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"DeVido captures the fight game with a beautiful, sepia-toned accuracy." -Philip Gerard, author of Cape Fear Rising and Secret Soldiers
"Every Time I Talk to Liston is a big-hearted and rousing roundhouse of a book." -Elwood Reid, author of D.B., Midnight Sun, and If I Don't Six
"DeVido wins with a knock-out of a novel." -Clyde Edgerton
Diggs throws a quick right at me, but I beat him to the punch with a hard right of my own, twisting my fist at the moment of impact. Diggs's jaw contorts. He'd feinted first with a jab, trying to set me up. But I don't get set up easy. Diggs does this often-feints a jab and throws a right instead. He's not very imaginative with his offense, and that's why if the two of us ever fight for real, I'll knock Diggs's ass on out.
But Diggs, and his management, know this. They know a real fight between me and him would be a war. So instead of a real bout, they use me as a sparring partner, which happens to be my stock-in-trade these days.
I slip another right. Diggs always loops it a little wide anyway, and I counter with a short left hook that snaps Diggs's head back and sends him into a corner. All Diggs can do here is one of two things: tie me up or fight back.
The smart move for Diggs would be to tie me up, so he can clear his head. But nobody ever accused Diggs of being smart. He's a stubborn son of a bitch, and I know he wants to brawl, so I keep my hands high and move toward him.
"Time, fellas, time!" yells De La Rosa, his trainer. "Enough sparrin' for today."
I know this hasn't been a full round yet-not as long as the previous rounds we sparred today-but De La Rosa probably thinks Diggs is getting his ass worked. Which he is. He's getting his ass worked just six days before he's about to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. This is going to be the last heavyweight title fight of 1999, and if Diggs is going to have a prayer of winning the belt, he'd better be sharper than this.
De La Rosa comes up to the ring apron, moving slowly, like his bones are tired. Diggs spits his mouthpiece into De La Rosa's weathered hands. De La Rosa gives the mouthpiece a quick rinse with a cold bottle of water, something he's done a million times. The man has been training fighters longer than I've been alive.
Diggs is breathing hard and seems glad for the rounds to be over. Not a good sign for a man about to fight for the title, considering he only did five rounds with me today and the fight with the champ is scheduled for twelve.
If this were a fair and just world, it'd be me fighting the champ next week, not Diggs. If this were a fair and just world, I wouldn't have a record of 32-11, most of the losses coming in fights I took on short notice just to pick up a payday.
If this were a fair and just world, I'd wear a suit and tie to work every day, instead of a leather protective headgear that's supposed to protect my brain cells-but I know damned well doesn't-sixteen-ounce boxing gloves, a mouthpiece that tastes like dried spit, a T-shirt soaked with sweat from the day before, always moldy gym shorts, dusty black-and-red training shoes, and a hard plastic protective cup that just had its sixth birthday.
But this isn't a fair and just world. I found that out long ago.
What does it take to get to Vegas? As a fighter, I mean. A regular person can just call up any old travel agent, get a plane ticket, a hotel reservation, and get on out to Vegas. Gamble. Drink too much. Buy overpriced clothes if they happen to win some money.
But what does it take for a professional fighter to get to Vegas? It takes this: one part guts, two parts luck, and three parts connections. I've got the guts, but not the other two. At least not yet.
Funny thing is, I'm in Vegas now. But not as a fighter. Not really. I'm here as a sparring partner for Diggs. After the rounds, Diggs asks me what I'm doing tonight. There's casinos aplenty and the nightlife-a million ways to get into trouble-but it's training camp, and if I want to keep my job, I've got to behave myself. Diggs knows as much, but asks what I'm doing anyway. It's another one of the reasons I don't like Diggs. He asks the obvious way too damn much.
"Maybe I'll catch a movie," I tell him. There's a theater just down the street where a Van Damme action flick is showing. I might just drop on in for a while.
"Then what?" Diggs asks. He's an inquisitive bastard. Does this with all the sparring partners. Does it with Machine Gun Jackson and TNT, guys who hit harder than Chinese arithmetic and who I'm grateful I don't have to spar with.
"Then I'll probably read for a while, then go to bed. You wanna know what I'm gonna dream about, too?" I can only take so much of Diggs. He's annoying as hell and shouldn't be fighting for the title. He's got good management and a suspect chin. TNT actually dropped him last week in sparring, but we can't tell the media that. They'd eat it up. But then the title fight wouldn't draw as much on pay-per-view. This is all stuff that's not in the job description when you sign up as a sparring partner: Make the guy you're sparring with look good at all times. Screw that up, you'll likely find yourself out of work real quick.
Diggs winces a bit and looks hurt. "Hey, man, I was just kidding," I say, and give him a quick slap on the back. For all his bad qualities, Diggs does have a good jab. A beautiful jab. It's quick and whipcord fast and he can double on it-even triple sometimes. He can make it look effortless.
If I don't ask Diggs to come with me to the movies, I know he'll sulk. And the bitch of it is this: I need Diggs to like me. If he wins the belt, he'll need sparring partners. And champions usually pay well. I can't afford to burn any bridges. "You wanna come?" I ask him.
Diggs gives me a small smile. In lots of ways he's just like a little kid. His eyes get real wide when you scold him. He laughs at every stupid joke you tell. And he loves candy. Just last week I saw him sneak a Butterfinger into his room after sparring. He's not supposed to eat any candy during training and neither are the sparring partners, but I saw that yellow paper wrapper hanging out of Diggs's pocket, and his mouth moving furiously, munching on the candy.
About that time, I spotted De La Rosa walking by Diggs's room, looking for him. I stalled De La Rosa a bit while Diggs stood inside the room, chomping on some damned candy bar.
I stalled De La Rosa because as much as I don't like Diggs, I've got a job to do. Which is make Diggs look good. And De La Rosa seeing his fighter hiding behind a door and devouring a candy bar just a few nights before the biggest fight of his life would most definitely not make Diggs look good.
There's lots of fight history here in Vegas. There's a graveyard directly under the flight path for planes approaching McCarran International Airport. Go into that graveyard and see a guy working-maybe a groundskeeper. Chat for a minute and tell him you're a fan of the fight game, he'll probably direct you to a grave that has an old metal urn atop the headstone, broken plastic flowers inside. The grave of Charles "Sonny" Liston, former heavyweight champion of the world.
It's funny, but most people remember Liston for the fights he lost rather than the fights he won. He's the guy Cassius Clay beat for the title. Clay beat Liston twice, once to win the belt, then again in a rematch. Clay, of course, would later become Muhammad Ali. And after the second Ali fight, just like that, Liston faded away.
But people don't remember Liston the way he was in his prime. Big and surly. Attitude of a drunken sailor. Mean as piss. Strong as hell. There were rumors that he actually knocked the stuffing out of heavy bags, tore speed bags off their hinges when he hit them. He knocked people down in fights with his jab. His jab!
In his prime, Sonny Liston, in my estimation, could've handled just about anybody. But people don't remember that. Instead, they remember the man who was twice humbled by Clay.
I come out here-to Liston's grave-every time I come to Vegas. It gives me a sense of perspective, I think. See, Liston came to this town when his career was over. He retired here. Then one day, he died here. People aren't sure to this day, but many say he crossed the mob and they killed him. It's possible. Hell, in this game, anything's possible. So in a sense, Liston will always be in Vegas. It may have taken his death to make it happen, but he's here. He's here for eternity.
I've often wondered what it would be like to make it to Vegas as a fighter. Not as a sparring partner, a fighter. Names like Leonard, Hearns, Tyson, and Holyfield. They've all fought in Vegas. Just once, I tell myself, I'd like to fight here. Be part of that select group, if only for one night.
It wouldn't have to be a title fight, either. Just a regular old undercard bout would suit me just fine. I'm not picky. Just give me an opponent and let us go at it, under those bright lights in the hot desert night, and I think I'd feel whole for once. Like I'd tried real hard and finally, for once, got what I wanted.
Vegas is the pinnacle for most fighters. It's where you go when you've made it. There's a saying among some of the old-time Vegas fight trainers: "When you're fighting in Vegas, brother, you've arrived."
Diggs and I see a movie with Van Damme in it, and it gets him riled up.
"I'm gonna work that motherfucker," Diggs tells me after the movie. We're walking down The Strip, back to the hotel, two black men enjoying the dry desert heat. Diggs is jabbering about what he's going to do to the champ. "I'm gonna stab him with my jab all night long and knock him out in ten."
"Easy, boss," I say. "He's never been knocked down, let alone out." I should know. I've sparred with Taylor-the champ-before. He's got a chin of granite. Never been on the canvas as an amateur or pro. I swear, God must have put solid marble in Taylor's skull.
"Shit," Diggs says, shaking his head in disgust. "He's never been tested with these mambo jambo's, now has he?" Diggs holds his fists in front of his face and gives me a goofy grin.
Diggs has that good jab, but what he lacks is pure power to back it up. In thirty fights he only has fifteen knockouts. Not a bad percentage of kayos, but not a great one, either. He has fair power, at best. The job requires I keep Diggs's spirits up, but I don't want to see the boy get slaughtered, thinking he can go toe-to-toe with Taylor. Diggs goes in all cocky like this and he'll get killed.
"Just use that jab of yours," I tell him as we walk back to the hotel. "You can win this fight on your jab alone."
Back in the room, I'm staring in the mirror. Diggs's camp has put us up in the Riviera, right on the main Vegas strip. I've got to admit, they've done us sparring partners right. Usually they put us in dumpier hotels, but the Riviera is nice. Not a Caesars or anything, but, hell, it'll do. Two queen-size beds, huge tub in the bathroom, and a casino downstairs. No complaints here. I take a quick look at myself and rub my head. I shave it every day, with one of those old-fashioned barber razors. My old-school haircut. Keeps me feeling solid. Like a fighter.
I'm sharing a room with TNT. He can fight a bit but isn't too smart with his money. He's downstairs now, no doubt on a blackjack table, pissing his money away. They pay us six hundred a week here for sparring-good money-and that could go all the way up to two grand a week if Diggs wins the title. Hell, I heard Tyson, in his prime, paid as much as twenty-five hundred a week for good sparring.
The mirror is my ally right now. It's where I practice my other stock-in-trade. When I'm finished with the ring, I've got a plan to get into television. Be a boxing announcer. If George Foreman can do it, so can I.
I give a great big smile, like I'm on camera. I smile real wide and just stare at the mirror, like I'm a stranger to myself. I hold the gaze for a good twenty seconds.
This is useful to do because sometimes when you do a fade-out from a fight, the camera tends to stick on the announcer's face while the station is trying to cut back to the studio. If the announcer doesn't have a good smile that can hold the viewers to the television, the station is likely to lose viewers. See, I understand this kind of shit.
I practice the smile a few more times and, satisfied, notice there's a voice mail blinking on the telephone. I check it. Sure enough, it's Al Bradley. He's covering the Diggs fight for ESPN this week and has asked me to appear on a fight preview show with him the night before the bout.
Since I've sparred with both Taylor and Diggs, Bradley and his crew want to get me on camera for a couple of minutes. Get my opinions on both fighters. It's a good break for me. I've helped Al out before with insider tips about goings-on in the fight business. I'm a "source," and he knows my ambitions once my career is over. Al has always said if he could get me on air, he would. And he's delivered.
It's midnight. I'm in bed and the television is on. I'm watching CNN but not really paying attention to the content. I'm paying attention to the newscasters. I always do this just before going to sleep at night. I watch the anchors' facial expressions and how they pronounce words. I notice the girl that's on now, a brunette, probably in her mid-forties, as she distinctly separates President Clinton's last name like this: Clin-ton.
Me, I'm from Jersey. Tren-ton. It's where I live when I'm not on the road sparring or fighting, four months out of the year, all told. People in Jersey say Clinton's name this way: Clin-in. But I've been practicing, just in case a boxing report ever presents the situation for me to say Clinton's name. It's doubtful that it will, but you never know.
"Clin-ton," I say out loud, putting the channel on mute. "Clin-ton. President Bill Clin-ton." Before I can say another name, the door opens. It's TNT, all six foot five inches of him.
"Whassup?" TNT says. He flips the lights on and rubs his head, which is covered with dreadlocks badly in need of washing. His eyes are red and swollen, most likely from all the smoke down in the casino.
"Not much." My eyes squint from the sudden burst of light. TNT isn't the most considerate roommate I've ever had. And besides that, he's breaking camp rules. "Man, you know damn well they catch you gambling, you're gone from camp. They want us in the room by eleven. You got to spar tomorrow."
"Man, shit" is all TNT offers. It's his favorite thing to say when you ask him where he's been. Another is "Man, fuck." TNT takes his shirt off and reveals a massively developed upper body. If TNT took his career more seriously, he could go places. He can hit hard and is quick for a big man. Problem is, he's dumb as a brick and has no direction.
"You blow this week's money already?" "Tables were a bitch tonight," TNT says as he gets into bed. "Loan me a hundred. I can win it all back, man."
"Forget it." I don't loan money to other fighters. It's like putting your cash into the toilet.
Excerpted from Every Time I Talk to Liston by Brian DeVido Copyright © 2004 by Brian DeVido. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 31, 2004
A fiction book about boxing? Yes, sir, this is a fast moving novel that has you rooting for Amos 'Scrap Iron' Fletcher, who tells the story of how he gets to the top his own way with the help of Sonny Liston's spirit, guiding him from the grave. A very well-written novel that has you wanting more with every page you turn! The actual fight scenes take you inside the ring and make you feel every punch and jab. TNT starts out as a physically able fighter with a propensity for saying things that get him into trouble. Amos, who cannot reach the top as a fighter takes on TNT and helps train him to beat the best. With Amos' help, he learns when to hit and when to stay silent. All the while, Amos gets advice from Sonny and what Sonny would have done. DeVido uses words wisely and humorously while taking you along his path to redemption. A must read for anyone who loves a novel he/she can't put down.. Three cheers for Every time I talk to Liston.
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Posted July 11, 2012
Devido opened up a whole new world for me. Remarkably written and it has what every great book should have, moments that impact and moments which cause the avid reader to reconsider before putting it down : )Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.