Hurricane Carter and The Fight of the Century

Last night I watched the fights, something I haven’t done in a dog’s age. I’ll never look away when there’s boxing on television– I’ll look away when there’s MMA– and I’ve forced myself to attend the occasional card over the years. As a sport, boxing stands alone: no ball, two unknown competitors whose intimacy is established before the fan’s eyes (provided the boxers are fighting for the first time), and rage that becomes joy that becomes sorrow, sort of like life; your average day; a physical representation of all of the feelings that coarse at lightning speed through our hearts. Last night was Pacquiao v Mayweather, the alleged “Fight of the Century,” although we’ve seen this movie before. If you have to call something something before it exists, you worry its narrative. Besides, the century is young and who knows where this beleagured sport goes or doesn’t go…

I went to two bars before busting in– with another fellow– to the Derby, and appealing to the owner, Blackie, to let us stay, despite the near-capacity of the smooth low-lit room, sparkling with just enough, but not too many, high-def screens. The Derby– that afternoon, they celebrated the running of the roses with a bow-tied, straw hat, mint juliped event– is one of Toronto’s many new sporting establishments, and probably its most traditional, and truest. The bar was crammed with people– men and women, thirtysomethingish– who were there less for the buzz and more for the boxing. Hype built as one of the bigger screens showed Spurs-Clippers, Game 7. As a group of us roared after Chris Paul’s one handed, high-rimmed shot to put the game away– and subdue the championesque Spurs– with but a second left, it wasn’t a stretch to consider the day– and the weekend– the richest, sporting-wise, in recent memory: NHL and NBA playoffs, a horse race, the Jays in Cleveland, and, at the end of the night, a “Fight of the Century.” We drank Beaus and watched an undercard or two. After Denzel Washington appeared– wearing a black on black Yankees cap and a track suit jogging top– you could tell the main event was on its way.

The bar was pro-Pacquaio, and so, we were encouraged over the opening few rounds of the fight, surging when the Filipino boxer surged, bodies leaning at the screens, hands and fists waving about. In the ring, Pacquaio– the grinning, goatee’d, sprite– became more grim, while Mayweather– the executioner with eyes like olive pits– appeared to soften, his gaze almost growing worrisome, or, at least, concerned, throughout flurries of action. In these moments, he seemed more “Floyd” than “Money” (his nickname), officiously blocking the Pac Man’s peppering rights and swiftly counter-punching: strikes that connected but didn’t damage, although that was the idea. Mayweather is a points-boxer– more Olympic-style than street-fighting hellion– and his totals soared despite Pacquaio’s attempt to open up the fight. More rounds, more beers. And in the end, a decision: Mayweather (easily) over Pacquaio. I rode tippled through the Dovercourt night.

Coming up through Concord avenue, I passed Hurricane Carter’s old home, which the exiled boxer had kept for decades before his passing a few years ago. Hurricane was a visible presence in the community, and earlier that day, I’d hosted a neighbourhood event for small business owners in which I talked about how it was easy for the fighter to be himself in the neighbourhood: a lawn-watering and grass-raking dude who, like you and me, kept our Christmas lights up too long and left our car on the wrong side of the road and sometimes forgot to shovel ice from the walk. Hurricane Carter seemed to live happily, in the end, and maybe it’s what the two fighters can become now that the “Fight of the Century” is over: worrying over taxes, sweeping the leaves, watching “The Americans” in bed on their laptops. Go on, killers. Have a nice, boring life. You deserves it.

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