I nearly spilled my drink within the first five rounds.
There’s no inebriation or self-medication involved, other than the nauseous display that may have caused a brief loss of all my motor skills. It was the ominous sight of a still uncertain heavyweight division deteriorating against my own hopes.
I’d done my best to break away from my other job at the newspaper – the one which pays the rest of the bills – to see the fight. The sacrifice wasn’t much on my part; just a few more hours at work earlier in the week.
I dubbed it a holiday to celebrate “Relentless” Lamon Brewster on Saturday night. Free Showtime for the weekend deserved a little commemoration, too. Showtime thought it was saving ratings against the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – the Final Four, even – by putting out a free product. Who was going to tell the network that the majority of the gambling public’s brackets had already crumbled and blown away like a dry biscuit? They’re doubtless bored with college basketball, save a few Gulf of Mexico states. The hardcore crowd shifted its attention to the heavyweight crown, placing wagers and far-flung hopes on the leathery mitts of some towering Belarussian.
The longshot bettors must have given Sergei Liakhovich a karmic charge the rest of us would regret.
My Hoosier roots wouldn’t allow me a push against Brewster. The people of Indiana don’t have much – outside of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts – for which to root. During the 1980s, some Hoosiers were Boston Celtics fans thanks to young Larry Bird of French Lick, Ind. That mindset is the reason for the sprouting of Texas Tech fans after former Indiana coach Bob Knight took over. I’ll go so far as to say that’s the only reason the atrocious ESPN series “Knight School” lasted more than two episodes.
Brewster isn’t much to watch in the way of a talented heavyweight, but talent only gets you so far. He’s got charm and the likeable personality that could garner the title of the people’s champion.
Beyond his charm, he’d proven himself one of the better punchers in the division. I’ll submit he’d done all of his recent damage against Eastern Europeans (Wladimir Klitschko, Andrew Golota and Luan Krasniqi). But the fact remained he’s the only titleholder in a division known and popularized for knockouts who has actually knocked anybody out during his reign. He’s technically knocked out or simply planted his victims on the canvas for good in 29 of his 33 victories. That figure makes him the leading knockout artist of the division at 88 percent (Rahman comes close at 80.5).
Strangely, the rankings have typically rated Brewster below the other champions.
How the hell does that work, especially since Brewster has Done King selling tiny bits of Brewster’s soul like unsettled tracts of land in Arkansas and Mississippi?
I’d invited a friend, a novice in the affairs of the fight game, to watch the first heavyweight title fight of his life that didn’t involve Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa.
“This is going to be a great fight,” I bragged. “Brewster is the only heavyweight contender worth his salt.”
We broke out the special beverages, diet cola, for the fight. It’s because we’re a dangerous lot when intoxicated. The machismo of the evening without inhibitions would leave us bare-knuckling on the grassy canvas of my backyard.
Something seemed horribly wrong by the fifth round. Liakhovich squirmed off the ropes where he’d taken a beating, forcing Brewster to the ropes to return the favor. It’s difficult to say who was more dazed: Brewster or me. I caught the soda can sliding through my limp fingers when the bell rang to signal the end of the frame.
“I thought you said this guy was going to win,” my friend prodded.
Only Liakhovich’s cornerman Kenny Weldon snapped me out of the stupor with his Texas-twanged threat to pitch a stool at Liakhovich if he ever got stuck on the ropes again. Even the healing element of humor didn’t stand a chance against the rest of a shocking fight that eventually ended in the 29-year-old Belarussian’s favor by unanimous decision.
One can’t argue that Liakhovich proved himself the better man. Brewster left himself open for far too many shots, which I suspect is the result of the weight he carried into the ring Saturday.
The fight provided some of the best heavyweight action of the division’s recent dark times, but Brewster represented the hope of a renaissance. Alone, he would save the heavyweights by unifying belts or taking enough of them to become undisputed champion. I wonder if it’s Liakhovich who emerged the victor Saturday because he’s the chosen one – a mouth-mashing messiah of sorts.
Or maybe I should just start drinking the hard stuff and watch the glow of fireworks on the heavyweight horizon.