A Touch of Sleep

Fighting family man DaVarryl Williamson takes his last shot at greatness.
February 2006
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.