"Why didn't you let him win, Ruelas?" she said. "You already won the title."
Gabe took a breath and tried again. "His dreams were my dreams," he said. "A championship, a family, a nice house, a car. I already achieved my dreams, but he never got the chance. You must believe me. I wish this could have happened to me instead of him."
She shook with grief a few more moments. Then she drew near. Words, intellect...they could do no good, not for a moment like this, not for a man like Gabe. He saw her arms come up, felt them wrap around him and hug him hard, like a son.
A sweet easiness washed through him. All the thrashing stopped. The water wasn't over his head anymore, near the river's other side.
"He still doesn't know what's going to hit him," says Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini. "It'll never go away. For the rest of his life, no matter how many times he defends his title, this is what he'll be known for. People will ask him about it wherever he goes—young people, teachers, reporters, little old ladies on airplanes. A little boy even came up to me once and said he was Duk Koo Kim's son! It'll make Gabe stronger as a person, but it'll always come back to him. Sometimes I'll look at my kids and think of Duk Koo Kim's child growing up without a father. You're linked with the fighter who died. You're linked with him forever."
Kim died at 23, four days after a lightweight title fight against Mancini in 1982, in the same Caesars Palace ring in which Gabe fought Jimmy. Mancini, just 21 then, fought six more times and retired at 24. "I boxed with the same intensity afterward—at least I think I did," he says. "But it wasn't the same anymore. Before that I always said to myself before I fought, 'Somebody's getting carried out of the ring tonight, and it's not going to be me,' but I couldn't do that anymore. The joy was gone from it. It didn't feel so righteous anymore."
At 4:30 a.m. on May 19, 13 days after the fight, Gabe's telephone rang. Jimmy was dead. Nine days later 50,000 people lined the streets in Barranquilla for his funeral. They carried his body through the city on a blaring red fire engine, almost as in his dream. Jimmy's two younger brothers—one of whom has been selected to represent Colombia in the Atlanta Olympics—will continue boxing. "It won't happen again," said Jimmy's father.
In Los Angeles the satellite dishes and vans overflowed Gabe's street. He conducted nearly 70 interviews, one-on-one, in his backyard.
A week later he went to the gym early, alone. He locked the doors, climbed into a ring and boxed with his shadow. He needed to know that he could still at least do that.
He rejected a proposed light in Las Vegas in September. It was the first time his inner circle had ever seen him do that. He canceled the plans he had been making since winning the title in 1994, plans to pose for photographs, hire an agent and begin signing endorsement deals. No company, he decided, could ever want him.