Derek, who was as happy as any of us that Stan had won, put his hands in his pockets. “Get a picture of Stan winning,” he said, “’cause that’s what he just did.”
Those who had cameras held them up and took a few pictures of Stan as he paced around the canvas. He looked nervous, as if entrusting the judges with his fate had been a potentially fatal oversight, and now he was wandering in a daze, wondering how he could have gotten the knockout. Stan’s father climbed through the ropes and put a hand on his son’s shoulder, which seemed to calm Stan down. Then the referee took Jett by the wrist, and leading him like a shy child, walked up to Martyniouk. When he had ahold of both fighters he turned to Jett and said something. Jett nodded.
Behind them the announcer leaned over the ropes, keeping one hand on his back either because it was sore, or to keep his shirt tucked in beneath his jacket. The head judge handed up the scorecard, and when the announcer turned so that he was facing us again, he was smiling broadly. “After four rounds of boxing in the lightweight division,” he began, holding the microphone with its wireless tail pointed to the sky. But someone interrupted him.
“There was nothing lightweight about it!” The anonymous voice, which issued from somewhere near the bar, was clear above the rest of the noise in the room, and inspired a healthy laugh.
“After four rounds of boxing,” the announcer repeated, “we go to the judges' scorecards. All three judges score the bout 40-36,” said the announcer, “for the winner, by unanimous decision, Stan 'The Man' Martyniouk.”
The crowd around me relaxed and then applauded. Mehrad seemed to have borne the anticipation of the judgment poorly too, because he was letting out a long breath when I looked over at him. He didn't smile until Gerrell slapped him on the shoulder.
“There ain't nothing to worry about,” said Gerrell.
The clergy were vacating the ring. Therefore the savior, having vanquished the devil a third time, had already walked down the mountain—rather than trusting the angels to catch him. I left the White Tigers to look for him in the dressing room. At the exit from the ballroom I showed the security guard the wristband I'd been issued when I turned in my ticket. It was not a unique bracelet from what the other patrons wore, but I must have showed it with sufficient confidence because the guard only nodded as I passed. I walked through the hallway, which during more conventional events allowed the servers to move between the kitchen and the event they were catering. Now it was filled with friends of the fighters. I passed Gilbert who was leaning against the wall talking with Niavaroni. I must have looked as though I didn't know where I was going, because Gilbert nodded to me and asked, “Are you looking for Stan?”
He clearly recognized me from the gym. “Yes,” I said. At the last fight I'd entered by some other hall, and didn't now know where I was in relation to the boxer's quarters. Like Mobutu's Stadium outside of Kinshasa, the Red Lion was not built with boxing in mind and there was always the possibility that the location had changed.
“He's in the main dressing room, which is just down this hall to the left.”
I thanked him and went on. When I found it, I stood at the threshold with my pad, trying to appear casual. Stan stood with his back partially turned to me. A man I did not recognize was helping him off with his gloves. When they'd been removed and laid on the dressing table, which was bare except for a bottle of water, the man cut the tape. I walked around so that Stan could see me, and he raised his chin in greeting. His face was swollen on the pommes of both cheeks. Below his right eye the skin looked abraded.
To my right, before I had the chance to ask Stan anything, Mike Simms and Urijah Faber came in together. Stan looked honored to see them, and reached out his left hand—he was holding his right gingerly, I noticed—to shake hands with Urijah.
“He was like a bobblehead in there,” said Urijah of Jett. Stan looked down demurely.
The doctor came into the room and put down a small medical bag on the dressing table. He went up to Stan and took his face in his hands and looked into his eyes. “How'd you feel in there, kid?” the doctor asked.
“I felt fine,” said Stan.
“If you'd have thrown a combo and then pivoted,” said Mike Simms, apparently thinking about how Stan could have achieved the knockout.
“Yeah,” said Stan.
The doctor passed his index finger back in forth before Stan's face, and Stan followed it with his eyes. Then the doctor took out a small flashlight and looked into Stan's pupils.
“I don't think I took very many punches,” Stan said.
The doctor opened Stan's mouth and felt first the upper and then the lower row for loose teeth. They had all, it seemed, remained rooted, and when the doctor was satisfied of this he gave Stan two approving taps on the cheek with his four gloved fingers and said, “You look okay, kid.” He put the light into his bag, closed it, and saluted Urijah and Simms as he left.
During the examination another man had come into the room. He was standing apart from everyone holding a magazine in one hand. Urijah either recognized him, or had observed his species before, because without saying anything he went up and shook the man's hand.
“It's so good to meet you,” the man said. “I didn't want to really bother you, but I was hoping you would sign this for me.” He held up the magazine on whose cover was a very fit Urijah Faber, wet with sweat, and lit so dynamically so that the lines separating the muscles in his stomach were like the seams in an overstuffed quilt. Urijah took the magazine humbly and signed it with a pen the man provided.
Simms was in front of Stan, now, with his hands up. “Gotta throw that double jab,” he was saying. “Even a lesser fighter can counter that single.” If Jett had countered Stan's single, I hadn't seen it. Simms, it seemed, was recalling the advice he'd given himself after his fight in May. That win, he must have felt, was a gift from the local officials. Two months later the win remained an incomplete victory.
Stan could see that I was hoping to talk to him before he returned to the ballroom, so when he had a moment's break from Simms he nodded to me and told me that he needed to go wash his face. On his way to the restroom or the kitchen—I don't know where the fighters were scheduled to rinse themselves off—he passed Faber. The man with the magazine had gotten his autograph but was now explaining his theory on how Faber could have knocked out Jens Pulver during their recent title collision. Faber had been listening patiently but took Stan's passing as an opportunity to extricate himself from the conversation.
“Good to see you, man,” said Faber, shaking Stan's hand again. Then he apologized to the autographee for having to get back into the ballroom, and followed Stan into the hall. The abandoned man now looked a little embarrassed to have waylaid Faber, and left without saying a word to any of us. As he went, though, Nasser Niavaroni entered the room. He was looking past me to the rear corner of the room where I had somehow failed to notice Brandon Gonzales shadowboxing. Gonzales raised a glove to Niavaroni without stopping his feet.
“This thing's gonna go as many rounds as we let it,” Niavaroni said to Gonzales, meaning that the newest fight underway was in little danger of producing a knockout. I didn't feel, therefore, that I was missing anything important waiting in the dressing room. “They'll come in and tell you when the last rounds starts,” Niavaroni added, and Gonzales nodded.
I thought Niavaroni would leave without really acknowledging me. But he took off his hat, ran a hand over his head as if relieved, and said, “How you doing, bud?” before replacing his hat.
“Should've been an eight count in the first,” I said, proud that I had that comment at the ready.
“Well,” said Niavaroni, “it wouldn't have changed anything.”
Simms was now speaking to a security guard with a tremendous stomach and an even more impressive belt encircling it. “Yeah,” Simms was saying. “His brother trains Manny Pacquiao.” I didn't hear whose brother this was. If he were somewhere in the building I should have liked to talk to him. But before I could ask Simms, to whom I hadn't yet said a word, Stan returned. It was clear, now, that Niavaroni had stayed to speak with Stan, because as Stan came into the room, Niavaroni put his hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“Don't get down on yourself that you didn't knock him out,” Niavaroni said.
“I just thought that I had him,” Stan said, his head down as when he spoke with his father in the ring. “In the first I had him hurt, and then in the second it was only the ropes keeping him up. Same thing in the third and the fourth.”
“Don't you be hard on yourself, bud,” Niavaroni said. “He's a journeyman. That guy had fifteen professional fights. You beat the hell out of him. You've got nothing to feel sorry about.”
Stan looked up and smiled sheepishly. Niavaroni patted him on the back and told Gonzales, jokingly I assumed, to go easy on his man. Gonzales kept dancing and throwing punches, and Niavaroni went into the hall. I wanted to conduct and conclude the interview as quickly as possible, less because I was excited to get back to see the semi-final, and more because I feel that a formal interview eliminates spontaneity, and spontaneity, especially when coupled with intelligence or extreme ignorance, is what makes for an interesting conversation.
There are few athletes who are interesting to listen to when discussing themselves. They are coached, I think, to be humble and self-effacing. Most don't want to get portrayed gloating. They try to give credit where it is not necessarily due. Perhaps it is somewhat different in boxing, where first there was Jack Johnson, then Muhammad Ali, and ultimately Mike Tyson to name three in chronological order, all of whom danced on graves: Johnson because he was the first American black man who'd figured out how to deride a white man in public; Ali because he was the second; Tyson because he had only graves to dance on. But it is rare to hear a young athlete, whether he tries to kill people for a living or not, say anything worth taking notes about. I would much rather listen to a braggart unworthy of his self-praise remind me that he is the second coming of Christ than suffer the false modesty of a fine young fighter, having just beheaded an old fraud, explaining what a challenge the gentleman with three times as man losses as wins had posed. Stan, I feared, was going to situate himself in the latter category. This is the most petty of complaints, I know. If humility is the norm, and conceit the exception, I guess I should be proud of international sporting courtesy, rather than be as I am, which is bored with it. But let’s not forget that indigenous Costa Ricans worship the Resplendent Quetzal, and not the Sooty Shearwater.
“Would you like to talk here?” Stan asked.
“That would be fine,” I said, and turned on my recorder. As I put it down on the table, Stan's father came into the room carrying a small duffle bag and set beside my recorder.
“What you need is in there,” he said. “I will take you home after this.”
“After the fight,” said Stan.
“Yes, after the fights,” his father said before turning to go. But he stopped and added, “It is the right wrist?”
“I'll be a few minutes, here,” said Stan, taking a wrist brace from the bag.
“Did you hurt your wrist?” I asked.
“It's an old injury,” he said, smiling.
What else, I wondered then, was there to ask him? Jacob Barnes had a similar crisis when he and Bill Gorton stood in Pedro Romero's dressing room before that first bullfight in Pamplona. Then, though, they hadn’t yet seen Romero fight, and perhaps Jake would have had a great deal more to ask in the dressing room after. Yet he found Romero three nights later at the Café Irruña, and they spoke only of a fight in Madrid. Therefore, as a sort of ineffectual journalist less concerned with the dissemination of information than the examination and presentation of a scene, I can say that there was not much to ask him. Stan was 23, alone except for his father, and the hangers-on in the ballroom, and he had just won his third professional fight. I suppose I could have asked him if he felt the match-up had been fair to Terrance Jett. The resignation Stan had articulated by hanging his head in front of Niavaroni was no doubt born in his failure to knock Jett out. But as we stood in the dressing room, his resignation—he was smiling only with his eyes—was living, perhaps, in his recognition that Jett had been chosen to feed Stan’s record. It's not that Jett hadn't fought as well as he could; it's simply that he could not fight that well, and had flown up to Sacramento from Vegas as the bull is trucked to Madrid from Andalucía. Stan had prepared him for the kill, had placed the sword high between the shoulders, but the blade, after eight charges, had not penetrated. As the assistant matador must sometimes sever the spine with the short knife, it was the judges who had finished Jett. This made the ordeal no more a contest or any less a tragedy. But it had still been a fine thing to see.