Small towns wait lifetimes for heroes like this. Fathers spend years preparing sons for nights like this, and boxing draws life from nights like this, for a chance to whisper in a 52-year-old man's ear the news that his son, not someone else's, will one day be champion of the world.
This Saturday night in April, 3,200 people are on their feet in the Eldorado (Ill.) High School gym, trying to get a look at a 17-year-old local hero. Half of the fans in attendance seem to have become part of his entourage, and the other half stand and applaud his entrance to a ring set up in the middle of the gym floor.
"Aaaand in the red corner, the pride of Carmi, Illinois—Clarence 'Bones' Adams," the ring announcer calls out. Bones dances around the ring. His father, Clarence Sr., stands in the red corner, high-fiving the other cornermen, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, well aware that parked outside the gym is a Madison Square Garden network television truck, beaming images of his son, his future world champ, to a satellite in the heavens above.
And in the blue corner there seems to be a midget. No, it's Bones's opponent! Javier Diaz—all five feet, 118 lumpy pounds of him—looks up and finds himself in the ring with a bony kid (thus the nickname) with a Don King 'do.
"There's no use even giving Diaz advice," says Mario Lozano, 27, a fighter on the undercard who still can't recall the punch that Bones knocked him out with last November. "Diaz is going to lose. He could put together a thousand lucky punches, and he's not going to win."
Luck is not on the 27-year-old Diaz's side tonight. Thwack! Bones's right eye grows puffy from a Diaz left in the second round. Smack!. Diaz's right hand slams into Bones's stomach. But it is all for naught. Bones gathers himself and turns on Diaz with fists so quick the combinations are heard, not seen. Diaz clinches whenever he can or taunts Bones, who replies with another flurry of punches. "I love it!" screams Tank Adams, Bones's older brother, who is seated at ringside. "Put a couple of his ribs in a bag for me!"
Tank is a former pro fighter who retired at 21 to become a self-described "professional pizza-eater." Just a few seats down from Tank sits Momma (Mary Ann, but no one calls her that) Adams, who tells an MSG p.r. man who has approached her with a question, "I'm not doing nothing until this fight's over."
And then it is over—a 12-round unanimous decision for Bones—and Momma watches as Tank and Bones and Clarence Sr. hug in the middle of the ring, and the ring announcer makes another appearance: "Ladies and Gentleman, the new WBC Bantamweight Continental Americas champion, Clarence "Bones' Adams."
Bones learned to fight when he was five. He had a 172-4 record as an amateur by the time he was 14, and three months shy his 15th birthday, he turned professional. No Golden Gloves. No Olympics. No childhood.
Clarence Sr. either lied or winked his way past state boxing commissions just to get Bones licensed to fight professionally. In his debut, in April 1990, Bones fought 36-year-old Simmie Black to a decision in Memphis for $100. From there, the Adamses loaded up their van and crisscrossed the country from South Carolina to Michigan to Missouri, putting their future world champ on any card that would have him.