The Big Fight

13.09.06 - By Geoff McKay: Are you ever struck by how some memories remain vivid for years, like they just happened while others seem to fade so quickly that it was like they never existed? I remember every detail about the first time an adult asked my honest opinion on a sporting event. You see, I had just turned eight years old, and several families had gathered at a local home to watch the Ray Leonard, Hearns fight. One of the men, my fathers close friend, asked me who my pick was. I hadnít the foggiest who either one of these guys was, but since he had done me the courtesy of mentioning both names in his question, at least I was able to guess..

ďHearnsĒ, I said after mulling it over. My lifetime hobby of predicting fights had begun. As it turned out, I would be a little shaky out of the gate. I swelled with pride when the fellow nodded in agreement. For just a little while, I was an equal, my opinion accepted and appreciated.

I didnít actually watch much of the fight in the end. You see, this was back in the days when boxing was more than just a fringe sport, and big bouts were sometimes a social event. Boxing fans were usually men, however, fights were on free T.V. and families were welcome as each household took its turn being host on fight night.

There were plenty of kids around to distract me. Spontaneous games of tag broke out, hide and seek was popular, and on the night in question I can distinctly remember a rousing game of one of the worst inventions in history, lawn darts. As usual, the object of the game quickly changed from who could lob the dart into the hula-hoop, to who could loft the dart the highest into the air. I wonder if all those panicked escape runs resulted in as many near misses as I remember?

Sometime during the course of the evening I wandered by the group of men watching the fight. I was immediately struck by the excitement, the exhilaration of the crowd. I watched them throw insults back and forth, jibe one another, and yet, seem to be enjoying every minute of it. Not just the fight, but also the interaction between themselves. It was as though whatever was happening on the television had drawn something out of these men that, as a boy, I had only witnessed in other children. Exhilaration, excitement, amazement.

In particular, I was surprised at the behavior of my father. Here was a man that rarely, if ever showed emotion. He could cut himself and not make a sound. When the family pet died he remained stoic while everyone else wept. Even the ultimate terror, going downstairs into the dark basement at night, was something he would do without hesitation. Joyous occasions saw a similar response from him. On Christmas morning, while we all eagerly tore open any presents that came our way, he simply placed his in a stack. He would let a slight smile show when we were all out of presents, and requested we be allowed to dig into his hoard.

Yet here he was, laughing loudly, openly, cheering, grinning, enjoying himself with his friends every bit as much as the others and I had trying to skewer ourselves with lawn darts. This was something that required investigating. I sidled up next to my father and stood beside him. I remember him looking at me, then sliding over on the couch in order to give me room to sit down.

I canít say that I remember much about the fight, because I donít, but I do remember the atmosphere. The atmosphere of a big fight, something every boxing fan knows well. Itís something I have never forgotten, and still one of the very best things about watching a boxing match.

As the years went by my father and I began to enjoy boxing together. When I went off to university I could count on a phone call from home, informing me as to when a good fight would be on. Sometimes, if my pick was doing well, I would return the phone call in between rounds to casually point out the obvious. If my pick was taking a beating, I wouldnít call, but just like clockwork I would hear the phone ring within the minute rest break.

Things change, as they have a way of doing, and whatever force it is that makes things happen had decided my Fathers life was not going to be a long one. The astonishing thing was, that no matter how ill he became, he still loved boxing. I sat with him the night Oleg Maskaev fought Derrick Jefferson. Jefferson broke his ankle, and later lamented

ďWho ever heard of breaking you ankle in boxing?Ē My day laughed his head off, just like he did the night of the Hearns-Leonard fight.

The other night I sat and watched the Maskaev Rahman fight while my children played in the kitchen. The phone calls have stopped now, there havenít been any for three years, but I still sometimes get the urge to reach for the handset.

I had hoped Maskaev would win this fight, I guess simply because he was the underdog. His career had been so brutally derailed on a number of occasions, and I like to see guys prove that no matter how bad things get, itís always possible to make a comeback.

POW, Maskaev cracked Rahman, Rahman wobbled, desperation in his eyes, heís going to do it, Maskaev is going to win. Iím on my feet, cheering, jubilant; something in the corner of my eye catches my attention.

Itís my daughter, six years old. Sheís standing beside me, not saying a word but her face is asking Whatís going on?Ē I looked down at her, and then moved aside to give her room to sit down.

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Article posted on 13.09.2006

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