Labor of Gloves

No one thinks much of the Mexican boxers who fight out of Homestead. But that's nothing new to Johnny Torres. When he was a fighter, no one thought much of him, either.

Nacho arrives on fight night with his brother Roberto and several high school friends. Also in attendance, though they don't sit with the boys, are three high school girls. One of them gave Nacho the warmup jacket he wears, royal blue with white trim (South Dade High's colors), with Duran sewn on in white letters.

At the rear of a dark, cavernous storage area, Johnny and Jesse Torres have staked out a space for their dressing room. Nearby, next to towers of stacked plastic chairs, the eightysomething trainer Sylvia Torres tends to a couple of her boxers. A former boxer herself (she's unrelated to Johnny), Torres is dressed in her customary sequined warm-up jacket. In a far-off corner, Bazooka Nu*ez, still wearing street clothes, seems almost swallowed up in the room's lone easy chair.

Johnny Torres, a blue towel around his neck, carefully tapes Nacho's hands: a gauze pad over the knuckles, then gauze wrapped over that, up to the wrist, until the hand is thickly covered, fingers just sticking out, and finally thin strips of tape between the fingers, over the gauze. An official from the Florida State Athletic Commission watches this and every other taping, and uses a black marker to initial the finished product. Duran has another three fights to wait. He leans over a railing, alone at the back of the auditorium. Torres, meanwhile, works the corner for Florida City heavyweight Larry Carlisle in his six-rounder with Toakipa Tasefa of New Zealand. Carlisle, considered one of Dade's best up-and-coming boxers, got his start at Torres's gym. Now he has another manager; Torres says letting Carlisle go was a mistake but that he couldn't afford to pay the stipend the fighter had requested. He wins the bout by unanimous decision.

As the time for Duran's fight nears, the Torres brothers slip on his gloves, one man to a hand, and lace them up. Jesse and Johnny will work the corner with the help of Jesse's son Steve. Seated on a beatup piece of furniture, Jesse watches Nacho shadowbox, far less interested than the three attentive girls who've gathered around.

Nights like this have ceased to hold many surprises for Jesse Torres. Nothing glamorous about a boxing match. Nothing mysterious. One guy wins and the other one loses. Maybe it was an evenly matched contest or maybe one guy was dominant. They'll both get paid a few hundred dollars and go back to their day jobs on Monday. Or if they're lucky, their managers are paying them a stipend and they can go back to the gym. The fighters he and his brother work with, in any event, don't have that luxury. Jesse nods knowingly. It's no secret how it all works. "We're supposed to lose," he says.

Fighters like the putative Great White Hope, Crawford Grimsley, are supposed to win, however. Grimsley's people are taking great pains to match him with opponents who will make him look good, and who, ideally, will help him grow as a fighter. So far they've made him look very good; given that he hasn't completed a single round, it's hard to tell about his growth. Grimsley climbs into the ring for his six-round bout against Alvin Dominey, who looks like an aging frat boy who's done most of his training with a beer mug. Sure enough, 31 seconds into the first round, Grimsley sends Dominey reeling into the ropes and onto the canvas, where he lies for several minutes. The crowd cheers wildly.

Duran and Florentino are scheduled for four rounds. Tuto Zabala, Jr., the promoter's son and partner, is one of Florentino's cornermen. The two fighters attack with fast punches from the start, eyes wide with concentration. But the Dominican, a little taller than Nacho, lands more blows and is hitting harder. In the final round Nacho gets in some good shots to the head, but it's not enough. His lack of power tonight may be partly due to an injured right hand, and what seems to be a lack of concentration. The judges' decision for Florentino is unanimous. Zabala raises the kid's hand triumphantly. Duran and the Torreses step down from the ring and head back to the dressing area. Nacho's three fans have been waiting outside, and they gather around him giggling and chattering as if he'd just won. He throws a few shadow punches for them. "I don't really feel bad about it," he says, sweat still pouring down his bruised face and slightly concave chest. "Because I did my best."

Johnny Torres, disappointed but philosophical, heads to the other side of the auditorium to find Rosa, who has been watching from a back row with their daughter Maria. Slender and soft-spoken, with a determined set to her mouth and an unwavering gaze, Rosa accompanies her husband to virtually every local amateur and professional boxing card he has to attend.

Now, before the main event even gets under way, they'll all go home. "I wanted Nacho to get a little more aggressive," Torres remarks as they prepare to leave. "I think he's not mature enough in the ring yet. I think the other guy was a little bit quicker.

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