Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Cornerby F. X. Toole
“In this remarkable collection . . . the spirit of Hemingway lives on.” —The Wall Street Journal F. X. Toole knew boxing. Between bouts, he wrote, and two years before his death he published this collection of stories, giving readers an unprecedented look at the gritty life around the ring. He tells of a cutman with a sweet/b>/i>… See more details below
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“In this remarkable collection . . . the spirit of Hemingway lives on.” —The Wall Street Journal F. X. Toole knew boxing. Between bouts, he wrote, and two years before his death he published this collection of stories, giving readers an unprecedented look at the gritty life around the ring. He tells of a cutman with a sweet tooth, young fighters with dreams of celebrity, and a talented boxer who goes to Atlantic City for his biggest bout, only to be humiliated by the prejudices of a callous promoter. In “Million $$$ Baby,” the inspiration for the Oscar-winning Clint Eastwood film, an aged trainer takes on a female fighter, guiding her through disappointment, pain, and tragedy. And in “Rope Burns,” Toole realizes his epic vision, showing that even the purest fighter can succumb to the pressures of the world outside the sport. Throughout these stories, boxing’s violence is redeemed by the respect these men and women share, as they strap on gloves and prepare their bodies for the ultimate test. This ebook features an illustrated biography of F. X. Toole including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.
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Million Dollar Baby
Stories from the Corner
By F. X. Toole
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 F. X. Toole
All rights reserved.
The Monkey Look
I stop blood.
I stop it between rounds for fighters so they can stay in the fight.
Blood ruins some boys. It was that way with Sonny Liston, God rest his soul. Bad as he was, he'd see his own blood and fall apart.
I'm not the one who decides when to stop the fight, and I don't stitch up cuts once the fight's over. And it's not my job to hospitalize a boy for brain damage. My job is to stop blood so the fighter can see enough to keep on fighting. I do that, maybe I save a boy's title. I do that one little thing, and I'm worth every cent they pay me. I stop the blood and save the fight, the boy loves me more than he loves his daddy.
But you can't always stop it. Fight guys know this. If the cut's too deep or wide, or maybe you got a severed vein down in there, the blood keeps coming. Sometimes it takes two or three rounds to stop the blood, maybe more—the boy's heart is pumping so hard, or he cuts more. Once you get the coagulant in there, sometimes it takes another shot from the opponent right on the cut itself to drive the blood far enough from the area so the stuff you're using can start to work. What I'm saying is there are all kinds of combinations you come up against down in the different layers of meat. When a good cut man stays ahead of the combinations, he can stop most cuts, but not every one.
Fights can be stopped for a lot of reasons. A football eye swollen shut can stop a fight. But fights aren't stopped just because a fighter is cut. It's where he's cut. Below the eye, or alongside it, that won't usually stop a fight. Neither will a cut if it's in or above the eyebrow, or up in the forehead, or in the scalp. Broken nose? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A cut in the eyelid, because of possible damage to the eyeball and the threat of blindness, that can stop a fight quick. So will blood pumping down into a boy's eyes. Blood can blind a fighter, maybe cost him the fight, or worse, because when he can't see he starts taking shots he wouldn't otherwise take, and now he ends up on his ass blinking through the lights and shadows of future memories.
Boy gets cut, I always crack the seal of a new, one-ounce bottle of adrenaline chloride solution 1:1000. When it's fresh, it's clear like water but has a strong chemical smell. The outdated stuff turns a light pinkish color, or a pale piss-yellow. When that happens, it couldn't stop fly blood. I might pour adrenaline into a small plastic squeeze bottle if I need to use sterile gauze pads along with a swab, but I never use adrenaline from a previous fight. I dump it, even if three quarters of it is left. This way it can't carry blood over from another fight, and none of my boys can get AIDS from contaminated coagulant. I'd give AIDS to myself before I'd give it to one of my boys.
Trainers and managers and fighters call me. They know me from when I used to train fighters. But I got too old and was walking around with my back and neck crippled up all the time from catching punches with the punch mitts. Boxing is a game of half steps and quarter inches, a game where old men belong as much as the young. Without us, there couldn't be fights. Fans think boxing is about being tough. For members of the fancy, the fight game is about getting respect.
My first fight working the corner of Hoolie Garza came after his trainer talked to me, Ike Goody. Ike was a club fighter in the fifties, but like most first-rate trainers, he was never a champ. With the exception of Floyd Patterson, I don't remember another champ who ever made a champion. Hoolie Garza is a twenty-six-pounder, a smart featherweight Mexican boy who thinks he's smarter than he is. He was born in Guaymas, a port on the Gulf of California inside Baja. He was raised illegal in East Los Angeles, where he fought with his big brothers for food. His real name is Julio César Garza, but as a kid he was nicknamed Juli—in Spanish it's pronounced "hoolie." Juli was Americanized to Hoolie, the way Miguel, or Michael, is sometimes Americanized into Maikito.
After the Korean War, I went to school in Mexico City on the G.I. Bill. I wanted to learn Spanish, maybe teach it. So I hung around with Mexicans rather than other Americans. Some of my friends were bullfighters. I had a fling with the daughter of the secretary to the president of Mexico, a natural blonde who drove a car with license-plate number 32. She, God bless her, was one of the ways I learned Spanish on several levels and in different accents. I usually keep my Spanish to myself, like a lot of Latinos in the U.S. keep their English to themselves. But if they find out and ask about it, I tell them I was a student in Mexico and Spain both, and I say, "Hablo el españo sólo si me conviene—I speak Spanish only when it's to my advantage." They always smile. Some laugh out loud and wag their finger. A lot of Latino fighters coming to fight in L.A. use me in their corner; some fly me to Vegas. I'm as loyal to them as I am to an American, or to an Irishman, which is why I never bet on a fight I'm working—not on the boy I'm working with, and not on the other fighter. This way, if I somehow screw up and cause my boy to lose, it can never be said that I did business.
Ike caught up with me at Bill Slayton's gym in South Central Los Angeles. "Hoolie's got a fight in Tijuana, Old Mexico. He wants you."
"What's he getting?"
"Short money. You know about his California suspension problem? The Mexicans know about it, too. A lousy twenty-five hundred dollars for ten rounds. It's with a tough TJ boy, Chango Pedroza. They want to make a name off us. It's Hoolie's third fight after his suspension. Two wins by kayo. Hoolie says he'll pay the regular two percent. I told him no good, you won't work ten rounds for that, but he kept after me, so I said I'd talk to you."
"He smoking dope again?"
Ike shrugged. "I know he's hurting for bread."
"I don't work that cheap, fifty lousy dollars tell him. Tell him to get someone from down there."
"He's a bleeder. That's why he wants you."
"It's a hundred fifty miles down there, Ike, so I go for a tank of gas, right? Now I don't get home until after four A.M. I don't work for fifty here in L.A., unless it's a four-rounder."
See, Ike had always told me the truth, always done square business with me, so I believed that Ike was telling me the truth about what Hoolie told him about the purse ... but I knew some things about Hoolie, and who could tell what kind of truth he was telling Ike? Let me tell you, Hoolie was a hell of a fighter, a tough little bastard who'd meet you in the middle of the river and fight you. He had an underslung jaw and a hooked nose that pointed off at an angle. And scar tissue. At twenty-nine he was losing his hair, so he shaved his head. Tattoos from jail and from every country he'd fought in, roses and daggers, same old shit. Fought for a title his third fight out of the joint, where he did time for assault with a deadly weapon. Not his hands, he didn't want to hurt his hands, he pistol-whipped some guy who smiled at his wife. He almost won his title shot, but he got tired late, and the other guy came on in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth. Hoolie, like always, was cut up, but the cuts didn't become a factor. After the title fight was over, Hoolie failed his piss test. They found traces of marijuana in his specimen and suspended him in California for a year, and held up his purse as well. It means Hoolie can't fight anywhere else in the States that counts because most state boxing commissions honor each other's ban.
But Hoolie was a good draw; promoters from all over wanted him because he was so tough and because of the blood. That's why Hoolie had to fight outside the States for short money—in Australia, in Latin America, in the Philippines, wherever there are little guys. And to stay busy, so he could be ready for his next shot at another belt.
So after Ike made three phone calls, I settled for a hundred. I took it because Ike was a longtime friend, and because it gave me an excuse to go down to a seafood restaurant there in TJ named La Costa, a place you can get some of the best camarones rancheros in the world—shrimp in a hot sauce with garlic, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Wash it down with a couple of Bohemias. For appetizers, they serve deep-fried freshwater smelt with fresh salsa and limes. I say an Act of Contrition every time I leave the place. Been going to La Costa thirty years.
I also took the fight because once the suspension is lifted, Hoolie's was sure to get another title fight. He uses me, I can make a little money. Ballpark, I get first cut of the purse, 2 percent. Some guys get more, some less. It's business. On a fifty-thousand-dollar fight, that means a thousand for me. But maybe my boy doesn't get cut at all, so I just sit ringside and watch. But I still get paid. Bigger fights, I try to get the same 2 percent if I can, or I charge a flat fee. But a four-round prelim boy, he needs a cut man same as a champ, right? So if I'm going to be at the arena with another boy anyway, and I like the prelim boy and his trainer, or maybe I feel sorry for a scared kid, a lot of times I don't charge—the prelim boy's only making four hundred bucks in the first place. Out of that, he's got to pay his trainer 10 percent off the top, and his manager another 33½. Ike doesn't charge his prelim boys.
But this is a game of money, right? So I got to be careful. I charge too little at the start, some boys won't respect me, and then they don't want to pay more when they make more. And some will stiff you, even after you save their careers.
Before I left Ike at Slayton's, I told him that the Tijuana Commission would look for any way to disqualify Hoolie, and he should warn Hoolie that they'd be sure to make him take a piss test if he won.
"You right, you right," said Ike. "Damn."
"Is he clean?"
"Say he is."
In TJ, Hoolie's got his wife, his mother, and two brothers he's got to feed; he's got to feed Ike and me, and Ike's backup corner man. There are two more as well: a homeboy member of Hoolie's Frogtown gang, and a black kick boxer, a kid called Tweety, who's as polite and well-spoken as a Jesuit. The weigh-in was at noon the same day of the fight, with the fights to go off at ten that night. Hoolie was staying in the same hotel where the fight's going off. He wants to eat at five, but not in the hotel, where at lunch he was pestered by people after his autograph. He's a big man in Mexico, what with him being born down there and making it in the States.
He asks me about seafood and if I know a good place to eat in town. I tout him on La Costa, but tell him it isn't cheap, and he says no big thing. So many people eating, it had to cost Hoolie a bundle. I wondered why he was paying for people who weren't family or working his corner, but he paid the tab without a bitch. No problem, until the waiter collected and counted Hoolie's money. I could tell from the waiter's face that Hoolie had stiffed him. So now I got to wonder if he'll do the same to me. I slip the waiter thirty dollars for himself. With the tank of gas I had to buy, I was working for nothing, right?, since the adrenaline I know I'll be using on Hoolie's cuts later that night has already cost me another seventeen dollars and change. But what am I going to do? I'd known these waiters for years, and I can't let them get stiffed on my call.
Some fighters cut all the time, others hardly ever. Hoolie's a bleeder, it's what you call a fighter who cuts easy. Guy like that can make for a long night. It's not something he can do anything about, being a bleeder, any more than a guy with a glass jaw can do something about not having a set of whiskers. I don't know if it's the bone structure around the eyes of a bleeder, or something to do with the elasticity or the thickness of the skin, but some of them get cut damn near every fight. It doesn't take long for a bleeder's eyes to droop from severed nerves, or before they develop a monkey look around the eyes from the buildup of scar tissue. Hoolie's got the monkey look. Nature builds up scar tissue to protect the eyes, but in boxing it's often the scar tissue that's the problem—the soft skin next to the scar will tear free from the scar because of the difference in texture between the two.
It was in the second round that Hoolie's eyes started to bleed. I kept him going, but the cuts in his eyelids got worse as the fight wore on. But as long as Ike and I could get him ready for the next round, he was standing up at the ten-second warning and waiting for the bell. Little shit, he recuperates between rounds better than anyone I ever saw. Punch by punch, he wore Pedroza down. Pedroza went after Hoolie's eyes, twisting his fists on impact to tear open the cuts even more. Hoolie stayed close, went to the body with shots to the liver, ribs, and heart. The liver shots made Pedroza gasp, the heart shots made him wobble.
Pedroza was a local boy, a good fighter with the will to win. The crowd was clearly in his corner, and so was the ref, who took a point away from Hoolie by calling a phony low blow. In Mexico, if somebody is cut, they tend to let the fights go longer than in the U.S. But if you happen to be the guy from out of town—and you're the one who's cut—and if the promoter is looking to get a win for his boy—you know you better knock him out in a hurry, because they'll stop the fight on you as soon as they figure the local boy's ahead on points. The ref kept calling time and looking at Hoolie's cuts, but I stopped the blood and the ref couldn't stop the fight.
I repaired Hoolie's eyes after the third and the fourth. After the fifth I did it again, then swabbed his nose with adrenaline to jack some energy into him through the mucus membrane. Hoolie punched himself on each side of his face and slid out to the center of the ring, his hands intentionally down low. Before Pedroza could get off on what he thought was an opening, Hoolie caught him with a sneak right-hand lead that stunned him. Then he caught him with a short left hook to the liver that paralyzed him. Pedroza went down on his face from an uppercut and then twisted into a tight ball of hurt. The timekeeper and the ref stretched the count, but they could have counted to fifty for all it mattered.
The crowd was howling and throwing beer into the ring. We got to the dressing room as fast as we could. The shower and the toilet were in the same closed cubicle within the dressing room. All of Hoolie's people crowded in while Ike and I were pumping fluids into him and trying to towel him down. We were all happy and toothy. It's always like that when you win. The press was polite, and Hoolie's fans pushed in to shake his hand. A bottle of tequila was passed around, an uncommon thing, and Hoolie took a couple of hits. Tweety positioned himself inside the crapper, turned off the light in there, and closed the door so he couldn't be seen.
Two minutes later the Commission doctor pushed through the dressing room door, followed by the promoter, whose number-one boy Hoolie had just dropped. With a smug look, the doctor held up a plastic specimen bottle. Ike glanced over at me, rolled his eyes.
"La-la-la," said the doctor, sure he'd busted Hoolie.
If Hoolie fails the test, the promoter's boy doesn't suffer the loss on his record, and the promoter doesn't have to pay Hoolie. Hoolie doesn't get paid, neither does Ike, neither do I. Hoolie took the piss bottle with a smile. He pulled open the door to the toilet so it covered half his body. It also blocked Tweety from the doctor. Hoolie dropped his trunks and cup to his knees and stood where the doctor could still see his bare ass. From my position, I watched the action. Hoolie handed the bottle inside the toilet to Tweety, who already had his dick out. Tweety pissed into the bottle while Hoolie made a piss face and jerked his arm around like he was shaking his dick. Tweety gave the bottle back to Hoolie, and after closing Tweety in, Hoolie passed the hot bottle back to the doctor. Hoolie's gangster pal stood in front of the door picking his nose.
From Hoolie's relaxed attitude, and from the heat of the specimen bottle, the doctor was no longer so sure that he'd nailed a drug offender. The promoter saw the doctor's face and began talking to himself.
The reason behind what the doctor and the promoter tried to do disgusted me, not the piss test. But the game Hoolie and Tweety ran got to me even more. I love boxing almost as much as I love the Sacraments. You play by the rules. You never throw a fight, and you never throw intentional low blows ... unless the other guy does it first. When I realized that Hoolie was still smoking dope, I got out of there as soon as I could.
"Hoolie," I said, "I got to go. How about takin care of me."
"I'm broke until the promoter pays me, man."
"Tomorrow morning when the bank opens, homes. Hey, I'm good for it, you know me, man. I don't see you around, I'll give your piece to Ike so he can take care of you, what you say?"
"It's only a hundred."
"I'm broke, man, that's why I took this shit fight, and my wife's knocked up, man."
Excerpted from Million Dollar Baby by F. X. Toole. Copyright © 2000 F. X. Toole. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
F. X. Toole was the pseudonym of Jerry Boyd (1930–2002), a boxing trainer and author whose work inspired the award-winning film Million Dollar Baby. In 1988, Boyd began writing about boxing, using the pseudonym F. X. Toole to keep his hobby secret from his colleagues in the boxing world. One of his stories caught the eye of a literary agent, who sold Rope Burns, a collection of Boyd’s stories, in 2000. Boyd died two years later, but before he passed he wrote the posthumously published Pound for Pound (2006) and sold the film rights to his story “Million $$$ Baby.” Clint Eastwood’s adaptation, Million Dollar Baby, won four Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture.
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