Just your standard fight story, riddled with the usual trite and tacky cliche's...
This guy came into the dressing room while my old man was taping my hands. He was short and round as a barrel, with greasy hair and beady eyes. His wrinkled, blue sport jacket and soiled, white shirt looked like he'd slept in them and his blue tie hung like a lazy noose around his thick neck. A miniature American flag decal was affixed to one narrow lapel, a silver Jesus Saves pin to the other.
"So this is your boy, huh?" he said to my old man.
My old man nodded. "Yep, this is my boy," he said.
"You scared?" the guy asked me.
"A little bit."
"Well, don't be. You're going to beat this kid you're fighting tonight. I know you will."
He looked at my old man. With two fat fingers of his right hand, he tapped a square, brick-like lump in the inside right breast pocket of his jacket. My old man nodded. The guy went out.
"Who was that?" I asked my old man.
"Who, him? Oh, that was nobody. His name's Goody Carlisle. He's one of the local businessmen who helped put tonight's card together."
"What did he want with me?"
"With you? Nothing. He just wanted to wish you luck is all."
The door creaked open again. This time, an old guy stuck his bald head inside. "You're up next," he informed my old man.
"Thanks. You ready, kid?"
"Well, then, let's go. And remember to try and give this one everything you got. You owe it to the fans."
As I followed my old man out the door and down the hall, I silently prayed the same little prayer I always prayed before the start of every fight. "Lord, please build a protective hedge around me and protect me from every harm. And help me win my fight tonight."
They held the first fight card of that season on a warm Wednesday evening in June, in the ballroom of the old American Hotel, in Ellentown. I was twenty years old and even though I had eleven amateur bouts under my belt (11-0, with nine knockouts), I still felt nervous going in, the way I always did before a fight.
I felt especially nervous that night because my opponent was Butch Kilabreski. But and I had known each other for seven years now, ever since I'd first moved to the Valley, back when I was thirteen. At first, I'd thought Butch and I were going to be best friends. But then, one day, for no reason at all, Butch turned on me like a vicious animal and I laid him out cold. We hadn't talked to each other since that day. Every time we saw each other in the halls at school or on the street, Butch shied away from me. But the moment I turned my back on him, I got the uneasy feeling that he was planning some grizly form of revenge.
The moment I climbed in the ring, Butch glared at him with his cold, blue eyes and his lips peeled back from his dazzling, white teeth in a contemptuous sneer.
At the bell, Butch came barrelling out of his corner like a runaway freight train, grimly determined to pound me to a pulp. I danced and moved. I peppered his pale face with my left jab and followed through with my right. By the time the bell clanged for the end of the second round, Butch was not only confused and frustrated, he was madder than a hornet.
Halfway through the third round, Butch went into clinch and yanked my red trunks down to my knees. The ref quickly moved in and pried us apart. I bent over to try and pull up my trunks. At that same time, Butch let fly with a straight right hand that connected cleanly with the side of my jaw.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting slumped on my stool in my corner. The ring physician, a pretty redhead, shined a pencil-thin beam of light in my eyes and asked if I was okay; I nodded. All around me, the crowd booed their displeasure at the outcome of the fight.
I looked, but Butch and his people had already fled the ring.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a blurry glimpse of Goody Carlisle seated at ringside. He wore a very unhappy expression on his ham-like face.
My old man growled somewhere near my right ear. "Well, that punk won't be climbing back in the ring any time soon. At least not as an amatoor."
The three judges disqualified Butch and awarded me the decision. As always, I was happy I'd won my fight. But I was sad I'd won in that way. I wanted to win or lose my fights fair and square, not because the other guy cheated.
In the dressing room, my old man placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Kid," he said to me, "I wouldn't feel too bad about it. I talked to one of the judges and she said they all had you way ahead on points. If Kilabreski hadn't pulled that stupid shenannigan, you probably would've knocked his block off before the final bell rang."
Then he said something that really shocked me. He said, "You know, I've been thinking that, maybe, it's time we thought about getting out of this racket."
"You mean get out of boxing altogether?"
Now it was turn to look shocked, as if I'd said something truly blasphemous. "No, no, no. That's not what I meant at all," he said quickly. A little too quickly, I thought. "You see, it seems that Ring 33, along with some of your prominent local businessmen, have decided they want to try and see if they can bring boxing back to the Valley on a monthly basis. They almost have enough fights ready for next month, but they still need a pair of professionals to round out their card. One of these local businessmen called me, the other night. He wanted to know if you'd be interested in turning pro."
"This prominent local businessman---it wasn't Goody Carlisle, by any chance, was it?"
My old man paused for a moment. Then he said, "As a matter of fact, it was."
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him I didn't know, that I'd have to ask you first. So, what do you think? Think you might be interested in turning pro?'
Looking at his anxious face, it didn't take me long to make up my mind. "Yeah, sure. Why not? It'll probably beat the heck out of getting my pretty face punched in for free."
At the same time, at the back of my mind, I couldn't help wondering what my wife Kat was going to say when I told her the good news. I'd promised her that tonight would be my last fight.
"I was hoping you might say that!" my old man boomed in his rasping, gravelly voice. His dull, grey eyes gleamed behind the dark lenses of his wire-framed glasses and he slapped me on my shoulder one more time. "You know, when you first came to me, back when you were only nine years old, and you said to me, 'Pop, I want to learn how to fight,' somehow, I just knew you were the one in the family who was going to go all the way. Every trainer in this business dreams of someday managing a champion. And I must admit, I'm no exception. I still have my dreams. Yes, sir, I do. I still want to be rich and famous as Angelo Dundee. And I still want to do a guest shot on the Leno show---with my championship fighter, of course! Son, you make your old man very happy. And very proud."
All the time he was ranting and raving, I just sat there, on the black, leather-topped dressing table and stared at him, the same way I would stare at a precocious child.
"Now look," I said, when he finally finished rambling. "That's all right for you. But all I want to do is try and be the best fighter I can be. If I could ever become good enough to win a world title someday, that would be wonderful. If not, well, that's fine, too. I can walk out that door, right now, and still make a decent living at the foundry, back in Monotoning."
Naturally, that wasn't the answer my old man wanted to hear. He frowned.
"Hey, listen," he said, quickly changing the subject. "Did I ever tell you about the time I fought Muhammed Ali, back when we were both amateurs. Come to think about it, I was just about your age, too."
I threw back my head and laughed. "Pop, you've only told that little yarn about a hundred-thousand times," I said.