My Mom the Cut-Man: Old School Revisited

The year was 1960, my desperate trainer uncle entered our 3rd floor South Bronx apartment without bothering to knock. With him was his Lightweight prospect, Pablo Lopez, then undefeated in 8 fights. They had to be at Madison Square Garden in less than two hours for the noon weigh-in, Pablo was scheduled to fight on the undercard that night. BUT… there was one problem, Pablo had suffered a slight cut on his right eyebrow earlier in the week, bad enough to cause a cancellation. My uncle pointed to the cut, Mom looked it over, placed a chair close to the window and said, “Sit down”. My older brother and I watched as my mother pulled out her “cut kit”, mix shades makeup and “go to work”. I had heard stories about Mom working “wonders” on black eyes, shiners and nicks in the past. I was hypnotized. And then she performed an unforgettable “magical” trick. She cut hairs from MY UNCLE’S bushy eyebrows and masterfully glued/pasted them to Pablo’s brow, completely covering any evidence of a cut!! The fighter thanked my Mom and said, “Ï owe you, Eva”, and as they headed out my brother asked my uncle, “Why don’t you just cancel the fight?” My uncle looked at him as if he was crazy and said, “Nobody pulls out of a fight in the Garden. Nobody!!” Well, Pablo lost a rather unpopular upset decision that night to journeyman Tommy Nethercott, whom he later defeated. But by not ‘pulling out’ out he earned another Garden opportunity, which he won. There would be more, SIX more to be exact.

As the years went by I remember traveling to Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania…. squeezed in a carload of my uncle’s fighters and assistants, Dad sometimes being one. Even Mom accompanied us a few times in separate cars with the friends/wives/girlfriends of the fighters. They fought four and six rounders for $40 to $60 and ten round main events for $200-300 bucks. Sometimes a promoter would throw in a little extra for expenses, but usually not. The following week or two they were at it again with swollen hands, bumps, aches, pains, bruised ribs…. Sleeping in cars, resting in cheap motel rooms, a bathroom scale was always brought along, jumping rope in parking lots and rest stops to shed excess weight. After the same-day-weigh-ins we’d eat (usually sandwiches) and then all (5 or 6 of us) would return to our 2-bed motel room. Sometimes they fought in the Main Event one week and a 4 or 6 rounder the next. No ‘state of the art’ gyms, no personal doctors or strength trainers, no ultra modern mouthpieces, nor nutritional experts… I remember the Ring and Boxing Illustrated magazines as we traveled, reading out loud and then making fun of one another’s losses. I admired these men. No matter what their fighting records reflected, whether they won or lost, or how good or “not-so-good” they were, I looked up to them, and still do. Their trainers, too. I considered them heroes, MY HEROES. Still do.

My father pulled over the curb, motioned me to get in and headed towards Manahattan. We arrived at the apartment of budding Lightweight Frankie Narvaez, who would later make a name for himself as a top fighter and contender throughout the 60s. The following night Frankie would be headlining his first Madison Square Garden Main Event against then world ranked and highly regarded junior welter named Louie Molina from San Jose, California. My dad asked him, “Ëstas bien y listo?” or “Are you well and ready?” Frankie kind of smiled and nodded towards his hand, his right hand, which he was soaking in warm water. His took it out of the basin to show Dad. It looked awfully swollen. He said that it should be better by tomorrow, “If not, I’m still going to fight. It won’t be the first time”. He then grabbed the pot of hot water off the stove and poured some into the basin, shrugged and smiled. As we rode back to the Bronx all I could think about was Frankie’s hand and asked my father what I now understand to be a stupid question, “Why doesn’t he pull out of the fight until his hand gets better?” My father looked at me and said, “Pull out?? Son, are you crazy?? Nobody pulls out of a Main Event at the Garden. NOBODY!!” Which once again brings to mind the first time I saw my dear old late Mom, the Cut-Man, in action. Anyway, Frankie Narvaez won that night and a half dozen more Garden Main Events would eventually follow.

I admire and respect fighters and trainers of ALL eras, but especially those of ‘back in the day’, of Old School, always have, ALWAYS WILL!! And yes Mom, you too.