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Time behind the boxing bell

Michael North, of Canyon Country, is ‘At the Apron’

Posted: November 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Mike North with the bell he has used ringside in his work as a timekeeper for more than 12 years.

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Ding. Ding.
It’s a sound familiar to any boxing fan. For Michael North, of Canyon Country, it’s a livelihood of sorts, a way to stay close to the sport he loves so much.

North, a professional timekeeper for the California State Athletic Commission and secretary for the California Boxing Officials Association, is the man behind the bell at many of the state’s amateur fights.

“I like the fact that I get the best seat in the house, that I’m very much involved with the fight itself and I get to meet interesting people,” he said.

Boxing royalty
North, who works in aerospace by day, has mingled with some of boxing’s biggest names — the late Joe Frazier, Don King, Mike Tyson and Laila Ali — as well as some celebrities, such as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

“There were fights at the Playboy Mansion, which is a fun venue to work at,” North said. “Then there was the fight at the Country Club in Reseda. The crowd wasn’t happy with the decision, so they started throwing bottles and chairs. We had to hide out underneath the ring.”

Such experiences are at the core of “At the Apron,” North’s self-published novel based on his stints as a timekeeper and photographer capturing the 1990s amateur boxing scene in Los Angeles.

Dick Young

North was good friends with referee Dick Young, who wrote stories for several boxing publications and asked North, a wedding photographer, to provide art for his submissions.

“I love taking photos and boxing, so I said, ‘Sure,’” North recalled.

Most of the action took place at the venue known as The Forum (formerly known as Great Western Forum).

“It took a couple years until I got to be known, until I earned a spot at the apron, which is ringside,” North said.

A fighting spirit
Originally from Clinton, Mo., North entered the boxing world as a fighter at age 30.

The year was 1984.

After losing seven fights in a row, his coach urged him to give it up.

“I broke my hand twice, broke my nose and tore my rotator cuff. This was all in training,” North said. “Once I stopped, I got licensed as an amateur boxing referee, a coach and a timekeeper.”

It was Young who suggested North audition for an official referee spot after he had relocated to California.

North was too late to throw his name in the referee ring, so he became a professional timekeeper instead.

It’s a job he enjoys and more complex than one might expect.

According to North, during the first round, the referee will ask fighters if they’re ready. If so, the referee points at the timekeeper, who rings the bell and starts the clock. Timekeepers give a signal when the three minutes are coming up, so the referee knows when to send fighters to their corner to begin the one-minute rest period.

After the 50-second mark, the timekeeper once again signals to the referee.

In California, North continued, the timekeeper also counts knockdowns.

“Say fighter A gets knocked down. The timekeeper starts to count while fighter B is out of the way, so he can’t hit the other fighter again,” North said. “I count with my finger and call it out really loud. By count three or four, the referee takes over.”

Ringing the bell
There’s also a somber part to the job. When a fighter dies in the ring or immediately after a fight, the timekeeper does a 10 count, or ringing the bell slowly 10 times. North has had to do this more than once in his career.

North recalled  a fight in Calabasas where the fighter died shortly after the contest.

“(The fighter) walked back to his corner and collapsed in the ring,” North said. “He was rushed to the hospital, but never gained consciousness. He died of a massive brain hemorrhage. That still bothers the ring doctor, who’s a friend of mine.”

The 10 count
North has also done a 10 count for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and for boxing officials and greats that have passed away.

“I’m sure someone’s done that for Joe Frazier already,” he said of the recently deceased boxing legend.

Over the years, North has had a fair share of interesting incidents surrounding his equipment.

“I’ve had a heavyweight fighter fall on me, and he bent my bell. People throw quarters at it, trying to ring it,” he said.

“Once at the Marriott in Woodland Hills, I had a fighter who was taking a lot of shots look down and say to me, ‘Please ring the bell. Please ring the bell.’ Of course, I couldn’t do that.”

‘At the Apron’

In addition to timekeeping and photography, North was a columnist for an online publication called RingSports.com before it went out of business.

The idea for his book came two years ago. North had been working on rough drafts until he was laid off from an aerospace job in January. Then he attacked the project full-time, finishing the book in about six months.

Upon completion of the book, he went to College of the Canyons in Valencia to scout for an editor.

Noticing a bulletin for a proofreader, North found Jo Ann Bischetsrieder, whom he hired and credits for the final product.

He also enlisted a friend, Suzanne Richards, to provide the final proofreading touches when funds for the project ran out.

“I’ve learned a lot. Writers need an editor to make them look good,” he said.

Released in August through IUniverse, “At the Apron,” is ultimately homage to a good friend and an era that North will never forget.

“I wanted to remember (Young) somehow and wanted to recognize the historical part of boxing in Los Angeles,” he said.

“I want to see The Forum go down in history, not just for basketball and hockey, but for the boxing that went through that building.”

Now back at work in aerospace, North promotes his book at fights throughout the state.

His most recent experience was the celebrity boxing match between “Octomom” Nadya Suleman and former “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher.

“I’d never heard of Octomom before. She won. Amy Fisher’s husband fought Joey Buttafuoco that night, too, and the husband won,” North said. “That wasn’t like real boxing, but it was a chance to make a few bucks.”

As for his book, North doesn’t expect “At the Apron” to become a bestseller. He’s just happy it’s done.

“If there’s nothing else I did in life, I can say I’m a published author,” North said. “That gives me self-gratification.”

“At the Apron” by Michael North is available at www.IUniverse.com, www.bn.com and www.Amazon.com.

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