By Ted Kluck
DETROIT -- There is something
very Roman Empire about the Detroit Athletic Club Chuck Davey boxing classic.
Young proletarians(1) fighting for the entertainment of the upper class, in and
of itself, is nothing new; and if that were the only purpose of the evening,
there would be nothing remarkable to write down and record. But tonight the idea
is to honor fighters, soldiers, and great boxing coaches.
The room, the
food(2), and the people gathered at the Detroit Athletic Club are the finest the
city has to offer -- even the ring itself looks a little uncomfortable in the
middle of such a gilded room. I find legendary military boxing coach Eddie
Weichers (pronounced "Fishers") backstage wrapping hands, something he has done
for fighters for decades. Eddie Weichers is a dying breed -- a boxing guy
committed to collegiate boxing.
"I have to
pinch myself every morning on the way into work," he says. "I get to work with
some of the most intelligent, highly motivated people in the world." Weichers
began his coaching career at the United States Air Force Academy in 1976 and has
produced 237 All-American boxers and 90 individual national champions.
little of the boxing-hustler vibe about Weichers, however. The idea of him
parading around a podium in Vegas seems a little ridiculous, although there is
certainly more money to be made there. But the haves of Detroit are here tonight
to raise money for his programs, and to ensure that the boxing programs at the
Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy don't fall by
the wayside. Due to a lack of funding and emphasis on boxing at the college
level, programs like these live in a constant state of budget-crunch.
There is live
boxing happening now -- two cadets, one a sociology major from the U.S. Military
Academy, the other a skinny kid from the naval academy wearing running shoes. In
light of the current political environment of waffling, talking, and more
waffling, it's nice to see something as concrete as boxing. A winner. A loser.
Real pain and instant feedback. The colors in the ring remind us that there is
also real talent dying in Iraq. Businessmen, musicians, fathers, and boxers.
Weichers, Naval Academy coach Jim McNally, and Army coach Jerry Hart have seen
and taught many of them -- the majority coming to them without any boxing
"My job is to
nurture," says McNally. "To get guys to perform in pressure situations so that
when they're in the field -- in an airplane or in a battle situation -- they can
perform without flinching."
these service academies finished 1-2-3 in the national collegiate boxing
rankings. And these kids can fight. They cover up, move their heads and throw
straight punches. They are boxers.
One of the
cadets is now bleeding from the mouth, and I am lucky enough to be seated across
the table from Lem Barney, an NFL Hall of Famer. Barney is a longtime supporter
of the event and seems to know every fighter on the card by name(4). Somebody
asks Barney if he was ever tempted to get in the ring.
"No way," he
says. "If I want to hear the crowd roar for me I'll make a tape. These guys are
tuxedo-clad crowd(5) shows their appreciation for the action in the ring. This
is the second year the DAC has used the military academies for the Chuck Davey
Boxing Classic. Davey himself was a member of the 1948 Olympic Team and is one
of the finest professional boxers ever to come out of Detroit. From October 1949
to January of 1953, Davey went through 39 bouts without a loss, scoring 25 KO's,
taking 12 decisions and participating in two draws. Davey defeated champions
Rocky Graziano, Johnny Saxton, Carmen Bassilio, and Ike Williams, and he fought
Kid Gavilan in 1953 before what was at the time the largest audience ever to
witness a professional fight. According to DAC brass, Davey's memory is better
served by the academy fighters.
"It's just so
much easier, and the fighters always fight hard and put on a great show," said a
member of the boxing committee. "In the past we tried to use local pros, and on
fight night half of them wouldn't show up."
the boxing business. Tonight, however, business is good. At $125 a ticket plus
several corporate and personal sponsorships, the DAC will present $5,000 apiece
to the military academy boxing programs at the end of the evening. Dollars that
will allow Weichers to continue walking into battle with his men, both literally
(boxing) and figuratively.
In the ring
Mike Benedesso(6) is putting the finishing touches on a three-round decision of
Mikoto Yoshida of the Naval Academy. Benedesso weighs 112 pounds and looks young
enough to be my son.(7) The crowd rises to its feet; 250 CEOs and sons of CEOs
yelling for a tiny kid from New Haven and his game opponent. Not bad. Not bad at
says Hart, "is to help these guys find the little warrior inside all of them.
Most people have it and they don't even know it."
As a training
ground for war, boxing is a nice measure of a man's tact, patience, and courage.
It's even better as a substitute for war. I would much rather watch these
soldiers fight for our entertainment than for our protection, but I admire and
respect them for both. More than they will ever know.
A member of the proletariat; a worker. I can't
believe I just used the word proletarian in a boxing piece. This is a
at a boxing show. Also a first.
seem more at home in gin joints, field houses, little arenas, or casinos.
There is none of the typical boxing show tough-guy swagger here. I almost miss
the fighters earlier that day at lunch and happens to be a very astute fight
fan; he scores each round on a makeshift scorecard.
required for entry. The event was really only promoted to club members and
select guests, and the room is full. The DAC also offers a wine club,
swimming, a literary guild, and networking opportunities according to its Web
addresses me as "sir" throughout the conversation and is one of the most
polite people I have met in a long time. I think manners are a lost art. His
favorite fighters are Bernard Hopkins and Rocky Marciano -- "because I'm
weirder because I am only 28.