Morris Park Boxing Club: Savages
A voyeur is the worst kind of thief.
The door to the bedroom would be cracked ever slightly past 11pm on school nights when I would stay sometimes, just wide enough to catch a glimpse of porn. It was more traumatizing than exhilarating, because women were doing scary things I never knew they were capable of. One night, figuring I'd go X-Ray vision before deciding to skip the sight of my uncle painting the ceiling, I tuned in, but boxing was on. ESPN was showing a re-run of Aaron Pryor V Alexis Arguello.
A woody poked through my pajamas.
As Pryor was somehow surviving one missile attack after another from Arguello only to deliver massive bombs of his own, I let out a loud “Yesss!” late in the bout. This prompted my late uncle, who I loved dearly, to bolt toward the door and put my little ass to bed. “But I'm gonna miss the ennnnnd!” I begged with reason, sounding like an animated Michael Jackson. “Pryor can win that fight if he doesn't get tired…he believes in himself!”
Smiling, he picks me up and allows me to observe a result he already knows the answer to, but he still has questions. “How long have you been doing this?” he asked with sincerity. With a wit faster than The Hawk, I fired: “Not as long as you've been watching nasty women.”
I miss him.
I've decided I want to go see Roberto Duran fight on his birthday at Madison Square Garden in June 1983. A reward for doing really well in school. I used to hustle candy to buy KO magazines and would learn a thing or two about a thing or two.
It feels like one big bowling alley at night, with a morning fog in there as bright lights give it a haze. Everyone is smoking or acting like they're about to, and whoever's doing neither is drinking. I'm as drunk and as high as a child can get off of this environment: A scene of crazy, fast talking men of different shapes and colors; I thought all of the women in there were porn stars.
Some big deal named Billy Collins Jr makes his way to the ring. Walking kinda cocky, he's parting an ocean full of mobsters, trainers, ex-fighters, wannabes with too much cologne on, gang members, gamblers, loan sharks, grimey promoters, liars, groupies with too much perfume on… y'know, fight people. His opponent, Luis Resto, is already in the ring looking like a killer.
I watch the fight and Collins is really brave, but his thick skin has been beaten black and blue in defeat. Now, like most people in life, I'm focused on the winner. Collins can go fly a kite. But then, Collins Sr isn't letting go of Resto's glove and he's as angry as Resto looks guilty– of something.
Because Luis is looking around for someone, so do I. It wasn't long before the same man I saw pouring a different kind of Powerade down the throat of Aaron Pryor is in the ring with Luis Resto. A greasy trainer named Panama Lewis has turned him into the original Antonio Margarito. I didn't know that I was witnessing what would become a very historic scandal resulting in tragedy.
It was the anticlimax to Roberto Duran's savage assault of Davey Moore and the redemption of “No Mas.” Morphing away from it all, there's an odd ambience to this nostalgia that feels like ‘Back To The Future', in addition to an angry correlation between Guillermo Rigondeaux's doubtful Hands of Stone, and the return of an old villain.
Sometimes heroes are made from former selves.
“I don't know what I'm gonna do with this kid, he keeps breaking my balls,” moans a distracted Rich Mancuso, veteran NYC Sports Journalist whose eyes have probably seen too much. A week before Rigo defects from Cuba– again, Cotto endures a torn bicep and gets put together by Sadam Ali in Madison Square Garden. We watch this from ringside, but Rich is listening to his inner voice of doubt.
After 40 years in boxing, he's fixated on a kid he's finally vested in with championship visions, a super welterweight kid from New Haven, Connecticut named Jeffrey Gonzalez. He's also Cus D'Amato's griping Yoda, finding a way to fuss about turning a Latino Luke into a master.
Rich wants me to take a look at this kid, so I hop on the 5 to 180th and Unionpark in the Bronx. On the corner, sits the legendary Morris Park Boxing Club.
Former old-school action fighter Aaron “Superman” Davis is working the phone when I walk in. It feels like the Ravenite Social Club sponsored by Everlast. Legends of the ring line the walls and decorate mirrors. Incredibly, as I glance over my shoulder, suddenly I'm locking eyes with a ghost from childhood: Luis Resto. We shake hands and I embrace him, before reminiscing about the night that changed our lives.
Then, I see the kid. He reminds me of a taller “C”, Calogero from A Bronx Tale, with a little bit of Jake LaMotta in him. I like his blue t-shirt, which offers one simple word as he stands next to a portrait of Roberto Duran: Savage. He went 32-7 as an unassuming amateur, after mostly deciding to play boxing when he turned 17. At 22, he's convinced Rich he's ready to turn pro and fight.
I'm there to find out.
“I knew Miguel Cotto was done after the first round… I would've kicked Sadam Ali's ass!” drops Gonzalez, who was in The Garden for Cotto's his last dance. That's all well and good, but first he's gonna have to beat Jose Ortiz during their sparring session in a few minutes.
Ortiz walks in late on an already warmed up Gonzalez. As soon as he gets in the ring to unveil some rhythm– the unmistakable footwork, movement and patented posturing of Floyd Mayweather rings a bell. “TMT fighter?” I ask Ortiz, 10-0, who nods yes. They're about the same age, but with over 80 amateur fights to go along with 10 as a coveted pro, he's got a higher pedigree. I glance over at Gonzalez to see if he's intimidated. He's not. Heavyweight enforcer George Arias (below, pic taken at BB KIng's, night of Dec. 14, after Arias wins bout) looks on.
Three rounds later, he wins two. I know he's been involved in a few knucklehead situations, but does demonstrate a love of the game. Says Roy Jones Jr. was his primary inspiration, but he fights like a tall Canelo Alvarez in need of more dedication.
I was worried about his sparring session, because some loudmouth is talking like a legend that can part the Red Sea. He's reminding me of Mush, the guy you wanna push in the closet because he's just fuckin bad luck. He looks familiar, but time has camouflaged his identity. I'm just breaking your balls… He's an old wizard named Edwin Viruet, a fighter who gave a prime lightweight Duran absolute hell.
“He can be as good as he wants to be, if he stays focused. Fighters beat themselves better than any opponent can,” says Viruet, who once handled Glenwood “The Real Beast” Brown from my hometown of Plainfield, NJ.
“Did you talk to him? What'd ya think,” asks Rich, as I'm chopping it up with Gonzalez's strength and conditioning coach, Ryan Aponte. Beyond Ryan, Richie's provided Jeffrey with a foundation and support nucleus that includes the energetic “Superman” Davis, the wily cook, a masseuse, a barber, and now… a writer that thinks he just might be Ok.
“It’s too early to tell, but it’s not too late to find out if he can kick Sadam Ali's ass.”