Sunday, July 08, 2001

Fighter's dad would prefer he had day job

        BROOKLYN, N.Y. — He watched the weigh-in from the back of the room. His eyes were shielded by sunglasses, but his feelings were unfiltered. He is a fighter's father and, hence, always a little anxious.

        “I would have preferred that my son work 9 to 5,” Larry Donald Sr. said. “Then I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep.”

        Larry Donald Jr., Cincinnati's self-professed “Legend,” was fighting Saturday night for a shot at a share of the heavyweight title. If he hadn't lost to Kirk Johnson, Donald would have been designated the World Boxing Association's mandatory challenger, assured a match against the winner of John Ruiz's Aug.4 title defense against Evander Holyfield.

        Yet implicit in Donald's opportunity was an element of danger. Each time a boxer enters the ring, he is fighting for his life, his health and the preservation of his faculties. It is part of the deal — the part parents have the most trouble reconciling.

        “I'm the happiest man in the world,” Larry Donald Sr. said, “when it's over with.”

High risk, high reward

        Boxing is a bloody business. Always has been. Fighters accept the risks in return for rewards that can run into tens of millions of dollars. A fortunate few get out of the ring with some of their money and most of their minds. For many, though, it's a terrible trade-off.

        Last Thursday, former heavyweight champion Greg Page left a Louisville hospital almost four months after brain injuries had caused him to lapse into a coma following an abortive comeback attempt.

        Three days earlier, Beethavean Scottland died from injuries suffered during a June 26 bout on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York harbor. Scottland had taken the fight on short notice, moved up from super middleweight to light heavyweight to claim a $7,000 payday — and left three children without a father.

        Monday night, Scottland's death was a tragedy. Too soon, it will become a statistic. The fighter's death did nothing to stop Saturday's card at KeySpan Park in Coney Island. The fight game rarely lacks for fresh fatalities, and it rarely stops to mourn them for more than a few minutes.

Gladiator atmosphere

        Larry Donald Sr. taught his son how to defend himself, but he has never quite figured out the public's fascination with boxing's ferocity. He compared the fight crowd culture to the bloodlust shown by Roman spectators during gladiator battles.

        “I promise you,” Donald Sr. said. “They want somebody to get hurt.”

        He was wearing a weathered baseball cap promoting the Montgomery Inn and an expression of slightly detached disapproval. In the front of the room, the entourage of super lightweight contender Hector “Macho” Camacho Jr. was chanting boisterously.

        Later, when Larry Donald Jr. stepped on the scales, he conveyed the grim purpose of a pallbearer. On his right shoulder was a tattoo tribute to Muhammad Ali — a butterfly, a bee and a pair of dangling boxing gloves — but Donald has stopped imitating Ali's poetry and speaks of himself as a “technician” now rather than a showman.

        His father speaks of “learning how to dictate your own moves;” of getting out without getting hurt.

        “Look at Holyfield,” Larry Donald Sr. said. “He's a man who's got well over $300 million, and he's still fighting. What's the point? You've got to know when to quit.”

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Donald loses by decision

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