By Brian Doyle
One time I was sitting with a friend at a bar deep in the mountains of New Hampshire when one of the most intense boxing matches in the history of human beings came on the tiny television brooding above us. We sat rapt. A tall lean man against a short muscled man, the tall man with a dense lid of hair, the shorter man gleamingly bald. A thick hot night in Nevada, lights glaring, the crowd roaring faintly inside the television. The tall man in gold trunks, the bald man in blue.
Just as the bell rang for the first round and the two men on television walked grimly toward each other, a man behind us in the bar said with a smile in his voice Ten bucks on the bald guy and we turned and there to our absolute astonishment was Marvelous Marvin Hagler, still gleamingly bald, still looking like a hawk, and still staring up at Thomas Hearns with a distaste so evident we felt like buying it a beer.
He sat down with us and told us about the fight. I hit him first, he said. I hit him as hard as I could and then hit him harder. I had enough of him and his people. His people whooping up before the fight, banging on the walls and all. I went right at him and hit him hard. He didn’t run. Thought he would run but he didn’t. He hit me hard too. So there was a war. I tried to stay low. He started running. He cut me. I finally got him in the corner and hit him hard a while. I wanted to punch right through his chest. Second round more war. Hit him hard with a left and he staggered. Switched hands to lead with my right. I kept bleeding. Got him on the ropes at the end and pounded his ass. Third round he just ran. Referee called time to check my cuts but let me go and I nailed Tommy good. That was that. Hit Man, my ass. Destruct and destroy.
I quit two years later, he continued. People think I quit because of the last fight with Leonard but that’s not why. It was just time. Fighting is a way to get somewhere and I finally got there. I would have fought one more time just to hit that bastard hard but he ran. For a long time I was mad that he ran but then one day suddenly I wasn’t mad anymore. I was up here in the mountains that day just walking along. Just suddenly didn’t have the mad anymore. Great day. So every time I am back in the States I try to come up in the mountains for a while. Just walk around breathing, man, stop in here for a glass of good wine. Good wine’s where it’s at. Learned that for sure in Italy. Time for me to get moving, man. Pleasure to meet you guys. Nobody took my offer for 10 bucks on the bald guy. You guys know your fighters, I see. Sweet science, my ass. It’s who wants it more. I wanted it more. Everybody thinks they know why, me hiding under the bed as a kid in the riots and all, slicker fighters getting more ink and all, but it wasn’t any of that. It’s just who you are at the time, you know? That’s who I was once. Don’t know that guy now. Hell of a fighter, though, wasn’t he? Damn right he was.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the novel The Plover. He writes the weekly Epiphanies column at theamericanscholar.org.
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