Their loud, rowdy voices echoed through the stairwell, destroying the sanctity of the gym, that early Fall evening. One by one, the boxers paused their training to take a peek at the entrance door and see what all of the ruckus was about.
Then, like an ill wind was about to blow through, five neighborhood thugs — dressed like early ’90s crack dealers — burst into the gym. “Yo!” shouted the leader and shortest of the pack, “my boys right here will fight anyone in this gym!”
Without missing a beat, every boxer (except me) dismissed the little bastard’s announcement and resumed their training, as though scenarios like this one were daily occurrences at the Lost Battalion Hall’s Recreational Center.
Hell bent on provoking a showdown, the menacing group began to circle the gym, challenging each member to a sparring match. I was brand new to boxing and this was only my third work out, so I wasn’t ready to fight anyone yet…let alone the cast from the movie New Jack City. So I shuffle-stepped my huge 6’4” frame behind a long heavy bag, and pecked at it like an Ostrich burying its head in the sand, to avoid getting the group’s attention. But alas: “Yo, how much you weigh?” one of the thugs shout in my direction.
Before I could eke out a puny, “Uumm, around 250 pound,” Artie, the gym’s head boxing trainer, swooped in and blocked the goons from advancing over to my side of the gym.
Artie was an older man, but it was obvious that in his youth, he was probably one hell of a fighter. He had a tough, no-nonsense attitude, like a Puerto Rican Mickey Goodmill (Rocky Balboa’s manager), and he wasn’t going to let these knuckleheads disturb his gym. Artie wanted these guys gone and he wasn’t about to back down.
You could cut the tension with a knife.
And then, with all the drama of the Red Sea parting, the heavy doors to the gym opened, and in walked Michael Bentt, the NYC 4x Golden Glove Champion (and future WBO Heavyweight Champion of the World). He had arrived just in time for his training session.
Michael Bentt: “What’s going on Artie?”
Artie: “Ahh, these idiots are looking for a fight.”
Michael Bentt: “Glove ‘em up…I’ll be right out.”
“Who’s that?” All five thugs asked in unison. “That’s the guy who’s gonna kick all your asses if you don’t leave now,” snarled a relieved Artie. The tables had quickly turned and now it was the bullies who were shaking in their Timberlands.
Michael Bentt was out of the locker room and excited to have some new sparring partners. To save face, the goon squad picked a sacrificial lamb who begrudgingly stepped into the ring to fight. Just before the bell for the first round sounded, Michael walked across the ring, looked his nervous opponent in the eyes and said, “I won’t even hit you in the head.”
“DING, DING, DING” and the fight started.
Boxing is often referred to as the “sweet science” because, although it is a violent and often barbaric sport, it is also a beautiful and artistic display of athleticism. Watching Michael Bentt effortlessly duck and side step the barrage of wild punches the thug tried to land on him, and then fire back, just one fight-ending right hook into his mid-section, was a thing of beauty.
The fight was over in less than ten seconds, and the bullies-turned-pussies ran out of the gym as quickly as possible. “We’ll be back” four out of five yelled as they ran up the stairs, while the poor guy who got the gut check, shook his head as if to say “no, I won’t.”
Watching Michael Bentt send those thugs packing made me want to spar badly. Every day, for the next couple of months, I’d bug Artie to spar…and everyday he’d say, “go jump some rope kid, you’re not ready yet.” I guess my pestering got to him, because one day he looked at his assistant and said, “Glove em up.”
After that, I sparred all the heavy weights in the gym and then Artie started to send me to other gyms to spar with their heavyweights. I loved it. There is nothing like the adrenaline that runs through your body before the first round bell rings.
Back in the day, I had a dream of becoming a professional boxer. Getting punched in the face daily made me rethink my “dream,” but I’ve never regretted busting Artie’s chops to get in the ring and spar, because it knocked some confidence and courage into me. It also knocked the fear of dealing with bully thugs out of me, and helped me when I eventually became a New York City Police Officer.