"That's the one thing I really feel bad about," says Chargin. "When you get a guy to substitute for you in the middle of the night and the people boo him."
Chargin, resplendent in baby blue, set off by a touch of gold jewelry and wavy silver hair, is in his customary seat: seccond row, aisle. This has been his command post since he moved from Oakland in 1966. From here he orchestrates fight night, calling out orders into his hot line, a red telephone he keeps under his seat.
All things considered, Chargin is having a pretty good night. Compared with Ben Lopez, he's having a great night.
In a quarter of an hour, Lopez will make his debut. Now he's in the catacombs, the dank, decrepit warren of dressing rooms. The walls are covered with blistered yellow paint; hot-water pipes along the low ceilings provide the most inspiring decoration. The showers don't drain, and it seems that fresh air hasn't breezed through since the place was a hole in the ground.
Now in Room 5, a cell 10 feet long and perhaps four feet wide, Lopez is warming up. Muche holds out his right hand and Lopez pounds it. He jabs, he throws combinations, he grunts, he breaks a sweat, he makes a hell of a racket. And all the while, Arturo Leon, a warhorse who is to lose to Cubanito Perez, a fine prospect, in the 10-round lightweight main event, is asleep on a Formica counter top six feet away. He's stretched out from the sink to the wall, covered by his robe, using his gym bag for a pillow.
A voice tells Lopez the world is ready for him. He pulls a ratty black robe over his ratty white trunks and walks up the steps and down the aisle toward his dreams. A kid named Steve Sotelo, who was victorious in his pro debut a couple of weeks back at the Olympic, is taking the same walk.
Lopez acquits himself nicely in the first couple of minutes. He moves, he jabs, he stuns Sotelo. Then, with 15 seconds left in the first round, Sotelo connects with two rights and a left, and Lopez is knocked down. He's up at eight and holds on until the bell. Thirty-two seconds into the second round, Lopez is defenseless in Sotelo's corner. Almost before it began, Lopez' pro debut is over. He's led back to his cell.
He sits in a chair in a corner and Muche stands over him. This was a class, Muche explains; you went to school, and it's time to review what was learned.
"You had the guy on the ropes and you let him off," Muche says. "Then you stood there and he tagged you."
"Why'd they stop it?" Lopez asks.