In the basement of a modest Aurora ranch, a middle-aged white man claws the air like a housecat. He’s focused, and every few seconds he strikes at an invisible string in front of him. After a couple of swipes, he changes his tactics, scraping the string, or yanking it, or even spinning it, like he’s twirling spaghetti on a fork. The invisible string is actually a chakra, an energy line, and the man, a pranic healer, is trying to clean it. The owner of the dirty energy line sits at the end of a queen-size bed in the same room. With his back to the healer, DaVarryl Williamson watches a boxing match on a small television. The match is a few years old, and the videotape is a little grainy from being rewound and played too many times. But DaVarryl ignores the grain, ignores the boxing commentators prattling in the background, because he’s focused on one of the tiny men on the screen. The man’s name is Chris Byrd, and in nine days DaVarryl is fighting him for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Behind DaVarryl, the healer turns and flicks the bad energy toward a small plastic bowl of saltwater that’s sitting on the floor a few feet away. The saltwater traps the polluted energy, prevents it from drifting back to DaVarryl through the air. Satisfied, he takes a small bottle and sprays rubbing alcohol on his hands, cleaning off any bad energy that may be sticking to his fingers.
DaVarryl blinks at the television and leans closer. He thinks he just saw an opening in Byrd’s defense, and as boxing is all about openings, this is very important. Byrd pauses after he throws a right fist, a pause that would give DaVarryl a chance to smash a fist into Byrd’s stomach, or chest, or better yet his face.
The tape flickers. On to the next Byrd fight.
The healer, finished with his siphoning act, heads off to flush the saltwater down the toilet. He doesn’t want the bad energy to escape, and the Aurora sewage system is strong enough to contain it. DaVarryl’s focused on the screen and doesn’t notice the healer leave. The old fights are more important; even the cleanest energy lines won’t help him win against Byrd. And it’s a win he needs. The first Denver heavyweight contender since Ron Lyle in the ’70s, DaVarryl has 12 rounds to prove to the world that he belongs in the ring with the best. If he wins, he’ll thrust the belt in the air, a 37-year-old heavyweight who finally made it. He’ll be the champ.
If he fails…well, that’s something DaVarryl can’t consider. Because there’s more than just a title belt at stake.
DaVarryl is making ham and cheese sandwiches, cut diagonally, for his two children, Dantel, 8, and Alayana, 6, and Dantel’s friend, Tyler. DaVarryl just picked up the three from school and is trying to hurry them out the door so they can get to Dantel and Tyler’s Pop Warner football practice. DaVarryl’s finished the sandwiches when there’s a knock at the door. A little blond girl wants to see if Alayana can come ride bikes. “Sorry, Alayana is doing her homework,” says DaVarryl. “She’ll come out to play when she’s done.”
Alayana looks up from the kitchen table, where’s she drawing a snake to hang on her bedroom door. “Dad, I’ve got no homework today. We don’t have school tomorrow.”
He closes the door. “Find something to read.” He looks for Dantel, who’s supposed to be getting dressed for practice. “Dantel, please hurry up.” “Dad, where’s my cup at?” yells Dantel from the sun porch.
“I don’t know, where’d you take it off?” DaVarryl yells back as he ties up a trash bag. “Everyone use the bathroom! Take your shoes off and use the bathroom!”
“I did,” says Alayana.
“Go try to use it again.”
Dantel has finally pulled on his purple Spartans spandex shirt and is ready to go. DaVarryl grabs their water bottles and hurries out the door. Alayana’s bike sticks out of the trunk of the silver Altima, which is bungee-corded shut.
Arriving at football practice, DaVarryl unloads the bike and sets her going on the track around the football field. He helps Dantel fasten his helmet straps, gives him a pat on the back. And then he starts his tour. He moves like a mayor among the parents, slapping them on the back, pulling them in close to whisper a joke in their ears, after which he throws his head back and laughs the hardest of anyone. Once he’s found a joke he likes, he’ll repeat it to everyone who’ll listen. Since I’m tailing him, he makes sure to introduce me, also with a joke. “DeWayne,” DaVarryl calls to a friend. “This writer wants to interview you, been asking about you all day.” A befuddled DeWayne looks at me, and then back at DaVarryl, who can only contain himself for about 10 seconds before busting out laughing. I’m introduced this way to all the parents and coaches.
Most of the parents seem to know that DaVarryl is a boxer, but they’re far from star-struck. If anything, they’re underwhelmed. When I’m introduced to Dantel’s football coach, he asks why I’m doing a story on DaVarryl. DeWayne jumps in. “DaVarryl’s a boxer. He has a heavyweight title fight next weekend.”
“Really?” says the coach.
“Uh, yeah, in Reno,” says a suddenly shy DaVarryl. “Reno, Nevada.”
DaVarryl Williamson, the heavyweight contender who could be the champ, isn’t known by his son’s football coach.
Which isn’t all that surprising. DaVarryl doesn’t look like a heavyweight boxer. He actually looks more like a wide receiver or a basketball player. He’s tall for a boxer-around 6-feet-4-inches-and although strong, a little lanky. He doesn’t have the Mike Tyson compact-ball-of-muscle look to him. DaVarryl also isn’t particularly well-respected in the boxing world. He’s been a good boxer for a long time, but never a great one. He won two Golden Gloves as an amateur and has had modest success as a pro, hovering just under the top rankings for the past couple years. But heavyweight boxing isn’t that popular these days, and hasn’t been since Tyson and Holyfield hung up their gloves. With no personality drawing in fans, even the champs aren’t household names; a boxer like DaVarryl is not known much beyond his own family.
The lack of recognition is annoying, but DaVarryl doesn’t get too worked up over it. Sure, he’d like the acknowledgment, and maybe to make a mark on history, but boxing isn’t his life-it’s just what he does for a living. It’s a hazardous life, but it gives him a schedule where he can pick his kids up from school, shuttle them off to practice, and hang out and watch. Mundane as it is most days, he enjoys his life. If he loses his fight against Byrd, well, he’ll have to decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life. It’s a decision he’s not ready to make. Sitting on a hill overlooking the football field, DaVarryl interrupts his conversation every few minutes to give Dantel a thumbs up or to comment on the coaching. “This is why it’s priceless to be here, for the reinforcement,” he says. “Nobody’s going to look at your son and tell him he’s doing a good job. They don’t give a damn. I want to let him know that, hey, I’m watching you. I’m over here talking, but you’re more important than anything.”
Shalifa, DaVarryl’s wife, arrives in a pair of sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt. She says hello and then starts walking around the track with the other football moms, avoiding the children on bikes and roller-skates. The scene is the kind of normal suburban life that DaVarryl lacked as a child. With a mother addicted to drugs, and a father in jail for dealing, he was sent to a foster home as an infant, along with his older sister Demetria. Although welcoming, his foster parents didn’t have much money. The family bounced around a lot, spending most of its time in the rough neighborhoods of northwest Washington, D.C. He attended classes in six elementary schools. When DaVarryl was 9, his mother cleaned up her act, and he, Demetria, and his half-sister Donna moved in with her and their grandmother in southeast D.C.
Within two years, DaVarryl was too much for his mother to handle and he moved in with his father, who had finished his jail time and was living with a new girlfriend and her son. The girlfriend didn’t last long, but DaVarryl stuck it out with his father. They were happy, but poor. They lived in the type of neighborhood where if you weren’t using drugs you were probably selling them, as many of DaVarryl’s friends were.
Despite the allure of easy money, DaVarryl avoided the drug scene, focusing instead on sports. Although he didn’t have the best grades, he got a football scholarship to Rochester Community College in Minnesota, before getting another scholarship to Wayne State College in Nebraska. Graduating in 1993, he tried out as a walk-on for the Indianapolis Colts and a few arena-football teams. He also started boxing as an amateur-by the end of the year, he was named Arizona state champion. DaVarryl had his first taste of success. In January 1995, he received an offer to join the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan-a graduate education at Northern Michigan University and a shot at the 1996 Atlanta Games. DaVarryl narrowly missed the cut and was named an alternate, the first of many almosts. He considered turning professional, but after the USOEC offered him a chance to finish his schooling he decided to stick around, receiving a master’s degree in administrative services in 1998. With only two years until the 2000 games, he decided to take another shot, this time losing in the gold medal match of the U.S. Olympic trials.
After falling short again, he had two choices: turn pro or quit. Looking around, he saw plenty of guys doing well on the pro circuit-the same guys he had beaten on the amateur circuit. But DaVarryl was older than most of those guys. Already 31, he was nearly a decade older than many boxers starting their pro careers. He was living in Denver, supporting his pregnant fiancée and his 2-year-old son. He turned pro.
DaVarryl has his back against the ropes.
Derek Bryant, his sparring partner, is swinging away, and it’s all DaVarryl can do to keep his hands in front of his face. Although he’s wearing protective headgear, the little piece of padding doesn’t do much to soften a blow. DaVarryl takes a step to a right, then another, and he’s back in the center of the ring, away from the danger. A buzzer pierces the air. Round’s over. “Good job,” says his trainer, George Durbin, who’s on the side of the ring dancing and juking along with the boxers. “You gotta shorten everything up and be quicker. We ain’t gonna win unless we’re quicker.”
Coach George, a skinny, weasely-looking man in his mid-40s, grabs a water bottle off the makeshift table-a small piece of plywood on a garbage can-and squirts it into DaVarryl’s mouth.
“One more round.”
DaVarryl nods. He’s already gone seven rounds with his three sparring partners, who are taking two-round shifts to wear him down. Sweat is pouring through the headgear, and a half-oval of sweat hangs down from the collar of his gray sleeveless T-shirt. He looks solid in the ring today, although a little rusty. He’s not throwing his haymaker, his moneymaker, his right fist. It’s the fist that’s given him his boxing nickname-“Touch of Sleep”-because if he connects with it, his opponent falls to the canvas. Today, though, DaVarryl looks a little hesitant to throw it, like he doesn’t want to hurt his sparring partners.
On the wall by the door behind DaVarryl is an old poster where he’s dubbed as “Dangerous Jab,” out of respect for his long left arm, which often snakes in between an opponent’s gloves for a shot to the face. No friends call DaVarryl these names. They’re just for the ring, a named threat to future opponents. DaVarryl’s close friends actually call him “Ju-ju,” short for “Juicy Lips,” a name his mother gave him when he was an infant with a drooling problem. DaVarryl refers to himself as “The Champ.” The champ, however, he is not. Not yet, anyway. Chris Byrd is still the champ, and because of this DaVarryl plods back into the center of the ring, ready for his last round.
A screen door slams and in walk a few Hispanic men in aprons, who’re on break from a tortilla factory. It wasn’t a far walk, since DaVarryl’s gym is actually tucked into the back corner of the tortilla warehouse. Jose Rangel, owner of the company, gave the tiny gym to DaVarryl and Coach George in 1999. Rangel’s youngest son, Jimmy, used to train at DaVarryl’s old gym, and when that gym closed Rangel offered space in the back of the factory. DaVarryl and Coach George gladly accepted, and one Saturday a few years ago Coach George came in with some friends and built the gym. They hung speed bags off to the left and a heavy bag training circuit to the right, and built a ring that’s no more than 6 inches off the ground, near the back wall. It’s a boxer’s gym.
Although the gym has a name-Touch ‘Em Up Gym-you won’t find a sign outside the door. Even if you know which alley off Santa Fe to walk down, you still need to know which trash bin to look for. Next to it is a small metal ladder leading up to a loading dock, and there a simple door. It’s the type of place where you’d turn the knob and expect to find boxes of bootleg CDs or a backroom game of poker. Instead, you’re slammed with a wall of sweat and a stereo thumping with Tupac. The room is hot-near 100 degrees-and feels like a rain forest. Even the sloppily painted drywall is dripping with sweat.
The tortilla workers fall behind a group of a dozen lawyers, paunchy white men in their 50s and 60s. Clad in business suits, they look like someone’s just snuck them into a stable to sneak a peek at a prize-winning horse. Which isn’t far off. DaVarryl’s lawyer has brought his coworkers down to catch a glimpse of DaVarryl working out.
Oddly enough, the lawyers and the boxers, different as they might be, are at the peaks of their careers. The lawyers have probably made partner-the peak of money, power, and influence. They can ride partnership slowly to the end of their working days and ease into a privileged retirement. They’ve chosen a difficult path, but it’s been laid out before them ever since they stepped into their first law class.
DaVarryl is also at the peak of his career. In a little more than two weeks, the referee could lift DaVarryl’s hand in the air and name him the heavyweight champion of the world. If that belt is wrapped around his waist, he’s an instant hero and legend.
If not, he won’t even be a has-been. He’ll be a never-was.
DaVarryl stands in a plain conference room in the Eldorado casino in Reno, Nevada, waiting for the weigh-in to start. Wearing a black long-sleeve T-shirt and jeans, he looks like he should be standing on the sidelines of his son’s football game. Coach George is at his side, swimming in a low-budget T-shirt with “Camp TOS” on the front and DaVarryl in a boxing pose on the back. DaVarryl’s publicist and a lone friend trail behind.
The Byrd clan pours into the room, a dozen strong, sporting matching red warm-up suits with “BYRD” stitched across the back. DaVarryl beelines it for the group, greeting Byrd’s wife, kids, parents, and siblings. A few years back, when DaVarryl was a nobody and Byrd was hitting his stride, DaVarryl served as his sparring partner. They count each other as friends, but today DaVarryl will steer clear of Byrd, and the two won’t look one another in the eye. Taking in the Byrd family, DaVarryl thinks about his own still back in Denver. Shalifa won’t arrive until tomorrow night. The kids will be staying in Denver with Shalifa’s mother. They won’t even get to watch DaVarryl’s match on Showtime-they’re not allowed to watch their father fight.
The audience, however, isn’t paying much attention to Byrd or DaVarryl. Many eyes are on veteran heavyweight James Toney, who’s also on the fight-card tomorrow night, in a match against a young up-and-comer. Toney’s prowling the conference room like a beefy tiger who’s escaped his cage. He’s just returned from a 90-day suspension for using steroids (which he claimed were for an upper-arm injury). A set of large, gold boxing gloves dangles on a chain from his neck, glittering like a disco ball on top of his purple tracksuit. Several women, watching his five children, are seated in the rows before the scale. Although he’s only a month younger than DaVarryl, Toney’s already been a champion, retired, and made a comeback. The boxing world loves Toney. He’s the tragic, angry hero: an incredibly skilled boxer with a colorful personality who made a load of money, drank and ate it away, and returned to the ring 50 pounds heavier than he was in the ’90s. Toney drips contempt for the three other boxers. He shows no interest in his opponent, who’s just another step back toward dominating the boxing world. He’s instead spoiling for a fight with Byrd, whom he’s been harassing all weekend long. Toney eyes DaVarryl with a mixture of condescension and jealousy-DaVarryl has what he wants: a chance at Byrd, and his former glory.
“Touch of Sleep!” yells Toney from across the room. DaVarryl swivels, away from the Byrds. “Touch of Sleep! Are you ready? Are you ready?!”
DaVarryl looks up, eyeing Toney warily. “Ain’t none of that friendly shit tomorrow night! This is boxing!”
DaVarryl nods and retires to a seat.
DaVarryl, Coach George, and 10 friends sit crowded in a stretch Excursion, headed to the fight. One man fiddles with the radio, trying to find something to fill up the silence. Settling on a rock station, he cranks it up, and the men bob their heads with the beat, happy not to talk.
The limo arrives around the back of the arena, by a loading area. As the dozen untangle themselves and step out, a security guard opens a metal gate. He points the men toward two large trailers, the type you’d expect to find on a construction site.
The group files inside, finding DaVarryl’s “dressing room” behind a set of a glass doors to the right. It’s a small room, the type of room where a construction supervisor would kick off his work boots to fill out paperwork. At the far end of the trailer is Toney’s dressing room. He’s quiet and stays in his room most of the time, coming out only to walk around a little bit, clad in a flashy orange and gray Air Jordan tracksuit. He’s got time to kill.
DaVarryl, however, needs to start getting ready and he strips down from his dingy gray track-jacket into a tank top.
The room fills with menthol when Coach George opens up a bottle of Miracle Rub and begins to slather the pain reliever on DaVarryl’s right elbow and arm. The right’s his weapon, the Touch of Sleep. It’s stiff and sore from training camp, even though he’s been resting it since he arrived in Reno. Coach George works the rub in and around the joint, rubbing deep and hard to loosen it up. A slight grimace flashes across DaVarryl’s face before he hides the hurt. He’ll take the pain now, so he can use the arm in the ring. He’ll need his right fist; without it, he’s a one-armed boxer. Done with the pain rub, Coach George turns to the table and grabs a container of Vaseline, which he begins to smear on DaVarryl’s face, shoulders, and chest, to slow any bleeding that might start in the ring.
Rubbed down and slicker than a seal, DaVarryl decides to head inside to get a feel for the ring. He steps outside of his trailer as the Byrd entourage approaches. Byrd and DaVarryl avoid eye contact, and the two groups brush shoulders as they pass. DaVarryl walks past the boxes of sound equipment and inside the arena, through a black curtain. The crowd is starting to file in, but the fans are more concerned with their ticket stubs than the sight of DaVarryl climbing into the ring. He walks around slowly, feeling the grip of the canvas and finding the weak spots. He begins the boxer dance around the edge of the ring, a slow juking, almost a skip, his legs scissoring as he circles. He throws a few light punches at a phantom Byrd in the center.
Satisfied, DaVarryl climbs down and heads back to the locker room. He pauses on his way in; they’ve spelled his name wrong on the paper sign that marks his room. DeVarryl Williamson. He shakes his head and walks back inside his dressing room. Shalifa, DaVarryl’s wife, walks in, wearing a pair of jeans and a maroon blouse with a diving neckline. She’s nervous, nearly trembling. She sits quietly with him for a minute or two, gives him a kiss, and leaves, headed back to her seat.
He pauses and asks his publicist which shoe he superglued last night. The sole was coming apart, and as they’re DaVarryl’s favorite shoes, they needed to be fixed. They agree it was the right one, and he slips it on first, like always, and begins to lace it up. It’s not a big superstition, but when you’ve got a lucky streak going you don’t mess with it.
After the gloves are on and taped, DaVarryl starts stretching and bouncing around. He thwoks his gloves together, checking the fit.
Coach George removes his clean baseball hat from the tortilla factory, trading it for his favorite, a dirty Mossimo baseball hat, which he spins backward. DaVarryl moves into the main room of the trailer and starts pacing as Coach George puts on the sparring gloves. A friend starts clapping. “Once in a lifetime right here,” he says. “Once in a lifetime,” he says louder, starting to yell. “Ain’t no backing out now. Leave it all in the ring.”
Coach George moves into position, and DaVarryl starts popping quick one-two combinations at the sparring gloves. He’s in close and driving Coach George back several inches with each punch. After two or three combos, the two step back and pace around each other in a circle for several seconds. As in the sparring back home, DaVarryl is hitting harder with his left fist than his right, a noticeable departure from his usual style. He’s holding his right hand, the Touch of Sleep, back.
The clapping builds every time DaVarryl connects. Beads of sweat appear on his face, and Coach George removes his cornerman’s jacket, stripping down to a dingy tank top.
DaVarryl sneaks one of the twos past Coach George’s gloves and catches his trainer in the ribs. Coach George takes a knee, hunched in pain. The champ is connecting, but Coach George’s no heavyweight.
During his final circuit around Coach George, DaVarryl pauses and looks again at his name, the heavyweight contender, misspelled. A little motivation.
“It’s 6:24,” yells a friend. Six minutes until ring time. Everyone in the locker room is clapping, yelling, “Touch of Sleep. Touch of SLEEP. TOUCH OF SLEEP.” DaVarryl, his entourage sur-
rounding him, walks slowly out of his dressing room and into the arena. He pauses before the black curtain, the arena lights flaming above. The announcer calls his name, and he pushes through the curtain, a camera in his face. It’s a long, slow walk to the ring, and even with his friends at his back it’s lonely soaking up the cheers and boos of the crowd. A black robe is draped over him, and although it’s a few sizes too large it bears his name. DaVarryl climbs into the ring and does a circuit, looking out at the crowd, before finally settling into the blue corner.
The announcer calls Byrd’s name, and he’s greeted with a chorus of cheers. A man holds the championship belt over Byrd’s head like a halo as he walks into the ring, setting up shop in the red corner.
The referee calls DaVarryl and Byrd to the center of the ring, and he imparts a last few rules. The boxers touch gloves and back up, waiting for the bell.
First rounds, by their nature, tend to be slow, as the boxers feel each other out. This round crawls. They’ve sparred over 200 rounds in the past, but they act like they’ve never seen one another before.
DaVarryl keeps his distance from the shorter Byrd, backing up and snaking out his left hand in between Byrd’s gloves. He’s not throwing combinations, just that singular left jab. His right stays cocked by his head.
Byrd looks confused. He’s a counterpuncher, used to defending against an aggressor, but tonight DaVarryl’s forcing Byrd to come to him. The tables turned, Byrd doesn’t know what to do, and the two keep their distance.
The heckling begins.
“Come on, knock him out!” “You’re putting me to sleep!”
At the bell, a cheer goes up, half the crowd cheering for the end of the round and the other half for the ring girl prancing around the canvas.
The two retreat to the corners. Coach George opens a water bottle and pours a little into DaVarryl’s mouth. “Don’t wait so long. You understand? When he blocks your jab with his right, come up and hook him with the right hand. Put some things together, you gotta go take this thing.”
In the second round DaVarryl comes out swinging, cornering Byrd in the opening seconds. There’s a quick barrage, then it’s back to retreating. Before the third, Coach George slaps DaVarryl in the face. “You gotta go get this! Understand me? Put it together! Nobody’s gonna hand this shit to you! YOU GOTTA GO GET IT JU-JU!”
DaVarryl nods but doesn’t change his strategy in the third. He lures Byrd in with his left jab, doesn’t follow with the right fist. Byrd’s not any more aggressive. He tries a couple quick flurries of punches, but after four or five punches he’s done, and he backs up. “That’s how Byrd wins,” says a writer in the press box. “He bores him to death.”
Before the fifth, Coach George gets in DaVarryl’s face. “There is no tomorrow for you! Repeat that to me!”
“Yes sir. There is no tomorrow for me.”
Coach George punches DaVarryl in the chest.
“Now go do it! You understand me? Let’s go!”
In the beginning of the fifth, DaVarryl holds his ground, hitting Byrd’s face at will with his left hand. He finally throws his right hand, just nicking Byrd’s chin. Byrd backs up and grimaces a smile. DaVarryl retreats.
The frustrated crowd starts stomping the bleachers and chanting like middle-schoolers.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” “Chris, quit being a pussy,” yells a heckler.
DaVarryl continues throwing left jabs. His right hand, the Touch of Sleep, is raised to block Byrd’s blows, but DaVarryl never swings it. Somewhere in his right elbow, a quarter-inch bone chip has broken off and is jamming the joint. Every time he extends his arm, a shooting pain pierces his elbow. And so, he dances away from Byrd, landing a left jab here and there, and once in a while an uppercut. Coach George is blunt. “I’m through with the speeches. You gotta knock this fucking guy out.”
DaVarryl opens the 11th throwing left-right combos, and the crowd jumps to their feet, cheering. Byrd counters, coming in for a closer barrage. DaVarryl hits him with a right, and Byrd takes a step back and smiles.
Before the last round, Coach George gives DaVarryl a sip of water and looks silently at his boxer. After 10 or maybe 15 seconds, he speaks up. “You gotta knock him out. You understand me? You gotta do it. Take a deep breath, bite down, and go get it.”
He pauses. “How do you feel?” “Good.”
“Go get it. You gotta put him out. Put your hands up, let ’em go, and don’t stop.”
DaVarryl connects with an uppercut to Byrd’s body, and then another to his face. He’s picking up the pace-he only threw one or two uppercuts in the first 11 rounds and now lands two the opening seconds of the 12th. Backing up, DaVarryl tries a right but slips on water in the corner, going down to a knee. He stands up and chases Byrd down, landing a right. But he doesn’t follow through. Too much pain, and too little time, and before he knows it, the final bell rings and the fight’s over. DaVarryl and Byrd lower their gloves and shuffle back to their corners. Coach George helps DaVarryl take his gloves off, but doesn’t look him in the eye. Silence fills the ring, pierced by the boos from the crowd.
After a minute or so, the microphone is lowered from the rafters, and the boxers stand at the center, surrounded by their trainers, and friends, and wives. “Ladies and gentleman, after 12 rounds of action, we have a unanimous decision. All three judges in favor of the winner, and still the champion, Chris Byrd!”
DaVarryl pokes around his kitchen cabinets, looking for a bowl for his Cap’n Crunch. He finally finds one and fills it. He fishes around for a carton of milk in the fridge and douses his cereal.
It’s four days after the fight, and only late morning, and he’s already bored with the day.
The mail has already come, and in between mouthfuls he examines his cell phone bill for the month leading up to his fight. Four thousand, two hundred minutes. Nearly three days worth of conversations with his trainer, his manager, his wife, and the hundreds of friends and family members who called to wish him luck before the fight. His BlackBerry, which rang constantly the past two weeks, now sits quietly on the waist of his sweatpants. Next to his cereal bowl sits a diagnosis from yesterday’s MRI. The medical-speak doesn’t mean a lot to him. It says things like “elbow joint effusion” and “degenerative joint disease with osteophytosis.” The part he does understand is the history section, and that’s because he told the doctors what the problem was: “Pain in entire elbow, injury two weeks ago boxing, hard to flex without pain.” It’s the reason he couldn’t throw any right-handed punches against Chris Byrd, and the reason he thinks he lost. Maybe it was the years of throwing football passes, or maybe an errant punch caught him in the elbow. Or maybe his aging body is just breaking down, from the years of wear and tear.
His house phone finally rings, a relapse from the silence. It’s one of his doctors, an alternative medicine doctor, who’s examined the MRI report and scolds DaVarryl for not coming in before the fight. DaVarryl begs him off, citing his training and the chaos in the weeks before. The doctor starts pushing some herbs that he thinks will help the elbow, but DaVarryl tells him he’ll probably get surgery.
Hanging up on the doc, DaVarryl refills his bowl with more Cap’n Crunch. He lets the refrigerator door swing shut, ignoring the smiling faces on his kids’ pictures. With the kids at school and Shalifa at work, the house is quiet, and DaVarryl tinkers around, not quite sure what to do with himself.
It’s a waiting game now. I ask him if he’ll quit, and he shakes his head.
“Hell no. I didn’t give my best effort. I can accept a loss, but not if I didn’t give it my best effort.”
Then why hide the injury? Why not postpone the fight, until after he had his elbow treated? “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says DaVarryl. “I thought the adrenaline would keep me in the fight. I mean, I don’t know if that opportunity will ever come again. It was right there. Right there. That was a winnable fight for me. That was a very winnable fight.”
He leans forward over the kitchen table, his speech quickening, pounding out the syllables. “I want to win the heavyweight world championship. I know that I have all the tools. My conditioning is good, my mind is good, my body’s good. Obviously, I want to make sure I get this elbow as close to 100 percent as possible. But, I’m 37 years young. My body feels good, man.”
He pauses and looks at his arm.
“This elbow. Maybe it just needs ice and rest.” Two and a half weeks after the fight, DaVarryl went in for surgery on his right elbow. The surgeons spent two hours removing a mass of scar tissue, 15 foreign bodies, and fluid from the joint. He expects to fight in February or March. m
Patrick Doyle is assistant editor at 5280.