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SO YOU WANT TO BE A FIGHTER?
|Posted: 09 October 2005 at 1:49am | IP Logged
By Joseph Patrick
It seems that in life, timing and placement are the two most important ingredients. If you want to make it BIG, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Or so I’ve heard.
This story is about my being in the right place at the wrong time. The right place for me was being at the Holyfield-Foreman fight card, for I’m a prizefighter.
Friday, the 12th of April (1991) a week before the fight, I was in the best shape of my life. And boxing better then ever. But the closer it got to fight time, the more things changed. And when my phone woke me up Tuesday morning, I was in a bad way.
A minute later my wife, Gail, came into our bedroom and told me my manager, Freddy, was on the phone and he wanted to talk to me. I answered, “Hello. How’s it going? What’s up?” Why did I have to ask?
In order to fighter professionally in New Jersey a boxer must have three tests done once a year; an EKG to check your heart; followed by an EEG, to make sure you don’t have any brain damage; and an eye test. Freddy called to inform me that my tests from last year had expired and if I wanted to fight that Friday I had to have them redone.
“What’s with this last minute crap?” I’d been telling him for the last few months that my tests were due to expire in February, but he told me not to worry about them. Now, instead of leaving Thursday I had to leave that afternoon for Atlantic City. “No way!”
I hung up the phone and turned and there was my wife giving me that mother’s look of hers. “Nick, you can’t be still thinking about fighting. Let me call Freddy back and tell him you have the flu and you’re to sick to fight.”
“Gail, Please, give me until noon to see if I don’t feel better, will ya?” I said, climbing back in bed.
So there I was, twenty-nine years old, I the prime of my boxing life, and curled up in bed like a little baby. Damn, I thought, now I’m really in a fix. It was bad enough that I had to leave that Thursday, but giving up my bed today for a 350-mile drive was no joke.
The hardest part of this whole mess was; I spent most of my life working and looking for this break, with moves to Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Miami. Plus, I had been bumped, the month before, from the Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock fight card in Las Vegas. How could I let another “chance of a lifetime” pass me by just because I had the sniffles?
So I told my wife, “I’m taking the fight, flu or no flu,” which made her a little less than happy.
“Nick, can’t you see these people are just using you? Come on, you’re smarter than that.”
“Hold on a minute. They’re not using me. I’m using them. Why are you giving me a hard time? This is my big break, for Christ sake, I haven’t lost a fight in over eight years.
“I do believe in you, Nick, but this is the big time and I’ve never seen you this sick before. If you have to fight, promise me you’ll use your defense. I don’t want to be married to a vegetable.”
My wife left for work soon after and I called Dino Duva in Atlantic City. Dino was responsible for settling-in the fighters for the show. Afterward, I called Freddy back in New York to let him know I was leaving for Atlantic City at 6 P.M.
During our conversation Freddy told me my wife called him and said I had the flu and that I was too sick to fight. “You know, Nick, you don’t have to take this fight.”
“Don’t worry, I know my body. In another day I’ll be feeling great.”
All that day, after Freddy called, I tried to get in touch with my trainer, Kennedy Clark, to let him know there had been a change of plans. But he was nowhere to be found. So I called my good friend, Brian, and asked him if he wanted to spend a free week in Atlantic City. All he had to do was drive my car. “Are you kidding me, Nick?” When do we leave?”
I picked up Brian in Watertown, his hometown, and the town I grew up in, at 6:30p.m. Seven hours later we got to Atlantic City and checked to the Quality Inn on North Carolina Avenue.
The next morning I woke up feeling like hell, called Dino and made arrangements to meet him in the Trump Regency lobby to pick up my meal tickets. Dino gave me 180 dollars worth, which was nice, seeing as how I only had about ten bucks to my name. When Dino gave me the tickets he told me to be next door at three o’clock to get licensed for the fight.
Breakfast that morning turned out to be uneventful. Even though there were sportswriters, commentators and boxing people everywhere, I wasn’t impressed. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.
That afternoon I was one of the first fighters to show up at the Main Events office to get licensed for the fight. Right after I got there Tommy Morrison, the latest White Hope, walk in with his manager Bill Cayton (Mike Tyson’s old manager). With them was this huge white guy. I couldn’t help but notice how big he was. He was bigger than George Foreman. Boy, I thought, I’m glad I’m not fighting him.
Right behind them was Emanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns’s ex-manager, and his fighter, Michael Moorer. I’ve seen Michael fight a few times on TV. He’s the lightweight champion, but for this show he gained some weight and was fighting as a heavyweight.
On my way out the big guy shook my hand and wished me luck. I thought it was odd but I wished him luck right back and started for the door. A few feet away I heard his trainer say, “You’re fighting that kid.”
Fighting that kid? I thought, no way, he can’t be talking about me.
“Did you hear that?” Brian looked at me amazed, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to see this.”
“Shut up! I’m not fighting him, I’m fighting a black kid, stupid.”
From there we walked the Boardwalk, but it was dead. So we tried our luck at the Trump Castle Casino, but we didn’t stay. I wasn’t in the mood for bells, whistles and sound of change falling and women screaming.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a 7-11 and I bought three gallons of spring water and some Sudafed. Now I had everything I needed to wage war on the flu. I had my vitamins, aspirin, Nyquil, Sudafed and water.
The next day I felt a little better and it was back to the Regency. This time I met a guy named Art Cavaliere who was in charge of transporting the fighters to the different doctors for tests.
Brian and I ended up following Art, Michael Moorer and another guy to the eye doctor. On the way Brian said, “Isn’t to funny that Moorer is the light heavyweight champion and he’s going for his tests in the back seat of someone’s car? I bet if he was the heavyweight champion he’d be in a limo.”
“Now you’re learning the game. All the fame and fortune is in the heavyweight division. Why do you think I’ve been overeating and lifting weights for the last five years?”
At 3:00 p.m. I went back to the Regency to meet Art again for the rest of my tests, but we didn’t leave right away because we had to wait for Jorge Paez, the one-time lightweight champion. Paez’s interpreter was there, but not Paez. When he finally showed up his interpreter was missing. So Art went crazy looking for the guy. Meanwhile, Paez runs out of the hotel and jumps in one of those wicker chairs they push up and down the Boardwalk. The next thing you know this guy takes off running down the Boardwalk with Paez hooping and hollering in his chair.
When Art found the interpreter and then discovered Paez was missing again he flipped, “Get that crazy Mexican, we’re go to be late!” Art said, “That Mexican is crazy! But boy can he fight. You should have seen that nut case doing his circus act on the Boardwalk yesterday. There must have been a hundred people watching him.”
Ten minutes later, Paez came back and we were off, like a group of army inductees, for the obligatory tests.
The morning of the fight I was up early and called Freddy. He got in the night before, and we headed over to the Troup Castle for the weigh-in. We ate first, because I was light, about 206/208 pounds. I knew if I ate before the weigh-in I’d weigh more and appear bigger.
We got to the weigh-in late and this guy yells, “Adam’s is here, get him over to the doctor!” Everything was rush-rush. Before the doctor was finished with me, they were calling my name at the scale. Next to the scale stood the big guy who wished me luck the other day and while I was being weighed he watch. I’m 6’1” and he was taller than me, enough though I was on the scale. My weight that morning was 213 lbs. When I stepped off the scale he stuck out his hand and said, “I’ll see you tonight, Nick,” with a big grin.
I shook his hand, slowly, “I’m fighting you? NO WAY!”
This was bullsh*t, I thought. I didn’t belong trapped in the same ring with that shaved gorilla. And I had no desire to be the sacrificial lamb in the biggest fight of my career.
As I left the weigh-in I pretended to cry on Brian’s shoulder, “Can you believe the size of that guy?” Then I got serious, “These people suck! I should just go home and forget about fighting.”
A minute later my manager showed up. I wanted to kill him. “Are you out of your mind matching me with that guy and not telling me? What happened to the ‘average two hundred pound black fighter’ you said I was fighting?”
“Nick, I don’t know what to tell you. Ron Katz (The Matchmaker) told me he was black and average.”
I was really pissed. But I got over it. I figured I was fighting the guy so I better start thinking positively. On our way out of the hotel, I started joking with Freddy and Brian. I told them to call me David, because I was fighting Goliath. “What’s his nickname, Freddy, Brain Damager?”
That night, the town finally came alive. When we got to the Trump Castle Casino, it was packed and could feel a buzz in the air. As we walked by all the so called “beautiful people” climbing out of their limousines, I know I was in the RIGHT PLACE. In the arena next door I saw “In Vogue” (the singing group) practicing the National Anthem in the ring as we made my way to the dressing rooms in the back. Now I knew this was the BIG TIME. But little did I know the BIG TIME would be waiting for me with a humiliating slap in the face.
When we got to the Blue Corner dressing rooms there wasn’t one with my name on it. So we checked the Red Corner rooms on the other side. But there wasn’t one for me there either.
In boxing, they separate the fighters by the color of the corner they fight out of. All the fighters that fight out of the blue corner stay together; the same goes for the red-corner fighters.
In the red dressing rooms I saw the guy I was fighting; his was sitting in Tommy Morrison’s dressing room. When Wright spotted me he called out, “Hey Nick, can you believe it? They forgot about us?”
Right then I just wanted to go home. I didn’t need this, not feeling the way I did. I looked at Wright and thought; why does this guy have to be so nice? “It looks that way,” I said, before I walked back to the Blue Corner rooms.
There I saw Art. He was in charge of the gloves and equipment for the fight. “Hey Art, they forgot to give me a dressing room. Do you think you can help me out?”
“Not problem Nick, there’s one right here.” The room was next to the one Art and the equipment were in.
All the so-called “dressing rooms” were in one big room. They were little blue-curtained temporary rooms that were side-by-side with Holyfield’s at the end. It was the biggest.
While I was unpacking, Art came into my dressing room and gave me a list of the fights that night, who was fighting who and when. My name was on the bottom of the list. I was fighting a six-round swing fight.
Now I was really in for it. Swing fights are bad news. When a fight gets over early and there’s time to fill between the scheduled fights they put on a swing fight so the fans don’t get bored. The thing that’s so bad about a swing fight is; you have to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. You can warm up and cool down ten times a night and not even fight. Trust me, I know. I’ve had few of them.
I took my urine test at 7:30 p.m. and they gloved me up. I told the commission people that I drank a lot of water that day, “What do I do if I have to take a leak?”
“Have your trainer hold it for you.” They laughed.
“Very funny!” But I wasn’t laughing.
A half hour later I was told to get ready. I was fighting next. So I started doing jumping jacks, shadow boxing and mentally coaching myself; I can do it, I’m a better boxer, I‘ve worked harder for this than he has.
The gloves we were wearing were red, so I started keying in on the color of my gloves and thinking, don’t let anything red hit you. See his punches.
I had broken a good sweat when Freddy walked over to me and said, “Sit down kid, you’re not fighting yet.” That was the first of five times I was up and moving around getting ready to fight that night.
After I warmed up for the second time, I had to lie down. I was really feeling bad.
At 9 o’clock Dino Duva came into my dressing room and told me to get ready. “You’re fighting next Nick.” I should have never laid down, because when I stood up I was really dizzy, my muscles were stiff and my bladder was ready to BURST!
As I prepared to fight for the third time, Trump and his girl friend, Marla Maples, and about ten bodyguards came into the dressing room to see Holyfield. Right after they walked in, Brian ran over to me. “Where’s your camera? I want to take a picture of Trump and his girl friend.”
“No way! I don’t want a picture of those two.”
“Where is it?” Brian was going nuts looking through my gym bag.
“Forget it! I don’t want you wasting my film.” But he grabbed the camera anyway and took off running for The Don and his lady friend.
The forth time they told me I was fighting next they really faked me out. This time they had me out of the dressing room and walking to the ring before they told to go back and wait.
At ten o’clock Tommy Morrison fought Yuri the Russian. I thought for sure Morrison would knock out the Russian and I would fight next. So, for the fifth time, I was up and jumping around. This time I didn’t have any spark left, not that I had any earlier, but I was still determined to do my best. I wasn’t lying down for anyone.
Finally it was time to put up. As I walked to the ring I was thinking about how hard I worked over the years to get there. All the mornings I had gotten up at five a.m. to run and lift weights. And all the nights I had spent in the gym sparring, hitting the heavy bag and jumping rope to prepare myself for this moment.
Just before I got into the ring I saw a good friend of my brother-in-law in the stands jumping up and down, going nuts. “KICK HIS BUTT, NICK!” That made me feel great. I didn’t think I was going to know anyone there.
Nothing had changed as I walked to the ring. I was late getting there. They introduced me when I was walking through the crowd. I entered the ring through my opponent’s side with no trainer or corner men with me. I was all alone.
I guess it’s too late to pray, I thought. I’m not a religious person, but I believe in God. I have a funny outlook on praying and God, though. I feel when I pray God doesn’t hear me, but my guardian angel does. Your see, I think God is too busy to listen to everyone. So he assigns you a guardian angel when you’re born. If you pray and work for something really hard your angel will go before God on your behalf. The only problem is; there’s a line of angels, ten miles long, outside of God’s office and my angel is at the end of the line somewhere.
As soon as I set foot in the ring I felt great. I was on top of the world. When I looked around and saw all the people there I couldn’t stop smiling. I was finally getting what I had hoped and prayed for. What better guy to fight in front of twenty thousand people, than and 6’6”, 260 pound giant. If I beat him my boxing career would be on its way for sure.
After bouncing around for a minute they announced the start of the fight and we met in the middle of the ring to get the last minute instructions form the referee.
As soon as we started fighting I was thinking; Okay, here we go. Hands up. Nothing red hits me. See his punches.
I was happy with the way I was boxing at the start of the first round. I wasn’t getting hit, my jab was landing and I was working the body effectively. That is, until I got trapped in a corner.
With a look that seemed to say, “You little prick, you’re going to get it,” Wright charged me, throwing bombs. Suddenly, things weren’t looking so good, and I thought, sh*t! As I attempted to escape the corner with my life. When I turned my body in the direction of daylight I was struck on the back on the back of the head by something that felt like a baseball bat. Right after I got hit I heard DING. Or was it before I got hit? Anyway, it was the bell to end the round and I was still standing. But just barely. The punch hit me so hard I saw my sister in the ring and she was yelling at me. Weird!
Somehow I managed to get back to my corner where Tommy Gallagher, my corner man, started working on me. But I was out of it. I sat there trying to listen to what Tommy was telling me, but I couldn’t understand a word of it. He sounded like he was talking Chinese.
Going out for the second round, I seemed transformed. It was as if I was removed from it all. I felt like a spectator watching a confusing movie with me in it. The only way I can describe it is; imagine you’re driving down a dark winding country road and you’re doing ninety. You hit a pothole and the next thing you know is you’re in the back handcuffed. You can see everything, you just can’t do anything while you wonder whose driving.
Near the end of the second round, I was told that my opponent, Brian Damager,” unleashed a thundering left hook that caught me right on the chin. The punch buckled my knees. When the referee saw that he gave me an eight count. He started his count, “ONE” and yelled “Show me you’re alright!....Two……Come on Nick, show me you’re okay!.....Three!” He grabbed my gloves and shook them as he continued to yell his count in my face. “Show me you’re alright or I’m going to stop the fight!” The whole time he was counting and shouting I was so confused, I didn’t have a clue what he wanted me to do.
Just as he reached seven, I snapped out of it. I was back at the controls. I raised my hands and started jumping around. “I’m alright! Don’t stop the fight!”
When the referee finished his count Wright jumped on me, throwing bombs. I ducked and grabbed him and held on for dear life. The referee told me to let go, and I did, like a fool. I then tried to distance myself form Wright, but he was too fast. So I stood my ground and tried to fight him off, but I had no firepower left and it was bombs away, again. I took a few that rocked me and the referee stopped the fight. Thank God!
Luckily, I wasn’t going to be the sacrifice. The crowd wouldn’t be seeing my death and resurrection after all that night. And isn’t that what a knockout is? It’s like seeing a man die and come back to life right in front of you. When you think of it, isn’t that what people like so much about watching heavyweights fight? To maybe see a man get hit so hard it knocks the life right out of him and he appears to be dead for a moment. That’s got to be why some people there that night paid fifteen hundred dollars for ringside seats. They didn’t care so much if it happened to me. They wanted to see it happen to Holyfield or Foreman.
It wasn’t my time to shine that night, and maybe it never will be my time in boxing. When I look back at that fight I was in serious danger going out to fight the second round in the condition I was in.
I lost the fight, sure, but I didn’t lose totally because I learned a lesson; maybe becoming the heavyweight champion of the world isn’t the most important thing in my life. And five hundred dollars isn’t worth getting my face punched in or my brains knocked out.
That was Nick’s first loss as a pro, and last fight.
From time to time you might hear him say, “I had my first fight at the Billerica Elks Club and my last in New Jersey.”
MAKE THINGS HAPPEN!