By Amy Green
He manages three current world champions: Nonito Donaire, Steven Luevano and Kelly Pavlik; and has guided the careers of such fighters as Diego Corrales, Steve Forbes and Danny Romero. But Cameron Dunkin remains a figure far removed from the limelight of his boxers’ careers, preferring to fight his fight outside the ring and behind the scenes.
Dunkin’s battles are never witnessed by boxing fans, but his efforts are applauded when Kelly Pavlik or another of his fighters climbs through the ropes to face a new opponent. He began his boxing career in the late ‘80’s and recalled his venture into the business.
"I got into boxing, 1986-87. I went to a gym and hung around boxing and I got asked to buy a fighter and invest into a fighter and that led to interest and I really liked boxing," he said with a laugh.
"Then later I started working with another fighter, and they did OK. Eventually it led up to 1992 when I wanted to get a really good fighter and started going to all the tournaments, and signed Danny Romero," Dunkin said, and continued. "That was the start. I had decent fighters before that but nobody like Romero. He was my first world champion. I signed him in ’92 right after the Olympic trials and he won the title I believe in late ’94, around ’95."
Armed with a keen interest and a true love of boxing, Dunkin started from the bottom and worked his way to the top. Along the way he absorbed good advice and learned the sport inside out from some industry veterans.
"I started just doing it," he said, "And then I wanted to learn HOW. I asked a lot of questions and I learned the game. I learned from the bottom all the way up. In 1988 I met with Pete Susens and Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss. I sat with them and they explained a lot about boxing to me. I always just listened and learned. And I was around Bruce Trampler who knew how to move a fighter, and was around Pete (Susens) who knew how to build a fighter," Dunkin explained.
"I started at the very bottom," he reminded. "I slept in cars. I did Oklahoma boxing, South Dakota boxing, Nebraska boxing, so I’ve seen it from both ends. I‘ve seen it from staying in the finest hotels and having a world champion and also at the other end- fighting for a hundred dollars or like buying Diego Corrales two of his fights and me paying for him or paying for Danny Romero’s first four fights."
Dunkin managed Diego Corrales from his first fight until his career was 33-0. In Corrales he discovered a talented and also tormented fighter.
"When I first signed Diego I saw him in the amateur tournaments," Dunkin said. "I really liked him. I tried to get in touch with him and nobody could help me get a number."
"Finally tracked him down. He was in Amarillo, Texas and had married some girl, which turned out to be, I believe Sonya. She was from Amarillo and he lived down there with her and was driving a truck part time. I got his phone number, called him up and I said ‘I think you’ll be champion of the world. You should come with me, you’ll be terrific. I think you’re gonna be a great fighter.’ He said ‘are you kidding me? Are you serious? You really think I’m that good?’ I said yeah. So I wired him $250 and he drove a Chevette out from Amarillo to Phoenix, and I put him on a salary, and with a partner of mine, got him an apartment. Had to pay for a couple of fights, and had to have him fight for a couple hundred dollars a couple of times."
"Eventually after sixteen fights, we moved him to Top Rank, and I got him a contract with them. And the rest is history- he won the title. He was a real, real nice kid. Real polite, real sweet, mean, tough, hard street kid. But very likeable and very nice. Then one day after he was 33-0, he came to me and was just mean as hell. I said I don’t even know who you are. He said this is the real me. The one you knew was all BS but this is the real me. And he’s right- that’s the one that drank, smacked women. A whole different side of Diego. He’s a real hard, hard tough kid. But he could put on the charm and everybody liked him. With all of that he could really fight and he would always get through it and he would always win. Diego had no fear of anything- none, zero, zilch."
"There were the two sides to Diego and I was hoping he’d grow out of it. Hoping through it all he would one day see that the act he told me he was putting on- would become him and he’d say y’know what? This is nice. People like me, I’m not in trouble, and I got no problems. He would go through two or three months of that and he was terrific, but the he also had the dark side." Dunkin paused. "I had him from fight one, to 33-0 and he decided he wanted to do everything himself. After that he went 7-5, and that was pretty much it."
Presently Dunkin manages 17 fighters plus a few others he helps out, and lent a helping hand to his girlfriend Kelly Mathis in managing bantamweight Emily Klinefelter, who recently won her pro debut. He will also offer his assistance when Emily’s sister Katy makes her debut. "I’m just helping my girlfriend and my friend Adam Pollock who is married to Emily and trains her," Dunkin insisted, and admitted it’s a little harder to deal with the women fighters because he doesn’t know the opponents, but he enjoyed being on the team that helped a first time fighter score her first W.
Nobody has champions in double-digit figures without having a method to their madness. Dunkin readily admitted hard work is the one of the keys to his success. "I don’t think anybody works any harder than I do," he stated. "There may be some that are smarter- I’m sure there are!”
“But I don’t think anybody protects their fighters as well as I do. I really do have admiration for these guys who get in and get smacked. You look at those little Reyes gloves, and I got a real respect for that." He paused and gathered his thoughts. "It’s one thing when you’re building them and you know your guy’s going to win and how they’re gonna win. But when you reach a certain point, when they start getting in there with the Darchiniyans and the Jermain Taylors, they’re REAL fights. And people get hurt."
"I’m over protective with my guys and I’m patient. REAL patient," he said with emphasis. "A guy takes seven years- he takes seven years. If a guy needs three or four years or he needs three or four fights, I’m in no rush to get to the money. Money is gonna be there when we get there. You don’t make any money fighting for the title; you make it defending it. So I’m real careful to make sure my guy’s ready; he’s mature, he has enough experience."
WBO featherweight champion Steven Luevano is example of Dunkin’s patience. "Steven Luevano," he said," was an Olympic alternate. He had 188 amateur fights and I waited seven years with him. People said he would never be a champ," Dunkin revealed, and rattled off a list of why Luevano wasn’t considered championship material. "That he wasn’t strong enough, he wasn’t a puncher. - And guess what?" he asked with mock amazement. "In seven years, he got stronger, and he started to punch. And we slowly moved him along, and he can really fight now. He’s strong, disciplined and he can deal with this sh*t.”
Patience is a virtue with the long hours and days Dunkin puts in working for his fighters. With all that he juggles, what does his day consist of?
"I don’t know what a TYPICAL day is," he mused and outlined the way his day could usually go. "My typical days are, my phone starts ringing around 5:30-6 in the morning. Sometimes I get lucky and it’s 7 or 7:30. And I got 50 calls to make. I usually make a list. I’m not very computer savvy or any of that stuff," Dunkin shared, "so I write a lot of stuff down on scratch paper and I‘ll make a list and have like 23 or 28 things to do and cross them off as I go," he laughed. "And of course you never get ‘em all done in one day. You get twelve of ‘em done or nine or fifteen. You just add them to tomorrow, make your next list and keep going and going. Of course things come across and things pop up that you want to do and you kind of fit them in between. It’s a seven-day a week thing. It never ends. And you’re always working, always trying to make something happen."
An example of Dunkin’s day was represented in March, which included an organizational meeting at Mandalay Bay for Steven Luevano at 11 AM, who defended his WBO title, a press conference at 12:30, and a weigh in for two fighters at the Hard Rock at 2:30. Late lunch with Top Rank execs Brad Goodman, Lee Samuels and Ricardo Jimenez. Even after lunch his day was hardly over as he continued to attend meetings, answer calls and grant interviews. During that week alone, Dunkin had 5 fighters fighting from Las Vegas to Chicago.
2007 was punctuated by Kelly Pavlik’s high profile win over Jermain Taylor, with the majority of Dunkin’s fighter earning titles or steadily racking up victories. Of all the success, Dunkin is thoughtful. “I don’t know if it was my big year, y’know? I had six champions at one time before. They were Steve Forbes, and Corrales, Freddie Norwood, Bones Adams, Caesar Soto, and one other during that run. I had six guys going that were world champions at one time. I’ve wanted to do that again, and I’m slowly getting close. I’ve kinda been here before, I just never had a Kelly Pavlik”. Dunkin acknowledged.
Steven Luevano, Nonito Donaire and all his past fighters: Forbes, Danny Romero and Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson as great boxers, but it’s Kelly Pavlik who defined his last year.
"When you have Kelly Pavlik, it changes everything," Dunkin said. "Everybody just looks at you different. 'Oh my gosh, he’s got Kelly Pavlik!' I think that’s what changed this year." And again he gave credit to his former champions. “I’ve always had really good fighters. I’ve had 18-19 world champions. Always had terrific fighters, but never one that garnered the attention of a Kelly Pavlik. It’s pretty amazing.” Dunkin illustrated with a story about Presidential contender Hillary Clinton and Pavlik.
Besieged by requests from Barack Obama’s team, Dunkin asked Kelly where he stood politically, and learned he was lending his support to the Democrats, leaning toward Hillary Cinton. In the meantime, Dunkin received a call from an old friend, now a Hillary Clinton staffer in Manhattan, requesting Pavlik make an appearance in support of Clinton. By the following day, Dunkin made the Clinton’s wish come true, and Pavlik agreed to appear at a Clinton function in Ohio. He laughed. "She gave me the email address to three of their people there. I emailed them and within 5 minutes, my phone rang. The next thing you know, they’ve got Kelly’s number and Chelsea’s calling him, and Hillary’s calling him. It was unbelievable. Then you’re sitting there the next day, twelve hours later, and watching TV and there Kelly is, standing up on stage with Hillary Clinton. It’s really pretty terrific," he said proudly. “It’s something Kelly wanted to do and it was great to put together.”
Dunkin has experienced the highs and the lows of a tough industry over the last twenty years, but remains steadfast in his love of boxing. What does he like most about the sport?
“I just love boxing,” he declared. “I can’t explain it. It’s great to watch and there are so many good things about it. To see the kids grow. I always got a kick out of building them, and that’s why I’ve built so many kids. Taking a Romero, a Diego, whoever it is-- Kelly. And just watching them grow. And we’re going along, and no one pays attention to us for years, and we’re just sort of going in and fighting, and nobody cares and you just keep telling people, ‘look this guy’s going to be special one day’. I guess I get some ego thrill out of that. Knowing that guy is gonna be special one day. It’s a lot of fun, and great when they finally win."
In turn, Dunkin had stern words for those who belittle the sanctioning bodies and the belts fighters earn after making the sacrifice and effort to win. “People say sh*t about these belts,” he said. “Let me tell you something- it means so much to those kids, y’know? People can hate them all they want- but the WBC, the WBA and WBO- they’re all important to me- believe me, they’re important to me. I mean- it changes these whole kid’s lives. It really does.”
What Dunkin likes least about boxing is how managers are perceived and what he termed “games and distrust within the business."
“Even if you’re trying to do the right thing,” he said, “I’m always gonna be a bad guy ‘cause I’m a manager.”
Dunkin compared his situation to the unsavory reputation attorneys often are nailed with. “I’d always look at attorneys and say ‘yeah, but they’re an attorney’." Then he realized through dealing with his own legal team, they are also often unfairly labeled.
“I have a couple of attorneys,” he continued. “These are two of the greatest people you’ll ever meet in your life. They’ve done stuff for me for absolutely nothing, and gone out of their way.” Not unlike Dunkin’s role as a manager. “I guess being a boxing manager everybody thinks you’re some scumbag,” he said, and pointed out what the public never realizes about boxing managers and their role in the fighter’s lives, much as he never realized what his attorneys do for him.
“People don’t know how much money you’ve poured in kids, and stayed up all night, worried about them, looked at tapes, stayed up all night with a matchmaker and changed opponents and done what you can to keep them on a show; help them in the hospital when they’re injured and sick. Look out for their best interests.” We’re (managers) not what they think we are,” Dunkin reminded. “Everybody has perceived we’re just horrible people, and we’re really not. We’re just people. And I‘ve got great relationships with these kids. And it’s good.”
Dunkin can add the Boxing Writers Association of America's "Manager of The Year" distinction to his accolades for 2007, and he deems it a true honor. Even with all the champions, awards and recognition, Dunkin remains happily under the radar, guiding his fighters to the spotlight, content to watch his successes play out between the ropes, patiently working, watching, and waiting for the next potential champion to come along.