A stillness came over his house. Leslie knew that the relief she felt made no sense. "But this feeling came over me that maybe the thing I was so terrified of, the thing that wouldn't let me go to see Gabe fight anymore, had happened now," she said. "That I had been right to be so afraid, but now it was past."
The statistics, of course, would only make her husband sneer. The statistics that said 11 men in boxing history have ended the lives of opponents not just once but twice. And that one man, a British heavyweight named Owen Swift, cut down three men in five years back in the 1830s.
And, too, that four boxers who inflicted death in the ring were later themselves killed there.
On a morning in early September, Gabe traveled the corkscrew road up Big Bear Mountain to his California training camp. On Dec. 1, after the longest layoff of his career except for the rehabilitation of his elbow, he will defend his title, against Azumah Nelson in Palm Springs.
He knows that even though Nelson has won three world titles, even though Nelson beat him in a controversial decision in February 1993, the fight will not be about Nelson. It will be about Jimmy García.
"Gabe wants to prove, in a perverse way, that Jimmy didn't die in vain, that he died at the hands of a great champion," says his friend Karns. "But I'll be watching to see his immediate reaction when he lands a punch that stuns Nelson. Will Gabe hold back? If what happened accelerates his instinct to hold back, it's a great danger."
"It won't affect me in the ring," Gabe says. "It's a different person in there—it's not me. It's a person who won't give up no matter what. But me, out here, I wonder. When I die, will God think I killed Jimmy on purpose?
"Jimmy will live through me, because I'll think about him till the day I die. I'm not related to Jimmy, but I feel I am now. It makes me want to do even better, like I'm doing things for him. What happened, whether I like it or not, was an experience. You have to grow from it, gain something from everything in life. Maybe it'll make me stronger. I'm sure it won't make me softer. I'll be fine.... I think I will...but who knows?"
All the articles he could find about the fight and Jimmy's death, every last sad word, he has saved. He is waiting only to find an extra-large album in which to preserve them. But a few changes, subtle ones, have occurred since his last trip up Big Bear.
He has asked Leslie, for the first time, to spend time with him at camp, and to bring Diego with her. They went his first weekend of light training. He has been letting his wife put away a little more money for the future, sometimes even allowing her to talk him into wearing a seat belt. "I sense an older, more mature man," she says.