At the end of 15 long, hard rounds last Saturday night, the heart and soul of gray, workaday old Glasgow was there for Jim Watt to take. "O, flower of Scotland," the crowd sang, breaking into a patriotic favorite, a sad-happy ballad commemorating battles of long ago, "when will we see your like again?"
And Watt himself, the blue-and-white flag of his nation held high over him, sang along with his people. "I'm going to pull it out for Scotland," he'd said a couple of days earlier. And he'd done just that, despite the misgivings of the hometown bookies, the only Glaswegians to doubt him when they set the odds at 7-4 in favor of Howard Davis Jr., the former Olympic champion from New York, who was challenging Watt for his WBC lightweight title.
It was a great night for Glasgow; in the local view, it was also a great stramash, which is a word the Scots have for a Donnybrook, a swinging fight. And for days before that, they'd been able to enjoy, as an hors d'oeuvre, a verbal stramash that went beyond the normal discourtesies exchanged between fighters.
The 24-year-old Davis—John-John, his family calls him—probably had little idea of what he was starting when he came to town and mentioned that he could beat Watt with his arms and legs cut off and a cigarette in his mouth. Just a formal insult. Indeed, Davis had used almost the same words against Termite Watkins last September. How was he to know Watt would take them seriously?
But Watt did. When the fighters met last Wednesday at a somewhat contrived media event, he was plainly and genuinely angry. "You are fighting the fastest body in the world," Davis said for openers. "You're so fast?" Watt snarled back. "So how come you've landed on your butt so often. You've only been in against 10-round club fighters." Now he was moving into the real stramash stuff. "I saw you on the tape against [Larry] Stanton. You didn't go down; you jumped on the floor to avoid a punch. We'll see just how much courage you have on Saturday night."
Howard fell back onto the verbal ropes, seemingly a little startled at this violence. But at least he wasn't bored. Since his arrival in Scotland a week earlier, boredom had been his worst enemy. In the summer of '76, many experts regarded him as the brightest prospect among the five U.S. gold medalists, including Leon Spinks and Sugar Ray Leonard, and his chief asset seemed to be the speed of his punching. Although his pro record was 13-0, his fists were more flashy than flattening: he had but five knockouts.
And there was talk that Davis wasn't deeply in love with the fight game; in fact, it seemed of late that the main use to which he put his speed was to keep out of range of punches, while attempting to score with his long reach. And in Scotland last Friday, rumors of his disenchantment with boxing had gotten so strong that the wire services put out a story that he was packing his bags and leaving town. "If he does that," said Mickey Duff, the fight's promoter, who had signed Davis for a reported $300,000 and Watt for an estimated $500,000, "I'm going to sue him for the whole million dollars he says he's earned so far."
It wasn't necessary, of course. Davis showed up on schedule, but in the days leading up to the fight he seemed bored and restless. However, he had plenty to say about Watt: "Sure, I know he's consistent. Consistent like a robot, like R2-D2, like somebody in his corner is moving him on a radio beam—'Go to your left hand. Move to your right.' He's a very slow starter. I could end him early. All the same, I like to feel my opponent out before I start throwing my bombs."
But wouldn't he feel the pressure of fighting in Scotland? There might be as many as 30,000 of the most fanatical sports fans in the world crammed into Ibrox Park Stadium, the home of the Glasgow Rangers soccer team.
Davis was inclined to shrug that off. And he retold the story of his mother's death on the eve of his gold-medal fight in Montreal. "Could there be worse pressure than that?" he asked.