how his handshake is as gentle as a nun's. Many have high voices -- Jack Dempsey as a young man did. Many have cartoon -character lisps. Larry Holmes does, as does Mike Tyson, who also has
the high voice.
So there I was, didn't know squat from boxing. Was slapping rather than punching, on my heels instead of toes, sticky instead of slick. But I sparred with eighteen- and twenty-year-old beginners anyhow. Had teeth cracked and inlays fall out. I got hit more than I should have, because without my glasses I couldn't see the shots coming, but I did okay for an old man. The spell was cast. I would subsequently have to stop sparring because I had to wear braces to correct a jaw condition, one unrelated to boxing. But by then I was in. I had also hooked up with a
first-class trainer, Dub Huntley, the guy who would become my partner. I had gone to him to train me after three months or so, because I saw the results he got. I offered to pay him up front, but he refused. Instead, he put it on me like he was training Marciano. He'd take me through the usual four 3-minute rounds on the punch mitts, which would leave me gasping, my left shoulder hanging dead from throwing close to a hundred jabs a round. I'd lose four pounds from the workout. But sometimes he'd work me three rounds, then take me straight through the one-minute rest period between rounds three and four. And then we'd go right on into and through the next three minutes of round four. That's seven minutes, nonstop.
Jab, jab, double up. Jab. Do it again. Jab. Two of them. One-two. One-two-hook. Do it again. Two jabs, right-hand, hook, come back with a right-hand. Two jabs, right-hand, hook, come back with a right-hand, and jab out of there. Hook to the body, hook to the head, come back with a right-hand. Move. Double up. Do it again. Jab. Jab. Jab. Do it again. Double up, Do it again. Do it again. Do it.
I thought I would die. We're talking about an old man here, one with white hair who had been into the sauce for twenty-five years, someone whose drug of choice at three in the morning was female companionship till dawn.
He died as he had lived, wanting to write. His last words... "Doc, get me a little more time, I gotta finish my book".
But gym guys would stop and stare. Tourists would take photos. Pros stopped what they were doing to watch. One day, wearing one of his famous caps, the great former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore, "the Mongoose," stood ringside, his elbows on the ring apron.
At the bell, Archie said, "Looks like I'm gonna have to make a comeback."
I knew my trainer thought I'd fade that first day, that I'd go away. But I didn't go away. I stuck and so did he. And as I began to get into shape-four rounds of warm-up and shadowboxing, four
rounds on the punch mitts, four rounds on the big bag, four rounds on the speed bag, four rounds on
back ...can shove through a car door or use to field-dress a deer. He eyeballed me like a pimp and said, "You ever see one of these?"
I looked at the knife. I reached calmly into my back pocket. I came out with my own Buck 110. Since he hadn't opened his knife, I didn't open mine, but I could have with the fingers of one hand. I held the Buck in my palm the way he held his. I said, "You mean a knife like this?"
The trainer jumped back--whup!---and
his heavyweight went down on his knees laughing. He stayed there as the trainer sailed out the door with his head down. The heavyweight staggered behind him, hardly able to breathe. A few people saw it. But I didn't have any more trouble
because fight gyms are calm places, places of peace, despite the machine-gun racket of speed bags and the slap of leather jump ropes on hard wood floors; despite the sound of leather gloves thumping into rib cages; despite the fact
that big bags would be hanging corpses if the punches they took were delivered to living flesh and bone.
Shake hands with a fighter someday. You'll see bow soft his hands are from being steamed in gauze and leather and sweat, how small his hands are compared with other athletes the same size, and
the jump rope, and enough sit-ups to shame a contender--I began to learn and to understand what had drawn me to boxing as a boy. It was the science of fighting, and the heart it takes to be a fighter. Boxing was an exercise of the mind. I also began to realize that despite my age, I was someone who could play the game. I was spellbound. I still am. God has blessed me with the sweet science, and with three children who love me.
In 1988, without prior symptoms or warning, my arteries began to close despite the great shape I was in. I had a heart attack, and then 1 had angioplasty three times in six months because the
arteries kept closing down. During the last angioplasty, my cardiologist said, "The faster we run, the farther we get behind. Operation is tomorrow morning." No alternative, no problem. Once they'd hopped me up the following morning, I started singing songs in Spanish. The... more