World Welterweight Championship – Kid Parker vs. Johnny Saxton
June 22, 1954
Okay we’re back now. Monty Gerard broadcasting from ringside at Madison Square Garden — fifth round of this scheduled twelve-rounder. At stake, the Welterweight Championship of the World. Well, not really. Johnny Saxton has used the inexperienced Kid Parker as a punching bag for four rounds. Only question that remains is how much more punishment can The Kid take?
There’s the bell. Saxton’s out of the corner fast. Kid’s flatfooted — no bounce. Shuffles to the center of the ring. Right eye’s swolled shut. Left eye not much better. Saxton a left to the Kid’s chin — another — and another. Right to the body. That one hurt. Parker ties him up. They break. Parker misses with a wild roundhouse. Saxton moves inside. Punishing body shot. Now a left to the head, right to the jaw, another to the body. Parker tries to tie him up. Saxton pushes him off. Another left to the chin, right to the body. Whoa — the Kid’s down…
…Julie turned off the radio. Even in the boxers’ dressing room she could hear the roar from the crowd when he went down. Lloyd was right — he wasn’t ready for a Title Fight. Johnny Saxton was a beast, and Lloyd, well Lloyd really was a kid. A sweet kid, but what a schnook. He was happy ham-and-egging at the K-of-C for chump change and trinkets. Nobody turns down a Title Fight at the Garden. Take the fight, she said. This is your chance to be somebody. Make some real bread.
Julie sighed, then stubbed out her cigarette, pushed open the dressing room door and headed up the ramp. When she got to ringside, Lloyd was standing wobbly-legged in the center of the ring. The referee stepped aside and motioned to Johnny Saxton who bounced menacingly in his neutral corner. Arnie Levin, Lloyd’s useless manager knocked a chunk of ash from his fat cigar into the spit-bucket and stared out at the action like he was just another spectator.
“Stop the goddamn fight, Arnie,” Julie screamed from the aisle.
Arnie looked over his shoulder at her and his face got all scrunched up like he was working on a fart. A pimply kid in an oversized usher uniform tapped Julie on the shoulder. “You can’t stand there, Ma’am.”
“Listen, Zit-face, that’s my husband up there getting his ass kicked. I’ll stand wherever I goddamn please…”
…Arnie Levin was in big trouble. He’d bribed Saxton’s manager to get the Title Fight and then he’d bet five Gs with Joey Giradello that The Kid would last five rounds. He’d signed over the Kid’s purse to make the wager. It was a good bet — The Kid had heart and Johnny Saxton was a lazy guinea who didn’t usually wake up till the tenth round. But Johnny must have some pussy waiting for him tonight because he’d woke up early and was acting like a mad dog with a rag doll. The Kid looked like he was searching for a soft place to land. And now that bitch Julie had to show up. Arnie would rather stiff Joey G. than tell Julie Parker he’d just pissed away her husband’s purse.
Arnie banged his diamond pinkie-ring on the side of the bucket. “Hey, Kid!” From the panicked-look in Lloyd’s left eye, Arnie could tell he was ready to go down. Arnie flicked his head toward the aisle. “This is a Title Fight. Julie says you better not quit…”
…I got hold of Johnny Saxton like we’re in love. Dago’s too goddamn tough. I gotta go down. Now what, Arnie? Ten goddamn fights he never says jack. Now he’s going to get instructional. Aw geez, Julie’s here. She’s pissed. Title fight? Shit. Jesus fucking Mary and Joseph, how long till the bell?
Come on Ref, don’t break us up. Can’t breathe. Bloods in my eyes. Backpedal. Keep the gloves up. Find some air. Johnny’s painted on me. Keep the gloves up. Gut punches killing me. Keep the gloves up. Belly’s on fire. Gotta stop the body blows. Drop the gloves. Just for a sec —
The reporter from ESPN is doing a piece on the Bloodiest Fights of the Century. She hands Tommy Quinn a yellowed newspaper. He doesn’t have to look at it. It’s the front page of the New York Daily News for June 23, 1954. The two-inch high headline screams, “MURDER AT THE GARDEN,” and below the headline the picture of referee Tommy Quinn standing over a comatose Kid Parker.
“This fight doesn’t qualify,” Tommy says.
“I’m sorry?” The analyst wrinkles up her freckled nose. She’s blonde, pretty. Used to be an Olympic swimmer or skier. Great rack, dumb as a box of rocks.
“Wasn’t a bloody fight. The Kid wasn’t a bleeder. If he’d been a bleeder I’d have stopped the fight.”
“Have you ever read the coroner’s report?” she asks, her eyes bugged out, like Tommy has just tried to cop a feel. She turns and looks directly into the camera. Starts reading from the report. Lots of medical bullshit that basically said The Kid’s liver had been pounded into jelly and his brain into oatmeal. Tommy didn’t need any goddamn coroner to tell him that. Johnny Saxton had pulverized The Kid’s guts and when The Kid dropped his guard Johnny practically took off his head with a straight right hand. Tommy figured The Kid was dead before he hit the canvas. For sure he was gone before Tommy finished counting him out.
“…you were the referee, Mr. Quinn. Wasn’t it up to you to stop the fight?”
“Nope.” Tommy crushes out his cigarette and pulls out his pack of Camels. “Want one?”
She gives him that look again. “Why didn’t you stop it?”
Tommy shakes his head. These kids today, they just don’t get it. He lights his cigarette and blows the smoke toward the ceiling. “It was a Title Fight.”
Len Joy lives in Evanston, Illinois. Recent work has appeared in Annalemma, Johnny America, Pindeldyboz, LITnIMAGE, Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Righthand Pointing, Dogzplot, Slow Trains, 21Stars Review, The Foundling Review and The Daily Palette (Iowa Review). He has recently completed a novel, “American Jukebox”, about a minor league baseball player whose life unravels after he fails to make it to the major leagues. His blog, “Do Not Go Gentle” chronicles his pursuit of USA Triathlon Age-Group Championships.
This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”