"A welterweight," mumbles Montabana. "From '37 to '42. Once in New York, but mostly I boxed around Birmingham." Montabana has worked with Smith for two years and has taught him to fight like a real fighter.
Sanford, who has no trainer, is facing a 184-pounder from Oakman in a quarterfinal bout. Again the crowd is doubtful. Again Sanford attacks chin-first, swinging at anything he can reach. And again he connects, nailing the man's head in the second round, knocking him senseless as the crowd erupts. Two little girls rush up for Sanford's autograph. He's only two fights away from a thousand dollars.
"I need the money," he says. "That's why I'm here."
But he doesn't get it. In the semis, a 180-pound factory worker from Carbon Hill decisions Sanford. Smith wins the final, and retains his title.
On the heavyweight side, Huie runs into a 315-pounder named Eric Esch and comes away with a mouthful of blood and a fourth-place finish—out of the money. The heavyweight prize winds up in the big hands of Steve Hyche, a 242-pound 27-year-old from Cordova. Hyche, a pro football linebacker, is between jobs. He was released by the Chicago Bears last season and is biding his time until the start of the new World League of American Football. As it turns out, just three months after boxing in Jasper, Hyche makes the cut with the Birmingham Fire.
As Hyche collects his cash, rebel whoops can be heard echoing in the moonlit field outside the building. The pickups are pointing back toward the highway. Ricky Sanford is already long gone. He has trees to trim tomorrow.