My date said she could see Danny “Bhoy” O’Connor’s eyes roll back into his head when Gabriel Bracero knocked him cold forty-four seconds into round one. I was in the beer line inside the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. When the fight was called they shut the bar down, and I was just standing there. A woman, a boricua who must have been with Bracero, yelled out next to me, “Get up, bitch! Get up, you little bitch! Get up, bitch!”
It was a PBC card. The Memorial Auditorium is where they hold the New England Golden Gloves tournament. The place is beautiful architecturally, as is the city itself, which has been born again, at least a little, since the mills thrived and Jack Kerouac was running wild for the high school football team in the 1940s.
My date was a professor of American Studies at UMass-Boston. “If I buy tickets to a fight in Lowell next week,” I texted her, “would you want to go? It’s going to be on TV. Sugar Ray Leonard is one of the announcers.” “Yes,” she wrote back. She picked me up at my place. My old Lincoln was in the shop. I had a flask full of Ballantine’s scotch for the ride. She didn’t seem to mind. She’d also let me smoke cigars in her car, no questions asked.
Riding up to Lowell on 495, I took several pulls off the flask. A warm fall wind was blowing as we parked around the corner from the auditorium, snatching a lucky spot. I tucked the flask under the seat, and we got out and walked into the arena. “Hey, Micky!”, called out a young guy next to me who looked like a fighter. Ward was taking pictures with fans in front of a Corona backdrop in the corridor. “Hey, what’s up,” Micky said, recognizing him.
Inside, we found our seats. Ten rows back for eighty bucks apiece. Sugar Ray was twenty feet away, prepping for the NBCSN intro. “My mother loves Sugar Ray Leonard,” my date said. Ryan Kielczweski was on the undercard. A good featherweight from Quincy. He was going hard to the body. I’d never been ringside. When you’re that close you see the fighters’ skin get red, on their faces and on their flanks.
Looking around and behind us, there were some faces I recognized. The elfin Irish guy who’d been an extra in one or two Boston mob movies. He’s the type of character who exists only in South Boston, Quincy, and Dorchester, and may as well be an alien everywhere else in Massachusetts. A few rows over from him was Norman Stone, or “Stoney,” John Ruiz’s cantankerous trainer when John was defending his WBA title on HBO in the early aughts. He was holding court with a couple of young guys, who were eagerly asking questions. “No, that was the Golota fight,” Stoney said, enjoying the attention.
Danny came in to “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the song sung by Glasgow Celtic supporters at their soccer matches. The spelling “Bhoy” comes from Celtic—the nickname their supporters have for the club is the “Bhoys.” I knew this because a friend is an expat lawyer who’s lived in Glasgow for years, and loves the club. I fumbled with my phone, trying to record O’Connor’s entrance for my friend. The angle was off. “I’m going to run to the bathroom quick,” I said. “And then hit the bar. You want something?” “No,” she said. I hustled out and ended up three people deep at the concourse bar, waiting to get a beer. The bell rang. I kept an eye on the ring and one on the bar. A little over a minute in, Bracero hit Danny with an overhand right. Danny looked like he took a bullet, his head bounced off the canvas, and Arthur Mercante Jr. waived it off.
“Jesus, that was fast,“ I said, getting back to my seat, “Did you see it?” “I saw his eyes roll back into his head,” she said. We left. Three weeks later she ghosted me. Never heard from her again. Saved me the trouble of dumping her, I thought. Always sucks getting beat to the punch, though, in boxing and life. I wonder what would have happened if Danny won a decision.