Gloves, Bicycles and One Hell of a Night




Narvaez prepares for his Madison Square Garden bantamweight bout. Photo: Andrew Bell

As a reporter for the Midtown Gazette, I’m far from the first invite to the press conference.  A man with a clipboard and a suspicious stare guards the entrance to the pressroom. Nervously, I approach him, ”Andrew Bell,” I say. His eyes wander up and down the list. “Okay, so I’m not on the list,” I say.  On cue, two elegantly-dressed reporters come bolting down the stairs.  “Where are you going?” he asks.  “We got what we needed, “ one responds. The man looks at me, smiling.  “Well, kid, I guess it’s your lucky day” He scribbles my name on the list. “Stay out of trouble.”

With that, I run upstairs toward the press room, where a dozen journalists sit snapping photos, jotting down notes and shooting footage of the eight boxers who will be fighting in just over 48 hours.  I make my way through a maze of tables – we’re at Gallagher’s Steakhouse – toward the boxers I have come to see.

I had assumed these men would be massive.  Boy, am I wrong.  The two bantamweight competitors are pint-sized.  They barely reach my chest, and probably barely exceed my admittedly scrawny weight combined.

Nonito Donaire struts by me with the cliché swagger of a boxer. In a blazer adorned with a breast cancer awareness ribbon, his baseball cap flipped casually to the side, he looks brash and confident.  His opponent, Omar Narvaez, is much shorter and seems flustered by all the questions in English. While Narvaez answer questions, I overhear Donaire talking to his bodyguard.  “How do you think I did, man?”  The bodyguard nods and tells him that he was wonderful.  Donaire smiles and says, “I had a little trouble finding the words, but then I got my feet under me and felt super comfortable.”

I slowly approach Donaire, uncomfortable towering over him, knowing that with one quick jab he could knock me out cold.  He’s warm and gracious in person, clearly an old showbiz pro. I ask whether he’s studied the tapes on his opponents to find elements he could take advantage of.  Donaire smiles and says, “I’m not going to study his tapes because then I’m waiting for him instead of imposing my will.   I’m an aggressive boxer and I know that I have to be the enforcer.”

I try to talk to Narvaez, but much of it is lost in translation.  I ask him in my broken Spanish if he’d pose for a photo, and he cocks his fists and attempts to project strength.  I am shocked by the intensity and focus in his eyes.

The press event includes lunch, but the two boxers don’t eat steak like the hundred or so guests in the room. With a weigh-in looming, they choose fish instead.

Leaving Gallagher’s, I’m suddenly filled with the urge to watch the match – and with concern about what might happen to the two fighters. While they understandably favored the larger media outlets, both men took a few seconds to shake my hands and answer my queries. I’d like both of them to end up okay.

Saturday night comes faster than I would have thought, and a friend and I head to  Jimmy’s Corner in Times Square. On our way we check out Emmet O’Louneys, where the World Series trumps boxing, and Rusts Bar, where college football plays instead.

Russell Brand and Katy Perry bike through Times Square Photo: Andrew Bell

Just outside Rusts, I hear loud shrieks from a passing car, and that’s because pop celebrity Katy Perry and her husband, actor Russell Brand, are weaving their way through traffic on bicycles. After a block, they hit a red light – and with that boxer’s steely calm, borrowed for the moment, I walk right up to them.

“Russell, Katy, I’m a huge fan,” I say. “I know it’s rude, but I have to talk to you.” Another set of handshakes all around. In the span of a single traffic light I find out that they’ve spent the day, their first wedding anniversary, at the Occupy Wall Street protest, so I wish them a happy anniversary, another set of handshakes, and they pedal off into the night.

I’m back to being an intrepid sports reporter. My friend and I sprint toward Jimmy’s Corner, whose awning has the names of boxing clubs inscribed on one side.  Finally, I’m where I’m supposed to be, so I grab a seat at the bar, order a drink, and casually ask the bartender when the match starts.

“Oh, do you mean the game?” she asks. “It already started.”

I’m confused. “Do you mean Donaire versus Narvaez?”

She laughs. “Why would we be showing that?”

I plead with the other patrons to let us watch the match, but it does no good.  As we head out the door, I ask my friend, “Who would have thought at a boxing pub they’d be showing football?”

Another customer, overhearing, says, “Boys, who would want to watch boxing anymore?

We scramble through Times Square ,peering through the windows at different bars. Nobody cares about boxing, at least not when the World Series is on.

The more I can’t see the match, the more I want to see the match, or at least, this late at night, the re-cap. Tired and groggy, I return home and flick on the TV to catch highlights. To my amazement, it is still going on. The two men are in the tenth round.

Donaire, in black shorts that are twice his width, seems to struggle more with keeping his shorts on then he does with slugging Narvaez.  Narvaez, on the other hand, looks bewildered that he’s still on his feet, and spends the round merely fending off the aggressive advances by Donaire.

In the 11th round, the audience excoriates Narvaez for failing to show up.  “This is bullshit, “ they chant.   The commentator chimes in with a jibe of his own. “Did Narvaez come here to win or just to take the money and prove he could last 12 rounds with the bigger guy?”

These words pierce me like needles, and it hits me that I don’t want either boxer to leave feeling deflated. I like them. I’d prefer they both go home happy. And after 12 grueling rounds, Donaire and Narvaez both raise their arms in triumph.  “What is Narvaez celebrating for? “ one commentator asks, but I’m satisfied. The audience is hissing, and I can’t help but celebrate. At the same time I’m guilty.  Nobody else in New York seems to be able to share the gratitude and joy that Donaire, Narvaez and I now inexplicably feel.