The forthcoming book “Brute” follows two Sacramento boxers: Mike Simms, a cruiserweight who trained with the Olympic team in 2000, who when I found him had lost five successive fights; and Stan Martyniouk, a young, Estonian-born featherweight, who when I found him had just fought and won his professional debut by decision, despite breaking his right hand in the first round.
Over the next few months I look forward to sharing the stories of these two fighters with the readers of the Sweet Science, and I look forward to hearing from any and all of you. –KS
“A draw?” said a man in the crowd near me. “You don’t go ten wins, three losses, and four hundred and fifty draws.” What ever he meant by that, everyone around him seemed to find it funny. We had all just watched Maximilliano Becerra win his pro debut against Andres Reyes, but the officials—showing a reverse-favoritism that is sometimes called objectivity, but in this case might be better described as confusion—corrected our collective perception of the bout. One judge had scored the thing in favor of Becerra (39-37), while the others gave the fighters two rounds apiece. I’ll admit that the decision wasn’t a serious miscarriage of justice, the way that Emanuel Augustus’ scorecard loss to the Courtney Burton was four years ago in Michigan, but the Red Lion had whelped it’s cub Becerra with a professional birth defect.
The lights were up in the ballroom (in fact, they hadn’t been dimmed for the fight), and I saw to my right, thronged by admirers and looking grateful, Urijah Faber. I’d met him the night before at the weigh-ins and started to walk up to him. But the announcer, who’d never left the ring, declared that the next fight was starting. Becerra and Reyes hadn’t yet left the auditorium, and the crowd was still smarting from the draw. Perhaps the management had made the executive decision to accelerate the event. Becerra had been expected to win, but because the judges hadn’t fulfilled their promise to deliver a victory to the local boy (this was an unprecedented malfunction of the nepotistic court), the oligarchy—presumably led by Nasser Niavaroni, or even Mark Wilkie—found itself in the position of having to refocus the spotlight on an event whose outcome they had more control over.
With the houselights still bright, the announcer, wearing his blue, satin vest and tuxedo, read from his card that Geraldo Lopez was about to make his pro debut against John Red Tomahawk. Tomahawk had inspired my sympathy the night before at the weigh-ins, where with visible reticence he’d taken off his clothes before getting on the scale. He was the sort of fighter who fought in his class, not because he trained his way down to fighting weight, nor because he starved and sweated himself into condition in his last preparatory days. Tomahawk fought at middleweight because he didn’t do anything at all to get ready. I’m sure he sparred in the gym and jogged around the neighborhood, but the hours he spent getting ready to fight must have been far outnumbered by the hours he spent wishing he didn’t have to.
Up in the ring Lopez shed his robe. He was not a phenomenal specimen, but he looked trim and fit enough as he worked the nervous energy out of his legs by bouncing on his toes. Tomahawk looked resigned. He was pacing with his shoulders slumped, looking over at Lopez occasionally, perhaps reminding himself that he was a fool to be doing this, but trying nonetheless to dredge up some strength for his absurd situation.
When the bell rang, to my surprise and to the surprise of the people around me, Tomahawk took the center of the ring. He’d lost his only two professional fights, but I didn’t know then how he’d lost them, and thought for a moment he’d just been the victim of regionally biased judging. His sudden exhibition of confidence seemed to surprise Lopez, too, and Lopez accepted a left hook on the cheek, a straight right on the mouth, and then a jab to the eye before retreating one step and recomposing himself. Tomahawk stalked after him on his pale, unhewn legs, using a pawing jab to direct Lopez backwards. However, Lopez, remembering that he was a head taller than his opponent, dug his feet into the loam of the streambed (this was a brook that moved him, not a river) and started marching up the current. Tomahawk realized then that he’d only been dictating the pace on a whim. In another few seconds he found himself on the ropes, unintelligently defending himself. The referee got close to the fighters, and after two right hooks and a left from Lopez, all of which Tomahawk could feel but not see, hidden as he was behind his gloves that he held before his face like a fan, the fight was over.
The bout had lasted fifty-five seconds. After, Tomahawk stayed against the ropes, both arms looped over the highest cable for support. Either because his mouthpiece reshaped his face, or because he was relieved that the fight had ended in the first, he seemed to be smiling. The crowd was cheering reservedly for Lopez; only the most cynical sportsman will celebrate a young beagle tearing out the throat of a rabbit that can’t run. And because the noise in the room was modest, I could hear the referee say, as he put his thumbs on Tomahawk’s rosy cheeks and examined his dilating pupils, “You weren’t good in there.” Tomahawk nodded and kept on smiling.
One of the White Tigers whom I didn’t know said, “He shouldn’t have been in there. That was a setup.”
I admit the thing did have the look of a setup. I had felt uneasy about the fight since seeing the primaries at the weigh-ins. But as Nick Carraway could never blame too deeply dishonesty in a woman, nor can I blame too deeply dishonesty at a local boxing match. I too was casually sorry, though I was having some difficulty forgetting. Instead I went to the bar. I’ve been sober now for years, so I don’t have the luxury of concealing my distaste by drinking. But I got a soda and watched the bartender who had on a wonderfully short skirt and whose dark hair was full and smooth. A man next to me had a camera and was trying surreptitiously to take a picture of her. She turned once, and as she did, he lowered the camera, only to raise it when she presented her back again. He was adjusting some setting beside the display screen when she turned and faced him the next time, and he did not notice for a few moments that she was looking at him looking at her through the viewfinder. He made as if to lower the camera, but then surprised me by saying, as if he’d planned to ask her permission all along, “Can I get a picture of you?”
“Sure,” she said, and put her fists on her hips. She smiled with her mouth wide open. The man took the picture and thanked her. I left a dollar on the counter and went back to the White Tigers.
In my absence they’d become nervous. Mehrad was looking around the well-lit room, and when he saw me he smiled, his eyes wide open as if he were watching for something terrible to happen. At the Red Lion there is never any predetermined order for the bouts. Back in May, Stan Martyniouk and Brandon Gonzales had been at the top of the fight flier, but they had fought in the preliminaries. Mark Wilkie had recycled the bill for this fight, keeping Gonzales and Martyniouk at the top, but I had no reason to suspect that they would be fighting in the finals. For dramatic effect I would have liked Stan to fight last, though for my emotional health I hoped he would climb into the ring next and win quickly by knockout so that I could relax. But after watching John Red Tomahawk humiliated, I had the irrational fear that Terrance Jett, borne on the wings of Lady Justice who’d spent the first two fights at the bar and needed to atone for her negligence, might land a fortunate punch.