Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Boxer


I have an old friend in Denver. Lanny grew up in prison, he wasn't an inmate, his old man was the warden. The warden was a boxer, good enough to win a Pacific Fleet heavyweight championship during World War II.

The warden believed in boxing, loved boxing and he started his blonde, blue-eyed son in the ring when he was a little kid. The warden believed in boxing as rehabilitation for his prisoners. It kept them busy, healthy, out of trouble and gave them an outlet to relieve the constant stress of being in prison. The boxing program he developed was good enough to set one of his former prisoners on a path to the heavyweight championship. That prisoner, Ron Lyle became a heavyweight contender boxing Ali, Foreman, Ernie Shavers and many others.

The warden's son, my friend Lanny, at 12 began training and boxing with the prisoners. He was a boy fighting grown men and he soon began beating them. He moved on to Golden Gloves in his early teens. As a freshman at the University of Colorado he fought as a middleweight in the South Western Regional Golden Gloves Championship. Lanny's eyes were on the Olympics. But, in the championship bout, he was beaten, badly, by a Hispanic middleweight who later, as a top contender, faced off against Sugar Ray Leonard and lost to Sugar Ray in a split decision. Lanny told he'd never been hit so hard in his life as he had been in that fight. He said after the first punch he wanted to drop his gloves and let the guy finish him. At 20 he retired from the ring.

19 years later, I flew into Denver to go skiing, Lanny and his wife Karen picked me up at the airport, we went out for a late dinner, to catch up, have a few laughs and we'd head for the slopes the next morning.

Without reservations there was a wait for a table, so we sat at the bar. Lanny's wife was 33 years old and she looked 22. Like Lanny, she's blonde and blue eyed. To say Karen is an attractive woman is an understatement. While Lanny and I were in deep conversation about the radio business, Karen was sitting next to him minding her own business and talking off and on with the woman tending bar.

A huge guy, a football player sized guy, started to make a move on Lanny's wife. Karen politely told him she wasn't interested, the guy persisted. He was obnoxious and pushy. Lanny finally noticed what was going on and asked the guy to leave his wife alone. The guy responded by putting his arm tightly around Karen, he squeezed her boob and he got in Lanny's face. Lanny's response was to tell the guy that if he didn't leave instantly, he'd kick his ass. The guy laughed and told him "to fuck off". Lanny stood up and said, "Let's go outside." Lanny didn't seem angry or excited, he was cool as he could be.

Karen and I followed them out the door. Lanny in the lead and the big boy right behind him. When Lanny got to the parking lot, he turned around and said, "You can walk away now or you're finished." The big guy laughed, then telegraphed a slow, wide, looping right at Lanny's face. Lanny moved his head, the guy missed. Lanny stepped inside and peppered the guy's face with short, hard punches, when the guy's hands went up Lanny rained a series of hard body blows to the stomach and kidneys, the guy's arms went back down to cover up and Lanny set him up with a series of jabs and stunned the guy with a short, tight right cross. His hands were down, his eyes rolled back, he was dazed. Lanny went right back to work on the guy's face. A few seconds later it was over. The big boy was on his back on the wet asphalt, he was bleeding and his nose had moved an inch to the right. He wasn't unconscious but he was close. The guy's face looked like a package of fresh, bloody hamburger. Lanny destroyed him. The fight lasted less than a minute. It wasn't a fight it was a beating. 

The lady bartender had called the cops when we walked out, in minutes the cops and the EMTs arrived. They loaded the big boy in an ambulance and drove him away. One of the cops took Lanny aside to ask him what happened. They talked for maybe 5 minutes and the cop left.

I asked Lanny what the cop said, Lanny laughed, "The cop said, considering the size of the guy and the size of you, he ought to be embarrassed."

The next day while we were skiing I told Lanny that after seeing him in action last night I didn't understand why he quit boxing at 20, giving up his Olympic dream. Lanny drank some of his beer and laughed, "I was fast and I could move, but I could never hit hard enough to win at the next level."  

4 comments:

  1. A terrific telling! You know your friend Lanny is better off having not boxed at the "next level" and having his brain rattled. I was in the PAL boxing class at the Boys Club and loved banging the speed bag and hitting the big bag. Loved the footwork drills and the other exercises. My dad however intervened. He knew the cop who was running the class and said he was tell me to go the gym and shoot baskets. Dad told me he didn't want me growing up "punch drunk." My boxing experienced ended.

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    1. Did Bobby Bernard ever tell you about his boyhood friend "Iron Head" Johnson. The Indy PAL light heavy weight champ? Iron Head went to Louisville for the annual Indy-Louisville Pal matches. He fought a skinny 17 year old kid named Cassius Clay. Clay knocked Iron head out in the first minute of the first round. Bobby said when Iron Head woke up in the dressing room, the first thing out of his mouth was "Did I win?"

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    2. The story was great but your comment about Clay and "Iron Head" was just as good!

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