Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 15, 1984, The Day I Still Remember


Las Vegas, NV: Welterweight champs Tommy Hearns (L) and Sugar Ray Leonard trade long jabs. Leonard won the undisputed claim to the title. Date: September 16, 1981. Image: Bettmann

We had argued throughout the week of the fight and I had insisted the "Motor City Cobra" would win on the last counts of the third round by a knockout.

A robust week. Everybody had talked about it. It had all been up in the air, in smoke. The fight to reshape the Cobra's image after losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in "The Showdown." It was nothing closer to press coverages of "The Showdown," though, had carried its own weight differently since the Cobra had to prove to lead by analogy to Sugar Ray, if he knocks down his opponent a bit earlier than going the distance. The Showdown had made the youngsters instant millionaires when Sugar Ray came out smoking. Boxing had begun with a new age in all divisions and a world of the sport cordially welcomed, the new brand of fist bumping and body shots as the fight of the decade, "The Showdown," popped up.

Never before seen in the history of the sport, two youngsters, energetic and fired up, to what had gone viral on the airwaves, the word of mouth and other related means of communication a brutal sport in a division have been talked about and, cash to be made by both fighters, from betting and advertisements to endorsements and speaking engagements.

I lost enormously in "The Showdown," having counted on a Motor City Cobra win by a knockout in the third round on the basis of the Cobra's phenomenal hard-punching power  from previous fights and, from what boxing analysts and bookmakers had marked down as a done deal on the Cobra's favor.

The flamboyant Sugar Ray had Angelo Dundee on his corner, having the hunch he would lose the fight with an eye totally closed up and destroyed from the Cobra's punches, woke up, fighting like a wounded lion, determined and courageous, seeing the wobbling legs of the Cobra who had lost steam from a distant fight, knocked the Cobra out technically in the fourteenth round.

For an entire week, "The Showdown" written extensively and analyzed in the nation's spoilsports columns every sports reader rushed to with the feel of what had become a decade of the pugilists.

Thomas "Hitman," "Motor City Cobra" Hearns owned the two nicknames as trademark, recognized for his punches. He had been feared in the pound for pound divisions of boxing in an era the sport was known for its passion and not for anything commerce, when the boxers were all proud of what they loved to do.

On the streets of anywhere in the boxing world and besides the heavyweights when the great Muhammad Ali had waned with time, the pound for pound divisions produced the most interesting and exciting bouts to note.

Promoters of all kinds emerged; including the flashy, color riot Burt Lewis who at a time managed Michael Spinks.

And, as it would happen, the Thomas Hearns-Roberto Duran fight on the Cobra's way to complete his assignments against the Marvelous Marvin Hagler, turned out a no contest. The Motor City Cobra had floored Duran in the second round, while I predicted almost with near certainty at the third round.

We had partied all night long for the next day's fights. Ed, the area DJ had spinned at the newly opened Durbar Hotel Nite Club along the Mile 2 Corridor. Reggae music had opened up a new chapter and the DJs had taken over in lyrics and beats, with the kind of vibes that would fill the atmosphere; a trend of the day, my generation's finest hour, and an environment left with no choices than go with the flow. King Yellowman's "Jamaica Nice/Take Me Home Country Roads" had invaded every record shop in town, and every cast of that very order had followed.

In a week every other thing had been kept on hold save for talks and debates regarding the Hearns-Duran fight, not even the girls being on our way, and as I have usually done, buying every issue of the Ring magazine, boxing's premier news resource, every soul met at my bunk to read its latest and happenings around the boxing world. Then, I called every boxer by thier first name,  from when Jeff Chandler  had dominated the Bantamweights to Larry Holmes controlling of the Heavyweights without qualms until the Michael Spinks scheme which had denied Holmes equaling Rocky Marciano's 49-0-0 unbeaten record.

It had been when boxing was entertaining and when Cornelius Boza Edwards, Salvador Sanches, Azumah Nelson, Ejiro Murata, John "The Beast" Mugabi, Eddie Mustafa Mohammed, Trevor Berbick, Wilfred Benitez, Eddie Ndukwu, Mathew Said Muhammed, and several others, held sway,

My generation -- Eugene Onyeji, Hilary Akabuilo, Saibu Kadiri, Jimoh Kadiri, Segun Roberts, Robinson Martins, Gordy Ekechukwu, Silas Onyeiwu, Bernard Okana, Sunday Buraimoh, Kendrx Alfado, Fubara Peterside and others -- the youngsters of the day caught in the "era of good feelings" and, had watched almost every Blaxploitation movies, me in particular, had waited all week long for the Cobra's victory.

The Cobra whose only lost had been to Sugar Ray at "The Showdown," would meet the "no mas" guy, Duran, who had put the Panama Canal and his country on the Atlas, was ready to fight. Duran had bragged that if Ali and him were to be locked in a telephone booth, that the only one to come out alive would be him and why wouldn't any glove wearing guy fear him. The Cobra, on the other hand, had been predicted to win, including my take at the third round.

I had pledged a bash on the Cobra's win and no one could wait for that explosive moment in the neighborhood to see we the boys celebrate victory in grand style. It had been the talk of town.

The moment, the Motor City Cobra Victory Block Party never arrived. On the day of the fight, during the unholy hours when the city had vacated for sleep and I had come back from a night of pub-crawling, to get some few hours of sleep before beginning the day Las Vegas had landed a sure bet, a knock came on my door, and when I opened, it was my cousins -- Constantine, Paul and Abel -- who had traveled with the late night interstate transit, bringing along with them the sad news. My father had passed away.

There was nothing else that I could do. I dressed up in my pants, a shirt and a pair of bally shoes, shuttled to the village with my cousins who brought me the news of my father's death. Before sunset, my father was laid to rest.

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