Reggie was a graceful, 22-year-old athlete, on the threshold of a great boxing career. He was 5 feet 11 inches tall, and 147 pounds, his best fighting weight. He wanted to be the best fighter he could be as a welterweight, and did not plan to move up in weight class as a junior middleweight or middleweight. As a welterweight, he was known as Cat Man, because of his quick, cat-like moves in the ring.
His heroes were: Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith, Sugar Ray Leonard. Though he was not a showman or an entertainer, he thought of himself as a skilled fighter, an artist capable of using different styles and defenses.
His last fight had been a win by technical knockout in the 3rd round of a scheduled 10-round fight. His best fight previously had been a 7th round KO over a top-ranked opponent.
Reggie’s amateur record had been impressive: 45 and 5. He had been fighting since he was 14, and had been a Chicago Golden Gloves champion when he was 17. Now, he was in the best shape of his career.
The gym was a place where he liked to hang out, and he trained intensely. He had heard of other fighters who over-trained, and who fought too many rounds in the gym before they had a fight. But he was careful to train for each individual fight, and never to leave his intensity in the gym.
When Reggie was training for a fight, he would tell himself that nothing could stop him. He would psyche himself into believing that he was as an alley cat, that he was merciless and vicious, that he was mean and nasty, and that he was ready to rip his opponent, and make his opponent bleed.
Reggie knew that there was a chance he could get hurt in the ring, but he thought that, as long as he stayed in shape, no one would be able to hurt him.
His life had required him to overcome numerous obstacles. He had never finished high school, and was the father of two children. Lynette was four years old, Steven was two years old. Wanda was Lynette’s mother, Tracy was Steven’s mother.
Reggie had dated Wanda when he was in high school. They had ended their relationship when Wanda became pregnant, and later he had started seeing Tracy. He had lived with Tracy for a year, before leaving home to go to boxing camp.
Later, he had moved from Chicago to New York City, to be closer to his trainer, Mr. Arthur Dixon. Reggie had not married, but had resumed his relationships with both Wanda and Tracy. He tried to see his children regularly.
But he had told both Wanda and Tracy that, for the present, boxing was the most important part of his life, and that his career was his number one priority. He had told them that he didn’t want to think about getting married until after he had developed a name for himself in boxing. When the time came for him to get married, he knew that he wanted to be able to provide for his family.
Right now, he didn’t think it would be right to get married, when his mind wasn’t on having a family, but on fighting in the ring, and when his wife would have to worry about whether he was going to get hurt in a fight.
Mr. Dixon had told Reggie, “You’ve got a lot going for you. You’ve got a promising career. You just need to stay focused on what you’re doing. Keep developing your skills. Just stay in the ring.”
Reggie had grown up in a housing project in Chicago. His parents still lived in Chicago.
His father, Alfred, had been an amateur boxer, and had encouraged Reggie’s boxing career.
His mother, Margaret, had wanted him to stay in school. Margaret had wanted him to become a teacher, but she was glad that he was away from the drug dealers and gangs in the project. She was proud of the way he was looked up to by the kids in the community who talked about his talent as a boxer.
Reggie’s older brother, Maurice, was in prison on burglary charges. Maurice had done some boxing before he want to prison.
Reggie had been training hard to become a top-rank fighter. With Mr. Dixon’s help, he had come a long way as a boxer. He was learning how to slip the jab, how to block the left hook, how to be a good defensive fighter. He had learned how to use the ring, how to hit at all angles, how to hit with power.
There were so many skills that he wanted to command: how to throw combinations, how to stay off the ropes, how to tie up his opponent with his arms when necessary, how to work the body and then go to the head, how to move out of reach, and how to keep moving.
Now, he was about to step into the ring for an important fight against a brutal puncher named Derek “Big D” Drayton.
Drayton was a sly and crafty fighter, who liked to try to frustrate his opponent, and draw his opponent into a slugging contest. He had a tough chin, could take a punch, and was willing to trade punches in order to land his big left hook. He was a determined and dangerous fighter who had great punching power.
“Big D” was a body puncher, rather than a tactical boxer. He was an exciting and explosive fighter, who could suddenly come alive and throw combinations of punches when he was apparently losing or behind in a round.
But above all, he was a master of dirty tactics, delivering low blows or throwing punches after the bell. Pushing and shoving his opponent, forcing his opponent into a corner, he was good at head-butting, opening a cut on the face of his opponent.
Derek Drayton was from Cleveland, Ohio, but had been training in Albany, New York. He was working hard to develop a reputation as a fighter to be feared.
A Golden Gloves champ when he was 18, he had narrowly missed making the Olympics team when he was 20, losing in the semi-finals of the Olympics trials. His career had been advancing recently. He had a professional record of 20 and 2, with 15 KO’s. He had stopped his opponent before the 4th round in his last 5 fights.
This fight was an important test for both Reggie and Derek. Reggie was widely regarded as an up-and-coming fighter. Derek wanted to beat him, and to continue to fight top-rank contenders in the welterweight division.
Big D had tried to intimidate him before the fight, saying that Reggie couldn’t hit and couldn’t take inside shots to the body.
“He’s gonna fold up, when I go to the body,” Drayton had said. “He’s never faced a fighter who can beat him with body shots. I’m gonna take him apart.”
Reggie wanted to win some respect, but had never seen Drayton in any previous fights. His training routine had been rigorous for the last two months: 100 push-ups a day, 200 sit-ups a day, and a 5-mile run every morning. Reggie wanted to prove that he had the heart of a fighter.
To his advantage, he was two inches taller than Drayton, and had a longer reach by two inches. Drayton had lost three pounds to make the weight for the fight.
Reggie’s fight plan was to stay on the outside, not to get into a brawl, not to take a lot of punches, and not to get into heavy exhanges where one punch could end the fight. Mr. Dixon wanted him to use his left jab, and to try to use his quickness and speed to frustrate his more powerful opponent.
Rules for the fight were that: there would be no standing-8 count, the 3-knockdown rule would be in effect, and a fighter could be saved by the bell only in the last round. Scoring would be done by the 10-point-must scoring system, with the winner of each round receiving 10 points, and the loser 9 points or less.
The two boxers now entered the ring. Reggie was moving his head and pumping his arms as he warmed up. His powerful shoulders and bulging biceps were as sleek as the clever look on his face. He looked confident and ready. He was wearing red trunks with white letters that said CAT MAN.
Drayton was loosening up and stretching his arms, and dancing on the other side of the ring. His body was rock-hard, with sharp shoulders, and washboard abdominal muscles. His head was shaved, and shining with sweat. He was wearing white trunks with black letters that said DRAYTON.
The crowd was cheering as a tall, heavy-set man walked to the center of the ring. Wearing a black tuxedo, and holding a microphone in his hand, the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this bout is scheduled for 10 rounds!” The crowd started cheering louder.
“Introducing, in the red corner, wearing the red trunks with white trim, weighing in at 146 and ˝ pounds, from Chicago Illinois, with a professional record of 18 and 0, 12 by knockout, the Cat Man, Reggie Banks!”
The crowd shouted its approval as Reggie lifted his arms over his head.
“Introducing, in the black corner, wearing the black trunks with white trim, weighing in at an even 147 pounds, from Cleveland, Ohio, his record is 20 and 2, with 15 KO’s, Derek Big-D Drayton!”
The crowd whistled as Drayton shook his right hand and danced around the ring.
The referee motioned for the fighters to approach the center of the ring. As they listened to the final instructions, the two boxers stared at each other. Reggie seemed defiant and determined, Drayton looked hateful and sullen, with sweat dripping down his face and chest.
The referee said, “Remember to protect yourself at all times.” The two fighters separated, and returned to their corners.
The ring was cleared, and the bell sounded. Both fighters came out quickly, with Drayton lunging forward and throwing a left hook that missed. Reggie moved laterally, and scored with a left jab, but Drayton came back with a left hook that landed on his body.
Both fighters kept moving, looking for an opening. Drayton kept moving forward, trying to cut down the ring. Reggie danced and evaded his opponent’s attempts to crowd him, and scored with a sharp left hook to the head.
Drayton kept moving in, using left jabs and straight rights, and scored with shots to the body. Reggie backed up and scored with a left jab, but missed with an overhand right as the crafty fighter ducked his head.
A few moments later, Drayton backed him into a corner, while Reggie kept his arms up, and moved to his left. He weaved and spun, and threw a slashing right to the head.
The stealthy fighter covered with his arms, and leaned forward. Reggie threw another right that bounced off his left arm. Drayton threw a looping right that missed. The bell sounded, and the round ended.
As Reggie sat down in his corner, Mr. Dixon huddled over him, and gave him a drink of water. “Take it to him!” said the trainer. “Throw that left hook!”
“He’s trying to work his way inside,” said Reggie, his face half-covered by a towel.
“Box him!” said the trainer. “Keep moving!”
The second round started, with Drayton moving to the center of the ring, and Reggie circling and showing his speed. Drayton threw a left jab that missed, and Reggie countered with a hard right to the head. The crowd cheered, and Reggie threw a straight-right left-jab combination to the body.
Big D covered up, and started holding and clinching, so that the referee had to separate the two boxers. Reggie tried to pressure his opponent, but the dazed boxer scored with a strong left jab.
Then Reggie threw a short right that missed. Drayton threw another left jab, and Reggie felt a sudden pain in his right eye.
“He thumbed me in the eye!” Reggie tried to complain to the referee, but the referee motioned for them to continue fighting.
Big D threw a left jab that bounced off Reggie’s right shoulder. Then he followed with a straight right that was blocked by a right forearm. Reggie threw a left jab that missed, and Drayton countered with a left hook to the body.
Reggie backed up, and kept circling his adversary. With a flash of speed, he tagged him with a left hook to the head, and the crowd responded.
The fighters traded sharp punches to the body, as they moved into closer range, and clinched, and the referee pulled them apart. Reggie moved back, and then advanced quickly, and threw a hard right that stung his opponent. Drayton backed up, and the crowd cheered.
The crowd was shouting “Hit him! Go get him!” The fighters tested each other’s defenses, and maneuvered into a corner of the ring. Drayton threw a left that landed low on the stomach. Reggie faked with a left jab, and threw another left hook as the round ended.
As he sat in his corner, Mr. Dixon talked rapidly to him. “Take him out!” shouted the older man. “He’s ready to go! Take him out!”
The trainer gently pulled the mouthpiece out of Reggie’s mouth, washed it off, and put it back in. Reggie was breathing hard, as his face was being sponged off and toweled dry.
“He’s not going to go down with one punch,” said the grim fighter.
“Just keep hitting him, and he’ll go down!”
Reggie sat in his corner, and lowered his head to keep from looking at the crowd. Then he sat up, and listened while the older man said calmly, “Let’s put this guy away!”
The third round started, with Drayton coming out quickly, and scoring with two left jabs. The younger fighter moved laterally, and threw a left hook that missed. Drayton threw a left hook that landed. Sweat splashed from Reggie’s head. He lowered his hands, and leaned back, dodging away.
Drayton kept moving forward, and threw a left-right combination to the body. Reggie flexed his arms, using his gloves to block a flurry of punches. Drayton backed him into the ropes, and started pounding away at the body. Reggie started bobbing and weaving, and moved out of range to the other side of the ring.
Big D kept trying to close in, but was halted by a right hand to the head. Then, as he tried to bull forward, he was stung by another strong right hand to the chin. He scored with a left jab, but Reggie countered with a hard left to the body. The fighters circled each other, and traded punches that did not do any damage.
The older fighter looked frustrated, and said angrily, “Come on!”
“You can’t hit!” taunted Reggie, and danced around the ring.
A number of punches were thrown by both fighters that missed, and then Reggie scored with several lefts and rights to the face. The crowd cheered, and a chorus of shouts said, “Beat him up!”
Reggie was getting faster and stronger as he continued fighting. He was using his balance and speed to widen his punching range. He kept his left foot outside his opponent’s right, so that he was in a position to slip the jab, and stayed in good punching position.
“Try to nail him with the right hand!” he thought. He ducked under a left hook, and stung his adversary with a bruising shot to the ribs.
Drayton had a reddened welt under his left eye, and had blood running from his nose. He was keeping his arms up, but his punches were losing power.
Reggie lowered his right shoulder, as if he were going to throw a right uppercut to the body. Drayton lowered his gloves to block the punch, but Reggie threw an overhand right that landed on the chin. Drayton was staggered. He leaned back on the ropes, and looked like a beaten fighter.
The referee waved his arms, signaling an end to the fight. Reggie stood at the center of the ring, lifting his hands in victory.
The crowd was cheering, as Reggie went back to his corner, where Mr. Dixon waited for him, and embraced him saying, “Yeah, that’s the way to fight!”
Reggie felt good about the fight, and felt that he had proven his talent as a boxer. He had shown that he could take a punch, that he could hit with both hands. No one could say now that he was just a defensive fighter, because he had shown that he could control the ring, and that he had punching power.
He wanted to be able to say that he could beat anybody. The memory lingered in his mind, of when he had been 12 years old and had been beaten by a gang of kids in his housing project. Now, he felt that he could defend himself against anybody.
As he stood in the center of the ring, the announcer said, “The winner, by technical knockout, in the third round, Reggie Banks!” The crowd continued cheering, and the referee lifted his arm. The jubilant fighter started dancing, and kept his right arm over his head.
He walked over to Drayton, and said, “Good fight!” But he didn’t concern himself any more with his opponent. His vanquished adversary had accepted the risk that he might get hurt, like any other fighter who stepped into the ring.
The crowd was shouting, “Reggie!” and “Cat Man!”
Reggie looked at the crowd, and lifted both arms in triumph. He spit out his mouthpiece, and smiled, as he watched an attendant wiping a streak of blood from the floor of the ring. He went to his corner, climbed through the ropes, and leaped gracefully from the ring, like a cat.