I worked my way up to the front row as the third fight was in progress and took my ringside seat next to boxing writers as old as dirt. One had a cane, another a neck brace. A few seats down I eyed Michael Katz from the Daily News, who was wearing a cabdriver's cap and a tweed jacket, resembling a mad leprechaun as his pudgy fingers flew around his PC, typing God knows what.
Up in the ring, two huge men held each other in a tired dance like heavyweights do when they're a little too fat for much else. Gorgeous bikini girls with golden skin took to the ring between rounds. After the fight a half-dressed Hispanic woman jumped on a stand near the ring and did a boogie-down dance to some hard bass music. Men leaned over the steel railings and stared with their mouths open. Celebrities were introduced to the crowd. Walt Frazier, dapper and flapper like an old-school rapper, got the biggest cheer. I went up to him and muttered inanities about how cool I thought he was back in the 1970s. He didn't say a word, just looked at me with a frozen smile. His eyes told me, Move on fool?a pretty woman is behind you trying to say hello to me.
Dean Chance, who pitched for the Angels and Twins and won the Cy Young Award in 1964, was also introduced. I asked one of the writers where Chance was. The man raised a bony finger and pointed to a large man with white hair.
"Better be careful talking to him," the writer said. "He'll take you outside and beat the hell out of you."
"Why would he do that?"
The ancient scribbler said, "He's got a bad temper. He's a boxing promoter now, but he has a bad humor on him."
Near the bar, former Great White Hope Gerry Cooney worked the crowd with a cigar in hand. Off in corners men smoked cigarettes and no one bothered them. The crowd was eclectic. Black men in leather jackets and dark glasses waited with white men in pinstripe suits for food and beer or to ogle the women who worked the promotional booths. The air was thick with testosterone.
Then one of the big fights of the night was announced. Shannon Briggs?once the pride of Brooklyn before people started doubting his heart?entered the ring pounding his muscular 6-foot-4 frame. Briggs' blond dredlocks were held back with rubber bands and he paced the ring, snorting like a gargoyle. His opponent was somebody called Warren Williams, from Memphis. Williams is 37, and the program didn't even bother to list his height. He looked like a friendly UPS deliveryman.
Briggs came out strong and hit Williams with everything he had. He looked ferocious, and when he faked a left hook both Williams and the referee ducked. Williams used the one boxing tool that God bestowed on him, and that was the duck and cover. He used it well and hung on for three rounds. The crowd started booing Briggs because the fight shouldn't have lasted more than a minute.
A man yelled out: "Hey, Briggs, you think you ready for Tyson? You can't even knock out this guy. You're a bitch. Mike will eat you up."
A minute later Briggs dropped Williams. Warren wisely stayed down on his ample ass and for about 10 minutes a group of men who didn't look like doctors talked to him and kept him resting. Briggs left the ring with his head down.
The next fight was the night's main bout and pitted Jimmy Thunder?a great name for a boxer?against Monte Barrett. Thunder hails from New Zealand, and resembles a Maori. Thunder's on his way out at 35, but still has a lot of heart. He had the air of a brutally tough bouncer and likes to hit himself when he's not throwing punches at his opponent.
Queens-native Barrett was more of a technical boxer and a pretty boy. Barrett is fast, strong and 28. You could tell youth was going to be served in this bout. Thunder gave Barrett a few solid shots, and in a street brawl he'd have taken Barrett out. But boxing isn't brawling, and by round four Thunder was losing big. The quick and deadly Barrett beat him with every surge. In between rounds an old cut man worked on Thunder's face, holding long Q-tips saturated with blood.
Afterward, 50 people milled about in the street outside as five cops tried to sort out a fight in progress near the parking garage next door. You can't turn off bloodlust that easily.