Dunn Deals: Three of Katherine Dunn's Classic Pieces for WW

Boxers in Vegas, a presidential litmus test, and the fall of an Oregon pro wrestler.

"The Fight: Our peripatetic pugilistic pundit makes a pilgrimage to the city of lights for the Hagler and Hearns fight," April 25, 1985

WW flew Dunn, a freelance sportswriter, to Las Vegas to cover the third professional bout of Portland boxer Andy Minsker. She returned without seeing Minsker's fight—and filed more than 3,000 words of copy.

By 3 p.m. on fight day, a crisis has developed in the press section of Caesars Pavilion. All the soda pop is gone. The ice in the tubs has melted. The ham, turkey, ham and cheese, and tuna sandwiches normally spread profusely on trays are all gone. Only drab, dry cheese sandwiches remain. The caterers and the forklift driver have been busy supplying the dozens of concession stands set up around the arena.

At 3:30 p.m. the forklift finally appears, honking its way through a crowd of parched reporters desperate enough to unload the cases themselves.

By 4 p.m. all the ringside and pressroom phones have been checked and are functioning for direct reporting to dailies and wire services. Portable word processors have been plugged into ringside wiring. The pressroom crowd dwindles as the blue-card folk head for ringside and the green-card holders begin their climb of the bleachers. The yellow-card holders pull their chairs up close to the six high-resolution color monitors feeding directly off the ESPN broadcast. The TV crew is running final tests. An announcer does cruelly accurate Howard Cosell imitations to the delight of the pressroom.

It's time for the prelim fights. The ticket holders trickle in slowly. Typically the cheap bleacher seats fill up first. At 4:50 p.m. Daryl Chambers, the 22-2, 16 KO progeny of Detroit's Kronk Gym, steps in for 8 rounds with 154-pound slugger Luis Santana from Los Angeles. Halfway through the third round the corner men are debating whether to carry Chambers back to the dressing room or let him walk.

A reporter wandering through the dim aisles in the dressing-room area gets caught in the winner's celebration. The beaming, burly Santana races through the shed door, grabs the reporter in a sweat-soaked hug and plants a kiss on the journalistic cheek before scampering off to the showers. Hours later the reporter finds a broad smear of dried blood coating jaw and neck and realizes it is the residue of Daryl Chambers' cut.

5:30 p.m. Portland featherweight Andy Minsker fights John Watkins of Los Angeles in a six-rounder that frustrates the pressroom spectators because it's not televised. Attempts to peer through the chain-link fence are obstructed by a view of legs and bleachers. Formerly cordial security women, now scrutinizing tickets for authenticity, aren't joking any more. A nightstick rattling the wire mesh in front of investigative noses suffices to send the most ardent Minsker followers back to sulk in front of the uncommunicative tubes.

The closed-circuit broadcast is set to begin at 6 p.m. and the green-card holders are drifting back into the pressroom. "You'd need a telescope to see anything from up there in the gods' section of the bleachers. These TVs are definitely the way to cover this fight."

The green-card carriers say Minsker stopped his man in the fourth, but they don't know how he looked doing it.

6 p.m. The closed-circuit broadcast begins and the Kronk Gym has a winner. Light heavyweight Ricky Womack decisions David Vedder.

In the pressroom another load of soda pop arrives. On the TV screens the sky appears to darken with a rain menace. Hector Camacho appears at ringside in a shining blue-sequined suit. Larry Holmes arrives soon after and sits beside him.

Announcer Curt Gowdy explains that the intrigue of Hagler vs. Hearns is in the evenness of the match, even though Marvelous Marv and the Hit Man lack personal charisma. Hisses spout from the pressroom assembly. "Charisma my royal Irish arse!" howls an indignant Bostonian. "Look into the deep, dark eyes of The Bald One and say that, you Dowdy Barstard!"

The TV crew in the shed is poised, waiting for Hagler. "Is that him? Is he coming? Don't step on those wires, please. Is that him?" Two false alarms later, a smallish figure trots around the corner, robed in black, a hood hiding his face. Hagler moves fast and is gone, sucked into the great shout from the arena.

The folks in the pressroom gallop back to their TV sets. There they stand at last—Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. They are as like as a pit bull and a greyhound. Their goatees are the only similarity. They are frighteningly beautiful. These two are the cause of all this fuss. They have drawn thousands from across the continent. The idea of this moment is earning millions of dollars for many people other than themselves.

Through all the weeks of hype, they have become as familiar to us as the daily comic strips. We have talked them into easy patterns. Hagler is an intelligent counterpuncher and has a great chin. Hearns has one of the great long-distance jabs of all time, and his right hand is the hammer of god. They have duked it out already in the playful imaginations of the aficionados a thousand times, and everything that could be said or written about this samurai duel has already been spewed to the point of monotony. All that remains for the men themselves to do is enact one or the other of our projected scenarios proving one camp or the other as superior in prognostication. The fight itself has become, in the minds of many, a formality.

It's easy to be wise now. Now we can say Hearns was brilliant at 147 pounds, effective at 154 pounds, but has not been impressive at 160 pounds.

Now we can remember that Hagler is the most consistent champion of the last decade, so far above every other middleweight in the world that he makes the whole division look shoddy by comparison. But somehow it isn't that clear at 8:02 p.m. on April 15. It isn't clear at all.

The Slice, Jan. 15, 1987

For almost six years, Dunn wrote a weekly column answering reader questions—and sometimes ignoring them to focus on her own hobbyhorses. Her answers remain relevant to our political discourse.

Q: I am not a crook. I am not a gunrunner. Do you think that these will be President Reagan's famous last words just before he leaves public office? Do you think that President Reagan thinks he's the sovereign? —Moose

A: "Ich bin ein Bimbo" seems more appropriate, somehow. We have to rethink the whole elective process anyway. It's gone too far aglee. Anyone currently willing to run for president is obviously too deranged to handle the job. There ought to be some way to guarantee minimum diplomatic skills, equanimity under fire and an acute awareness of the true nature and sentiment of the American public in our chief exec.

What if we alter the requisites for the office? Suppose we declare a lottery in which every four years we draft (on a random basis) our new president from a name pool listing all hard-liquor bartenders with at least 10 consecutive years experience at the well. The only exemptions allowed would be for debilitating illness or possession of a degree in law.

"Wrestlemaniac: The rise and fall of Billy Jack Haynes and the Oregon Wrestling Federation," Sept. 22, 1988

Oregon City professional wrestler Billy Jack Haynes left the World Wrestling Federation to launch his own circuit, the Oregon Wrestling Federation. He lured big names: Rip "The Crippler" Oliver, Coco Samoa, Tiger Chen Lee and Mr. Magnificent of Minneapolis. Six months later, Dunn examined what went wrong on the cover of WW.

When the wrestlers arrived, Haynes asked them to work for half the money he had guaranteed them, "just until the promotion gets off the ground." They agreed. Even half pay was more than many of them had been earning in their previous territory.

After months of preparation, the great OWF kickoff came on Saturday night, May 7, at the 2,000-seat Oregon City Civic Center. A crew from KPDX taped the show for delayed broadcast the following Saturday afternoon and a repeat on Sunday morning.

There were 1,800 people in the audience for the OWF debut, but it went downhill from there. Only 550 showed the following Saturday. Though the Saturday night shows hovered in the range of 300 to 600 ticket buyers, the crowds for the other six nights either never appeared or deteriorated rapidly.

Haynes reacted by trying to save money on advertising and advance promotion. "We'd arrive in a town and nobody would know we were coming," says wrestler J.T. "Rock and Roll" Southern. "There were no posters, no ads, no radio spots. Do you know what it's like to wrestle in front of 30 people? The worst feeling in the world is when you're in the dressing room lacing up your boots and you know there are only 30 people out there. But you've got to get up for it. They've paid their money, and they deserve a show. You say. 'Oh lord, let me just get through this night.'"

OWF wrestlers resorted to standing on street corners in small Oregon towns on the day of a match, handing out fliers to the passers-by. J.T. Southern says, " I was completely humiliated. It was like we were begging people to come and see us wrestle."

Originally the real star of each event, Billy Jack soon stopped appearing at all in the roadshows, wrestling only on Saturday nights in Oregon City.

The promised vans for wrestlers' transportation never appeared. They drove their own cars or car-pooled as usual.

Haynes began to abandon his armory bookings without bothering to cancel the dates. From a show every night, the schedule dropped to two shows a week, and sometimes one.

Payments were also falling behind on utility and equipment bills and the lease on the Oregon City arena. The stress was playing havoc with Haynes' sleep.

"Billy let himself go," says wrestler Brian Adams. "His hair was a mess. He didn't shower. He was in the worst shape of his life. He didn't even bother to put his teeth in anymore."

The wrestlers' half pay soon started shrinking. "I was getting $400," explains Coco Samoa. "Then one week he gave me $300 and told me he'd make up the difference the next week. The next week he'd give me $200 and say he'd make it all up in the next check. But the next week it was down to $150."

Several of the original crew, along with a referee, had already jumped ship, borrowing money or selling and pawning possessions to finance their escape from Oregon. Billy shocked his remaining crew when he told a local newspaper that the departing wrestlers had been dropped for failing to pass the drug test.

On Friday, July 15, the strained trust between Billy Jack and his boys exploded. All the wrestlers got their $150 paychecks and then demanded a meeting with Haynes in the dark arena at Oregon City. A full dozen men looking, even in street clothes, like the riled cast of a Conan flick, aired their complaints. The dwindling pay was ruining them. Several wrestlers had already been evicted from their apartments. The lucky ones found a friend's sofa or living-room floor to camp on, while the rest were sleeping in their cars. Those with families to support were desperate. Coco Samoa, the father of five, was reduced to tears. For the first time in his 18-year wrestling career, he couldn't pay his rent.

As in the rest of the entertainment industry, wrestling needs a promoter to lure ticket buyers into the seats and needs performers who make the audience happy once it's there. The boys had done their part. Billy Jack had blown his end of the deal.

Now Billy Jack, the promoter, was telling his remaining wrestlers that they would be paid $50 a show even if there was only one show a week. Coco Samoa says, "He told us, 'If it comes down to you eating or me eating, I'm going to eat. If it's a choice of your bills getting paid or mine, my bills get paid. If you don't like it, there's the door.'" They walked out.

Two disastrous, patchwork shows later, the Oregon Boxing and Wrestling Commission shut down the operations of the Oregon Wrestling Federation on July 18. The business had survived less than three months.

During the first mad weeks after the collapse of the wrestling promotion, a siege of creditors and furious wrestlers demanding back pay kept Billy Jack and Selena Haynes hidden at home in Oregon City, available only to those who had the phone code they would answer. Now, with the threat of bankruptcy temporarily on hold, they are struggling to save the last of their assets, the Billy Jack Haynes Gym.

In keeping with his good-guy image, Haynes now accepts full responsibility for the failure of his promotion and the damage done to his employees. "I was the promoter, and it was my responsibility to make sure things got done. I didn't do it. I've lost my dream and I feel lower than a midget. I thought I was cut out to be a promoter, but I was wrong. I'm not a big enough prick."

Despite his good intentions, there are those in wrestling now who disagree. Billy Jack's promotional motto—and he repeated it often—was, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit." Ironically, Billy Jack Haynes managed to reverse that process.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.