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BRUTE XIV: This Thing Was Supposed To Start At Six

BY Kaelan Smith ON April 05, 2009
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On the far side of the lounge, which opened into the corridor that connected the lobby to the banquet hall, which itself opened onto the patio and the central courtyard, an old man had wandered in. It was clear that he’d just come from the pool, because he wore a short, blue and white bathing suit, and had a towel in his right hand. He stood with his shoulders slumped forward and the loose skin of his stomach hanging over his waistband. A puddle of water was growing around his feet, which suggested that he’d either stumbled in and didn’t know where he was, or didn’t care. The JB Lounge, for all its recent renovations, is not the sort of place that can afford to brandish its pretensions. But nonetheless the room ignored the old man, and in a little while he shuffled out.

The man who’d been denigrating James Irvin finished his congress with Gilbert and came up to the table beside me. The beer the waitress had delivered there stood untouched, and when the man saw it he said, “Is that a beer?” as if the beverage were palm wine and he’d only read about it in an ethnograph.

“I think it’s a Heineken,” said the man who’d ordered it. It was a Hefeweizen, with a slice of lemon on the rim. The Species, Heineken, and the Genus, Hefeweizen, both evolved in northern Europe, but they are as similar as eagle and shrew.

I was starting to feel rather cynical, probably because I was getting ignored. So I took out my phone to call Mehrad, who’d said he was coming to the weigh-ins, but half an hour in hadn’t arrived. Then as the phone rang, Mehrad walked into the lounge with Gerrell and a gaggle of young men drafting behind him. They all had on “Stan the Man” shirts, and were talking and laughing loudly. Until they’d entered, I hadn’t realized how quiet the room had been. Mehrad went directly to Stan’s father, shook his hand, and then sat on the velvet couch behind him. The rest of the group situated itself at the high bar tables in that part of the room. Gerrell went to the counter to get a drink, and standing there he saw me and waved me over. I felt vindicated to have been recognized.

I picked up my pad and went over to them. Gerrell came up and shook my hand. Then Mehrad saw me and stood up, and we shook hands. “How’s it going, man?” Mehrad said. I explained that it was going fine, and we both sat on the couch.

“I was at the gym yesterday,” I said. “I guess Stan did his last sparring on Saturday, so I missed the important stuff. But he still looked good in the ring.”

“He’s pretty ready for this one,” Mehrad said.

The subject of our conversation may have divined that we were talking about him, because he left Niavaroni’s table and joined our group. Niavaroni got up and went to the stage and sat at the long table set up there.

“What happened to Brandon’s guy?” Mehrad asked Stan.

“He hasn’t showed up,” said Stan. “This thing was supposed to start at six.”

Someone amongst the White Tigers, wearing a “Stan the Man” shirt, said, “The last time they didn’t start weighing people until seven thirty.”

“I didn’t make it to the last weigh-ins,” I said, and then added, as if anyone was listening or cared, “I was in Los Angeles.”

From the stage Niavaroni called out, “Reyes,” and the room turned towards him. No one in the audience moved, so after half a minute Niavaroni called out, “Lopez,” and a man, presumably Lopez, got up and went to the scale. I believe we all thought that the actual weighing in was commencing, but Lopez did not strip out of his clothes. Instead he signed a piece of paper that Niavaroni handed him, and returned from whence he’d come. Next Niavaroni called Terrance Jett, the man whom Stan was to fight the following evening, and the Martyniouk camp, into which I’d been incompletely assimilated, watched in silence as he went to Niavaroni. Jett had on a pair of baggy, blue sweatpants and a white shirt that hung below his mid-thigh. His face was very dark and gaunt, and his eyes were sunken back deep in his skull. A large, white man, in camouflage shorts and a black baseball hat as shiny as if it had cut made from vinyl, followed Jett to the stage. He was much taller than Jett, and though he looked as if he could give any man in the room a good fight, he also looked as if he wanted to leave the JB Lounge as quickly as was in keeping with the pomp and decorum of the event. A weigh-in is, after all, the last opportunity a fighter has to intimidate his opponent. If he can frighten his enemy, then his enemy will worry until the first bell. That capacity to daunt is as effective as a good left hook, and Jett, the loser of ten of his fifteen professional fights, whose fists were not particularly threatening, was using all of his wiles to gain an advantage over Stan, including towing behind him a menacing trainer. And Stan, who was watching Jett as closely as he might the man chatting up his girlfriend at a bar, looked almost apprehensive. I will admit that Jett’s face unnerved me. It was as emaciated and severe as if he’d lived through a childhood of famine.

As I had with Mike Simms, I knew I wanted Stan to win. But whereas rooting for Simms had been a sentimental activity—he needed to win so he could pay his child support, and only a sociopath could have maintained objectivity—rooting for Stan to beat Terrance Jett was like rooting for Theseus to beat Periphetes, if Periphetes were an old man who’d pawned his bronze club to buy his daughter a new dress. In fact, rooting for Stan in this circumstance was an anti-sentimental activity, bordering on cold-heartedness. I did not know for sure that Jett, if he lost, was going to leave boxing and find himself unable to care for some bright-eyed child, but his face suggested that he’d once had a lot to lose, and that since he’d slowly lost it.

As I sat on the couch, feeling badly that I did not feel worse for Jett, who I thought was certain to lose, Mike Simms, that great object of my near-sorrow, came into the lounge. He was dressed casually and immaculately, in a white, printed t-shirt, and loose, expensive jeans. Jeff Berger gestured to him and Mike went over. By the way Mike was smiling, it seemed almost as if he thought this gathering was in his honor. But Berger said something to him, at which point Mike, laughing, pulled up his shirt to show, indisputably, that he wasn’t ready for the ring at all. He was softer even than he had been in May. “I go back into the gym tomorrow,” I heard him say.

“When the hell is this thing actually going to happen?” said Mehrad.

“Last time they were hours late,” said Stan’s father, sitting in front of the couch in a chair. To that point he had said very little.

“Maybe they were waiting for Urijah,” said Gerrell from the table beside me. As he spoke I looked up and noticed, as Gerrell must have, that Urijah Faber, looking rather cheerful, had come into the lounge. He had on a “Stan the Man” shirt, also, and was carrying a bottle of Vitamin Water. He went up to Stan, first, and shook hands with him. Stan’s father got out of his chair and shook hands with Urijah, too, and then Niavaroni called Stan’s name and Stan went to the stage. Urijah went to the bar and got a glass of water. Gerrell leaned over to me and said, “Here, man. I’ve been meaning to give you one of these shirts.” He handed me one—it was the design the White Tiger team was wearing—and I held it up. It was much too large, and he probably had not until that moment planned on giving me one, but I was nonetheless flattered to be included.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to wear it to the fight,” I said. Both Gerrell and Mehrad looked a little offended, so I qualified my insult by explaining that it wasn’t a good idea for a journalist—even one as subjective as I’d become—to advertise himself as a partisan. “Although, if I mentioned it in the article,” I said, “then it might be okay.” They laughed, and I was part of the cabal again.

Urijah came back from the bar with his glass of water and talked with Gilbert, who had joined our party sometime while I wasn’t paying attention. I had seen Urijah fight on television a month or so before, when he had defended his World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title against the assault of the former UFC lightweight champion, Jens “Little Evil” Pulver. The UFC does not stable fighters that weigh less than 155 pounds, while the WEC fields two classes below that ceiling—featherweights, who fight at 145, and bantamweights, who fight at 135. In those categories, the WEC contracts the best mixed martial artists in the world, which, by default and by fact, made Urijah Faber the greatest fighter of his size on the planet.

On the stage Niavaroni had put his head in his hands again, and sensing that we were all going to weather an additional delay before the ceremony continued, I leaned over to Mehrad. “Do you know Urijah?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Mehrad. “Everyone knows Urijah.”

“Is there any way you could introduce us?”

“Sure,” Mehrad said again, getting up from the couch. I followed him the few feet to where Gilbert and Urijah were talking, and we stood, I trying to show reverence, waiting for a natural lull in the conversation. At the first pause, Mehrad said, “Urijah, I’d like to introduce you to someone. This”—and here he indicated to me—“is Kaelan Smith from The Sweet Science.” I put out my hand and Urijah shook it.

“Good to meet you, man,” he said.

I explained, as quickly and casually as I could, that I was a journalist writing about boxing’s relationship to MMA. I told him that I had considered doing a profile on him, which I would juxtapose with my article on Stan, and he seemed interested and acted very polite. It is hard to imagine, when you speak with him face to face, that he can summon sufficient malice while in the ring to break your arm in half, or punch you after you’ve gone unconscious, or choke you until you black out.

“You know,” Urijah said, “sometimes Stan and I spar.”

“I would like to see that,” I said.

“It’s not so good for me,” said Urijah. “Have you seen him box? He’s a foot taller than me.”

I took down his phone number, and he explained that I could find him most days, from eleven till two, working out at the gym. “I’ve heard you’re fighting next in Florida,” I said.

“Hollywood, Florida,” he said. I told him that I would try and make my magazine send me, and he said that I should really try to convince them, and then we shook hands again, and I took my seat on the couch.

By the top of the hour, the real weighing-in had started, with the boxers coming to the stage and shedding their clothes with some timidity; the lounge had not been officially closed for the weigh-ins, and there were confused hotel guests staring in from the ports at either side of the room at the young men standing in their underwear with their hands up, posing for photographs. When Stan went up to the scale, goaded by a cheer from the Tigers, he weighed in a pound under his 135-pound limit, and Jett a pound over. They both looked trim and fast, and now only in their shorts, Jett seemed a formidable opponent. I had to transfer my sentimental energy, therefore, to a young, doughy fighter named John Red Tomahawk who had lost his first two professional fights and had come up from Los Angeles on short notice. He seemed embarrassed to be standing in his boxers. His back was pocked with acne, and when he stood next to his opponent—Gerardo Lopez, a local fighter who was making his debut and had a head’s height advantage—I could see that Tomahawk, for all the pugnacity of his surname, wanted to be back in the south of the state, sitting in a bar, drinking with his construction crew.

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