Ringside with Ali’s sparring partner

 

boxing.02

I think this whole mixed martial arts thing came out of the old Tough Guy Fights. That’s when promoters figured out guys would show up in droves to see amateurs try to destroy each other.
I showed up for one of the early ones. Staggered fights, based on weight. The lightweights first. The heavies at the end.
I get there early. They’re just putting up the ring. Out comes Solomon McTier. Guy’s in his 50’s, owns a bar a few miles down the road. What you need to know is Solomon was a Golden Gloves champ… here and abroad. And the fact that he was the sparring partner for many years for Muhammad Ali.
I‘m hanging out ringside when Solomon walks in, asks one of the guys: “Is this so and so’s old ring?”
It is.
“I remember it had a soft spot,” he says.
And he spends the next 10 minutes tiptoeing around, lightly bouncing on the mat, moving his feet a few inches at a time. Until he finds it.
The fights begin. Some drunk from the audience stands up, says he can fight. They put him in the ring. Somebody else gets in with him. Kicks his ass.
It goes like that.
Then the main event. Solomon walks out in a silk robe. And out steps a grinning tyrannosaurus who looks like he could pick up your car with one hand. His arms are bigger than my thighs. 24 fights. 24 victories. 22 by KO. All those fights, by the way, took place behind the walls at Florida State Prison, his home for the last 10 years after the misunderstanding that ended up with a guy getting killed.
He’s about 25. When they meet center-ring, Prison boy is real tempted to laugh at Solomon, who now sports a good-sized gut and gray hair.
Prison’s gonna make quick work of grandpa.
They begin to circle each other, throwing jabs, sizing each other. Solomon can toss a fist out and have it back in front of his chin in about the time it takes for you to blink.
But prison boy can dance. And he can throw a punch that is so scary you think it would turn anything it hits into kindling. A few clinches. Mostly Solomon’s keeping his distance. He looks a little worried. Prison’s got a big smile.
I’m sitting right outside the ropes. And I’ve memorized the spot, still wondering what it means.
A couple of rounds in. All of a sudden, Prison lands a huge shot on top of Solomon’s chest, right at the shoulder. Solomon’s arm falls. It’s hanging, dragging down by his ribs. He’s trying to hold it up and retreating across the ring.
Prison thinks it’s a ruse and waves at Solomon to get back on the horse. But Solomon’s hunched over and Prison is not the most patient guy. He closes in and starts knocking the crap out of him. Solomon’s bobbing, weaving, taking most of the hits on his arms, leaning back into the ropes. He’s dodging the worst of it, but you know it’s just a matter of time until one of those haymakers sends him into next week.
Solomon’s shuffling across the ring. And guess what? He’s getting real close to that spot.
Now he musters one last charge. He goes after Prison. But then he takes another shot. Seems like a glancing blow, but it rocks him back. Prison closes in. Solomon’s leaning heavily into the ropes.
He’s timing it.
As Prison lunges, Solomon throws himself backward, bouncing off the rope just as Prison sinks into that soft spot. Solomon is moving, hard, fast, the right arcing over Prison’s head.
Boom. Cocky don’t live here no more.
Prison is airborne. He floats back, suspended, a look on his face that says he has just lost any recollection of life on this planet.
Lands with a thud. Big thud. After several minutes, they give up trying to get the boy to make any sense. They cart him off like a fat child still learning to walk.
Folks want Solomon to hang out, take some bows.
Nah. Gotta go. Nice seeing ya.

 

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