the fighters. He's always loved the sport -- the discipline, the skill, the one-on-one challenge -- ever since his own brief career as a Boys Club welter-weight. Then he saw Coley fight, and something clicked in his head. Why not become a boxing manager?
Before long, Linde was introducing himself to people on the business side of boxing -- picking their brains, making some contacts, and impressing upon them that he was a savvy guy in terms of dollars and cents, even if he was new to the sport. Before long, he'd found some promising young boxers who needed representation, signed them to his stable -- which he dubbed the "Hard Corps" -- and plunged headfirst into the inelegant business of professional boxing, undeterred by its unsavory reputation as a shark tank filled with hustlers happy to eat a novice alive.
"The human aspects of this are what gives me a kick," Linde explains later. "Raising their expectations, getting them to expect the most of themselves and really shoot for the moon." It's a little more random than building townhouses and condos. "Real estate is more of a fixed thing -- you come up with a concept and make it work. You're dealing with an inanimate object. People flop around all over the place, change their minds, change their motivations, change their clothes. There is much more excitement, much more fun, in this."
The boxing game gives Linde yet another chance to be a big time mover and shaker, in a wholly different arena, and to be recognized for his survival skills in a way that he never was building townhouses.
Linde takes a percentage of his fighters' earnings. He won't say exactly what it is, but the industry standard for managers is 33 percent. But there's a difference between Linde and other fight managers. Generally expenses such as the publicist, the masseuse, and sparring partners come out of the fighter's gross earnings. Unscrupulous managers have been known to pad those bills. Linde, however, is picking up all of the fighters' expenses, paying for them out of his cut or out of his pocket. If Linde ends up making any money off a fighter such as Coley, it would be when Coley gets a title bout and a big payday from cable TV. Though that's a pretty big "if" right now, Linde blithely insists that he'll make money at the boxing game. "It's not really a business venture, to my mind -- but it will be," he says. "For some reason, everything seems to work out that way with me."
In the more genteel milieu where the ponytailed fight manager is better known as a builder of tasteful ersatz 19th-century townhouses and as a deep-pockets patron of the arts, Linde's new passion prompts raised eyebrows. "I was at one of the big kickoff luncheons for the Harvard fundraising campaign, with about 30 other people," Linde recalls with a chuckle. "Neil Rudenstein, the president of Harvard, said to me, 'Barry, I haven't seen you in a while -- what are you doing?' I said, 'Well, I'm managing prizefighters.' There was this long pause. Finally, he said, 'Isn't that interesting?' and walked off."
Over the years Linde has provoked similar reactions in the worlds of business and art. But beneath the flamboyant appearance, he has always been a much more conservative, straightforward businessman than the guys in the gray sack suits around him. He got into Washington real estate two decades before the big boom of the '80s and got out before the market crashed in 1989. At gallery openings and auctions at Sotheby's in Manhattan, he might look the part of a 1980s-style art speculator, one of those philistines whose collection stays in crates in some warehouse. In reality, he's the sort of collector who sells a painting only when he's running out of wall space, and counts painters and sculptors among his closest friends. "I can talk with him about why he likes Anselm Kiefer and I don't, or why he's more into Expressionism," explains one pal, Georgetown painter and gallery owner Michael Clark. "He really likes things on a gut level.
"Washington is kind of provincial, and a lot of people never have been able to figure Barry out," Clark adds. "He's more of a jet-set person. Some of the people around D.C., you'd think they don't have ten cents. But I remember this one art consultant described Barry as 'a millionaire who lives like a millionaire.' He always thought that making money for money's sake was boring."
Linde, meanwhile, is prone to going on about the aesthetic virtues of pugilism. "It's what the human spirit and body are capable of doing in a contest," he contends. "It's a little gladiatorial, but it's certainly not brutal. Not at the higher levels. What's brutal is people who don't know what they're doing getting in there and whacking each other around."
He demonstrates remarkeable authority on that subject one afternoon at the Maryland Athletic Club in Beltsville, squaring off at the heavy bag and throwing a few of the combinations he learned as a teenage welterweight in the early 1950s. Back then, boxing was less a fascination for Linde than a means of survival. At Gordon Junior High, he says, he got into fights every day because he was Jewish, until his father -- who'd boxed professionally to earn money for medical school -- suggested that young Barry at least ought to go down to the Police Boys Club and learn to do it right.
Linde turned out to have a knack for boxing, and made it to the local novice finals three years in a row. Each time, to his chagrin, he ended up facing one of his own clubmates, a slender, long-armed, hard-punching lad by the name of Melvin Bryant. "I was shorter, and the fights were exactly as you'd expect them to be," Linde recalls. "Me trying to get in and him trying to stay away."
Melvin beat him two of three times, and Linde will consent only to talk about the fight he managed to win. "One of the trainers said to me, 'The way you can beat Melvin is to hook off the jab.' In other words, whenever Melvin jabbed, I would start my hook. I practiced and practiced it, so that was second nature -- you went to scratch your nose, I could start it. I dropped him off that one, and then held on through the rest of the three rounds to gain an easy decision. Of course, the next year he was ready for me, and fought a little differently."
After that loss, Linde gave up boxing for football -- he was a star halfback at Bullis High -- but kept his admiration for the sport. "Boxing was sort of a badge of honor in those days," he explains. "If you had the discipline and were willing to subject yourself to some hard training and potential pain, you could develop the skill, and people respected you for it."
Since then the sport's image has slipped to that of a sleazy spectacle ruled by svengalis in sharkskin suits who realize obscene profits by inducing a pair of ghetto youths to tenderize one another's gray matter for the amusement of pay-per-view audiences. And that pains Linde. "People have some very derogatory ideas," he says, spitting out the words like a mouthful of a disappointing Chardonnay.
"It takes a tremendous amount of will and luck for a kid to become a professional fighter. They're bucking a lot of odds. They have to train, and in many cases work at the same time. They're subject to the whims of, uh, people who are not necessarily good business-people, who may have decent motivation but not the ability to further it. The kids get very often just tossed to sea. There is a lot of wastage.
"The ones who are good, who have skills -- they're still lucky to make their way through the morass of the system to get someone's attention. Then, maybe they can get to a level where they get some exposure and can make a living -- and in the case of the lucky ones and the very few really good ones, maybe strike it rich."
That's why Linde would like to make a few improvements in boxing -- to better the odds for his fighters. As he hammers a bag for fun, one of his fighters, Reggie "Showtime" Green, is lying on his back with his hands outstretched, catching a weighted ball the size of a cantaloupe tossed at him by a burly fitness coach, and rapidly throwing it back. It's part of "plyometrics," a high-tech strength- and speed-building regimen that helped athletes from the old Soviet bloc pile up Olympic medals as if they were rubles. But in an American boxing gym, where fighters still train pretty much the way that heavyweight champ Gentleman Jim Corbett did a century ago, plyometrics is regarded with the same degree of suspicion that Picasso probably got when he first put both eyes on the same side of the face. "At first, the trainers were afraid that we were going to build muscle mass," Linde explains. "I had to convince them that if their guy was fast, he might get even faster this way."
Linde gives his fighters books on nutrition and takes them on trips to the supermarket, where he tutors them on reading the small print on labels. "Gradually, they're learning that before a fight, instead of the usual enforced starvation, they can eat whenever they want, as much as they want -- as long as it's the right stuff -- and lose the weight." Dragging boxing into the late 20th century is a gradual process. "There are still so many old wives' tales."
Linde wants to introduce boxing to some of the management techniques that he used in the real estate business. "Fighters are used to being hustled," he says. "They're coming out of ghettos, most of them, not middle-class environments. They're used to one person taking advantage of another." He'd replace that with "a well-organized, teamwork situation where people can excel if they have the will and the desire." A big part of that is getting his boxers to trust him when it comes to money. This, remember, is a sport where all but the top athletes struggle to make a living, where unscrupulous managers have been known to siphon off fees and expenses from the few thousand dollars that a fighter makes from a bout, leaving him with nothing to show for his sweat and blood. Linde, by contrast, pays his fighters enough up front so that they don't have to work day jobs.
"Of course," Linde admits, "it takes a while for them to figure out that I'm not a chump because I'm giving them money, taking care of them, doing things for them. Slowly but surely, they begin to realize that I'm really on their side."
"He don't hide nothing -- that's what I like about Barry," says Derrell Coley, who left his previous manager rather than agree to a less-than-fair deal with promoter Don King. "We can be friends, but if something is wrong with the business, he lets me know."
When he was looking to change managers, Coley wasn't quite sure what to make of this persistent guy with the ponytail and the flashy clothes. "I thought Barry was just another guy with the same old song," he recalls. "But my lawyer, Jesse Ingram, said, 'Let's at least talk to him.' And when he checked Barry out, he found that he's pretty clean and a successful businessman."
Coley and his adviser concluded that "basically, he was straight up, someone we could trust. We didn't need experience. We needed somebody that had some money, who could get me seen on television." And it wasn't just money; he also knew how to market. "Basically, Barry has good judgment," Coley says, "and I need a guy who has good judgment. Who to fight at the right time. Barry Linde's going to put me in position to fight for a world title."
Granted, some might wonder about the wisdom of Coley trusting his future to a manager who's unaccustomed to the dirty dealings of the boxing world. It's a chaotic place where at least three major sanctioning organizations are handing out titles, where the sport's best-known promoter, Don King, was recently indicted for insurance fraud, where Congress has investigated allegations of dishonest fights, financial exploitation of fighters and organized crime links. But Coley's not the only one with confidence in the developer-art buff. One of Linde's biggest boosters is CBS sportscaster James Brown, a friend since the days when Linde helped convince Brown to pass up all those offers from major basketball schools and go to Harvard.
"Clearly, the politics of boxing are unbelievable," notes Brown. "But Barry understands that. And he's surrounded himself with the right people." Indeed, Linde has forged ties with savvy boxing insiders such as promoter Lou Duva, who's worked with top fighters like welterweight champ Pernell Whitaker and heavyweight title holder Evander Holyfield. Thanks to Brown and another former Harvard basketball star he recruited, Floyd Lewis, Linde managed to procure the services of J.D. Brown, the Washington-based matchmaker who's helped stage big bouts such as Holyfield vs. Buster Douglas and Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran. Even Linde's public relations consultants, Charles J. Brotman Communications, have considerable boxing experience, having previously handled publicity for Sugar Ray Leonard and others.
"If Barry doesn't know the right people, he can get to know them," Brown says. "He's effectively working the networks and cable contacts. As for the product, the fighters he's got speak for themselves. But Barry has the deep pockets, quite candidly, to sustain them until they get there. And he's already been in the business world. In boxing, these are just sharks of a different type."
The night before the Convention Center fight, Linde takes his yacht, the "Delite," out for a little cruise on the Potomac to watch the fireworks. The Delite is a floating mansion, complete with a spacious master bedroom, two bathrooms and a carpeted main cabin where a barmaid is serving guests. As the sun sets, Linde is hanging out on the deck with a few of his guests. One is boxing manager Robert Mittleman, whose WBC-ranked heavyweight and former Olympian Larry Donald is appearing on the Convention Center card. Vodka, cranberry, and grapefruit juice are lubricating the conversation as Mittleman touts the virtues of the lackluster journeyman heavyweight who's coming in to provide a record-padding victory for Donald. "Murphy's in great shape," he insists. "Went six rounds with Lennox Lewis."
"I've heard that before," Linde responds. "I could go six rounds with Lennox Lewis."
The conversation shifts to the bout that Linde and his matchmaker, J.D. Brown, have finally secured for Derrell Coley. "That'll be a good fight," Mittleman jabs. His voice turns ominously solemn. "Terrance Alli is a good fighter."
"Derrell will beat him," Linde counters. "He's going to knock him out."
It's all in good, manly fun; later, when asked about Linde, Mittleman tosses nothing but accolades in his direction. "He's learned his way around boxing pretty quick. And he's not babying his fighters. He's letting them fight real guys."
The next night at the Convention Center, we get to see just how real.
If you're expecting a smoke-filled room full of screaming no-necks, go out and rent a Sly Stallone movie. For one thing, you're not allowed to smoke inside the Convention Center. Fight night is more of a dionysian party -- hip hop music blasting from the public address system, ring girls in scanty spandex and high heels sashaying around with poster cards proclaiming the number of the round. This isn't the yuppie crowd you see in the box seats at Redskins games; black teens in Snoop Doggy Dogg t-shirts and backward L.A. Raiders caps sit next to stiff-looking old white guys in hornrims and Jos. A. Bank suspenders. The ringside VIP rows are a sea of double-breasted aging dandies who appear to have bought out the Hugo Boss spring line. The most colorful peacock of all is Barry Linde, who's clad in a red sports coat, black and red patterned tie, white shirt, black pants, and black cowboy boots with metal tips. The only distraction from his sartorial splendor is his girfriend, Leslie Corrigan, who's even more stunning in a clingy black dress and heels.
Linde's fighter Reggie Green has already won a workmanlike eight-round decision over Pedro Saiz, a straight-ahead Latin puncher, and heavyweight Donald won ugly over Dan "The Businessman" Murphy. For Linde, it's all coming together now. The crowd is buzzing, the joint is jumping, and USA's cameras are perched at ringside, ready to beam Derrell Coley's handsome face and fluid grace into TV sets all over the nation. There's just one obstacle, albeit a slightly threatening one: a slim guy named Terrence Alli. Decked out in emerald trunks, he has rippling sinews in his shoulders and a gleaming bald pate, and he's undulating out in the aisle to the tune of Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" as his entourage lines up around him in a swaying conga line. If you're managing a comer like Coley, you need a Terrance Alli -- the kind of fighter who's known in boxing lingo as an "opponent." He's the kind of fighter who's got a lot of wins, maybe fought for a few titles, who once was a comer too but is now starting to slip just enough so that your guy can beat him and the victory will still look good on his record.
If Alli is aware of his supporting role in Coley's rise, though, it doesn't seem to show. He's grinning wickedly, glaring like Charles Manson as he climbs into the ring. Coley, in contrast, looks a bit pensive as he gets into the ring to loosen up and get some last-second words of advice from his trainer, Leonard Langley. At the bell, Alli sprints across the ring, gloves high, utterly jazzed to mix it up. Coley circles clockwise, hands carried low, throwing jabs inside of Alli's tight, short-armed punches. Linde's man is a subtle artist of a boxer, whose style is to get in close and dodge blows as he counters with stinging combinations. For the next few rounds he does this, unleashing jabs and straight rights at Alli's shiny temples and uppercuts at the glistening rows of muscle along his ribs. Alli's response is to pop his mouthpiece and nod to him disdainfully after each barrage, as if he's insulted that this is all the punishment Coley can administer.
By the fifth and sixth rounds, Alli is shimmying tauntingly, like a deranged go-go dancer, and Coley is looking a little rattled; he's slowing down a bit and taking some punches. For the first time, there's a crack visible in Linde's cool ambiance; he's gripping Lesley's chair with one hand and biting the nails on the other, looking up into his fighter's eyes and worrying about the tiredness they betray. He's seen Coley in this zone before, and not been concerned. But now, Coley's up against a tough fighter. Get that second wind, Derrell, he's thinking.
Maybe it's telepathy, but in the seventh, after Alli backs him into the ropes and lands a hard shot, Coley suddenly springs forth anew. He's pummeling Alli with three or four puches in a row, sending him reeling backward, snapping his head to the side. Alli looks like he may go down, but manages to stay on his feet until the bell. Back in his corner, nevertheless, Alli's wiggling and smirking at Coley, and at the start of the eighth, he comes bolting out again with that scary leer in his eyes. This time, though, Coley promptly tees off on him, catching Alli on each side of his glistening scalp. Alli shakes it off, plods in, punches at air, gets stung by Coley again. For the next three rounds, this is how it goes: Alli is still driving straight ahead, even as his punches get slower and wilder, and the phalanx of his raised forearms is starting to give way to the punches coming from every direction, the attacks to which his dazed nervous system is now responding a millisecond too late.
Coley, in turn, is circling more slowly, stopping and planting now as he hammers his opponent, his long lean musculature rippling with effort like a man tearing into concrete with a jackhammer...but still, Alli...just... won't...go...down. Seconds before the bell rings to start the 11th, Coley slips back for that moment's respite on his stool, only to hear trainer Leonard Langley imploring him: "Get in there and throw the combos!" Enough's enough. This time, he's the one bolting out of his corner, three-quarters across the ring by the time the bell rings, circling again, pounding a startled Alli into the ropes. That does it. The referee counts to ten, and Alli is led out of the ring as Derrell raises his gloves for the first time, his stoic expression finally giving way to an exhausted smile.
Linde, meanwhile, is on his feet, kissing his girlfriend and climbing into the ring, beaming as he stands behind his fighter to pose for a photo. It's obvious now that he really does know what he's talking about. This is a helluva lot more exciting than real estate.