Chad Dawson vs. Glen Johnson, Hartford, November 2009

My Wall Street friend and I drove up to Hartford from Westport in my green Town Car with the white landau roof. My neighbor called it a pimpmobile. A couple of hours later, we’d see a couple of real pimps, up from New Haven to support Chad Dawson, walking the concourse in the old arena where Gordie Howe, the Bernard Hopkins of the NHL, finished his career with the Whalers at 52. I checked into the downtown Hilton. On the way to my room in the elevator, a lanky kid in his early twenties stood next to his girlfriend. She had a silver dress on, cut short across her thighs. “Are you a fighter”? I said. “Yes,” he said. His girlfriend smiled.

We started off in the steakhouse a block away from the arena. We sat down to scotch, the seafood tower for two, wine and steaks. My friend was a lobsterman’s son who got himself into Cornell business school writing an essay about fishing with his father, “Mad Dog,” who invented deep-sea lobster fishing off the Jersey coast in the eighties. Across from us a couple was having dinner. The woman was hot, they were dressed well, and you could tell the guy had money. I wasn’t paying attention when my friend said she was checking me out. Eight years later, at 46, that doesn’t happen much anymore. Tempus fugit.

On our way to the door we walked past the bar. The fight crowd now filled it—journalists, promotion company people, fighters not fighting that night, some young women. As we left I looked to the right and Art Pellulo of Banner Promotions was introducing Demetrius Andrade to a couple of people. “He’s an Olympian,” Pelullo said.

Inside the arena two pimps were on the concourse. One looked like Method Man’s character, Rodney, in “The Deuce.” We got beers and went inside. We were on the floor, twenty-five rows back. Just as the announcers started announcing the last undercard fight, Alfredo Angulo versus Harry Joe Yorgey, I saw the couple from the steakhouse walking ringside looking for their seats. The fighters were introduced and the bell rang.

Angulo was sharper then, he hadn’t yet been to hell and back with James Kirkland, or in with Canelo, and no one expected Yorgey, a club fighter who’d gotten the fight by knocking out Ronald Hearns, to do much. Like many fighters, and perhaps more than usual, Harry Joe had an over-involved, flamboyant father. The boxing version of a tennis parent. As round three started, Yorgey’s father, looking like a cross between a biker and a cowboy, was taking pictures with fans in the open space between the hockey boards and our seats. Yorgey was taking a beating. Just as the camera flashed, Angulo finally clipped Yorgey with a left and knocked him cold. The old man didn’t seem to notice as he grinned and the camera flashed again.

The Dawson-Johnson main-event was, like most of Chad’s fights at that time, clinical, a little dull, and he won a unanimous decision. He was at his peak then, coming off two decision wins over Antonio Tarver and one before that over Johnson. This was before Andre Ward, of course, and Adonis Stevenson. “Chad smoked too much weed, that’s what happened to him,” said an Uber driver who picked me up several months ago in front of my office on Boylston Street in Boston. He was from New Haven and drove in Boston because there was no money driving in Connecticut and New York was too competitive. “I heard that from certain guys—street guys—that he was partying too much and smoking too many trees.” I couldn’t tell if he was bullshitting me or not, at least a little, but it sounded right given Dawson’s decline.

After we left the arena we got double scotches in the tiny Hilton bar. It was packed. We were buzzing from drinking several beers in the arena plus the scotch at dinner. The crowd around us was amped. Jim Lampley led a procession of people connected to the fight who walked up the sidewalk into the Hilton. “Jimmy Lamps”! someone called out. Lampley smiled. Glen Johnson and his wife passed, arm-in-arm, walking casually. Five minutes later Emmanuel Steward walked by, and when he was past my friend said, “Lampley said to meet him at the bar”! Manny looked back quizzically and then smiled.

After the car service picked up my friend to take him home to Westport, I was on my own. I headed back to the steakhouse. The bar was packed there too, more than before. The fight crowd was back, but it was the higher end. It was hard to get a drink and I headed outside to smoke a cigar. Art Pellulo was smoking a cigar with another guy. “What are you guys smoking”? I said, breaking the ice. “Cubans,” Pellulo said, “what are you smoking”? “Sancho Panza. Honduran,” I said. Pellulo looked away. I started talking to his friend. He owned a landscaping company. Their daughters played field hockey together. “He’s like Bob Arum but people don’t know him because he promotes foreign fighters. He’s like an Arum.”

Back in front of the Hilton I smoked a second Sancho. I talked with a married couple, friends of Johnson’s from Staten Island. The husband was a sculptor. “You know they call Staten Island ‘Shao Lin’”? I said. “Have you ever heard of the Wu-Tang Clan”? They hadn’t. Later, Angulo’s trainer, Clemente Medina, was sitting on the one of the artful concrete benches and speaking excitedly in Spanish, apparently relating the victory to someone back home. After he got off, I asked him who was next for Angulo. “Sergio Martinez”? I said. “No,” Medina said, shaking his head.

The next morning the pipes in the bathroom woke me up. Bang-bang-bang! Bang-bang-bang! I was hungover. It was seven-something. I tried to roll over and ignore it. Bang-bang-bang! Then the fire alarm went off. I tried to ignore that too. Then I heard sirens. I pulled back the stiff curtains and saw fire trucks coming down the street. What would my mother think if I stayed in my hotel room because I was hungover, the place actually was on fire, and I died, I thought. I packed my bag and walked seven stories down the stairwell, through the lobby, and I was right out in front, where I’d been six hours earlier. Most of the same people were there, including the fighter and his girl from the elevator, the sculptor and his wife from Shao Lin, and Clemente Medina. Everyone was in their pajamas, or close to it. The morning after, I thought. Then I slipped into the parking garage, got in my Lincoln, and drove home to Fishtown.