Of Boxing, Fathers, And Sons, And An 'Adults Only' Trip To Barclays

Barclays-centerI attended Saturday Night’s Golden Boy fight card with my dad, who drove from Buffalo to Brooklyn for the occasion.

If baseball is America’s communion ground for fathers and young sons, why shouldn’t boxing be similarly sanctified for adult sons bonding with their retired fathers? The Sweet Science is, if nothing else, America’s most “adult” sport. And perhaps overlooked in boxing’s much-ballyhooed decline is its fundamental failure to appeal to children in a culture where everything “is for the children” and where the phrase “Adults Only” seems relic of a barbarian past. Yes, heaven forbid adults be granted their pastimes and pleasures without guilt and apology.

So rather than walking hand in hand around Yankee Stadium, where the bright sunlight and emerald grass advertise ready-made virtue, my dad and I walked beer-to-beer in the concrete tunnels of the Barclays, where reeking floors and scantily-clad dates advertised the vices of old. Along for the ride was my younger brother, Pop’s son from another marriage. Sixteen years my junior, it meant three generations were represented. And as if we were three geological layers tracing the extinction of a sport, my dad knew everything about boxing, I knew a middling amount, and my little brother knew nothing. But we were all along for the ride.

We didn’t expect it to be a very good ride. As everyone knew, this Golden Boy card served no purpose other than to drum up interest in a future “superfight” between WBA/WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia and IBF light welterweight champion Lamont Peterson. In tonight’s separate contests, both men would make easy work of their unranked opponents, and fans watching live and on Showtime were paying to watch champs chomp on chumps in tune-ups for a unification bout. So lopsided were the matchups, that when the card was announced, ESPN’s Teddy Atlas fumed that the sport he loves has “no respect, no credibility” because Salka was not a top-15 contender (he wasn’t even top-50) and the WBA was therefore violating its own rules by sanctioning Garcia’s title defense (in the end, the WBA and WBC reversed course and did not sanction the bout). Many speculated the best fight of the night might be the under-under-card battle between Daniel Jacobs (27-1, 24 KO’s) and Jarrod Fletcher (18-1, 10 KO’s) for the vacant WBA middleweight title. Yet even there, Fletcher was considered a heavy underdog.

But as my father said, “I’m used to watching crap boxing. I just want to spend time with my sons,” and so exhibited the kind of philosophical attitude that behooves a boxing fan as he walks through valley of his sport: through madness and folly and vexation of spirit. Completing the profile, dad admitted to the pitiable optimism which sustains us when he went on to say, “And you never know. When two guys are throwing leather strange things can happen,” but swiftly mocked his own naiveté, “and hey –if they don’t –we’ll still get drunk.” That’s the fight fan for you: he’s a sucker, but he knows he’s a sucker, and that’s wisdom that rivals anything in Ecclesiastes. It’s something I love about our sport: baseball fans are statisticians, but fight fans are philosophers.

Thanks to that philosophy, we were able to enjoy our evening of farce. The crowd still had its characters with their signature cheers. The red-white-blue ring was still beautiful under the lights. And as in a Bellows painting, the crowd still rose, roared, and threw uppercuts at the air when a KO was near. As for what happened in the ring? Edgar Santana at least demonstrated heartbreaking toughness as he endured at age 35 the most sustained bodywork I had ever seen. By Round 5 the crowd winced and groaned as one at every Lamont Peterson left hook to the liver. When Santana gamely came out round after brutal round, we nodded solemnly at his resolve; his hopeless beating was for us a meditation on matters profound. And maybe because I’ve never been much good at meditation, I was relieved when his corner tossed the towel in the 10th.

About the other “fights,” there’s even less to say. Brooklyn native Jacobs outclassed the Aussie Fletcher, whose feet moved too much and whose head didn’t move enough: faults that might have been less noticeable had he been able to punch. Fittingly enough, the main event was the worst of the bunch, as Danny Garcia turned Rod Salka into a slapstick punch-line. Aaron Lowinger suggested to me that maybe Garcia’s camp simply wanted a highlight knockout to put on Youtube. Well, they got it –congratulations. But they might as well have set Garcia up against any average joe with the discipline to hit the gym 5 days a week. I saw myself in Salka: that would be me, if I trained as hard as I could for six months. That would be me, or any of us, if pitted against a truly elite athlete. It’s a humbling reminder that we should not –as Salka did one second before his lights got knocked out –beat our own chests too fiercely.

For me, the real story of the night was about fathers and sons. It was fitting to attend the show with my dad because fatherhood is a theme that runs through so many boxers’ stories, and tonight’s contestants were no exception. Lamont Peterson famously grew up parentless. Rod Salka Sr. works as a cornerman for his son. But the biggest story of the night was arguably the relationship between Danny “Swift” Garcia and his father, Angel, who works as his son’s trainer and adviser. Although Garcia’s manager Al Haymon bears most of the blame for this laughable card, Angel Garcia ostensibly played a key role as well. If Angel wields the kind of influence he boasts, he should have vetoed the fight as soon as Haymon proposed it.

The father-son bond is stronger in boxing than in any other sport, although many top fighters have had to loosen the tie as they matured. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Shane Mosely are just three fighters who famously fired their fathers as trainers. As for Danny Garcia, he already had a reputation of being one of the most protected fighters in the game, and simply by agreeing to this card he’d lost more than he could ever hope to win against Salka in the ring. Danny Garcia is lucky to be in one of the most interesting weight classes in all boxing. This isn’t a case of an unbeaten hero unable to shine for lack of worthy opponents. But, Angel seems to have taken to heart the good doctor Sigmund Freud when he said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection.”

Judging by the thin and cynical Barclays crowd and by the jeering comments which overwhelm any Danny Garcia internet thread, the story of Danny Garcia at present is not the kind of tale dad read to you in your childhood. It’s not the story of a fearless hero who faced impossible challenges because he had the heart of a champion. No, it is the kind of story dad tells you now, as an adult: about a world that goes from bad to worse: Aetas parentum, pejor avis, tulit nos nequiores mox daturos progeniem visiosiorem (the generation of our parents, worse than that of our grandparents, has created us worse again and destined soon to bring forth yet more vicious progeny.) It’s a story dads have been telling sons since the beginning of time. But in the case of Danny Garcia, it comes with a unique twist of tragedy. Because it’s not his father reading the story, it’s his father helping to write it.


Comment on this article


The Commish :

Great piece. Got me thinking about my dad down in Florida. He used to love sitting at ringside on headset when I announced a fight. I am sure a bunch of you guys have super memories of you and pop at a fight. -Randy G.

deepwater2 :

I remember when I started boxing, I hid it from my family.I told them I went to the pal for wrestling . My family was well to do and when I first mentioned it to my mom she cut it down right off the bat. My dad went to Fordham law, was a top guy in Wall St and involved in politics. My mom told me no way and don't tell my dad. I mentioned it to my dad I was thinking about entering the Gloves and he told me the jab is the most important punch and he can't wait to see me in the ring. He was so proud. He showed me combos. What a surprise . After that I heard all the stories of uncles and cousins boxing in Ireland and Lefrak city queens NY . My dad was a smart man and a tough man that never backed away from an argument or the bar. Boxing brings dads and sons together.

mortcola :

“Captain” of the boxing club at a small, formerly girls only liberal arts college; visits to and from Floyd Patterson’s gym, our trainer’s friend, for sparring and some real three rounders; “townies” who would come down to punch some college kids and go home bleeding from repeated combos from a philosophy major; then my father visits and he and Tony, my trainer, have this big talk about how he could make me a money-making middleweight if only I wasn’t destined for “better” things, because supposedly I hit like a f-----g mule and had radar for slipping punches; my father, who taught college sociology, looked like Wallace Shawn (Vizzini in The Princess Bride) but tore through several local gang-bangers when he was in his fifties - poor Jewish kid in the depression grew up worshipping Benny Leonard - told Tony to get as much from me as I was willing to give. I lasted three more years, never got the wind I needed to last, and watched boxing on TV with Dad until he died - and then at 45 I started again. And it was the Commish who trained me my first day in the gym, and introduced me to the great ref Wayne Kelly, who became my training partner and best bud at the end of his life (burgers and beer the Saturday before he died); he was a heroic, politically liberal soldier like my Dad, and like my Dad, told me I fought too well to be a doctor, and made me promise to win the masters, which he said I would do easily if I got the lungs right. And I’m still futzing around and not quite putting it out there the way I would need; but at least my nose hasn’t moved in a lll these years, still don’t get hit solidly much. I’m not religious, but every day I have my father and Wayne Kelly - who have become friends in the afterlife I don’t believe in - reminding me to get off my a-- and train harder. And next week Wayne’s son comes down to spar with me so I can re-learn how to fight a southpaw. Maybe I get there, maybe I disappoint. But I will be in and around boxing till I die, because I love it, and because it was the source of heroism, discipline, and getting your ego out of the way in my Dad’s view of life and now mine. Oh yeah - plenty of tough girl-boxers still on the scene. Warriors come in all shapes.

amayseng :

My earliest memory of my life is sitting on my dad's lap watching boxing.. We watched together until he was no longer here. D2 is correct, boxing brings dads and sons together, it bonds our souls in a way.

brownsugar :

My dad fought for a while...said he quit because he didn't like getting hit in the face. In his neighborhood on the southside of Columbus there was a 100% participation in the sport. Everybody boxed... it was expected Im hoping to make the Adrian Broner fight in neighboring Cincinnati. If I go I will take my grandson who moved in a year ago. He would enjoy the trip.....Although At 13 years old he now hates boxing but never misses a Mayweather fight in the hopes he will see him lose. Hes not convinced Floyds "Money May" routine is just an act. Great story and comments.

oubobcat :

In Cleveland, there unfortunately was not a lot of professional boxing events. So if ever wanted to attend something live, well it'd have to be a lengthy road trip. For my first live light, I drove with my dad 12 hours to Foxwoods in Connecticut for a card featuring Ike Quartey-Jose Luis Lopez and Pernell Whitaker as the co-feature. He wanted to do something for me big before I graduated high school. Of course, the first fight is always memorable and that road long trip with my dad and experience is something I'll never forget.

The Shadow :

I don't mean to be a buzzkill here but I have a story to share myself... (This is a bit long so skip ahead of time if you wish.) Back in 2001, Tyson -- after many false starts -- finally committed to coming to Denmark to face Danish Olympic bronze medalist and heavyweight contender Brian Nielsen. Tickets were crazy! I mean, crazy! Like $2000 for a ticket. I had just returned to Denmark a few months prior after living in America for a bit. My brother and I -- who were the same age -- played on the same soccer team. The boys talked about how he was going to get it on PPV, invited the whole team over and was basically the sh*t! When Tyson fought Holyfield in the rematch, my brother had sat in my room on a mattress watching with me. We couldn't believe what had happened! Never in our wildest imagination did we ever think we would get to see Tyson fight, let alone live. So he went home -- at the time, he was much bolder than I -- and asked my cheap dad if we could go. Shockingly, he said yes! He got us $1000 tix, one each. I couldn't believe it! We were to take the three hour train ride to Copenhagen for the fight, come right back and play a game the following morning. *** Back in 1996, my father, my brother, his evil mother and I went to a card in a town called Vejle. This is coincidentally the same town and same year Wladimir Klitschko placed 2nd in the European amateur championships. Me, a frail, shy, non-confrontational little boy always had been fascinated with boxing. After having gone without my father for much of my childhood, I finally moved with my dad about six months before (my father is a white businessman; I grew up in the projects with my black grandmother). Having grown up in a dysfunctional neighborhood environment, I thought everything was more the law of the jungle. We would always talk about who could kick who's behind. So on my first day in school, I brought boxing gloves and challenged anyone to a fight. Perhaps this was my fascination with boxing? I don't know. I just know that as a little boy I would go to the library, study all kinds of news reports, read about Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali all day long. Shortly after Nielsen captured Olympic bronze in 1992, it had become a family tradition of sorts in Danish households to watch Nielsen beat some jabroni every other Friday. Having never watched a fight live, Oct. 18, 1996 was our first boxing card. (I looked the date up on Boxrec. I don't remember that sh*t LOL) Back then, the one thing we always noticed was that the Danish fighters always won! Why was that? "Wow," we thought. "Danish fighters must be good!" This was the eve of the last fight, I believe, of some guy named Jimmi Bredahl, a former 130 pound WBO champion. Some of you may remember him dropping what was then the fringest of belts in the UBF tier to rising star Oscar De La Hoya. He lost to some schmuck and then gave some interview in the ring after. "He really sucks," I said. "Why is he crying like a wimp?" The fight made me sleepy. So my brother said, "lie down if you're tired." So I rested in his lap while he put his arm over me. Then he woke me up. "Look, that's Super Brian!" referring to Nielsen's moniker. We ran down to get his autograph. Little did he know that this 12-year-old kid, whose ticket he signed, would later crash his comeback press conference to announce his return vs. Evander Holyfield. Little did he know, that he would prompt this 12-year-old kid to write his first boxing article after Nielsen -- on national TV with all kinds of cameras in his face -- when he said he could "slap the n***** off my face." Ah, the memories. Thanks, Brian. *** Fast forward back to 2001. I had just returned to Denmark. But while I was in America, my brother had called me. "We just went to see Brian fight," he said. Promoter Mogens Palle had staged a card in the town we lived in, coincidentally where my now-superstar nephew launched his soccer career. My father, my brother and brother-in-law had gone to catch it. "This flabby dude jumped down. It was a fix. What the f***? He just tapped him and the dude went down." Later, an investigation was launched for match fixing with Mogens Palle. If you look on YouTube, there are several mysterious matches involving "Super Brian," including one I implore you all to watch if you get the time vs. Jeremy Williams. So when Tyson announced his next fight in Copenhagen, this was our chance to watch another fight together. Unfortunately,