Happens all the time.
Boxer's been off, on hiatus, out of the mix, for a year, a two, or more.
But the infection still rages within him.
He can't kick it, won't kick it.
It needs to play out.
The desires within swim through his bloodstream, with his brain sending perioidic bursts of messaging.
Need to give it one more shot.
Can't end on this note. Can do better. Must do better. Must fight again.
That state of mind can still be present long after the body starts being less of an ally, and more so the foe. More than the person across from you in the ring, it is you who is the one who will derail the comeback. Not because of a detriment in your character, but because of the inevitable erosion which time's passage usually brings.That need to compete, to push oneself, to attempt the ascent which seemed inevitable when envisioned decades ago, when it seemed like the stars were aligned just so to insure success, fame, fortune, could be likened to infection, truly, because comebacks can be cruel. Brutal truth–most don't end tidy. They end with the fighter slumped on his stool, common sense, vicious reality having been pummeled into him. Many of the best of them need that, need their hopefullness, that useful stubbornness, to be whaled out of them.
Comebacks can be thought of as a medicine, to treat a psychiatric condition which often verges on what can look from afar like a perverted compulsion…and the ingestion of the medicine can be bitter, to the athlete who receives the cold truth, that his time on the stage has passed, and to the family, the friends, the loved ones who see the fighters' need to give it…one…more…shot.
But the fighter needs to know, people.
He cannot be told, he cannot be counseled, he cannot be coerced.
He knows he has one life to live–because even if he believes in reincarnation, who's to say he won't return as a butterfly?–and he knows that his story arc as a fighter has chapters yet to be written. And we can sit safely on the sideline, and opine, and judge, and predict…but we are not in the arena, and thus, on this subject, our opinions shouldn't sway. The fighter has to glove up, and, armed with perhaps a bit less muscle mass, a bit more flecking of gray in the hair, but a neccessary reservoir of what doubters might term delusions, he views as fuel. It is optimism. And until the comeback plays out, and he sees for himself what he has left, and if the ascent will ever be complete, or he falls short, he deserves something from us…Respect for his process. Respect for his innate yearning. Respect for his right to fight, again.
Andre Purlette is a name some of you might remember. He fought as a heavyweight, from 1992-2009.
Born in Guyana, ring announcers called out his nickname–TOMBSTOOOONE!–against some decent names from back in the day. Jimmy Thunder, Purlette beat him (KO2) in 2001.
Elieser Castillo, Purlette couldn't get the better of him, got stopped in the fifth round of their 2002 encounter.
Jeremy Williams, him and Purlette fought a tight scrap, which saw Williams gets the nod after ten rounds of a 2003 fight.
Look at Purlette's Boxrec today and he has what I call a “Boxrec ugly” last chapter. Back to back losses, to Aaron Williams, in 2008, and then Harold Sconiers, in 2009. TKO2, TKO3. From afar, you could look at that Boxrec, and nod your head, and say, hey, this Purlette did the right thing. He lost two in a row. He saw the writing on that wall, and he made a wise choice, to hang 'em up before the two fight slide turned into three, four, five. But that's from afar..
To make that judgement, you ideally have to ask the guy what happened. That is, if he wants to go there. Purlette, it turns out, does want to go there. He does want to explain those two losses. And damn right, he does want to do what we touched on before.
See what he has left.
See if he can complete the ascent.
Can do better. Must do better. Must fight again.
“I still believe I can do it,” Purlette, age 40, told me in a phoner, from Florida, where he lives.
“I believe in my heart, I can do it, with the right kind of preparation.”
Another Florida resident, sportwear designer Champ Dulcio, thinks Purlette can too. Dulcio is building his brand, Muscle Wear, and wants hungry athletes, in boxing, football, and beyond, to wear his merch.
He reached out to me, and asked me to chat with Purlette, who he is advising and backing. Dulcio seems to be someone whose eyes are wide open, yes, but who likes to traffic in the realm of why something can be achieved, not one who looks to tick off reasons why it won't.
However, he got it that Purlette, after five years away, isn't going to come back to the ring, dust off a light coat of rust dust, and get a crack at a Klitschko. Question is, does Purlette get that? Optimism is a good thing, but it needs to be tempered with a measure of pragmatism. I wondered, does Purlette's comeback quest carry a whiff of excessive delusion, or is he right-minded?
“I tell you this, Mr. Tiger Woods,” Purlette told me, a few seconds after I introduced myself as 'Michael Woods, of The Sweet Science, like Tiger Woods, no relation.'
“I'm mature to the point I can give you my word. If my word dont mean sh*t, I don't mean sh*t. It is an uphill climb, but it's not something that can't be done. Look at George Foreman, that tells me it can be done.”
But, I pressed, how and why will it be different this time?
Purlette explained that back then, his in the ring inconsistency largely stemmed from the fact that he wasn't able to go all in as a prizefighter. He was working as a nightclub bouncer in the leadup to the Sconiers fight, working 10 PM to 5 AM, training not enough. He worked the night before the fight, in fact, and hopped on a plane, assuming he'd go and knock out the guy with the sub .500 record out. This time around, he insisted, he will give the sport, and each and every foe, the respect it and they deserve.
I heard other things that left me believing a bit in Purlette, thinking that just maybe he can do what the odds say he won't. His views on what the fans want, and what the majority of fighters I believe should enter the ring looking for, align with mine.
“I think every fighter should have that desire to knock the other guy out,” he told me, and explaining that back in Guyana, friends and guys in the hood know him as “Stone,” because he has hard hands. “They should look for it. I hit any guy the right way, I can hurt anybody.”
OK, if he can put that mindsight on display in the ring, in this era of heavyweights, who wouldn't give the comebacker at the very least the benefit of the doubt of a long look?
He said he knows he can get it done on an even higher level than he did in his first go round, if he can get the backing to train fulltime. He recalls that he more than held his own training with Wladimir Klitschko before Wlad's second bout with Lamon Brewster, in 2007.
From the video I watched, Purlette isn't a mere headhunter. He agreed with that assessement when I shared that bit of scouting with him: “I worked with the late Angelo Dundee and he told us years ago, in 1996, '97, kill the body, see the hands start falling, and the head will open.”
Add in that the guy can talk a little smack, never a bad thing in this information age, where you have to be able, ideally, to set yourself apart from the next guy with an ability to stir the buzz, in 140 characters or less.
“Right now the heavyweight state is garbage,” he said. “I just need the right people to come behind me, and I'm going to do my part.”
Purlette was candid, and admitted his missus isn't so keen on the comeback idea. But he won't be dissuaded, he told me. And let's not gloss over another reason folks come back. This “every man for himself” world economy leaves many of us scrapping for crumbs while the titans–in all vocations and sectors– scarf most of the pie. Purlette would but of course like to make a mark in the division, and leverage himself into some decent money fights. No one should ever underplay the motivation which can be conjured when a man labors knowing the fruits will be of immense benefit to himself, and his loved ones.
Confession; I'm pulling a little bit for Purlette, and in fact, identify with him at a root level, being to being, when he says, in summation, “I'm a fighter in the ring and life; I'm going to find a way to make it work.”
Get in touch with Woods at MJWoods99@aol.com