It was summer time on one of the ravine lined back streets of L.A.
It was already dark on the night of the big fight, the air was still.
Inside the cozy warm atmosphere of Ron Hahn’s house, set at the far end of a cul-de-sac on the edge of Chavez-Ravine, cold beer was flowing and the spirit of everyone, the young lower-middle class white kids, Louie Monarrez and Ron Hahn, Richard Hammon, Cowboy, and a couple of other 15, 16 and 17 year old males were electrified.
I was kind of new at streetfigting.
I had been boxing in the ring for a couple of years and felt pretty comfortable.
I was sort of a minor celebrity in the gym where I trained.
Everyone knew me and guys from other gyms would come to watch me spar.
There were big names fighting in those days.
I trained with a fighter who had gone 7 tough rounds with Muhammad Ali.
Tonight I was scheduled to fight one of the toughest kids in this part of L.A.
Nick Babich was cruelly good-looking.
Thick, black hair, locks over his forehead, dark, eyes, a slight upper curve of his lip.
He dressed like Elvis.
Not Elvis the good, but Elvis the hood.
Ron tilted a cold can of beer and drank deeply.
“I don’t think Nick will show up.”
I hope he doesn’t, I thought.
The thought was comforting.
I could loosen up a little and join the general festivities.
Richard Hammon threw an arm around me and and said, “You can beat him. I’ve wrestled with both of ya, and I’ve seen ya fight., I think you’ll knock him out.”
Good, positive, pre-fight talk.
He turns to Louie,”Don’t you think so, Louie?”
Louie is a pale, gangly Spanish kid that hung out with us.
“I don’t know…” Louie begins..“
“Nick’s bad. I’ve never seen him lose.”
Maybe he won’t show up, I’m thinking.
“Yo, Nicky!” calls out Louie.
Slowly I turn, and there he is,dark,
menacing looking in a black leather jacket, combat boots and black sunglasses.
Nick outweighed me by 30 lbs, and it was good weight, muscle and bone.
Like me, no fat.
Nick strolled towards me and put out his hand as I stood to face him.
“What’s happenin’?” He drawled, a half-smile half-sneer on his handsome face.
“Alright.” I answered, impassively.
“You ready to do this?” He asked.
“Let’s do it,” I responded.
The summer night was festive, but I was very aware of how festivities can turn out when fighting is part of the fun.
I had taken some savage beatings before I had mastered the “Sweet Science” of boxing.
Dad had drilled into me, “Never walk away from a fight.
There is nothing worse than a coward.”
He gave me a brief boxing lesson, and sent me out to prove my courage.
The only part I could ever remember about his lesson was, “Put your hands over your ears.”
As a result, for years other kids beat the hell out of me.
I knew nothing about fighting, and the kids I fought had at least strength and some fighting knowledge.
And I never backed down.
I never even tried to talk my way out of a fight.
So, I got beat up a lot.
By the time of the fight with Nick, I was highly training as a fighter.
I knew I was fast and well-coordinated.
Dave Fierro, my mentor, drilled us like soldiers, and I was his favorite , he would often pull me aside, or otherwise get me alone, and say something like, “I haven’t given this to the other guys.
They haven’t earned it. You’ve learned your lessons. So here’s what we are going to do…”
He’d rip a page out of his training book and give it to me.
“You are going to be a champion, Mike.”
Nick and I walked through the front door and out to a dimly lit cul-de-sac to the South of Ron’s yard.
Nick was big, I thought as I looked across at him and he pulled off his leather jacket, revealing a powerful torso and muscular arms.
He handed the jacket to Louie….his second, I guess you could say.
Hammon was slightly behind me. “Good luck, Mike.”
“Thanks, Rick.” I was ready.
I bounced a little to warm up as I saw Nick strike a pose that would become familiar to me… hands up, elbows bent, fists clenched in front of his face, similar to Floyd Patterson’s Peek a Boo style.
He bounced back and forth lightly, then crossing his feet charged at me.
I side stepped and hit him on the jaw with two left jabs as he ran past me.
He spun around facing me and with more control threw a couple of dangerous and quick right hands.
I easily countered, throwing a right and a left, both landing on Nick’s face.
Nick threw more punches, I bobbed and weaved avoiding a couple of shots, and danced away from a couple more, meanwhile I popped two more jabs across his chin.
Adrenalin and endorphins were raging in my mind and blood as we fought.
I was in perfect condition.
I trained in the ring three or four times a week, shadow boxed at home and ran miles with Al Cruz, my step-father.
Everything I did was muscle memory, and yet, clues and strategies are intertwined with almost automatic moves in a fight.
I could feel my confidence growing.
I’d hit Nick with 10 or a dozen punches, he hadn’t hit me at all.
Nick was a streetfighter.
It was like a guy who’d watched tennis on television playing John McEnroe.
The crowd watching the fight had grown from “the guys”, to 50 or a hundred neighbors.
I had to give Nicky credit, for a streetfighter, he threw really nice looking punches.
But most his opponents in streetfights had probably come straight at him, and were not as fast as he was.
Nick was incredibly fast.
His punches were almost a blur.
Every time Nick threw punches he missed, and I was counterpunching a lot, and usually landing.
I was not knocking out a lot of people yet.
That came later.
Most of my street fights ended with my opponent giving up.
Not able to continue.
I was a defensive fighter.
I landed punches that counted in the ring, but they weren’t leveraged shots, they were more like flurry punches.
I wasn’t trying to knock people out in the ring, just to land more punches.
Before long I would learn to bear down on my punches, with devastating affects for my future opponents.
Nick charged at me again, only this time he grabbed me around the chest and tackled me to the asphalt.
I struggled to free myself, but Nick was a lot stronger and bigger than I was.
I thrashed, trying to pull my arms free.
“Mike!” Nick yelled, his face inches from mine.
“That’s enough. Let’s call it a draw.”
He didn’t wait for my answer.
“I’m gonna let you up. Don’t start swinging, OK?”
I realized at that moment, I was tired, almost exhausted.
“Alright. It’s a draw.”
We stood up and shook hands.
“You are as bad as I heard you were!” Laughs Nick.
“You too, “ I reply, tentatively.
“I want you to be my number one.” Nick said emphatically.
He leaned forward.
“You’ve got guts. You are a little guy, and you had the balls to fight me. And you are good.
Be my main guy, OK?”
I thought about my other friends.
They all deferred to Nick like he was a God.
My brother Rick thought Nick was a hero
“Okay Nick, we’re partners.”