Great moments in sports always carry with them a sense of sweet nostalgia. I’ll never forget how long that pass from Montana to Clark seemed to hang in the air and the violent rush of joy I felt when “The Catch” made history. I remember running around the living room, screaming at the top of my lungs and not having a care in the world because I knew that I was a part of something special. To this day, that footage takes me right back to my eleven year – old self.
For us fight fans, things are no different. We will always remember the sudden turnaround of Corrales – Castillo that had us holding our breath, the methodically surreal beat down Douglas was putting on Tyson and how we still knew that “Iron Mike” was going to knock Douglas senseless, even as he groped around the canvas for his gum shield. Then there was the bizarre “Fan Man” debacle that is in its own category altogether. Those events registered with us and we can all sit down and talk about them because in a sense, we were all there.
But what about those fights that meant something to us personally, the ones that gave us a story to tell? How many good tales are just floating out there, waiting to be heard? Well, I know that I have a few of my own and other than just a handful of friends, I’ve never had an outlet for which to share them. But now I do and I’d like to share them with you.
December 13th, 1991.
I was a 20 year – old soldier serving in Saudi Arabia as part of the 59th Chemical Company. We were three months into our tour and because chemical companies were new at the time (along with Humvees and Kevlar helmets) we were spread out all over the place, attached to various units who needed support from those of us trained in chemical ops. It was a pretty sweet gig until, of course, we had to actually apply it during combat, which was not fun. But that’s another story.
So during our one of our many convoys to assist with training, we found an abandoned hotel in a city called As Sadawi (I think that’s what it was called, anyway) which was located approximately way too close to Iraq. We were ecstatic. The place had running water, lighting, air conditioning and to our absolute delight, cable TV! To make things even better, the channel that carried a certain fight between a young, up – and – comer named James Toney and an old veteran in Mike McCallum, was working and it was a pay – per –view event, no less! We asked ourselves how this could be possible but like any gift from the gods, you simply bow your head in reverence and accept it. Most of the guys in our company were New York boys and so of course, McCallum was their man. Me being a Californian, I didn’t really care who won (especially since I was still stung by Toney beating my favorite boxer at the time, Michael Nunn, who was a transplanted Californian).
It was an amazing fight as we all know, a contest between two future hall – of – famers but it became more than that for me. I clearly remember being taken out of the fight for a second so that I could look at my friends seated inside the small lobby of that hotel. They were hollering and making a hell of a fuss and as I continued watching them, I was hit with an incredible sense of the moment. Hours before, we were just a bunch of tired, frightened kids looking for a place to rest. We had no idea what the immediate future held for us. We didn’t know whether we were living out our last days. But for that hour during the fight, we were boxing fans and we forgot where we were and it’s something I’ll never forget.
September 29, 2001.
With the horror of 9/11 just days old, minds weren’t focused on anything except healing. But for Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad, there was a job to do and the boxing world was looking forward to it. Trinidad was on a tear and there was a sense that Hopkins, despite his legitimate skills, natural size advantage and tough- guy status, was in deep. Even though my friends thought the Puerto Rican powerhouse was a lock, I had a gut feeling that all the traits I mentioned earlier, were going to get “B-Hop” the win. The intrigue factor was intense, enough to make a guy risk the respect of his family by leaving his cousin’s wedding to catch the fight and trying to get back before the reception started without anyone noticing. You can probably see here this is going.
While my cousin and her soon – to – be husband exchanged their vows, I stood with the others, baking under a blistering August sun in Fresno, whichever is worse, is up for debate. I was lamenting the thought of missing Hopkins confirm my suspicions when another cousin, J.J. who was next to me suddenly whispers, “I really want to watch that fight, man.”
“Me too.” I said. “I guess we’ll have to watch the replay.”
“It’s not the same.” J.J. said (and isn’t that the truth?!!!)
“I know.” I said. “But what choice do we have?”
“I ordered it.” He said.
We knew what we had to do. Seconds after the wedding wrapped up, we bolted to his brand new BMW and drove to his house. As soon as we turned on the TV, the fighters were making their entrances. The timing couldn’t be better. Halfway through the fight, our cell phones were on fire with calls from pissed – off family. We told them that we wanted to change into street clothes because it was too hot. They told us to hurry. But as the fight wore on and we were being mesmerized by Hopkins’ virtuoso performance, we realized that an hour had passed without us even realizing it, kind of like those people that claim to be “missing time” while they’ve become werewolves. We were in trouble.
The next call I received was from my mom as we were on our way to the reception.
“That’s it!” My mom said, her voice shaking my cell phone. “You blew it! You’re cut off! Do you hear me? Cut off!”
I don’t know exactly what I was being “cut off” from but I was too scared to ask.
“We had to change.” I said. “Didn’t you get the message?”
“Bulls-t!” She screamed. “You were watching that damn fight! I know you and I knew that there was a big fight! Don’t you even think about going to that reception!”
My mom can be kind of salty when she’s upset so I just left it at that. J.J and I went back to his house and listened to all of the angry and disappointed messages on our voicemails. It was the least we could do because what we did was wrong. But as I look back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing because when you get the chance to see a master at work, you drop everything and admire it. So, thank you Mr. Hopkins. And sorry again, family.
December 13, 2013
I wanted Adrien Broner to lose. That means I speak for a lot of people. So when he took the jump to welterweight to face Marcos Maidana for the WBC title, I was all over it. I wasn’t really sure that the Argentine slugger would win, though. For all of Broner’s antics, he is a talented fighter who was looking dominant at lightweight.
Though he was moving up two weight classes, Maidana wasn’t a natural welter either, himself having moved up from one weight class south.
One week before the fight, my wife had bought a really cool Christmas ornament, a red ball about the size of a small cantaloupe that she wanted to display on our tree. It wasn’t just any ornament though, she bought it on the day that we found out that we were having a daughter, after years of trying without success. The symbolism was strong in my better half.
So where should we put it? We thought. The Xmas tree seemed like a natural place but because of the balls’ size (go ahead and laugh at that statement, I did) it overpowered the little tree we had so we found another location: the ceiling fan in the living room. It actually worked quite well and it was sweet to see my wife look up at the ornament and then down at her belly, anticipating a new life in our household.
Little did I know that all the elements for a disaster had been set into place.
On fight night I was ready to rock. My wife was gone for a few hours with some friends, I had a beer in my hand and I was ready to see Broner get his long – anticipated comeuppance. I took a seat on the couch and was instantly sucked in by the intensity that “El Chino” always brings. He was banging away like he always does and suddenly, he sends Adrien back with a hook and I scream like I did that day I stepped on a huge spider on the kitchen floor. Actually, louder than that. Another hook lands flush, Broner falls back against the ropes and in my blind excitement, I jump up and triumphantly throw a fist into the air and you guessed it, punch the symbol of our love, sending the ornament crashing against the ceiling and the remainder that was unbroken, suffering a similar fate against the solid foyer floor!
As Broner scrambled to his feet to regain his senses, I scrambled to regain minute shards of tin. At that moment, it is I and not Broner, who is the real “Problem.” As the referee gives him a count, so does the clock begin running for me. It’s late but after a quick search of the store’s website where my wife had bought the ornament, I see that I have 35 minutes until the store closes. It’s crunch time. I am able to make it there, buy a replacement, get back home before my wife does and hang the ornament back up.
My wife arrived home just minutes later and says to me, “How was the fight?”
“Pretty good.” I said to her.
She looks at me with big eyes. “Pretty good? It had to be better than that, you’re sweating like crazy!”
She then took a glance at the ball before going upstairs. We still hang the ball up on the ceiling fan, by the way but now it’s my daughter, Olive, who likes to look at it.