Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Last Champion

When I was about twelve years old my father took my family out to the desert to spend two weeks at Cisco Andrade’s training camp. It was a boxing camp, and Davey Moore was the premier boxer in training there at the time. He was the Featherweight Champion of the World, and was preparing to defend his title one last time before retiring. There would be no more fights after this one. He felt he had finally saved enough money to provide for his wife and children. Jerry Pina and Frankie Hernandez were in camp as well. The camp was normally restricted to boxers, their trainers, managers, sparring partners and families, but my father knew somebody so we were invited to stay in a cabin on the grounds, to spend some time with the fighters, and watch them train.

Having been raised in white suburbia, Davey Moore was the first black man I had ever really gotten to know beyond a superficial level. He took an interest in my family and me. In those two weeks we spent quite a bit of time together, shared some meals and a lot of laughs. He took us target shooting with 22’s out in the surrounding desert when he was not doing his road or ring work. He was a very kind, good natured and loving man. Took me under his wing. Gave me some boxing lessons, worked with me on the speed bag and suggested one day I might even whoop his ass. Yeah right.
Even in that brief time I grew to love and admire Davey. He was the kind of man I wanted to be. I began to consider him a big brother, a mentor, a friend. But, as I’ve learned so well, good things can come to an end. He broke camp, and we said our goodbyes on a Friday afternoon. He was to fight the next night at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. He headed off to LA, and we headed back home.

My family and I gathered around the radio the next night to listen to the fight. Davey took a beating from a young Cuban boxer. Lost the fight. Lost his crown. I was devastated. Not because he lost, but because he was hurt.

A few minutes later Davey died in his dressing room. I could not process it. It was beyond my ability to comprehend. Things like that just shouldn’t happen. It was my first experience with the death of someone I had known and was growing to love.
But it would not be my last.

Bob Dylan later wrote a song about Davey Moore, part of which reads:

“Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?”
”Not us” says the angry crowd
whose screams filled the arena loud.
”It’s too bad he died that night
but we just like to see a fight.
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death,
we just meant to see some sweat.
There ain’t nothing wrong in that.
it wasn’t us that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame us at all.”

Being twelve, I did blame myself. I reasoned “if Davey hadn’t spent so much time with me at camp he might have been better prepared for the fight. He might even have won.”
The newspaper asked us to write a story about Davey Moore and the time we got to spend with him before the fight. They put our picture in the paper with his. Writing helped to express my grief. But only just a little.
Only just a little.

And it couldn't bring him back.