Boxing and History

Waiting for Errol

There’s a bright-red sign, flashing beside a door. The word “OPEN” flashes 5 times then, one letter at a time, they flash again. First the O. Then the P. And so on until “OPEN” gets spelled out. The sign flashes 5 times again, drawing attention to a place minimal in how it advertises itself. A black brick wall with the simplest of black fonts on the building’s fascia reads, “Boxing Gym.”

What appears like a 6-pound shot put ball—with a green and white swirl pattern on it—holds the front door open. The back door is also wide-open; presumably to allow the outdoor’s humid air to flow through. The familiar smell of a boxing gym is the first thing you notice. It’s not offensive, but neither is it pleasant.

It’s always obvious when someone new walks into a boxing gym. Everyone—both the new person and those there—do a quick calculus of who is who. Who is a pro. Who is not. Who used to fight. Who never has. Who has a kind face. Who does not. And, though it’s rarely said out loud, who can beat the shit out of who, how quickly, and how.

“Can I help you, boss?” a man asks while getting his gloves tied. He has a prosthetic below his right knee. I wonder what happened. I want to ask but I don’t. Instead, I explain my reason for being there. “I’m here to interview Errol.”

“Cool,” he says, “he should be here in a bit.” He then walks to the heavy bag. Without waiting for the piercing sound of the timer marking another 3-minute round’s beginning, he punches. He circles to his right as if the sweat-stained bag has an orthodox stance. He punches again. You can see a sweat ring developing around the neck of his heather grey-colored shirt. About 10 feet away from him, there’s a man sitting on the floor and reading his phone. He too is sweating.

As with most boxing gyms, it’s hot inside. The heat’s made worse by the simple fact it’s mid-May in north Texas. The high temperature was around 87 degrees though with humidity, it felt like 102. It’s much hotter inside the gym to where waiting outside feels like a relief.

The gym shares the building with a Mexican restaurant that sells barbacoa de borrego. There’s a tire shop is next to the restaurant. Every few minutes you hear an air impact wrench, taking off another lug nut. You don’t hear it but you can imagine the sound of a tire bouncing slightly off the ground before a worker rolls it away to get fixed. The gym’s neighbor is a shop that sells work boots.

I was standing outside, wondering if every nice car that drove by marked my wait’s end, when a man—who must have seen my camera—said something I quite couldn’t make out. Something about if I wanted to take a picture of a shoe. As he got closer, he smelled of alcohol and carried a work boot with a nail poking into its bottom. He limped and wore only a sock on one of his feet. “I paid $200 for these shoes. They are supposed to have a warranty,” he said in his broken English.

I ask him, in Spanish, what happened. Relieved that he could express his frustrations in the language he knows best, he suddenly speaks confidently. In between expletives, he says he stepped on a nail and considering how much he paid for work boots that came with a warranty, he brought them back. I’m not sure if he expected new boots, the shop to cover his medical bill, or something else. Whatever he wanted, they told him no. Annoyed, he says next time he’ll buy work boots at Wal-Mart, pay only $40 and get the same level of protection. He limped away and back into his car. I went back inside and waited. I looked around.

All gyms line their walls with pictures and posters of boxers intermixed with a few motivational quotes. A sign, written in Spanish, says, “You have 2 options…Throw in the towel and quit or use it to dry your sweat and keep going.” There’s another motivational quote, this one written on a dry-erase board, that simply says, “Do more say less.”

Of all the pictures, three boxers seem to occupy the most space: Errol Spence, Muhammad Ali, and Julio César Chávez—the father, not the son. Though, there’s at least one poster of junior; it’s in the bathroom. If you stand there, while urinating, and look at his eyes on the poster you get the sense that junior is trying hard not to look down.

While looking around and waiting, a woman walked through the door. The same man that greeted me—who apparently, when not beating the punching bag, doubles as the information desk—asks how he could help. She inquired about joining the gym. The man’s shirt had turned a dark-colored grey and while wiping his sweat off, as best he could with his boxing gloves on, told her about the gym’s basic membership. The MMA instructor is no longer there so kickboxing class is on hold. He also told her the owner wasn’t there. He pointed to a picture on the wall and said, “if you ever come back, that’s what he looks like.”

She suddenly recognizes a picture though it’s not the one of the owner. “It’s Freddie Roach,” she says excitedly. “Yea,” the sweating man answered, “we are the home gym of world champion, Errol Spence.” She doesn’t seem to know who he is. Or, maybe she does but doesn’t care.

She leaves and we all return to what we were doing before she arrived. Everyone, in their own way, waiting for something or someone who may not even exist.