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A View Through the Ropes: Show me the money

I still love boxing; it’s hard not to. The boxers and promoters and other players who make their living in the fight game remain my heroes. I just prefer to view the sport from the sidelines, where I have my computer to protect me.

It takes a certain type of personality to survive in boxing. Don Majeski, a fight agent from College Point, has that sort of temperament.

By Mitch Abramson

The first piece of real estate Don Majeski bought was a gravesite at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Astoria. It cost him $2,000, but at least he could stop worrying about where he would be buried.

Fatalists are rampant in boxing, and Majeski, a man who never met a cliff he could not jump from, is a cynic in a business full of cynics. In boxing, the glass really is half empty.

“You hear all these horror stories about great old guys in boxing who died broke and had to be buried by someone else,” Majeski said. “At least now I’ll be able to bury myself. It haunts you. Will someone have to pay for my grave? At least I have that.”

College Point resident Majeski is a fight agent, someone who supports fighters by choosing their opponents, pushing them politically with the sanctioning bodies and selling their television rights to the cable networks.

To fulfill these duties, Majeski cuts deals in bathrooms at 5 a.m.; he flies around the country on impulse; and he has been hired by everyone from Don King to Butch Lewis and along the way lost all his money, blew a few million-dollar deals, had his electricity turned off and rebounded to become ubiquitous in boxing.

“You never wake up secure,” he said. “It’s like being an actor — no matter how successful you are, the poverty line is right there. This is not a structured business. You’re living by the seat of your pants. You’re always hustling, trying to come up with an idea of how to make money.”

Majeski starts his day when most people start thinking about lunch. He rises around 11 a.m. and makes phone calls to his contacts around the world. Those calls lead to more calls and soon he is picking people up at airports, buying tickets for important people and crashing meetings.

The day is an endless canvas of solving problems, chasing deals and having dinners that bisect with the morning after. The day begins with only an inkling of what will unfold, and because he has been doing this his entire life, he is cocksure in his ability to make money.

“You get a call from a promoter from Canada who wants you to buy ringside tickets for someone,” he said. “Then you get a call from a promoter in France saying: ‘You know, we filed for this income tax return on this fighter who fought here two years ago and we never got these back. Can you follow up on this for us?’ Then somebody calls you up (saying): ‘We’re looking for information on the original Joe Walcott.’ Then you look something up for them. Things just pop up and you react.”

Majeski defies the image of the cigar-chomping, oily street hustler who makes his living in boxing strong arming the law and greasing the right people. That is an outdated 1950s fantasy. Majeski, 51, is slightly built and boyish looking. He can sit back and talk about almost anything, from the theater to zoology, and his speech is a rapid cadence of hops and skips that is breathless in its delivery.

According to people who know him, Majeski is an expert at lobbying sanctioning bodies on behalf of his fighters. When Oliver McCall upset Lennox Lewis to win the WBC Heavyweight Championship in 1994, Majeski went to the WBC and convinced President Jose Sulaiman to let Lewis fight an eliminator bout with Lionel Butler for the opportunity to challenge McCall again. Lewis TKO’d Butler and beat McCall, and Majeski cut a deal with Lewis that gave him a percentage of his earnings every time he fought. He will represent Leonard Dorin in his upcoming fight with Arturo Gatti July 24 in a similar capacity.

“If I had one person to turn to as a source of information in boxing, Don Majeski would be that person,” said Greg Juckett, the editor of Boxing Digest, a monthly magazine based in Manhattan. “There are guys who know boxing history, and there are guys who know up-to-the-minute stuff about what is going on. Don is the cutting-edge boxing guy. He knows all the current movers and shakers, all the people in European and Canadian boxing scene. He simply knows everyone.”

Majeski grew up in Elmhurst in the early ‘60s. He was born a month after his father died from a kidney disease. His maternal grandparents raised him with his mother, who worked as a secretary for American Airlines.

He wanted to be a zoologist in the beginning, but that changed when Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston — everything became background noise after that.

He went to Newtown High, where he was good at English and history, lousy at everything else.

“I would say to my teacher in high school: ‘I want to be a boxing promoter, can you teach me?’” he said. “They didn’t know what to say. I wrote an essay on (former heavyweight champion) Ezzard Charles on my algebra Regents exam because I knew nothing about Algebra. I knew a lot about Ezzard Charles.”

Majeski began selling fight programs outside Madison Square Garden in the mid-’60s. By the time he was in high school he was working for Burt Sugar, who had just taken over Boxing Illustrated in 1970.

Majeski swept the floors and wrote the obituaries. He spoke some Spanish, so Sugar made him his Latin American correspondent, flying him all over the world to cover fights. Since his mother worked for American Airlines, he flew for free, and during these trips, Majeski ingratiated himself to the boxing community.

“I said, ‘this is it for me. I’m in this business for the duration,’” he said. “That was the epiphany for me.”

While his mother held out hope that he would become a zoologist, Majeski hung out at nightclubs with fight managers while he was a student at Queens College.

He switched to Hostos Community college where he took a job as a cashier at a cafeteria across from Yankee Stadium. His first week there, somebody offered him a plane ticket to cover the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire; Majeski couldn’t say no. He told his boss the job would have to wait since he was going to Africa, and that was the closest he ever came to holding down a real job.

Majeski has worked in New Mexico and Australia; for Don King and Butch Lewis. He has been to the old Garden on 49th Street and to Gleason’s Gym in the Bronx; he has traveled to Natt Fleisher’s office at Ring Magazine and to Teddy Brenner’s office in the Garden.

“They were remnants of an old era,” Majeski said. “I would go to Gleason’s Gym and someone would say: ‘Hey Don, what are you doing, nothing?’ Then go write a press release and handle this club fight.”

Now the people who run boxing have law degrees and doctorates and accents that do not quite fit. They are television executives who rush to work to check their stock quotes. It is a world Majeski has adapted to but that he wishes was more like the old days.

“When I have an early meeting and I get down into the subway and look at all the people fighting and killing themselves to get on a train so they can get to an office, so they can get there 10 minutes late, so their boss can rake the hell out of them and dock their salary — if I had to do that for 40 years, I would be a dead man.”

At least he has the gravesite in Astoria.

Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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