To Be or Not To Be

By Wrigley Brogan on March 13, 2019
To Be or Not To Be
“There is no more pathetic phrase than ‘I could have been champion.’” (Wrigley Brogan)

He loved milk and Chinese food. Maybe the two were a bad combination. He had not yet decided. Health food to Chauncy was a Snickers bar and chips…

Ray Frye sat on the chair at the Coeur d’Alene Casino in Idaho. The room overlooked the golf course. The casino was beautiful, high hewn timbers over the entryway, various treated wood everywhere, neatly decorated Indian artifacts, several restaurants, hundreds of glowing slot machines blinking in the dark like jeweled ladies of the night, an event hall perfectly suited for boxing events, and a magnificent golf course. The casino was also in the middle of nowhere, a watering hole inviting strangers for a drink, a comfortable room, good food, and an occasional evening of entertainment. This night’s entertainment was Dumont Welliver, brother of heavyweight Chauncy Welliver, verses former world champion Vince Phillips.

“I should have kept a better eye on him,” said Chauncy. He frowned, something he rarely did.

Chauncy looked at the golf course and drank a glass of milk. Moe Smith ran the shows at the casino and ruled over the events from his upstairs office like a God. With a face rearranged by the plastic surgeons of superior opponents Smith had learned that his talent was in arranging fights, not actively participating in them. He was Idaho’s counterpoint to Washington’s Bennie Georgino. He staged the best fights in Idaho—in fact, the only fights in Idaho. Like Georgino he had no stake in the fighters so his fights were never unbalanced toward one fighter. He wanted good competitive fights and he got them.

“You can’t let him out of your sight,” said Frye. “Not for a minute. This is his chance to get back in the game, to show he still has something left.”

Chauncy finished his milk and poured himself another glass from a gallon jug. He held his considerable stomach.

“Chris Brown gave me a hell of a body shot in my last fight,” said Chauncy. “You didn’t tell me he hit so hard.”

“Like a girl scout,” said Frye. “What are you crying about now? Suck it up and act like a fighter.”

“For the last few days I’ve been busting out silent farts,” said Chauncy. “I can’t seem to stop—silent farts everywhere. I’ve been drinking milk and sucking down stomach medicines. It doesn’t seem to help.”

“It will pass,” said Frye.

“I must have squeezed off four or five silent farts in the last five minutes,” said Chauncy. “Do you think I need to see the doctor?”

“The first thing you need to do is get your hearing checked,” said Frye.

Chauncy finished the milk and poured another glass. He loved milk and Chinese food. Maybe the two were a bad combination. He had not yet decided. Health food to Chauncy was a Snickers bar and chips. He had eaten himself into the heavyweight ranks and was starting to make Butterbean look like a flyweight.

Frye was right about the fight returning Dewey to the spotlight. Lately he had been struggling. The higher he got on drugs the lower he fell in the sport. The Vince Phillips fight was a good move. Phillips had been the IBF champion. He was over the hill when he won the championship against Kostya Tszyu and, although successfully defending the title several times, was definitely sliding down. A fighter can overcome almost everything except time.

At 32, Phillips was a huge underdog against the rising star of Tszyu. Not only did he beat Tszyu, he stopped him in the 10thround. Phillips was a steppingstone on the road to a lucrative fight against Oscar De La Hoya and Tszyu might have taken the fight lightly. He never expected Phillips to fight so well. There is no sure thing in boxing.

Tszyu had started the fight well and won the early rounds. He seemed too fast for Phillips. But Phillips, a true professional, remained calm and calculating. His combinations scored well and he occasionally landed decent right hands. Tszyu refused to take a backward step. Phillips continued to land and started to pull ahead in the 5thround. In the 7thround he knocked Tszyu’s mouthpiece flying and Tszyu dropped to one knee, bleeding from a gash over his left eye. He managed to rise and charged ahead with his head splitting Phillip’s right eye. The cut was severe enough that the doctor stepped in during the next round and the fight was close to being stopped. Phillips realized he had to put Tszyu away or possibly lose the fight.

Phillips came out hard in the 10thround and bashed Tszyu into the corner. He unleashed a mad series of blows. Another solid six right hands landed before the referee stopped the fight. Tszyu was so devastated by the loss that he cried in the dressing room for over fifteen minutes. Tears and boxing often go together.

Phillips went on to beat Mickey Ward, Freddie Pendleton, and Alfonso Sanchez. More than being a tough boxer, Phillips had something else in common with Welliver; he had been a drug addict. The difference was he had overcome his addiction.

“Dewey beat Rudy Lovato just five months ago,” said Chauncy.

“Then lost to Epifanio Mendoza three months later,” said Frye. “And he lost five fights before Lovato. The drugs are going to kill him.”

“He lost his heart when our father died,” said Chauncy. “He worshiped him. I think it’s the only reason he fought, to make the old man happy. Now he’s lost.”

Chauncy tried to stay positive. He loved his bother. Dewey was having some trouble, that was all. Maybe he would straighten out. Chauncy would not admit that time was running out for Dewey. Dewey’s speech had started to slur, either from the punches or the drugs, no one could tell. Eventually he would become an opponent picking up fights for small money. Fortunately Frye was good at getting the most money possible for a fight. Even his patience would grow short. Dewey was becoming a handful.

Chauncy ripped off another fart that rattled the curtains. Frye’s head snapped back as if he had been hit with a hard left.

“He made the weight-in last night with no problem,” said Chauncy. “That means something.”

“They don’t check your piss until after the fight,” said Frye. “If he doesn’t piss clean he will have to start from the bottom again—small money that will only get smaller. Such a waste. He had more talent than any ten great boxers in the northwest—all wasted. There is no more pathetic phrase than ‘I could have been champion.’”

Chauncy scoured the casino for Dewey. Several people stopped to chat with him. Chauncy had developed a small following and was very popular with the fans. He always took the time to talk with everyone and his good humor and wit were becoming legendary. He seemed not to have a serious bone in his body and he never shunned any boxers that wanted a match. He especially liked kids and they seemed to like him and curled up in his big arms as if in the clutch of a teddy bear.

Heavyweight Joe Hipp was talking with another fighter outside the restaurant. Hipp was a big heavyweight. Like Chauncy he could never work off his baby-fat and always looked fleshy. He was a tough man and, also like Chauncy, was quick-witted, likeable, sociable, and very funny. It was impossible to dislike Hipp and difficult to imagine him with any kind of killer instinct. But inside the ring he was all business, the toughest Indian since Jim Thorpe.

Unfortunately his chin often failed him. He could not take off the fat and he could not beef up the chin. He broke Tommy Morrison’s jaw in a grueling battle, only to suffer a TKO loss in the 9th round of a 10-round fight. What a fight it was! Hipp was an 11-1 underdog. No one expected him to win except Roland Jankelson, his manager, and Hipp. He never lacked for confidence and would fight anyone.

There were hopes that he might become the first Indian Heavyweight Champion of the World. He was beating Ross Puritty before getting KO’d and, when he fought Bruce Seldon for the WBA Heavyweight title, was holding his own, and, in spite of a vicious cut under his eye, may even have been winning, when Seldon put him away at 1:47 of the 10th round in a 12-round fight. In the monitory disparity often prevalent in boxing, Seldon earned $700,000 for the fight; Hipp earned $180,000. Hipp did manage to beat Everett “Bigfoot” Martin for the WBF title twelve fights later.

Hipp also suffered another problem; he drank. He drank too much. Many boxing people claimed that without the alcohol he might have been world champion. Boxing is the decrepit home of “might have beens,” and “what ifs.”

“You seen Dewey?” said Chauncy.

Hipp matched Chauncy for size. They both carried Indian blood, Hipp a full-blood from the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, Chauncy a Gross Venture.

“A while ago,” said Hipp. “You know ‘Bomber’ Redfield, don’t you?” Hipp indicated his friend. “You want to grab some lunch?”

“I have to find Dewey,” said Chauncy. “Ray’s hopping mad. I didn’t see you on the card, Bomber.”

“Next fight,” said Bomber. His nose appeared to be growing from his cheek. “I got my own problems.”

“Car trouble,” said Hipp.

“I don’t got no credit on account of two bankruptcies,” said Bomber. “They weren’t my fault. I was doing time and couldn’t pay my bills. I just got out and want to restart my career. I had to go to one of them bad credit car places.”

“Did you get a car?”

“Yeah, but now they want to repossess it on account of my down payment check bounced,” said Bomber. “Then I haven’t made the last three payments. It wasn’t my fault the check bounced. The accounts been closed since I was put up but I still had some checks. I can’t make the payments ‘cause I don’t have a job. I told them I’ll pay but they want to come and get the car. Can they do that to a guy’s having some bad breaks?”

“I guess,” said Chauncy.

“Man, a white guy can’t get a break in this country,” said Bomber.

“Ray’s always hopping mad,” said Hipp. “He must have a lot of kangaroo in him.”

“Grasshopper, I think,” said Chauncy.

“Dewey was walking around with some girl,” said Hipp. “You know Dewey. He looked okay. Women distract him from something worse. Neither one is good for fighters, not on the day of a fight.”

“They sap his strength, if not his mind,” said Chauncy.

“He’s looking to the future,” said Hipp. “A treat for after the fight.”

Chauncy scratched his chin. Dewey had no patience. If he wanted something he wanted it now. He had not trained for the fight, had not trained for many of his fights. His heart was not in the game.

Chauncy looked everywhere for Dewey, the casino, the golf course, the parking lot, even down the road in case he went for a walk. He did not want to face Frye. Fry had worked hard to get Dewey such a valuable bout. Dewey understood the importance of the fight. If he won this fight he had promised Chauncy that he would stop taking drugs and concentrate of his career. He knew that, with sufficient preparation, he might be champion. There was still time. What he needed to do was to stop the drugs before the fight.

“Nothing?” said Frye. “I better take precautions. Is there a GNC around here? They will have what we need.”

“Coeur d’Alene,” said Chauncy. “You’ll have to hurry. I’ll stay here and wait for Dewey.”

Frye returned in less than two hours. He was surprised to find Dewey in his room. He imagined he would not show up, not until the pre-fight physical. Frye dumped several packages on the table and started sorting them out, everything he needed to flush out and clean Dewey.

“When’s the last time you had a joint?” asked Frye.

“I’m clean,” said Dewey. “I know this fight is important. It’s all or nothing. I’ll do it. I can beat anyone when I want to.”

“You don’t want to enough,” said Frye.

Dewey lay on the bed watching the “Twilight Zone” marathon. Some guy was running through an empty town but couldn’t find anyone around. He heard things like the phone ringing but when he got there no one was there. He felt pretty desperate. The episode prior to this was the one about a kid who kept wishing everyone into a cornfield. Dewey could not find anyone in his world, either, and he wanted to wish people into the cornfield.

“Take this,” said Frye.

He handed him a mixture made from ingredients in the boxes. The liquid looked thick and green. Anything green was healthy. Dewey sat up and downed the drink. He made a nasty face and shook his head.

“I said was clean.”

“If I believed you, you’ve been in the gym three hours a day seven day a week for a month,” said Frye. “You’ve forgotten what a gym looks like.”

“I saw the building that many times,” said Dewey. “That counts for something. I’m only human. Training is murder, all the working out stuff. The physical effort is too much.”

“This is boxing,” said Frye. “A few boxers even exercise. They might spar a bit. Sometimes they punch the speed and heavy bags.”

Frye mixed a powder into a bottle of clear liquid. He shook the bottle over his head.

“The stuff makes me sick,” said Dewey. “I’m going to my room to rest.”

That night Chauncy and Frye waited in the dressing room. Everyone had completed the pre-fight physical; then Dewey disappeared. Chauncy looked worried. He slid back and forth on the metal folding chair. Dewey’s bag, smelling of sweat, sat near the corner. His groin protector hung from the bag. Ray’s kit of blood coagulant, gauze, tape, hand wraps, and water bottle sat at his feet.

“He’ll be here,” said Chauncy. “He won’t screw up this chance.”

“You have his extra room key, don’t you?” said Frye. “I’ll try and stall if things get tight, move back his bout, maybe have an intermission before the main event. Go up and get him—if he’s there. You never know with Dewey. Why didn’t you keep an eye on him?”

“He’s the older brother?” said Chauncy. “He’s supposed to take care of me. I can’t tell him what to do.”

“Go on,” said Frye. “Moe will understand. Nothing goes smoothly in a fight.”

Chauncy did not hurry. Dewey was an adult. Let him take care of himself. When you gave people things for nothing they always took advantage, they became lazy, they refused to work, they relied on you to make all their decisions, and they resented you for helping. He worked his way down the hall. Chauncy had three fights in two months scheduled in New Zealand, a tough schedule for any fighter, almost a throwback to the ‘50s and earlier when fighters fought every week, or more if they could.

Chauncy listened at the door. He thought he heard movement inside. He fumbled with the key and stepped inside. Dewey, naked, was rising and falling in a steady rhythm. A woman’s legs rose in the air.

“Dewey!” said Chauncy.

Dewey did not respond until he finished. He rolled over and smiled. The woman waved to Chauncy.

“Do you know what time it is?” said Chauncy.

“I don’t got a watch,” said Dewey.

Dewey walked toward Chauncy. He stretched his arms.

“Are you going to be able to get up for the fight?” said Chauncy.

Dewey looked between his legs.

“Too late,” said Dewey.

“I don’t mean after the fight,” said Chauncy. “You have to beat Phillips. He’s no clown—a former world champion.”

“Sure,” said Dewey. “Give me a minute to wash up then I’ll take him out. If everything’s on the up-and-up I will be rising in the division. It’s all or nothing. Sandy’s got a girlfriend, if you’re interested.”

“Let’s go.”

Getting Phillips on the card was a coup for Moe Smith. His budget was not large enough to bring in top fighters but occasionally he managed, especially if they were at the end of their careers. This was one of those lucky nights. Fans could always expect a quality fight from Dewey, if only for a few rounds. Phillips was equally tough although inconsistent. He received his start as an Army boxing champion and moved through the professional ranks quickly. After winning the championship he defended his belt against Mickey Ward in an ugly fight that was finally stopped because of a vicious cut over Ward’s eye. Ward, always tough but with limited skills, wanted to continue and Phillips, who thought Ward deserved a chance, wanted the fight to continue. He thought the cut was not that serious although the gash went to the bone.

Phillips seemed to be either on or off in a fight. He was on for his fight against Ike Quartey but still lost. Quartey was making his 4th defense of the title. The fight took place outdoors near the beach surrounded by palm trees at the Atlantis Casino in St. Maarten. The loss for the WBC Championship against Ike Quartey was understandable. Quartey was a tough, relentless banger and the fight started like Germany against Russia in Operation Barbarossa. Commentator Larry Merchant, always thrilled with a good fight and ecstatic with the non-stop action, claimed in round 2, “This is world-class back-and-forth action.” He meant it was all-out war.

From the opening round the punches fired in bone-crushing volume with Quartey punching out jabs and following hard rights whenever Phillips attempted to get in close. A full 60% of Quartey’s punches landed in the bout. Phillips managed to get inside on several occasions and threw a series of power punches. Phillips went down from a slip.

Quartey continued to land in round 2 and Phillips finished the round with a series of decent right hands that rocked Quartey. Phillips had thrown 250 punches in the two rounds, although not as accurately as Quartey and his right eye was starting to swell.

Round 3 started like the other two, all-action in one of the best fights of the year. Finally, a pair of Quartey right hands sent Phillips reeling backwards. Quartey pounced and almost ran after the retreating and staggering Phillips. A combination to the head sent Phillips to the canvas. He rose at the count of six. Referee Julio Alvarado should have stopped the fight then but he let it continue. When Quartey landed a hard right to the head, followed by two more, the fight was finally stopped. Ring announcer Michael Buffer announced the winner.

By comparison, the main event between Pernell Whitaker and Wilfredo Rivera would have made a great ad for Mattress Ranch. Whitaker won a close split decision. HBO’s unofficial judge Harold Letterman had Rivera winning 115 to 113. In 12 rounds Whitaker landed only 187 punches. In three rounds Quartey had landed 151 against Phillips.

The fight was one of Phillips best but had taken so much out of him that he never fully recovered. After Phillips became champion, people were surprised to see him lose the title to Terron Millett by 5th round TKO, a less than quality fighter. Since then he had struggled to get back into the ranks.

As always for a Moe Smith Coeur d’Alene Casino fight, the venue had sold out. Locals had come to see Dewey more than Phillips. They knew Dewey. Except for hard-core boxing fans they did not know Phillips. Dewey had won eight fights at the casino including a win over former WBA Champion Livingstone Bramble. Bramble, who had twice beaten Ray Mancini, was at the end of his career. Dewey basically ended his career. He gave him such a beating that Bramble fought only once more before retiring.

Phillips had been gracious before the fight. He was always a gentleman, as was Dewey. Two more polite fighters were difficult to find. Neither ever made excuses for a loss nor gloated over a win.

The fight started well. Both men wanted the win. Dewey had promised he would straighten up if he won, no more drugs, stay in the gym, and give boxing his best shot. Dewey was fast, faster than Phillips, and his punches seemed to land with more force. Phillips was equally firm and the fight remained close for 8 rounds. Dewey landed a hard right that opened a small cut over Phillip’s eye. Dewey waited in his corner.

“Nice shot,” said Frye. “Not a big cut but the blow’s shown Phillips that you’re no schmuck.”

“I feel strong,” said Dewey. “This is my night.”

“Two more rounds and you start a new life,” said Frye.

“I can take him out.”

“Just keep moving, Jab and move. You’re landing some nice body shots.”

There seemed some commotion in Phillip’s corner. The referee was called over and started listening to Phillip’s team.

“Looks like a problem?” said Frye.

“It was a punch that opened the cut,” said Dewey.

“Sure it was,” said Frye. “He didn’t call it a head-butt.”

“If they stop the fight because of the cut, I win,” said Dewey. “I’ll be back on top.”

“They won’t stop the fight because of a little scratch,” said Frye.

But Frye could see that Phillips did not want to continue. He sat on the stool and looked at the canvas, no enthusiasm, just staring. He looked exhausted.

Dewey stood and waited for the bell. The referee went to the judges and said something. He went to the commission. He straightened up and waved his arms. The fight was over. Dewey started jumping up and down. A fight stopped from a cut caused by a legal blow went to Dewey.

“The fight has been stopped due to an accidental head-butt,” said the announcer.

“It’s not true,” said Dewey. “The referee never called it.”

“Don’t worry,” said Frye. “You still won.”

A fight stopped after the 4th round by an accidental head-butt went to the scorecards. The referee called the fighters to the center of the ring. Phillips was declared the winner by technical decision.

All the energy ebbed from Dewey. He walked slowly around the ring. He could not believe that a great fighter like Phillips would have wanted the fight stopped on such a minor scratch. Champions did not behave that way.

Frye threw down his towel. Chauncy climbed to the ring apron and protested. The crowd booed and yelled in disbelief. Sometimes, in fairness to opponents and to not be criticized for hometown decisions, the judges went too far in trying to be fair.

Dewey walked back to the dressing room. He said nothing as his gloves were removed, just sat quietly.

“You’ll fight him again,” said Frye. “I know it’s hard. You’ll recover and continue your career.”

“It stinks,” said Chauncy. “It just stinks.”

Chauncy and Frye sat in disbelief as Dewey left. There was not much to say. Boxing was not for weenies.

“He will recover,” said Frye.

“I don’t think so,” said Chauncy. “This time he’s beaten. I was hoping a win might tilt him over the edge, the right side of the edge. He won’t climb out again. From now on it will just be one fight after another for small money. Dewey has become a professional opponent fighting for drug money and not for self respect.”

“You’ve got that fight with Richard Tukati in Australia next month,” said Frye. “You need to concentrate on that. He’s 11-8 and no slouch.”

Chauncy slumped in the chair. He felt as if he had gone 8 rounds and was exhausted. He wanted to help his brother but did not know why and felt he had let his brother down.

“Australia,” he said. “Australia.”

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  1. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:22am, 03/13/2019

    The only thing that goes with Chinese food is a fifth of bourbon to help you forget about what you are eating. Gawd, I can’t stand Chinese food. Love my milk though, but now I am going with skim instead of whole milk. Still drink about half a gallon of that stuff a day and no kidney stones ever. Remember the Hipp-Morrison scrap well. Hipp and Francesco Damiani were the 90’s version of Adam Kownacki and Andy Ruiz Jr. in body type.

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