A Touch of Sleep

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

"One-two. One-two."

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.