Tough Guys Don’t Spar

By José Corpas on February 10, 2016
Tough Guys Don’t Spar
He was just another guy at the gym. The kind you nodded hello to and nothing more.

The tough guy usually trained around noon before all the lawyers and executives clogged up the ring and bags with their pity-pat stuff…

The tough guy wore sunglasses when he stepped out of the owner’s office. The owner led him to Edwin Viruet, who was leaned back against a wall with the front legs of his chair in the air. 

Edwin got up, tried his best to tuck in his retired gut and shook the tough guy’s hand.

He’s one of my top trainers, the owner said before slipping away.

The tough guy hung his shades on the zipper of his Sergio Tacchini track suit and listened while Edwin recanted his verbal resume. 

“I fought Duran. Twice.”

With every dropped name, a little bit of air went out of the tough guy’s chest. 

“DeJesus.  Escalera.  Arguello—he didn’t want to fight me.” 

By the time Edwin got around to dropping the Hollywood names, the tough guy’s shoulders were slouched and his middle aged belly stuck out further than his chest.

“Wesley Snipes—I taught him to box.  For Streets of Gold.”

Convinced Edwin was the right man, the tough guy puffed up his chest again and voiced his concern. “I don’t want any pity-pat stuff.” 

“I don’t do that either,” Edwin answered.

The tough guy usually trained around noon before all the lawyers and executives clogged up the ring and bags with their pity-pat stuff. Tough guy kept to himself. He was just another guy at the gym. The kind you nodded hello to and nothing more. Conversations were limited to the “Did you see Edwin” or “Is this your towel” variety. I probably would have forgotten if not for two things.

First, he was mafia. Those who didn’t know knew not to ask and those that knew, knew not to say. Second, his sparring sessions. 

I wasn’t there for the first one. I heard when he told Edwin he was “ready,” Edwin turned to scan the gym for a fellow forty-something with a paunch for him to spar. Tough guy beat him to it. 

“You,” he said pointing to Edwin. 

“I want to spar you.” 

That sparring session ended after Edwin landed a body blow in the first round that left the tough guy gasping for air like a grouper out of water. Following that, an arrangement was made.

Edwin not only trained actors—he did a bit of acting himself. Instead of the bright lights of a studio, his performances were done under the street lamps of his Alphabet City neighborhood. As a youth, he, his brothers, and a few other guys from the block staged wrestling shows. Mimicking the moves of Jimmy Snuka and Ted DiBiase, they jumped from parked cars and pretended to smash garbage can lids against each other’s heads. They clutched their heads in mock pain and squeezed packets of ketchup they collected from the school cafeteria. Bystanders applauded and gave money to the condiment covered youngsters. 

When the novelty wore off and the money stopped, the leg drops, piledrivers, and Heinz were replaced by real punches and real blood. 

After their first sparring session, it was Edwin the wrestler who sparred with the tough guy. 

They climbed into the ring. Tough guy cranked his neck from side to side and threw combinations in the air while Edwin used his teeth to tie the laces of his gloves. When the buzzer rang, the two forty-somethings with bodies stuck somewhere between stocky and fat rushed towards each other with serious intentions. You couldn’t tell who the con was.

Edwin grimaced and moaned.  “You hit like Duran!” 

All that was missing was Adam West and Burt Ward and a couple of cartoon “KABOOMS” flashing across a screen. They went at it for another two minutes and half a dozen compliments. Tough guy bobbed and weaved but never at the same time. Before the first round ended, tough guy said “No Mas.”

He went into the corner and breathed like the fishes.

The few who gathered around the ring to watch didn’t say or do anything. Edwin unlaced the tough guy’s gloves and removed his headgear while the tough guy tried to stop his chest from heaving. Without saying a word, he headed toward the showers. The next time I saw the tough guy was a few years later on the news. He was mafia they said.     

I’m not sure what I was thinking the day I saw him “spar.” I saw him disappear into the locker room, the back doors closing behind him. Then I looked at Edwin. My face must have asked for an explanation. 

“That guy pays me more than all my clients put together.”

Jose Corpas is based in New York City and is the author of the upcoming book on Panama Al Brown, “Black Ink” (Win by KO Publications.)

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  1. Jamall 11:14pm, 02/11/2016

    It is the bull. Here is a link to the full story:

  2. Luis 07:32am, 02/11/2016

    Sammy the Bull is my guess but, like Peter says, it really could be all of them.

  3. peter 06:51am, 02/11/2016

    I’m stating the obvious, but all of these “tough guys” are wannabe tough guys.

  4. Mike Casey 06:37am, 02/11/2016

    Certainly sounds like Sammy the Bull!

  5. c.h. 06:17am, 02/11/2016

    Sammy Gravano ?

  6. John Cervero 11:18pm, 02/10/2016

    who was the ‘Tough Guy’

  7. William Jennings 06:33pm, 02/10/2016


  8. peter 06:07pm, 02/10/2016

    Good story. I wonder if Tough Guy was the same Tough Guy I saw a few times up in Gleason’s a few decades ago. He parked his Cadillac in the parking lot around the corner.

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