At Maple Avenue Boxing Gym, Errol Spence's Supporters Call Bullshit Before an Olympic Loss is Turned Into a Win

Categories: Sports

MapleAvenueGym.jpg
At the Maple Avenue Gym on Friday afternoon.
It was uncomfortably warm inside the Maple Avenue Boxing Gym on Friday afternoon, and the air wasn't moving despite the industrial-sized fan rattling loudly in a corner. No one noticed. They didn't pay any mind either to the bags hanging motionless from the ceiling or the or the TV news camera set off to one side.

Their eyes, maybe 40 pair, are turned instead to the empty ring, at the edge of which a flatscreen TV is perched. The video feed, streamed from the Internet via a laptop, is occasionally choppy, but they don't mind that either. They are all fixated on 23-year-old Errol Spence Jr., the Maple Avenue Boxing Gym fighter done good and America's last remaining hope for an Olympic boxing medal in London, as he prepares to fight in the round of 16.

The outside windows are graffitied with "U.S.A." and "Go Errol" and "R.I.P. Manny" in red white and blue. Hanging from the ceiling is a banner announcing Spence as a 2012 Olympian. When he appears on the screen there is applause and shouts of "EJ." Gym owner Arnie Verbeek creases his lower lip with his fingers and lets out a piercing whistle.


"A lot of kids have a lot of talent, but nobody's as serious as Errol Spence," Verbeek tells me. He points to a spot a foot in front of us that Spence's dad occupies during every workout.

Spence is fighting Krishan Vikas, from India. His trainer wears a yellow turban and thick white beard.

"Is this guy he's fighting good?" someone asks.

"No. 3 in the world," is the answer. Vikas won the silver in Beijing. There are no illusions Spence is going to waltz his way to the quarterfinals.

The first round bears that out. A hush falls on the room as Vikas takes a definite edge. He's not dominating, but it's clear that more of his punches are falling. There are cautious murmurs of approval when Spence lands a solid blow, but otherwise, silence and creeping apprehension.

Spence is different in the second round. He seems lighter on his feet, more aggressive. He lands a flurry of punches on Vikas' torso, then his head. Vikas swings to counter, but hits only air and lunges awkwardly forward as Spence ducks out of reach. The Maple Ave. crowd jeers when Vikas' mouthpiece falls onto the mat, requiring a pause. Spence lands another flurry of punches when the bell rings, and the mood in the gym has turned.

"He's doing well," says Jesus, the head trainer. "I think he just evened the match out."

A man named Fabian agrees. "He's like watching a ballerina," he says admiringly. I ask if he's ever fought Spence, and he shoots me an "Are-you-crazy?" look. Sure, they box at the same gym, but Fabian's an engineer who boxes to keep from getting fat. Spence is -- well, just watch the TV. He's an Olympic boxer. World-class.

The third round plays out much like the second, with Spence taking and keeping the offensive. Vikas might get in a punch or two more than in the previous round, but he might not. It's hard to tell, but it's easy to feel the anticipation building on Maple Avenue as it becomes clear that Spence has taken the advantage and isn't going to let up. A collective cheer wells up in the crowd as the final bell rings and the ref takes Spence's arm and begins to raise it. Suddenly, the joy is gone, and Vikas is standing with his arms raised in victory. The Indian won, 13-11.

"Bullshit!" Verbeek yells, as do several others in the crowd.

"They're not judging. They're just punching buttons," a stout, elderly man says dismissively. For the entire fight he had stood stock-still with an American flag resting musket-like on his left shoulder. In his shin-high socks and nylon cap, he looked as if he just stepped from a Palm Beach retirement home, but he introduced himself as Dickey Cole, with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

He last stepped into the ring as a fighter in '52, but he knows the sport, and to him, there was no question: Spence won the fight.

There was disappointment, but also pride that one of their own had proved himself on the world stage.

"There's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when you lose to the best," said Jesus, the head trainer.

Still, there the disappointment is as the crowd disperses, some to go back home, some to grab beers at Herrera's next door. A crew packs the TV in its box and loads it into a white van.

No one was around, then, when the International Amateur Boxing Association that the ref had screwed up. Vikas should have been given two warnings for holding and, rather than losing 13-11, the organization said that Spence had actually won, 15-13. That decision sends Spence into the quarter finals, which means there will be another opportunity on Tuesday for his supporters to convene in the sweltering gym on Maple Avenue to cheer him on.



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7 comments
EdD.
EdD.

Going to a hot gym with no chairs to watch boxing on TV? If only Dallas had a sports bar...

RTGolden
RTGolden like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @EdD. Right, because that place, to those people, holds no special meaning regarding the boxer they are gathering to watch.  What an ignorant comment.

EdD.
EdD.

 @RTGolden I guess it's no more odd than putting on a costume to go to a movie screening but the "special meaning" should be in watching their friend compete in the Olympics, not where they choose to watch.

RTGolden
RTGolden

 @EdD. I'm guessing you did not participate in a sport that required the kind of dedication and perseverance that international level boxing takes.  The people that trained him, and trained with him, did so in that gym.  The Place is their root, their joining element.  Erroll Spence carries not only the US flag with him to London, he carries the dreams and hopes and sweat and blood of the Maple Ave Boxing Gym and all the people who have harbored those hopes and dreams and shed that sweat and blood in there.  It is a special place, with special meaning to those who share it; to those who don't, you're right, it's just a hot, sweaty place to watch a boxing match on TV.

xdarkridex
xdarkridex

This is why I stopped watching Olympic boxing back during the Seoul games.  Judging at the Olympic level is a complete farce.  It was worse when the Iron Curtain was still up, but it hasn't improved enough to make me want to watch good fighters (from many nations, not just the US) get cheated by politicized, crooked, or incompetent officiating and judging.

thatotherguy
thatotherguy like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I could have made the Olympic boxing team except that I am too old, out of shape, slow, undetermined, lazy, untalented, and generally unremarkable in numerous other aspects related to the physical and mental requirements of the sport. I once knocked over a folding chair with one punch after it unsuspectingly tripped me during a late night altercation. Float like a bee, sting like a butterfly.

engmofo
engmofo

 @thatotherguy If they had an Olympic "bar-fighting' event , the UK would win it hands down

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