Most fight fans confine their sporting pleasures to prime-time boxing on
television, the big shows in the gambling towns or the pay-per-view
spectacles. Many of the finest fights I have witnessed, however, have
occurred at small club-fight promotions in my home state of Tennessee.
While many cards in the state are rightfully criticized as nothing more than
record-padding for overrated would-be contenders, the occasional gem or
gym-war renews my continued interest in the sport.
One such fight occurred at a November 1998 card at the Gallatin Civic Center
in Gallatin, Tenn., promoted by Eddie Rochelle. Rochelle's shows contain some
mismatches, but the unique factor about most of his shows is the high number
of fights. The spectators usually get their money's worth because he usually
puts over ten fights on a single card.
The last fight of the evening featured a behemoth, six-foot-four fighter
named Baraka Short making his pro debut against a journeyman named Danny
The matter was presumed to be a foregone conclusion, Short would get his first
win against a forty-year-old pudgy fighter known more for his clowning tactics
than for any pugilistic prowess.
In fact, two months prior at the same location I had watched another young
heavyweight hopeful Ben Rogan successfully make his pro debut by outpointing
Wofford in a four-rounder. Later that same month in nearby Madison, Tenn.,
another young heavyweight hopeful Innocent Otukwu outpointed Wofford.
The only question in the minds of ringside observers was whether Wofford would
extend the wrongly named goliath Short the full four rounds.
Veteran boxing judge and timekeeper Charles Welfel recalled the fight, saying
he expected Wofford to lose by decision. "Wofford is a
quintessential, big-hearted clubfighter and the proverbial opponent."
Wofford, an active fighter, is now thirty-nine years old and stands only
5-7. He began his career winning seven of his first nine fights in the super
middleweight and lightheavyweight divisions in 1987 and 1988.
"I couldn't get any fights in those divisions," he said. "I had
to move up
to heavyweight to make some money."
His record reveals a laundry list of former heavyweight champions and
contenders, including Bruce Seldon, Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, James
"Bonecrusher" Smith, Trevor Berbick, Oliver McCall, Orlin Norris,
Michael Bentt, Alex Stewart, Phil Jackson, Joe Hipp and Shannon Briggs.
He had lost all those fights and many more. His record now stands at
approximately 17-80-2 with 1 no contest.
In fact, since June of 1993, he had won only two fights coming into his
match with the muscle-bound Short.
The first round went pretty much to form, with Short dominating the fight
with a slow but seemingly powerful jab. Wofford avoided most of the power
punches by crouching low. He even felt confident enough to display his two
signature moves. A roundhouse right thrown almost from the floor and his belly
bop - a showboating tactic where he sticks out his belly for the opponent to
Toward the end of the round, however, to everyone's surprise Wofford landed
one of his Hail Mary right hands with no discernible effect.
The second round continued along much the same pattern until the last ten
seconds when Wofford clobbered Short with another sneaky right hand. This time
Short was visibly wobbled.
You could slowly see a different look on Wofford. In numerous fights I could
see him playing his role of the buffoon, clowning at the other fighter and
making him look bad.
Now, he saw that he could actually win the fight. Sure enough in the third
round Wofford landed a series of roundhouse rights. The larger Short simply
did not have the experience or know-how to clinch and hold. Wofford kept
throwing roundhouse rights, like a logger chopping down a tree.
The faces of the ringside veterans like Welfel and others turned to smiles and
eventually elation. If my outward appearance matched my inner glow of
happiness at that moment I could tell you. But, I joined in the silent
rejoicing of watching the ultimate underdog buck the system and win one for
Eventually, the tree fell. Though Short managed to wobble to his feet, the
referee properly stopped the bout.
The faces around the ring delighted in joy, not at the humiliation of a
fighter's pro debut, but at seeing the ultimate opponent reversing roles and
taking control. Wofford was always personable and kind, traits not shared by
"I couldn't believe he won," Welfel said. "I've seen him fight
twenty times and never seen him win a fight before this one."
"I was elated," Welfel said. "I always love to see the underdog
upset. It's nice to see someone like Danny Wofford reach up and grab the brass
ring every now and then."
The fight brought to mind the words of sports historian A.S. "Doc"
Young, who wrote in his book Negro Firsts in Sports: "The most marvelous
gift of sports is its faculty for making heroes of underdogs, of lifting the
downtrodden up to solid ground."
I rank Danny Wofford's rise to "solid ground" in November 1998 ranks
as my favorite night at the fights.
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