The Road Warrior

updated 07/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bruce "the Mouse" Strauss has spent much of the past decade looking up—from the canvas floors of boxing rings. He's been KO'd in Kansas, flattened in Fiji, toppled in Trinidad, rousted in Rome and laid low in Lima. It's not that Mouse isn't a good fighter. It's just that early on he realized he would never be a great fighter, and from that realization came a plan: Mouse would become a professional opponent, a roving road warrior who didn't dream of being a contender but would fight almost anyone, anywhere, for the right price. "Unfortunately, a lot of fighters are opponents and don't realize it," says Mouse. "I admit it. I love to be the hired gun, go to some kid's town, shoot 'em up, bang-bang, then wave good-bye. You know, leave a silver bullet. Maybe I land a lucky punch, usually not, then I'm off to the next town." Along the way Mouse has fought a staggering number of pro bouts, although it's difficult to be precise because the pugilist has often used assumed names and disguises to evade boxing commission rules that would have limited his bookings. "An average pro might have 15 fights in his career," says Bruce Trampler, a fight promoter for Top Rank and a veteran Mouse watcher. "A good guess is that Mouse has had about 175 or 200 fights. He's probably won more than half. There have always been opponents, but Mouse has raised it to an art."

Mouse, 36, who has semiretired from the ring, lives in Omaha with his wife, Mary Lou, 38, a teacher, and their daughter, Jamie, 15. He took time off from watching The Young and the Restless to talk about his career.

As a kid growing up in Jersey, I always enjoyed sports, but I never liked the pressure of winning and losing. I just enjoy. In high school I pole vaulted, wrestled and did judo, and I always boxed a little. I got a wrestling scholarship to the University of Nebraska, Omaha, so, you know, I came out here and had a good time. Afterward I got married and stayed.

There was a time I wouldn't have thought of going pro because there wasn't much going on. Boxing was dead. But all of a sudden, in the mid-'70s, everything hit—the '76 Olympic team, Sugar Ray Leonard, and then there were the Rocky movies. Television wanted to put on boxing, and they wanted a championship fight every week. So a bunch of new weight divisions were created. Plus all the boxing associations—the WBA, the WBC, the WAA, the IBF—had their own champions for each division. So all of a sudden you couldn't pick up a hitchhiker without him being a world champion, you know? And I figure, if these guys are gonna build their records to 21-0, they gotta beat somebody. And it may as well be me. I thought, "This will sure beat working." At the time I was driving a semi truck, hauling beef.

My ambition was to be the quintessential opponent, in demand by promoters. And you approach that differently than, say, if you're trying to be a contender. A lot of people think that if you're an opponent, you're just a ham-and-egger being paid to take a dive. But it's not like that with me. I'm no hero, but I'm not one of those guys who falls over during the National Anthem either. What a promoter wants is someone who his kid is probably going to beat, but isn't going to beat so easily that it stinks up the joint. What I try to do is fight as hard as I can for as long as I can. What often happens is that I'll pace myself to go three rounds, swinging hard, while the other guy is jabbing, pacing himself to go 10. So at that point I may even have the edge. Stranger things have happened than for Mouse Strauss to KO somebody. But if I feel I'm running out of gas, and I've just cracked this guy with my best overhand right and all he does is take one step back and grin, then I start looking for a soft spot on the canvas. Because that's probably where I'm going to end up, sooner rather than later.

Also, it would be stupid to pay Mouse Strauss to take a dive because I'm often a trial horse for fighters on their way up, or I'm a tune-up fight for a contender waiting for a title shot. If a guy can't beat Strauss, his manager wants to know about it.

If you lose too many fights in a row, you're not palatable to promoters. So my ploy is to fight a big money fight, maybe in South America, against someone who is probably going to beat me. I'll always exploit the guy's chin as best I can, you know. But as soon as I lose, I'll come back and barnstorm and hitchhike around the Midwest. You know, build myself up on club fights, then go back overseas or New York or wherever and fight a 10-round main-event fighter, where the money's good. I once fought a guy for the concession stand profits—about $20—because I thought I could beat the guy and build up my salability.

The other thing you have to do as an opponent is keep yourself available for opportunities. Promoters know that if they need a good last-minute replacement, they can get the Mouse. I'm 5'7" and 160 pounds, but I've fought every weight class from lightweight—135 pounds and under—to heavyweight, which is unlimited. There are things you can do to make weight, like I have a pair of trunks with lead sewn into the seams. That adds about five pounds. I also have metal plates that I kinda tie into my trunks if I need to. Or I can go down in weight. I once spent all night in a steam room—lost 11 pounds—so I could fight Juan Jose Gimenez, a junior welterweight contender, in Rome. I got three grand for the fight, so it was worth it.

During my most active period as an opponent, I didn't exactly adhere to all the rules of boxing. In most states, if you've been KO'd, you have to wait 30 to 60 days before you can fight again. If I had to wait that long, I couldn't have made a living. So I'd always deny I'd been knocked out. Until recently it was difficult for promoters and commissions to determine when I'd had my last fight. And I didn't always try to make it easy. I'd fight under aliases, dye my hair, wear a false mustache. A couple of times the mustache has been knocked off, which is funny, but I try to protect it. I've fought as Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd and Ruben Bardot, a name that I think I got off a poster for a porno movie. Sometimes, when I was pissed at a guy, I'd fight under his name, get knocked out and send him the clippings.

Sometimes I don't even plan to be somebody else. It just happens. Like one night a promoter got into a fix because a fighter dropped out, so I ended up boxing twice, as twin brothers. I lost both fights by knockouts, but I got a few hundred for the preliminary and a G-note for the main event, so that was a grand more than I had planned on. Another time I got KO'd by Bobby Czyz, a light heavyweight, on ESPN. The next night I was walking into the ring in Grand island, Nebr., and some guy yelled out, "Hey, Strauss, you bum! I saw you get knocked out on TV last night!" So I turned around and said, "That was the Moose. I'm the Mouse." And I won that fight.

I fight to fight again. I try to avoid getting hurt too much, but that doesn't mean I haven't paid my dues. I've broken my nose nine or 10 times, my jaw once, ribs numerous times. I've pissed blood now and then from kidney punches, and I've had a lot of broken eardrums. Yeah, I've been worked over by experts. But I've still got all my own teeth. I use a really good mouthpiece, custom-made, best 50 bucks I ever spent. I never go anywhere without my mouthpiece and my passport, not even 100 miles to Des Moines. You never know when a fight might pop up.

Getting knocked out doesn't hurt. It's when you wake up and you've got a headache. Geez, does that hurt! Sometimes I get knocked out to the body—the liver or the solar plexus. When that happens, you're paralyzed for 30 seconds, but when you get up, it's like nothing happened. If I ever noticed any problems on my EEG—the brain-wave scan that fighters gotta take periodically—I'd quit. But I've always passed, which I'm proud of.

People say, "Aren't you scared when you know you're gonna get knocked out?" But I feel that's a small price to pay. My buddies, they work 8 to 5, they've got a lot of mental headaches. Me, I get up at noon, bullshit on the phone, have some fun, watch soap operas. But when it's time to pay the rent, I know what I gotta do. I don't even think about being scared. Being an opponent is how I wanted to play it. I like to say I've been knocked out on every continent. When a guy says, "Hey, you've never been knocked out in the Arctic," I say, "You're right. Let's go up there and you can knock me out."

The reason I can talk about this now is because my gig is up. You can't do this kinda stuff anymore because the computers are too good. All they gotta do is call one number and they say, "Hey, Strauss, you're out! The computer says you were knocked out last week in Paris." So now I fight a lot less, and I manage fighters now. Boxing people are some of the best people there are, and I'll always want to be involved. When I retire completely from fighting someday, I'm going to miss it, walking from the locker room to where some local hero is waiting with the ambition to knock me out. I love it, I've got nothing bad to say about it. Boxing is the horse I rode in on, and I'd never shoot the horse I rode in on.

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