By Thomas Gerbasi
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to smile but have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
FOR most of his 61 years, Bobby Czyz read those words, heard them from his father, and took them to heart. The author of the poem is a mystery, but the sentiment is crystal clear.
“A long time ago, my father used to talk about a lot of different things in life, and he said, ‘Sometimes when things are at the very worst, that’s when you must not quit.’ He took that poem and actually taped it to a wall right in front of my desk in my room. And he said, ‘You read this every day when you wake up and every day before you go to sleep.’ And I used to carry it with me on the road wherever I went, and whenever things got a little weird, I would read it. I used to be able to recite it. That was years ago, and it stuck with me. And it was a good lesson to learn. Not all the things my dad did were mean, but some of ’em were good and heartfelt and done through love, but he just had a hard ass way of showing it.”
Czyz’ relationship with his father, Robert Czyz Snr, was a complicated one. In a lot of ways, it made him the world champion he was, but it also led him down roads that affected him negatively long after his boxing career ended. But he’s still a fighter, and his fight is not over.
Thankfully, things are on the upswing for the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder, as he’s back behind the microphone for the first time since his dismissal from his gig as an analyst for Showtime in 2003. This time, it’s not traditional boxing, but the bare-knuckle form, as he called the October 27 fights for the Valor BK promotion. It’s different, but that’s okay.
“You know what, it’s not only great to be back in the saddle, but now I’m back in the saddle of yesteryear,” he said. “This is how the whole sport started, with bare-knuckle boxing back in the 1800s.”
Czyz admits to not being an expert in the form, but that’s nothing his pre-event research can’t cure. There were offers to do boxing over the years, but nothing panned out for the New Jersey native, who was one of the best ringside analysts during his decade with Showtime. But after a fourth DUI arrest, he was let go.
It was a far cry from his glory days, when the early days of a pro career that began in 1980 saw him compete as part of a collective dubbed “Tomorrow’s Champions.” Promoted by Main Events, the bouts of Czyz, Tony Ayala Jr, Alex Ramos and Johnny Bumphus were televised on free, national TV on NBC, as well as ESPN basic cable. In other words, fight fans got to latch on to a fighter early on and grow that attachment as they rose up the ranks.
“My first fight was on ESPN, a four-round fight, and people got to grow up with me,” Czyz said. “They had an emotional investment in me, were following me, watching me and listening to the story, the good, the bad, the ugly. And they just felt like they were part of my life. I had a guy come from Alaska to total to watch me fight. That’s insane.”
Add in the looks that earned him the nickname “The Matinee Idol,” his membership in the high IQ society MENSA, and the fact that he could fight, and he was seemingly destined for superstardom. That’s not the way the boxing world works these days, with pay-per-view events priced out of many fans’ budget, and even if they have the disposable income to pay to watch, do they even care about the competitors? That’s an ongoing debate on social media, where more big fights take place than in the ring.
“Very few of the big fights are ever going to be on free TV because the people know how much money they can make by just charging everybody,” said Czyz. “And that’s kind of a shame. I would think that some of the world champions who are making millions a fight would fight a couple of fights on free TV, but everything’s a business these days and everything has a price on it.”
Maybe the good ol’ days really were good.
“You know what? I miss being part of it and I miss watching it, too,” said Czyz, who came up in an era where being on TV meant not getting gimmes on fight night. And while Teddy Mann, Oscar Albarado, Elisha Obed and Robbie Sims weren’t household names, they were good fighters who were tests for a prospect like Czyz. But then came Mustafa Hamsho, who upset the rising star in 1982 and put a halt to his rapid rise.
“I didn’t feel that I actually had to deliver for the people, except the people in my family and my friends and the people I was close with, but I also didn’t ever want to let my fans down. After my first loss, I made that clear. I apologized to them all and said, I’m sorry, and I’ll be back. And I came back, and I didn’t fade into oblivion like many people do after their first loss. And I fought my way up the ranks and won world titles.”
Czyz never got the real big fights or hit the level of stardom many expected of him in the early 80s, but he had a more than solid career in the ensuing16 years. He halted Slobodan Kacar in 1986 to win the IBF light-heavyweight title that he successfully defended three times, then took the WBA cruiserweight strap from Robert Daniels in 1991 and defended that belt twice. Losses to Evander Holyfield and Corrie Sanders ended his time in the ring in 1998, and while there were memorable fights and wins over the years, the one he believes showed who he truly was as a fighter took place in 1985 against Tim Broady.
“I fought him in Houston, and it was the first time I ever got hurt in the ring. He hit me with a left hook to the temple, and he hit me so hard that my legs started to buckle and move. I couldn’t even find him, and he was right in front of me. I couldn’t even see him. And immediately in my head, I registered ‘duck,’ there’s another one coming, ‘duck, get out of the way,’ ‘Bob, get your hands up and move.’ And I moved just to survive. And then I recovered quickly, which is something that’s natural. That’s something I can’t practice. That’s something just born into my genetics, and I went on to fight him and knocked him out a couple rounds later. But if you watch the fight, that’s who I am.”
It might seem odd to some for Czyz to pick that fight from his 52-bout career, but it’s not for a man who got to show the world what he always knew he had on the inside. Because while every fighter claims to have that extra valve in their heart, not everyone gets to show it.
“I always knew because – and it’s not a really pretty story – but some of the beatings I got from my father were hellacious as a child,” said Czyz. “He beat me almost like I was a grown man, and it was not fun but, at the same time, there were a lot of lessons learned and a lot of beatings had, so I knew what I was made of. I knew what I could take. I knew what my body could withstand. And in the gym…