“TWO MEN ENTERED THE RING…THEN SOMETHING WENT WRONG.”- NEW YORK TIMES.// THE TRAINER . HOOD RIVER . COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
FightTwo men entered the ring for their first professional fight. Then something went wrong.
By DAN BARRY
MARCH 27, 2016
In One Corner
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Numbered balls of chance rattle and rise two nights a week down at the cavernous community hall of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It’s called a good bingo when your number comes up.
But that last Saturday before Christmas offered no good bingos. The night was reserved for a boxing event billed as Season’s Beatings, which had prompted a newspaper deliveryman named Anthony Taylor to pull up in his clattering Dodge Caravan. Twenty-four years old, 5 feet tall, 115 pounds, about to turn pro.
A fist of nerves, he walked down the glazed-tile stairwell to the finished basement, a space used for church dances and wedding banquets, but now an open locker room. Chandeliers glittered above the fighters trying to warm up and calm down, while the crowds upstairs cheered on the amateurs, including a sleepy-eyed 11-year-old who would knock out his grade-school opponent.
Taylor had longed for this moment. All those years of being picked on because of his size, all those street fights, all that anger needing redirection toward something constructive — all down to this. He had his hair in ropy dreadlocks and his tiger-patterned shorts, custom-made for $300, pulled high on his hardened torso.
Portable curtains in the basement separated the hometown favorites from the out-of-towners, the A’s from the B’s. Someone smart about boxing could walk in cold and tell which side was which. The local fighters are usually a notch above, in better shape, expected to win.
But Taylor’s been-around trainer, Jack Loew, heard this hammering sound, a whap, whap, whap-whap, from the curtain’s other side. He peeked and saw a sinewy teenager in red-and-white shorts pounding the outstretched mitts of his trainer with uncommon discipline. Whap-whap.
“We got a fighter,” Loew said to somebody.
Taylor was on his own side of the divide, warming up, when the curtain briefly parted to reveal his opponent. They made eye contact.
“Nothing like anger,” Taylor recalled. “Both nervous. Just looking at each other.”
The curtain closed.
Anthony Taylor working out at Jack Loew’s South Side Boxing Club in Youngstown, Ohio.
A Life of Taking Punches and Unleashing His Own
“Five foot even.” That’s how Anthony Taylor describes his height. Not a half-inch higher or lower. Five foot even.
When you’re 9 inches shorter than the average man, abuse will find you. But Taylor was determined from an early age to prove his true stature the only way he knew. “Street fighting,” he says.
His mother, an assembly-line factory worker, and his father, a handyman, split up before he was in kindergarten, so he bounced around a little. Moving from the small Ohio city of Warren to Youngstown, then down to Jackson, Tenn., he learned that broken families were tough on children, and that bullies were ubiquitous.
“I was always the smallest guy in the neighborhood, so I had a lot of people picking on me,” Taylor said. “I really didn’t go around looking for trouble. It just seemed to find me because I was so small.”
“And I had a bad attitude,” he added.
One day the manager of a gym in Jackson saw this small angry kid giving as good as he got, and invited him to do something with those quick hands and quicker rage. The kid began to learn.
“Somebody hit you, hit you really hard, and you want to do something back,” Taylor said. “But when you think about it, you can’t fight when you’re angry. Boxing is a thinking game.”
Taylor followed the amateur circuit — Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Nevada — earning a reputation as a boxer who kept on coming. At a fight one night in Little Rock, his trainer called out, “Go get him, Tiger.” The nickname stuck.
He tried a semester of community college, but higher education wasn’t for him, at least not yet. Sometimes the classes would run over time, and he’d be late to the gym. College could wait, he figured; boxing could not. He had his career goals.
“To be at the top of the ladder,” he said. “Number one. Champion.”
Missing his family back north, Taylor returned to Ohio. He lives with his fiancée, Tiera Glover, their 3-year-old daughter and her two sons in Warren, in a worn house with green plastic furniture planted under the porch’s sagging roof.
They cover the $600 monthly rent by delivering 250 copies of The Tribune Chronicle, a Warren newspaper, every morning. And every afternoon, except on days when he can’t afford the gas, Taylor drives his knocking Dodge Caravan, with its car seat and little girl toys, the 20 miles to Youngstown — to Jack Loew’s South Side Boxing Club, his cinder-block sanctuary, where boxing gloves hang from nails like holiday ornaments.
The club stands out along a beat-up stretch of Market Street. Some years ago, its owner, Jack Loew, hired a resident of a nearby halfway house for convicts to paint the exterior red and black. The artist also painted a pair of boxing gloves, enveloped in a wreath of stars that can convey dreamlike glory or a concussive haze.
Loew is 56, Youngstown-born, and as squat and solid as his building. He boxed as an amateur before focusing on a college football career that ended after several knee operations. He became a Teamster, lost the warehouse job he thought would last to retirement, worked construction and started his own asphalt-sealing company.
He also opened this club in 1989, as if in homage to what his hometown had once been. Youngstown was a pugnacious steel city of 167,000 when Loew was born, with boxing clubs anchored in many neighborhoods. This is where his childhood friend Ray Mancini — Boom Boom — learned how to become a world lightweight champion.
The neighborhood in Warren, Ohio, where Taylor and Glover, his fiancée, live with their daughter and Glover’s two sons.
A half-century later, Youngstown is down to a population of 65,000, a hemorrhaging of 100,000 people caused by steel-plant closings, a failure to diversify and the absence, so far, of a sustainable second act. Lost in the exodus were some signature parts of the Youngstown culture, including many boxing clubs.
But Loew took a shot. He opened his gym on Southern Boulevard, moved to an ancient brick building on Erie Street, then settled here, on the city’s tough south side. No problems so far, save for that time someone removed a massive tractor tire from the gym and rolled it like a determined Sisyphus up and down the hilly neighborhood — only to return the tire the next day. His excuse was simple: Just wanted to see if I could do it, Coach.
Two decades ago, a scrappy 9-year-old kid from the south side’s Slovak neighborhood came to Loew’s gym looking to learn how to box. This kid, Kelly Pavlik, went on to become the Ghost, an electrifying, dominant boxer with a drinking problem. He abruptly quit in 2013, saying he feared the long-term medical impact of his chosen career.
“Kelly picked my door to come through,” said Loew, who is called Coach Jack by his boxers. “We were always crowded, but when we won middleweight champion of the world. …”
No need to finish the sentence: Pavlik’s success was good for Jack Loew’s South Side Boxing Club. It attracted a lot of locals looking to make their mark, including a superflyweight named Anthony Taylor.
“A 115-pound Joe Frazier,” Loew said. This is boxing code for saying that Taylor keeps coming at you, takes a punch to give a punch, and has fists that hit like anvils.
Taylor couldn’t remain an amateur forever. Loew needed to find him a professional opponent, maybe for the Season’s Beatings event that he had set up for the week before Christmas at the Ukrainian hall. But flyweights and bantamweights — who weigh less than half the reigning heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury — are hard to come by in this part of the country.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, though, a trainer from Detroit who was bringing in two amateurs for the boxing night offered a solution. He said that he could supply a flyweight who, like Taylor, was itching to turn pro.
Taylor, who is 5 feet and 115 pounds, working out at the boxing club. “I was always the smallest guy in the neighborhood,” he said, “so I had a lot of people picking on me.”Two Partners Engaging in a Dangerous Dance
The ding of a bell in a church hall transformed two slight young men into professional fighters, hired to withstand blows to body and head while trying to pound each other out of consciousness. Their pay for the four-round fight: $300 for Taylor and $500 for his 19-year-old opponent, since he was coming in from 200 miles away.
Moments earlier they had stood with heads bowed, their coaches massaging their backs as the referee went over final details. Then they had tapped gloves, a gesture conveying good-luck solidarity between strangers, known to each other only through a stolen glance across that parted curtain.
Anthony Taylor danced the cautionary dance with his partner, head bobbing, looking for a moment to strike. He prided himself on his patience. But when the opponent tested with a tentative, catlike thrust, Taylor responded with a wild swing that punched only air, betraying his overeagerness.
Then came a split-second scrum, left right left right. Violent contact made. The crowd aahed in approval.
More than 700 people had turned out. Loew, the promoter as well as Taylor’s trainer, had charged $20 for general admission and $50 for ringside, while also managing to sell more than two dozen corporate tables. But after covering expenses that included the referee, the hall and ring rentals, and the hotel rooms for out-of-town boxers, Loew would take in just $382 for his eight weeks of work.
At least his choice of location and timing — a Ukrainian church hall in late December — ensured a festive touch to the boxing event. A decorated Christmas tree sparkled in the corner. A blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag hung over the water fountain. A Christmas wreath and bright lights hung beside signs that said, “Valid Bingo Is Ball Called — Not Off Monitor” and “Early Bird Winner Take All.”
Instead of calls of “B-14” and “O-66,” though, there arose the grunts of boxers, the whacks of leather against flesh, the cries and sighs of spectators in thrall. Some of the loudest shouts came from Taylor’s friends and family members.
“Come on, Ant’! You got this!”
Taylor crouched as he stalked, making his 5-foot frame even smaller before springing like a jack-in-the-box. He connected with a left that sent his opponent back, and kept on coming.
He ducked under a swing, came over the top and delivered another left that knocked the fighter in red and white down into the ropes. As Taylor retreated to his corner, fans were shouting: “He’s done, he’s done! Stop the fight!”
Seconds later, Taylor struck again. “His guard came down, and I hit him with a straight left hand,” he recalled. A second knockdown, although this time his opponent got up quickly, adjusting his trunks as if the fall had been nothing more than a wardrobe malfunction.
Bingo players in the community hall of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Youngstown, the site of a bout between Taylor and Hamzah Aljahmi in December.
Then Taylor found himself reeling backward, almost comically, after taking a hard left to the head. He responded with a punch that he thought connected for a delayed knockdown; others saw more of a phantom punch and stumble.
Still, Loew recalled, “If the ref had stopped the fight, I don’t think anyone would have complained.”
The bell clanged. Taylor slumped to his corner, exhausted from all that he had expended trying to end the fight. He drank some water and listened to encouraging words from Loew, who struggled to be heard over the boom-boom-hiss music pounding out of the sound system. Then, again, came the bell’s beckoning.
Taylor found his opponent waiting for him at the center of the ring, as if awakened by the knockdowns of the previous round. Soon there came a left that bounced Taylor off the ring’s blue-and-red ropes.
“Anthony!” someone pleaded.
But Taylor could not yet find the wind or strength. “I threw out a lot of gas in the first round by me trying to finish him off,” he said later. “You’re trying to hurry up and get done with the fight. And that’s where the turnaround was in the second round.”
“Knock him out,” someone in Taylor’s corner shouted.
Then: “Get him! Get him!”
And: “Let’s go, Tiger!”
And: “Put him down, Ant’!”
Taylor took quick rights to the jaw, another hard right that rocked him, then a left and a right. Gloved fists pounded his many tattoos: the “R.I.P.” on his right shoulder that honors a brother shot to death (“Wrong place, wrong time,” he says); the skull-and-diamond on his left shoulder that reminds him he’s a jewel in the rough; the dice and playing cards adorning his chest, along with the inscription:
“Life A Gamble.”
Tension and Triumph, Confusion and Dread
Another squirt of water. More of Coach Jack’s encouragement, only now sounding urgent. The passing blur of a young woman holding aloft a placard announcing Round 3.
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Aljahmi vs. Taylor
Video A cellphone recorded the fourth and final round of a superflyweight bout between Hamzah Aljahmi and Anthony Taylor in Youngstown, Ohio, on Dec. 19.
And there was Taylor’s opponent again, at the center of the ring, waiting.
Taylor connected with a roundhouse left, but his opponent returned with a hard-right insult to the chin. Taylor seemed flat-footed, almost disengaged, as if exhaustion had displaced his purpose.
“Let’s go, little man!” someone called out. But Taylor’s coach was more concrete. “Breathe, breathe!” Loew was shouting. “You gotta push it, Anthony!”
Taylor did revive, holding his own until the bell. He was convinced the round was a tossup, but his coach knew otherwise. “Anthony was gassed in the third round, and took an ass-whipping,” Loew said.
Now it was the fourth and last round, the final three minutes, and there again was his opponent, waiting. Taylor knew this was it — “an all-or-nothing thing,” he called it.
His dreadlocks swayed as he danced and dodged, as he punched and received punches. It went this way, a study in mundane violence, for most of the first two minutes. Toe to toe.
But then Taylor suddenly had his opponent near the ropes. He threw a right that either glanced off the boxer or missed him entirely. The opponent fell backward to all but sit on the apron.
Trying to capitalize, Taylor threw a left. But the opponent ducked to his right and stumbled forward, head sweeping briefly against Taylor’s chest, arms outstretched, looking for something to hold on to, as if the blue mat had been pulled from beneath him. He looped his left arm around Taylor’s torso as he fell onto his right knee, his lower body gone limp, his black gloves down in sudden vulnerability.
The referee waved his arms. Fight over! He bent down to help the opponent, who reached up with his right hand. Halfway to his feet, the boxer wobbled and fell back down.
The sudden uncertainty disrupted the order in the ring. The opponent’s coach had slipped through the ropes and was now trying to help his fighter, who struggled again to rise, only to sway and fall back against his coach’s shins.
My knee, he was saying. My knee.
Loew was also in the ring, yelling to Bernie Profato, the director of the Ohio Athletic Commission, sitting at ringside, that the round hadn’t ended, and you can’t have people coming into the ring, and that was a knockdown. …
“Your kid’s gotta hit him for a knockdown,” Profato called back.
Mere noise. The fight was over.
The opponent lay on his back as some people hovered over him, including the ringside doctor — a dermatologist — now slipping on a pair of surgical gloves. Taylor, meanwhile, knew only that he had won. He raised an arm and took a few courtly bows.
But a shadow of dread was settling over this decorated bingo hall masquerading as a boxing arena. A fallen man was not rising, not rising, still not rising. His eyes were closed. Medics were climbing into the ring.
“You knew,” Loew said. “You knew right then and there.”
You knew right then and there. The loser, this kid from Michigan named Hamzah Aljahmi, now 0-1, was unconscious. And the winner, Anthony Taylor, now 1-0, was sobbing.