My fight with the Champ (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2007 4:57PM; Updated: Friday August 3, 2007 4:42PM
Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko told me I was "going to get killed," De La Hoya suggested I bring a golf club into the ring with me. And during a recent visit to the SI offices, Floyd Mayweather offered to take me out to the corner of Sixth Avenue and "f--- me up for free." A week before the fight Marquez's manager, Jaime Quintana, sent me an e-mail offering me three choices: a broken nose, a broken rib or a black eye. I politely replied "none of the above."
I mean, it's not like I was a grizzled fighter to begin with. Sure, I'd been in my fair share of street brawls as a youth but the truth is, I didn't win many of them. I was Ryan Atwood before he left Chino. But I did the requisite training. I dragged myself out of bed early in the morning (OK, sometimes early in the afternoon) to run through Central Park and I honed my technique at Church Street. I did the pad work, smacked the heavy bag and did countless rounds shadow boxing with two pound weights. I even trekked down to New Jersey for an ill-advised sparring session with former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney. In the basement of a New Jersey gym, Cooney used his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame to bully me into corners while leaving me with a two-day headache thanks to a pair of haymakers he landed on my skull.
After a couple of months, I started to look OK. I could jab. I could hook. I could throw a decent right hand. By fight night I thought I was ready.
Boy was I wrong.
I don't think I fully appreciated the magnitude of my decision to box until I saw Marquez arrive at the gym. As he approached me, sizeable entourage in tow, I observed a fresh cut that was covered with a bandage on his forehead. In what can only be described as a pathetic attempt at humor, I deadpanned that when our little exhibition was over I was going to tell everyone that I was the one that split him open. The comment drew a wry smile from him, as if to say "like that would ever happen."
I laughed nervously when he suggested we fight without headgear, an idea he first floated in Las Vegas at a party the night before the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight. Both times, I declined. If I could have negotiated wearing a football helmet into the ring, I would have.
I watched with nervous anticipation as Marquez's famed boxing trainer, Nacho Beristain, meticulously taped his hands and I picked anxiously at my own wraps as I paced around the gym. As Marquez's 9-year-old son clung to his leg, I started to wonder why I wasn't fighting him.
All this was before either of us had set foot in the ring. It's a terrifying feeling standing across from a prizefighter. There he was, some 15-feet away, Juan Manuel Marquez, 5-7, 135 pounds of solid muscle and then there was me, 6-1, 185 pounds of, well, something else.
As I stood in my corner, a wave of panic overwhelmed me, a feeling that would have been worse had I known that my editor had approached Quintana a few minutes before the fight and asked him if Juan knew to take it easy. "I told him to," he said. "But he said, 'I flew all the way out here, I'm going to kick his ass.'" What's worse, Quintana also asked my editor how he wanted the fight to end: with me standing on my feet or lying flat on my back. Perhaps, wondering how I was going to write with brain damage, he chose the former.