By Mark Hannon
He sat on a folding chair, dripping sweat, his heart rate slowing down, the fight over for several minutes. Feeling the water run down his nose, he concentrated on timing when it would fall off the tip and drop to the towel he held in his lap. The towel was clean and smelled of alcohol and soap from a hospital laundry. There was an ice bag in the towel, and Ty was moving the muscles in his face carefully, trying to judge where the ice bag would have the best effect. He was slowly rolling his shoulders, expanding his chest and flexing and unflexing his fists to see if there was any damage in those parts of him that might be slow in showing pain as the adrenalin wore off.
The dressing room was a banquet room in a hotel, divided in half by a curtain so that the opposing fighters were separated. A middleweight named Billy, usually the coolest before a fight, was waiting to be called to the ring, tapping his left foot like he couldn’t stop it. He looked from Ty’s swelling face to his manager, to the ground. His manager, a retired fighter with a shaved head, placed himself between Billy and Ty and kept repeating their fight strategy. “Keep on the outside, use your jab. Don’t try to slug with him. He comes at you, throw one, two, three jabs, step to the side. When he misses, step in, let your combinations go and step to the side, first one side, then the other. Get him from all angles, not straight on. And remember, if your head’s not moving, your feet gotta be.”
Feeling the swelling coming over his left eye, right where the doctor said it would, Ty applied the ice bag that his manager Jack had left him and looked at James the Preacher’s entourage getting their boy whipped up. The choir was dressed in red and white satin seconds’ jackets, shouting, “The Lord is all I need!” with increasing volume while James bounced on two feet and rotated his neck.
In a far corner, a goateed father tapped his son on the knee with a punch mitt. “C’mon, boy, let’s get you warmed up.” The son got up, and the two of them came over by Ty to get some room to warm up with the punch mitts. As they approached, they got a closer look at Ty’s bruised face, looked away and went to the business at hand. “Ok,” the father said, “let’s see the jab,” holding up the right mitt. The son’s eyes went from Ty to concentrate on the mitt. Pop. Pop, pop went the jab, the punch traveling a straight line from his shoulder to the mitt and springing back, ready to fire again.
A white haired chocolate colored man in a gray suit wearing a Commissioner’s badge wandered into the dressing room and was stopped by a fighter’s second. “Do they have latex gloves for seconds at ringside or do we have to have our own?”
“Yes, you have to wear the latex gloves at ringside.”
“Yeah, but do they provide them at ringside or do we have to bring our own?”
The elderly man smiled, pointed to his badge and replied, “I’m a Commissioner, I know you have to wear the gloves.” He then turned from his questioner, took a step towards Ty and said, “My. Have you seen the doctor yet?”
“Uh huh,” Ty replied, “he says it’ll be ok and I can start sparring again in a week,” hoping everyone in the room heard him.
“Ok, ok,” the old man said as he shuffled out of the room.
“Hey, Rock,” Ty said, addressing the back of the shaved manager’s wrinkled bulldog neck, “Jack outside?”
Turning his bullet head, he replied, “Yeah, said he and Mike were going to check out Angus’ fight. Cut man had to work that one too.”
“Hey, can I use your scissors, get the bandages off?”
“Sure, here you go,” pulling a pair of trauma shears out of a side pocket and turning back to his conference with Billy. Leaning against the wall to hold the ice bag in place, Ty labored with the scissors to cut the tightly wrapped padding off his hands.
The show’s promoter walked into the dressing room and stopped in the center, making sure his arrival was noticed by all. Hair freshly cut, blue suit sharp, he scanned the room, momentarily making eye contact with everyone and getting their attention. The choir quieted with heads bowed and the promoter stepped to James’ manager and gave him a two handed shake. He turned to James, sized up the main event fighter’s conditioning as good and wished him good luck, tapping his gloves with his fists. He spun to the rest and waved, wishing all the fighters luck. Stepping towards Ty, he said, “Tough fight you gave him, Ty. Tough fight,” looking over the damage to Ty’s face.
“He’s outside, watching Angus’ fight. Hey, how many rounds did you think I won?”
The promoter was already gone, back into the arena looking for another welterweight for next month’s card.
Across the curtain divide, Ty could hear his defeat described by his opponent “He couldn’t get out of the hook’s way. Saw it comin’, but didn’t move fast enough. Then, when he did move, there was the right hand waitin’ for him. Jab, hook off the jab, right hand. All night long. Takes a punch, though, he in shape.”
He’s right, Ty thought, it was the hook that he kept landing. Gotta work on more head movement, get away from that. I was getting to the body some in the first two rounds, but didn’t slow him down enough. Pitty pat punk. I get him again, gonna duck that hook, step to it, bust his body up. Slow him down, crush him inside. Take Monday off, then do the bob and weave in the gym this week till I got it down pat.
“I knew I had him, second round. He come at me straight, I pivot, let him have it. Move. He couldn’t keep up with my hands or my feet. Next? Bobby says he get me Force Recon from down in Virginia next month’s show.”
The next day was Sunday and Ty slept most of it. He didn’t answer the phone all day. He left the newspaper outside the apartment door, stayed inside, ate and listened to music. On Monday, Ty woke up in the morning and had no pain in his ribs when he breathed deeply. No bruises on his arms, no pain in his hands when he opened and closed his fists. The weather was warm but he put on a hooded sweatshirt to run and kept the hood down. Jack says that burns up more calories. He took a deep breath, glanced at his amateur trophies on the shelf, and went out to run his five mile course, just like the one he read Shane Mosely did. Back in the apartment, he decided he didn’t have time to shave before work and went in the back way.
Ty hung his coat up, glanced in the hall where the timecards were and seeing no one, punched in and went out onto the commercial laundry’s garage. He had loaded up several of the bags of clean laundry when Tommy came by pushing a cart. He looked at Ty, and Ty just knew he was staring at the swelling.
“Mornin’ Ty. You got the number six route today?”
“If it’s Monday, gotta be the Allentown Road route. What else?”
He shrugged, “Nothin’, just Monday,” and went on pushing the cart by him.
That guy never had a fight in his life, Ty thought, but he’ll talk about it, I’ll bet. Never say a word to my face, but probably laugh it up in the lunch room about what they read in the paper.
At his first stop, he unloaded the clean laundry and was tossing the dirty laundry bags with all his might from the back door to the front of the truck when the manager came by with the manifest papers all signed. Ty turned to take them when he saw him looking at him.
“Jeese, Ty, fight last night?”
“Saturday night. One of Bobby M’s pro shows at the arena…”
“Oh, well, take it easy. We’ll see you Thursday before eight, right?”
“Yeah, I always get here early Thursday.”
At lunchtime he went to Wendy’s because they had the grilled chicken salad. Tossing away the dressings they gave him, Ty looked at both Sunday’s and Monday’s papers to see what they said about the fights Saturday. Sometimes they didn’t get the results in on time to make Sunday’s paper.
Nothing. Nothing about the fights, nothing about boxing at all. A bunch of bullshit about a wrestling show this Friday. Phony stuff about who might kill who. Fake W.W.F. wrestling bullshit.
He looked at himself in the mirror in the locker room after he got back to the garage when he was done with the route and decided to go to the gym. He was the first one there when Mike opened the door at five.
“Hey, kid, you feel good enough to work out today?” he inquired, looking at the swelling around the eye which was yellow, blue and green by this time.
“Yeah, fine. Just gotta lay off the sparring for a week the doctor says. Guy couldn’t hit. I got him figured out for next time.”
While he worked out, Ty noticed the looks and overheard the comments like “got clobbered,” and “lucky to stay on his feet,” but they could be talking about anyone. When he was getting changed, Jack came in and they all went into Mike’s office, Mike behind the desk, Jack sitting on the desk and Ty leaning in the doorway, looking at pictures of the three of them behind Mike’s desk.
Mike looked at Jack, and pointing to Ty said, “Kid worked out today, came here straight after work.”
“Did four rounds shadow boxing under the strings, working on head movement. Hit the heavy bag four too, two of ‘em on the uppercut bag. Next time I’ll get’m, workin’ the body and duckin’ his hook.”
“Ty,” Jack started, “Bobby says he hasn’t got room for you on the next card…”
Ty saw Mike looking him right in the eyes. He looked over Mike’s shoulder and saw the picture of himself, hand raised in victory from the Golden Gloves two years ago. I fought that guy three times, Ty thought, lost the first two times, but when the Gloves Title was on the line, I beat him. Right hand to the body slowed him down in the second, he was all mine after that.
“…so I made some phone calls. Rick Benson out in Ohio has got a card in Toledo at the end of next month.”
Jack was looking at him now, too. Behind him was a picture of Ty standing on the ropes, both arms in the air, Jack looking up at him and smiling after he’d knocked out Toby Green in his first pro fight.
“Says he can match you with Tom Peterson from out there. The guy’s four and six, has trouble making weight. I said if we’re gonna travel, he’s gotta make weight or forfeit the whole purse to us.”
It was a whole new world, the pros. Small gloves, no headgear. He touched his face, checking to see if it still hurt as much.
“Must not be training much if he can’t make weight. He doesn’t make weight, we ride to Ohio, just pick up the money. He does, he’s outta shape, you beat ‘em.”
There weren’t any more pictures of his other pro fights, though. He remembered an article from the paper mentioned him as a prospect that had lost a controversial decision to another local fighter. Great things still expected. Beat him in a rematch, too.
“The question is, Ty, how do you feel?” Mike asked, “Saturday night was your third loss in a row. You gonna want to fight in a month?”
The two handlers were waiting for an answer, looking right at him, just like the refs do when he’s taken a knockdown.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’ll be ready. I’m already in shape, no problem with the weight, and I’ll be back sparrin’ next week, you’ll see. I’ll go to Ohio, take their money, beat their boy. Start getting back on the winning side.”
Jack slapped him on the arm and said, “Atta boy. I’ll call Benson later and tell him we’ll take the fight. We’ll get back on track in Ohio, take their money and beat their boy, just like you say.”
With the fighting spirit restored, Ty went out of the office and said good night to everyone in the gym, once again a prospect.
Watching Ty leave, Mike said, “He peaked in the amateurs, Jack. He stays in shape but doesn’t get any better. He’s gotta know takin’ him outta town like this puts him down as a guy listed as an ‘opponent’.”
“I give him about five years. He can still make a few bucks at it, Mike. He’s young, he’ll do it while he can, beat a few guys here and there. He’ll quit when he gets tired of working out and the money ain’t there.”
“What made him an amateur champ is still in him and it’ll keep him hanging on a lot longer than that, especially if the regular fans remember him. A guy like him, every time he gets beat, it just gets a little easier to lose.”
About the Author:
Mark Hannon is a retired firefighter who boxed as an amateur, and trained amateur and professional fighters. He is the author of the novel “Every Man for Himself,” published by Apprentice House Press. Other work has been published in Peninsula, Scribble, The Baltimore Sun, the Maryland Historical Society Magazine and The Carriage Horse Journal.