The Perfect Punch in the Face – A Boxing Story
A boxing story
I have a friend named Rod. He’s a master cabinet maker. You can see his mastery in his self confidence, and that part of him that is always far away, occupied with lofty things, like his craft. You can see the mojo in him. To be admitted to his workshop, his sanctum sanctorum in Sonoma, California, is like being admitted into a matador’s dressing room before the fight. To be able to watch him work is like being given a private concert by James Brown. And he makes huge money, as master cabinetmakers do.
“What do you want for your birthday?” he asked me, thinking he would show largess with an expensive gift. “You want a Rolex?”
“I want a snuffbox made by you,” I said. He seemed disappointed. I told him, “You’re a master craftsman. It’s what you do. It would be a piece of you and your tradition, going back to, what, Jesus when he was a carpenter. If I have something just for me, made by a master, then I’ll feel a little like a master, too. I’ll feel privileged.”
So he made just for me the best cherrywood snuffbox the world has ever seen. Just holding it in my hands I can feel the mastery, and feel I’m holding something Jesus could have made when he was a carpenter in Nazareth. Jesus would have made nothing but the best.
So what, you’re wondering, has this got to do with a punch in the face? Pinky Gomez and I trained in the same boxing gym in East San Jose, California. Not such a nice neighborhood, but a good venue for fighters. He was pro, I was amateur. He was magic. It was what he did. To watch him train or fight was to watch a master craftsman at work. I knew, if his mojo held, that in him I was watching a champion being born. I was watching the history of the sport I love being made. I wanted some of his mojo. And that was in his fists. Girlfriend was appalled. What can I say?
But there was more in Pinky’s fists than mojo. I learned that he had sparred with Sugar Ray Leonard. Had even tagged him a few times. And Leonard had given Pinky a shiner. Now think about this: Leonard had punched Pinky. Before that Tommy Hearns had punched Leonard. The champ before Hearns had punched him; and on and on back in history. On back to Jake LaMotta, through Sugar Ray Robinson. Back, back to Hammerin’ Hank Armstrong, first holder of a Triple Crown, back, back through the Ring Record to the first championship fights under Marquise of Queensberry rules in New York and London, back in the 1890s when John L. Sullivan fought Gentleman Jim Corbett in the first major fight with gloves and three-minute rounds. Back when “the form” had first been established. In Pinky’s fists was a physical, living, blood-pumping link with the history of modern boxing. I wanted that same connection with boxing history.
“I think you’re great, Pinky,” I told him. “How ’bout layin’ one on me? Right in the face.” Pinky grinned. He knew what I meant. Because of our different weight classes we would never meet in the ring. It was this or nothing.
“You want it with the glove or without?”
“Don’t risk your knuckles.”
A looping right cross encased in a nine ounce glove slammed into my left cheekbone, just under the eye. Pinky did it just right. Not hard enough to knock me down, but enough to leave a mark. My eye swelled. My head buzzed. And I was one more link in the chain with Pinky and Hammerin’ Hank and all the others. It was a perfect punch in the face.
From Kirkus Reviews
A disparate collection of articles that circle around the nebulous but recognizable notion of manly episodes, where the best material is so fine it casts a radiant shine over the entire lot…. Two articles absolutely glow, and both come from Richard Sterling: one on an existential, transhistorical punch to his own cheekbone from a boxing master, another on the fine and mad sport of luring pickpockets into a trap. Sterling’s writing is like spitfire, foursquare and jazzy with crackle, and his behavior is just scary enough to make you glad you’re not approaching a touchy border crossing in his company… Another strange and compelling day for man on planet Earth. — <i>Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.</i>