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The New Guys Bring Back The Old Days

by Rocky Alkazoff

These guys were not the bottle fed boxing fans of recent years, but the types that had gotten their milk right from mother's breast! It was going to be a tough sell to convince these guys to buy and watch another pay for view fight. They had grown up on the old Pabst Blue Ribbon and Gillette fight nights, and they knew the difference between seasoned fighters giving their all, and guys not ready, giving up, and only there for a payday. Plus they were so bummed out with boxing due to the last few "pay for view" fights we watched, that they had all but left the sport behind.

"No way Rock," said "Itchy" Sohikian, a neighborhood bookie. "No way. Kansas plays Oklahoma that night. Thats a hell of a game! No way are we gonna watch another fight. Anyway no one cares about boxing anymore. That junks like wrestling now."

"Yeah," said Gary Ciccerelli, a old time pal from the Hood. "These guys aren't really fighting any more. They just show up, get the money and go home. These guys aren't going to put out any more. The pride isn't there."

"No man," I said, trying to get the party together. "These guys are the best going right now! Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas. I'm telling you this one is gonna be the "lick". Both undefeated. Both could win. Its a even match. Its a ethnic thing too. Mexican against a Puerto Rican. Its gonna be a war. These guys are going for pride tonight!" "Like Saldivar Sanchez and Wilfredo Gomez huh?" said Mikie Pallazollo, whose Dad did army prison time with Rocky Graziano. "Remember those guys? Are they gonna rumble like that? I don't think so Rock." "I think so," I said. "These guys are warriors man."

"Yeah just like David Tua was," said Itchy. "The Samoan Warrior", what a joke. Just like Golota was supposed to be? Like Roy Jones? Like Lennox Lewis? Like "The Prince"? All boring bums, just stealing our money. You ain't talking us into that garbage no more."

"It ain't boxing no more Rock," said Mikie. "Look at the way Tua fought that night. That was disgusting, and Lewis wasn't any better. He just jabbed and moved. For my money Joe Frazier knocks both of em out. And don't try to sell me Roy Jones. Is Roy Jones taking Bob Foster or Mike Spinks? Is he taking Harold Johnson or "The Old Mongoose?"

"No doubt about that!" said Itchy, nodding. Those guys were were the real deal. These guys are just pretending. At least in college football they're trying."

"Comon fellas," I argued. "Tua was injured."

"Yeah," said Gary, smirking. "So was Carmen Basilio when his eye was closed against Sugar Ray. But he kept coming. I'll pay for that. This stuff now isn't worth one penny."

"Mosley and De la Hoya was pretty good," I said. "That was a pretty good one."

"At least they tried," said Itchy. "But Mosley slaps his punches and DelaHoya couldn't do anything with a lightweight. You're not exactly talking about Jose Napoles or Emile Griffith Rock. Those were welters! What are these guys tonight, junior middles?"

"Yeah," I said. "This is a better weight for Trinidad."

"Trinidad?" Mikie shook his head. "Isn't that the kid who fought DelaHoya? He had a guy running like a thief, scared to death and he didn't have a clue how to cut off the ring. That was supposed to be a "super fight"? Believe me I knew I wasn't watching Leonard or Duran or Hearns. Forget it Rock! I love you, but not this time."

Well I pled, I explained, I built up the matchup, I explained the Mexican pride against the Puerto Rican pride, I talked up the fighters and I didn't quit till I wore them out. Deep down even though they felt boxing was in the doldrums, and not the sport it was, they still were willig to take a chance to see a great fight. They were still fans, but Tyson and Golota, Lewis and Tua, Roy Jones and the Prince turned them off. This might have been my last chance to watch a big fight with my old fight buddies. They were football, golf, and tennis fans now. Boxing needed a big effort to get these guys back, and probably hundreds of thousands across the country.

Well we laid down the money, bought the fight, got together with a few more guys and settled down in front of a big television down a basement in the old "Hood" to watch this. In another ajoining room were Itchy and a few other guys rooting for the teams they bet on, watching the Oklahoma game. They acted like they weren't even interested in the boxing. The opening matches were mismatches, early knockouts, and nobody reacted much. Actually the Christy Martin knockout drew the most noise and comments.

"Thats a hell of gal," said Mikie. "Shes the best fighter whos still built like a girl. Them other girls look like they're on steroids or something. Freaks man!"

I didn't say a word. Ricardo Lopez showed skill in the semi final, but his opponent didn't have a clue and never belonged in the same ring. These guys knew that too. They knew boxing, but it was a mismatch. These guys were looking for a classic, and I was too. That takes two fighters and we all knew that.

The buildup to the main event was impressive. It showed Vargas in his dressing room, looking tough, determained, hitting the pads, surrounded by his boys dressed like gang bangers. But my buddies had seen this stuff before. The guys around Vargas dressed like his mob, didn't impress anybody in this room. These were seasoned inner city guys from the fifties and sixties. That posturing didn't mean anything to them. You had to show them.

Trinidad too postured some. He let people around him know he was ready to defend the honor of fistic Puerto Rico, and beat his chest to let everybody know he was ready.

I don't know why. I've been wrong before. But I believed these guys. I saw youth and pride in these two, and I've been involved enough in action on the streets to know when guys are serious. I really got a gut feeling that these guys WERE serious!

"These guys look serious," I said to the guys. "This is gonna be a good fight."

"Yeah Rock," said Guy Matta, a local pizzeria owner, who had been a real head buster when he was a kid. "Tua looked serious too. That don't mean nothing."

I didn't say a thing. It was almost fight time and it was put up or shut up. My pride was on the line too, in a way. But I had a feeling. I really did.

When they announced the fighters, the feeling went through me, that I knew Trinidad was coming to press the fight and try for a knockout. I could see it in him. But Vargas? Who knew? When they announced Fernando he was sneering and posturing, and that didn't go over big with the fellows. Trinidad made a better impression.

"What do you think of your "homeboy"?" Mikie asked Leno Medellan, who was born in Mexico, and definitely pulling for Vargas.

"He's a Chicano," said Leno, pushing his long hair out of his face. "Just like Oscar. Hes not from Mexico. Its not the same. A real Mexican wouldn't make all those faces and bluffs. Chavez was a real Mexican."

"This guy Vargas says HE'S a real Mexican!" said Itchy, from the other room. "He said DeLa Hoya wasn't a real Mexican, but he is."

"We'll see," said Leno, seriously tuning in to the match.

The bell rang and Felix came out winging and with the first big left hood he connected and down went Vargas with a puzzled look.

"Oh shit," said Mikie. Leno just put his head down, almost ashamed. Fernando got up, and got nailed again, going down.

"The kids hurt," said Gary. "He don't belong there with Trinidad. They should have waited a few more fights."

"One more and its over," Mikie said.

I didn't say anything. I was watching Fernando. I knew what Trinidad was trying to do. He was going for the kill while his fans cheered him all over America, from the arena to every Puerto Rican bar and household.

I was watching Fernando. I was watching his face. I was looking for the pride and blood in their eyes that had picked up Mexican warriors from the canvas for fifty years plus. I was looking for the pride in his eyes that Carmen Basilio had when he was getting beaten all over the ring by Tony Demarco. I was looking for the pride Rocky Marciano had when Joe Walcott was beating his brains out. I was looking for the pride and gameness Saad Muhammad had, Archie Moore had, and Aaron Pryor had. I was looking for the courage of Lupe Pintor, Armando Ramos, Ruben Olivares and Bobby Chacon, and Mexican warriors of the past.

Vargas was standing his ground. He was looking ahead, trying to adjust to the surprise that Felix's power had dealt him. You could see in his eyes, he was working, he was digging up pride.

"Hes gonna make it," I said, rooting for him. "Hes gonna make it!"

Vargas lasted out the round. I sweated it out, but he made it and was fighting back.

"One more round," said Mikie. "Thats it. He was rushed. He shouldn't be in there. He's got guts, but he don't belong."

The next round saw Vargas get stunned again, but he was standing strong.

Forcing himself to stay in there. You could see him trying to gather resolve to make a fight out of this. To fight back.

"Hes way down now," said Leno, resolved. "At least four points down. Trinidads gonna be like a shark now. He smells blood."

The next round saw Vargas standing in front of Trinidad, slipping, countering, popping a jab, landing with a right, a short hook. We kept watching as the others were concerned about their football bets.

Surprisingly, Vargas had won the round.

"He won that round," I said, trying to work up interest in the fight amonst everyone.

"Trinidad was taking a break," said Mikie. "This round hes gonna open up again."

I couldn't argue with that. We all knew that was coming.

"This is gonna be a key round," said Leno. "Hes right. Trinidad is gonna come out to finish it this round."

They met in the center of the ring to start the fourth and Vargas was fighting him, trading with him. He was trying to let Felix know he was in there to fight and wasn't there to last, but to win. All of a sudden in close Vargas landed a hard, short hook on the button and Trinidad went down hard!

"All right! Ah Eee, Ha Ha Ha!!" said Leno, as he got up, shouting Mexican war screams.

We all got up with him at one time, excited and rooting Vargas on! His comeback had inspired us to stay with this thing.

But Trinidad was smart, he was a warrior too. He got up, like he always has, and as Vargas charged in for the kill, Trinidad greeted him with a vicious punch to the groin, stopping the proceedings, losing a point, but gaining a valuble rest. He had saved himself and stopped the Vargas surge.

Nobody here cursed him for the move. It was a obvious deliberate foul but we understood. These were seasoned fight fans and street fighters. They knew the score.

"Can't blame him for that," said Guy, shaking his head. "Armstrong would have done that. So would have Graziano or Zivic. That was a "forties or fifties" move."

"Yeah," said Mikie. "Felix knows the ropes."

The round continued, and although Vargas won it and gained three points, Trinidad had survived with the illegal move.

"Even fight now," said Itchy, who had come in from the room with the football game with everyone else. "The kids fought himself back into it, huh?"

"Its a fight now," said Leno. "Its a god dammed fight now."

The next few rounds saw Trinidad keep coming, throwing power punches, while Vargas stood up to him. They were both landing, both hungry for the win.

We watched like we used to in the old days. We were analyzing every punch, every move, trying to read the minds of the fighters, and their corners. We could see both of these guys were using every fiber of brain and brawn they had.

"Trinidad's eye is starting to close," said Itchy. "Its looking bad." "It isn't gonna matter," said Leno. "The loser is going out the hard way. No cut or closed eye is gonna matter. This is pride now!"

Rounds seven through ten were hard fought and very close. What ever Trinidad tried, Vargas would answer. Felix lost a another point for hitting low and so did Vargas. It was getting rough.

Once in the eighth round Vargas cut loose with a tremendous left hook to the body, which made Trinidad grimace with pain. He was hurt. It was the punch great fighters from Mexico had used to win many, many world titles. It wasn't lost on Leno.

"Thats it Fernando!" said Leno. "Thats it! Fight him like a real Mexican! To the body!"

"That kids hurt," said Mikey to me. "That hook hurt him. Hes in pain."

I watched Trinidad, and it was obvious he was hurt and the body punch pained him. But I also noticed that, as his eyes fought back the pain, he kept going forward. He kept throwing the jab and following it up with power punches. Vargas followed up with more body punches, but Trinidad through superhuman effort survived and took the fight further to his opponent.

"Trinidad's tough," said Itchy. "He ain't got any dog in him."

" I said. As this fight went on Felix was starting to remind me of one of my boxing heroes. I saw something in his eyes, in the way he kept coming forward and throwing punches, how he shook off the best efforts of Vargas, how he was determained.

"You know Trinidad reminds me of Marciano," I said, realizing I was bringing up a deity amonst Italian-American fans. "He just keeps coming forward throwing punches no matter what."

"Thats how he beat De La Hoya," said Leno. "He kept coming. He made Oscar run, and it caught the judges eyes."

"Yeah but does he bring his power into the late rounds?" said Guy, lighting up a cigar. "Rock brought that power into the late rounds. It was more than just swinging and punching."

"We'll see," I said.

The ninth round was a killer. Trinidad attacked with a vengence, going for the kill, but Vargas met him punch for punch. He caught heavy shots, but punched back hard, driving Trinidad back with a two fisted rally that had us up off our chairs. The fellas were screaming encouragement for Vargas, but I had a feeling deep in me, that fury cost him. He took some big shots and I felt maybe he spent up his gas.

Coming into the last three rounds Vargas had our hearts. He had picked himself up from a almost sure defeat in a match with a real knockout puncher. He had put Trinidad down, had hurt him, had suffered a low blow when he was about to try to knockout a hurt foe, and he hadn't run. He was fighting the murderous Trinidad right in front of him, in his zone. This kid was boxing like we knew boxing was supposed to be. He was gaining our respect.

Rounds ten and eleven were action packed. I was wrong, Vargas still had some fuel left. Again both had their moments. Vargas landed hard body punches and was closing Trinidad's eye, but Felix kept coming. His fight plan hadn't changed.

Going into round twelve me and the boys had the fight even, but strangely the televison commentators had Trinidad a few rounds ahead. "Thats that god damm Letterman," said Leno shaking his head. "He hates Mexicans. He was the one always talking down Chavez in big fights, when guys were just running from him."

"Did he do the Whitaker fight?" asked Mikie.

"I think it was him," said Leno with a sneer. "He could never judge in Mexico. They'd chase him down there."

We all started laughing, but we were at the edge of our seats. Listening to the televison, Larry Merchant and George Foreman had it as even as we did.

"Yeah!" said Itchy. "For once Merchant has it right!"

"Yeah Foreman knows," said Guy, puffing away. "Hes been there. What the hell does Letterman know? The guys a corn beef cutter. He ain't got no god damm business judging fights!"

As the boys were talking up the last round, I was thinking. I noticed that Vargas's punches the last few rounds were hard, but mostly one punch at a time. Trinidad was still following his jab with combinations. That showed me that the pressure was getting to Fernando. The relentless pressure was getting to him, and I thought of Marciano against Ezzard Charles. Pressure, pressure, pressure and more pressure breaks down even the boldest of hearts and the most conditioned fighters.

I looked around the room before the last round. Everyone was glued to the set, there was smoke all over the room, and the floor was littered with beer cans.

"This is it Rock," said Itchy with wide open eyes. "Its all coming down to this."

"This is the one," said Mikie.

"What about the football game?" I said joking.

Nobody wanted to talk football now. This was like Ali and Frazier or Sugar Ray Robinson and Basilio, and we were ready for what we knew would be a climax to remember.

As the fighters got up for the last round both wore faces of determination. Both were going out there to win or go out on their backs. You could sense a explosion. Thats exactly what happened. Out of nowhere Trinidad quickly threw the same wide left hook he had landed in the first round to floor Vargas, and it landed with a crack again on his jaw. Fernando went down fatally hurt and we all knew it. "Oh no," said Itchy.

"Oh jeez," said Leno, his face concentrating on the action, straining every muscle to try to will Vargas up. "Get up Fernando!"

I saw Vargas eyes when he went down and I saw Ezzard Charles eyes, in the eighth round of the second Marciano fight. He sadly knew, like Vargas did, that his window of opportunity to win the title was gone. That hideous cut on Marciano's nose didn't matter when Charles went down from Rocky's brutal right cross, and Vargas eleven even rounds meant nothing now either. It was over and it registered in Vargas's young hurt eyes like it did Charles's that night. All that mattered was to go out on their shields like the warriors they were. They had to get up, and face brutal punchers and try to fight, knowing they were going down hard to defeat. The chance for victory was gone. All that was left was manhood and pride.

Well if Charles had the courage to get up to face the most brutal finisher of the fifties, then so did Vargas know what he was getting up to face, for Felix Trinidad is the best finisher this side of Mike Tyson or Kostya Tsyzu.

Vargas got up and tried to fight, got hit hard on the button, went down, got up again, tried to fight and got clobbered again. It was over. Vargas had been knocked out, and Puerto Ricans all over the continent were cheering, celebrating and waving their flags.

Nobody said a word. We were in shock and it had to register for a second. The ending had been swift and vicious when it came. Trinidad had impressed up as a great champion. He had the attitude and he backed it up. But our hearts were with Fernando. As he sat in his corner hurt, his head down, tears in his eyes in youthful disapointment, we were with him.

"That kid got nothing to be ashamed of," I said. "He said he was a warrior and he was. He went out like one."

"What do you think of Vargas now?" asked Mikie to Leno. "What do you think Leno? Is he a "real" Mexican now?"

"Hes a real Mexican," said Leno. "He went out on his shield like he said he would. Like a real Mexican fighter is supposed to. He kept the pride. I admit Trinidad is a great fighter too. Hes the best now. But...."

"But what?" Mikie asked.

"But I'm not looking forward to hearing it from the Puerto Ricans in the "Hood" tomorrow," he said shaking his head. "They're gonna be "wailing"!"

"Not too much," said Itchy. "Vargas got their respect and everyone's respect. A few years more and a rematch and that kid can win."

"So what do you think?" I asked. "Do I got to fight you guys to watch the next fight? Are we fight fans again?"

"You got me Rock," said Itchy laughing. "This one got me back."

"Me too," said Guy relighting his cigar. "This was like the old days. This is what its all about."

"I'll be here," said Mikie, opening another beer. "One like this is worth sitting through the dogs."

It had been a great night, not only for us as fans, but for boxing. We saw a champion show the determination and spirit as well as the talent of a great fighter, but we also saw the courage of a kid who wanted to win so bad, he settled for losing with honor. Both of these boxers came to win, but fate only allowed one to prevail. The other was left with pride.

This one was like the good old days when we were kids watching the Friday night fights with our fathers, and fighters came to fight with skill, courage and honor. It was a privilege to watch and we knew it.

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