DAMON FELDMAN’S DESTINY was written in the August 15, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated. He read it when he was 13 years old. He flipped past the cover story on NFL rookie John Elway and the piece about tennis star Yannick Noah until he reached page 69, and the regular feature “Faces in the Crowd” — and there it was. There he was. With deep-set eyes, a concerned expression, and a feathered haircut. The accompanying caption read: “Damon Feldman, Broomall, Pa. Damon, 13, scored a second-round knockout of Joe Antepuna to win the Philadelphia Junior Olympic boxing title in the 13-and-under 112-pound class. He has been boxing since age five and has an 8-1 record with two KOs.”
The boxing, well, that didn’t really work out. What Damon Feldman has turned out to be a prodigy at — what became his destiny — was getting his name in print.
WE’RE DRIVING TO the airport to pick up Rodney King, America’s best-known beating victim. Feldman is driving his new-smelling Armada SUV. He just turned 40, and isn’t wiry anymore. He’s six feet, 220 pounds. His arms and chest are thick. His neck is thick. His hair is a permanent micro-stubble, his head resting atop his shoulders in the shape of a giant thumb.
Feldman still has the deep-set eyes and concerned expression. His bearing now has an understated, unpredictable menace. He’s been beaten down outside the ring far more than he ever was inside it, and feels with some justification that people have it in for him. His radar is on high alert to whatever is going to crash into his world next. He’s rarely calm, as if focusing on just one thing at a time might leave him vulnerable. On the ramp approaching the airport, he starts checking messages on his BlackBerry. “I can’t help it. I have ADD,” he jokes (maybe). “This is from Joey Buttafuoco,” he says of his latest message.
It’s four days before King will fight in a celebrity boxing match arranged by Feldman against a former Chester police officer, at the airport Ramada Inn. This is what Feldman does now. Remember when Danny Bonaduce fought Jose Canseco at a skating rink in Aston? A Damon Feldman production. When Tonya Harding punched out a stripper/waitress/whatever at the Lagoon bar in Essington? Yup, Feldman. When Lindsay Lohan’s father fought deejay Rocco from Q102, and Gervase Peterson from Survivor took on “adult film star” Travis Knight at the Ramada in Tinicum Township? No, nobody remembers that, but Feldman set it up anyway.
After a million false starts, disappointments, lawsuits and indignities, Feldman believes he’s found his Philadelphia puncher’s chance at the big time. Along the way, he’s made Philly — well, Delaware County, really — the nation’s capital of low-grade celebrity boxing. The boxing isn’t 100 percent regulation boxing. The celebrities aren’t 100 percent regulation celebrities. Feldman’s Celebrity Boxing Federation events — he’s doing one every other month now — aren’t uniformly successful, if you judge by how many people buy tickets.