A Touch of Sleep

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