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.

The day before Johnny Torres won the Florida state junior-welterweight boxing championship, he went to work as usual in a lime grove outside Homestead. Bumping down the narrow roads in his ten-wheel Ford truck, Torres was frustrated that he'd have just a few hours after work to get to the gym and work out for the bout at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

It was August 1981, and the 23-year-old Torres was slated to face Isidoro Moreno, recently arrived from Cuba on the Mariel boatlift, a charismatic boxer idolized by his passionate Cuban fans. Torres, born in Okeechobee into a family of Mexican migrant agricultural workers, knew no one expected him to beat Moreno, whose explosive right hand had knocked out his eight previous opponents. A half-dozen times that long day, under a steamy sky churning with high sea clouds, Torres drove his lime-laden truck to the packing house, unloaded the crates, and headed back into the grove for more fruit. Each trip earned him between five and ten dollars.

Married with five children and the veteran of twenty professional fights, Torres was one of scores of struggling small-time boxers in South Florida. The state championship he sought wasn't sanctioned by any boxing organization; it was, in the words of boxing historian Hank Kaplan, a "mythical title, a creation of some promoter." But it was a championship, and it was Johnny Torres's first shot at a title of any kind.

To everyone's surprise, he won it, knocking out Moreno halfway through the scheduled twelve-rounder. Described by writer Enrique Encinosa in a postfight article in Boxing Today as "a fair puncher and second-rate boxer with the heart of a wounded cougar," Torres had become the first man from Homestead and the first Mexican American to hold a professional boxing championship in Florida. His winnings: $600 and a championship belt. Far more important, he was a celebrity in his hometown, the incongruous little piece of Mexico at the gateway to the Florida Keys.

"It was real tough for me, working in the field and boxing at the same time," recalls Torres, now 36 years old and a good deal heftier than in his welterweight days. "It was horrible, man. And people used to laugh at me, they'd say, 'Send him back to pick tomatoes!' They'd call me a wetback. But after I won that championship, everything was easier."

If the next two years were easier, they were hardly tranquil. Longtime Homestead impresario Ben Lonic, Torres's manager and the man who taught him how to box, died. Torres signed to three straight mismatches, bouts with former world champ Alfredo Escalera and contenders Jesus Nava and Dujuan Johnson, and lost them all. Then in July 1983, in a bid for the Florida state lightweight championship, he knocked out Pedro Laza, a Marielito then considered one of the best local prospects.

With the victory, Torres held the lightweight and junior-welterweight state championships simultaneously. That October, however, he lost his lightweight crown in a split decision against a cocky nineteen-year-old named Juan Arroyo.

Less than a month later, on Thanksgiving Day 1983, Torres faced off against World Boxing Association lightweight champ Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. A year earlier Mancini had beaten Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim so badly that Kim died after the bout. Torres, out of shape and disheartened after the loss to Arroyo, had agreed to the contest only two weeks before A after both Laza and Arroyo had turned it down. With less than a minute remaining in the first round of the nationally televised bout, Mancini caught Torres with a left hook to the temple. The fight was over. Torres was dazed and incoherent for an hour afterward. "All of a sudden, I lost everything," he recalls, ducking his head slightly to the side in a staple boxing defensive move the years have reduced to an unconscious mannerism. "All of a sudden, I was nothing."

Like most fighters, Torres can't get boxing out of his blood. And like countless other former boxers who turn to training and managing when they leave the ring, he dreams of coaching the right kid into that rare warrior who gets the breaks and makes the millions. "I'm going to be right there," he promises, with the unfathomable optimism peculiar to those who've been bruised and cut and scarred so much that they come to believe in beating the odds.

The Police Athletic League (PAL) gym where Torres trains his young hopefuls is a converted garage on North Flagler Avenue in Homestead, next door to a combination bar-package liquor store. Nearly all the boys who come here have picked vegetabl-

+es in the flat fields that stretch out from Homestead; many still harvest crops when they're not in school. The neat rows of squash and tomatoes and the mosquito-thick groves of limes, avocados, and mangoes are hardly inner-city streets, yet this stark setting holds much of the same deprivation and isolation, anger and violence, that impels hungry urban kids to excel at boxing. And as in the urban ghettoes, the life expectancy here can be far too short: One of Torres's best amateurs, eighteen-year-old Alfredo Martinez, was murdered a few years ago, shot to death in a fallow field after being robbed by a teenager who lived in the South Dade Labor Camp.

"A lot of these kids are unwanted by society, I guess," Torres says, gazing around the gym, his affable smile revealing small, even teeth with a gap in the middle. His nose, broken several times, is a little swollen; thin scars circulate through his eyebrows and around his eyes.

Homestead has featured boxing matches since the 1920s, with a steady supply of fighters from the surrounding migrant community. At first the workers were Americans from southern states, says Bob Jensen, vice president for marketing and community relations for the First National Bank of Homestead and a local historian. But to fill the labor shortages during World War II, Bahamians and Puerto Ricans began to arrive. And Mexicans, strong in their numbers and in their passion for boxing. Still, Homestead boxers have never attracted the money or professional support essential to making it to the big time, the connections that make the difference between being rated by a sanctioning organization or not being rated at all, between getting a shot at the title and languishing on the club circuit.

Torres wants to create his homegrown champion by steadily developing a good amateur program, bringing along young boxers and working with them for years. "The best amateurs make the best professionals," he repeats often. But Hurricane Andrew cost Torres his house, his gym, and several of his trainees. The current PAL gym has been open for about seven months. Torres has set up his own eighteen-by-eighteen-foot boxing ring that takes up half the space; the Homestead Police Department has provided weight machines, punching bags, gloves, and uniforms. Torres estimates that as many as 60 youngsters come in regularly to train, with varying degrees of seriousness. Former world champion Lupe Pintor trained here when he fought in Miami this past summer.

In August Torres was invited to Colorado Springs by U.S.A. Boxing, the governing body for all amateur divisions in the nation, to be an assistant coach at a Junior Olympics training camp. He likes to tout the prospects of several of the kids he trains. One is his nephew, sixteen-year-old Steve Torres, who won his division at this year's state Golden Gloves championships and finished sixth in his class at the national Junior Olympics tournament in Marquette, Michigan. (Junior Olympics, which isn't affiliated with the Olympic Games, is one of several amateur boxing tournaments in the U.S.; probably the best known of these is the Golden Gloves.) Another sixteen-year-old, Roberto Duran (no relation to the Panamanian boxing great), also won his division at the state Golden Gloves championships. Torres's sixteen-year-old son Rocky, named after a boxer his father met in California, has 67 amateur fights to his credit; thirteen-year-old Joey Torres already has fought thirteen bouts. Three Torres proteges recently turned pro, among them Roberto's brother Ignacio Duran, and eighteen-year-old Fernando Martinez, who boasts a 5-0 record and has signed a management contract with Tuto Zabala, Miami's top boxing promoter. When Torres's amateurs arrive in the police department's blue van for a card in Miami or Hialeah, they still hear the old farmworker taunts, but not as often as they used to. "Who knows?" the trainer insists. "One of these kids could become champion of the world."

A number of local boxing professionals don't see it quite that way. Johnny Torres was a pretty good fighter in his day, they say, but he doesn't possess the skill and savvy to be a great trainer. "He can just barely teach his kids to look good in the process of getting beat up," says one boxing insider. "If they win, they win in spite of the fact they have no training."

But others view Torres as a capable trainer who's not adept at the politics of pro boxing. "He'll take them kids and make them into real fighters," says an ex-boxer who still works in the business. "So you know he's a good trainer. But to make that jump into being able to work corners in the big leagues -- maybe Johnny's not enough of a bullshitter."

Torres, who admits he always has something new to learn about coaching, is generally stoic in the face of criticism, which he has heard throughout his career. "No one's ever had any confidence in me," he says. "But that just makes me more determined."

The Homestead PAL gym is a typical neighborhood boxing gym, a long space smelling of sweat and mildew with cinderblock walls, a roughly patched tarpaper ceiling, and a concrete floor. Three heavy bags hang from chains on one side of the room, tall shards of mirrors lean against the opposite wall. Gloves are piled on a long table, easily grabbed for sparring. Young boys chase each other around the ring while men in work clothes stained brown from tomato-picking pour their last energy of the day into the big bags.

Jesse Torres, Johnny's older brother, holds one of the bags while his son Steve hits it. With his long black hair curling out from under a white mesh cap, Steve weaves and bobs, dances on thick legs, deflects imaginary punches, then throws a left hook high, a straight right lower, combinations, again and again. Jesse, taller and heavier than Johnny, fought a few professional bouts many years ago. But that was more to see what his sons were getting into, he says. Notwithstanding his obvious love for the sport, his eyes tell you his heart was never in it; they lack the crazy glint of ruthlessness and recklessness that all boxers must have. (Another Torres brother, 30-year-old Tony, turned pro at the age of fifteen. He recently retired A for the third or fourth time, according to Johnny.)

Steve Torres entered the amateur ranks eight years ago, at age eight, and lost his first eight fights. Then he began winning. A tenth grader at South Dade High, he helps his family pick squash in the summer and on weekends. His brothers, twelve-year-old Santos and eighteen-year-old Jesus, box, too. "If you win, you accomplish something and you go somewhere," Steve says quietly. "I figure I'll turn pro about eighteen or nineteen and see how it goes." Right now his uncle Johnny is encouraging him to work toward the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Carlota Torres, Johnny's mother, recalls the different towns in which each of her eight children was born, along with the crop the family was picking at the time: cherries in Travers City, Michigan; tomatoes in Marion, Indiana, Wauseon, Ohio, and Okeechobee; cotton in Belleville, Arkansas; cucumbers and squash in Boynton Beach. By the time her last child, Joe, was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the Torreses had settled in Homestead.

Rosa Perez, whose family had moved from Puerto Rico in the early Seventies to work in the fields of Homestead, was walking down Redland Road toward the Redland Labor Camp when she first saw Johnny Torres standing on a corner near her house. The year was 1973; Rosa was thirteen and on her way to apply for a summer job offered by Johnny's uncle Henry Torres. A community activist, Henry Torres secured money from the county every summer to hire kids for cleanup and maintenance jobs in the labor camps.

Johnny, who had just finished ninth grade, was a year older than Rosa, and she was intimidated by his ample Afro and tough squint. But they met at a drive-in movie later that summer, she in a carload of girlfriends, he with a group of boys. After that they were inseparable. They married in March of the following year. Torres never returned to school.

Less than a month before the wedding, 32-year-old Henry Torres was murdered on the baseball field he had helped build at the South Dade Labor Camp, ostensibly in an argument over the outcome of a baseball game. Octavio Zuniga, a resident of the camp, shot Torres once in the head; he later turned himself in to police.

Johnny Torres insists the quarrel was only the pretext for the killing of his uncle; the real reason was Henry Torres's relentless advocacy. The father of six children, Torres alienated some parents, his nephew recalls, by insisting they send their children to school (and checking to see that they went) instead of putting them to work in the fields during school hours. If a child didn't have shoes, Henry would buy some. At a memorial service covered by the South Dade News Leader, William Maxwell, principal of Redland Elementary School, told those assembled: "I hope you have the courage to gain for yourselves what he tried to gain for you." The school established an annual Henry M. Torres award for community service that endures to this day.

The baseball diamond where Henry Torres was murdered is overgrown now. The swing sets he erected 25 years ago are stripped and rusted, and pairs of tied-together athletic shoes hang from the telephone wires. What the workers used to call the barracas, the long barracks-type housing structures at the center of the camp, are in ruins. Except for a sign at one end announcing a day-care center and the Centro de Fe, Esperanza y Amor (Faith, Hope and Love Center) at the other, the area looks deserted.

Nearby, though, children play in rutted front yards brightened by trellises woven with hibiscus and roses; older boys gather in the narrow streets and on a basketball court that is being devoured by weeds and has no nets hanging from the rims. Ignacio and Roberto Duran live here with their older brother Leonilo and their parents Eloisa and Gelacio, in one of the camp's square, pastel-colored houses. The family moved from Mexico City to Homestead seven years ago, seeking steady agricultural work; a few years before that, they had left their native Nueva Italia, Michoacan, to join the thousands of rural families crowding into the Mexican capital to escape worsening poverty in the countryside.

About four years ago, when they were living in an apartment HurricaneAndrew would later rip apart, Eloisa Duran heard about Johnny Torres's gym and asked Leonilo and Ignacio if they'd like to learn how to box. She didn't mention the possibility to Roberto, she says, because his vision was impaired by a cataract in his left eye. As it happened, Leonilo wasn't interested. But Roberto was, and he and Ignacio soon were spending all their free time at the gym. There wasn't much time to spend. When they weren't in school, they had to work -- first in the fields, then at nurseries. Now the brothers run their own landscaping and yard-maintenance business.

Roberto has long, thin limbs, a straight nose, the faint beginnings of a mustache, and, like his mother and his brother Ignacio, a cleft in his chin. His light brown eyes don't look blind, just slightly mournful. He likes his work, which involves a lot of planting and nurturing. "It's like when a house is ugly, and you fix it up to look beautiful," Roberto says with a quick smile. In the summers, he doesn't go to the gym at all because he works until early evening, but now that he's started tenth grade at Homestead High, he has resumed training after school. His mother is not too happy about it; he will have an operation for his cataract, but not for a few years, and until then she worries. Neither she nor Torres had high hopes for Roberto when he accompanied other boxers from Homestead to Fort Lauderdale for the state Golden Gloves championships this past spring. But he won top honors in his weight class. He insists the eye doesn't bother him, that once he gets in the ring, instinct takes over.

Ignacio, whom everyone calls Nacho, turned pro in April. He is eighteen and a senior at South Dade High. His dark eyes are ringed by long curly lashes; a thin, neatly trimmed mustache and that cleft chin give him a vaguely old-fashioned Latin movie-idol look. Nacho came home to his mother after his first professional fight in Miami Beach (a draw) with his handsome face swollen and bruised. It was the first time Eloisa Duran had seen that kind of carnage in her own house A amateur boxers always wear protective headgear in the ring, and referees stop a fight if it appears either boxer might be even slightly injured. At times since then, Nacho has been suddenly and excruciatingly struck with headaches. He is seeing a doctor about it. And now Eloisa wishes both boys would stop boxing.

Despite Nacho's headaches and the remarks about lime fields and farm work he endures ("Up there in Miami Beach, they try to get you down"), he doesn't question his decision to pursue a boxing career. "Sometimes they ask me why I do it," he says. "I say I like it." In his family's small memento-filled living room, boxing trophies and medals from amateur fights are lined up on bookshelves, along with snapshots and portraits. On the wall a painting of a snowy, icy landscape is hung next to a framed image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, superimposed on that nation's flag. Eloisa Duran, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, lists in Spanish her very rational fears about her sons' safety and her objections to their continued boxing. But from her tone, it's clear she knows nothing will change their minds.

Advance notices for his fights sometimes announce "Ignacio Duran, from Mexico." Despite having lived in the U.S. since the age of eleven, Nacho says he is pleased to be billed that way. Though both he and Roberto are really fighting for themselves, because the sport has caught them and demanded something valiant from them, they aren't unaware of boxing's pre-eminent status in their homeland, nor of the numerous great boxers Mexico has produced. "To this day, Mexico is still turning out the very best small men," historian Hank Kaplan points out. "So they have a lot of heroes to look up to. Mexican fighters have long been known in the boxing community as men who can take a great punch; they have great courage and never give up."

"Boxing is Mexico's sport," declares 25-year-old Osvaldo Garza, another Johnny Torres protege, who won one professional fight in July 1993 and then was sidelined until last month with a broken foot. Garza, a bearded, round-faced heavyweight, used to walk to the gym from Florida City with his boxing gear in a plastic grocery bag. He was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital to a Mexican mother and Mexican-American father and began boxing at age eleven. He served in the U.S. Army during the invasion of Panama and in the Persian Gulf War, and he has written some poetry, including a poem comparing Mexican boxers to speedy, unstoppable foreign sports cars. "I am a Mexican by blood," Garza asserts. "Being as I grew up in Florida, I'm labeled Chicano. But all the time, my roots are in Mexico."

Johnny Torres wasn't thinking about Mexican roots when he got serious about boxing at the late age of seventeen. He'd simply found that the controlled violence of the sport was the perfect medium for his anger.

"I used to hate everything and everybody," Torres recalls. He killed birds with a BB gun; he roared through the labor camps, chasing people into their houses and running over dogs. He sold empty bottles to make a little change, but kids at school still made fun of his worn clothes. And when Torres was about fifteen, he discovered Ben Lonic's boxing gym on North Flagler in Homestead.

Lonic, a club fighter in Newark, New Jersey, during the Forties, moved to Homestead in the Seventies as part-owner of a hotel. He soon became involved in training local youngsters and in producing boxing matches. "He trained them, he developed them, he put on his own shows and gave them exposure. He loved his fighters and took excellent care of them. He controlled them in a sense," says boxing historian Hank Kaplan. "After a while they were ready to turn professional. He would book them in professional boxing shows, and on and on, hoping and dreaming he would develop someone of great stature A which never happened, of course. But he had a lot of exciting nights trying."

When Torres came to him, Lonic was managing a few moderately successful professional fighters he'd started as amateurs, notably Kenny and Steve Whetstone and Dexter Smith, all of whom were street kids who had eaten most of their meals at Lonic's table for years. Torres found that he couldn't wait to stop work at 5:00 and get to the gym. And when he began entering amateur contests, he discovered he had little trouble beating his opponents. It all came naturally. Lonic taught him some skills, Torres says, but never encouraged him. In fact, he remembers arriving more than once for a match to find Lonic working his opponent's corner. After a handful of amateur fights, Torres turned pro in 1979, at nineteen. He and Rosa could use the money, he rationalized; they already had two children. Of course there was also the chance he would stun everyone and box his way to fortune and fame. Why not?

For three years he worked in the fields by day, trained by night, and fought when he could. He made $75 for his first pro fight, $125 for the second, then $250 and $300. He won each bout easily, he recalls. Then he fought a televised bout with former amateur champ Johnny Compo. He lost in a split decision. The next year he won his first Florida state championship, and suddenly he didn't have to go back to the fields. The Metro-Dade Parks and Recreation Department offered him a teaching job. He and his father also started a small business farming green beans, but that fell victim to the big freeze of 1983, losing thousands of dollars.

Lonic died in 1981, shortly after acknowledging in a Miami News article that he regretted never believing that Johnny Torres would amount to anything.

Torres doesn't hold that against the old man. "He'll never die," he says. "When kids come to me with problems, I think about, 'What would Ben Lonic have done?' I repeat what he told me, and it works. Sure, he made a few mistakes, but I learned a lot from him."

Says Hank Kaplan: "Lonic came from a very rugged background and wasn't that cultured. Some of the matches he'd make for his fighters weren't to their greatest advantage. He gave them all the love he could, but he was only capable of so much. I was at his funeral. He was a very, very popular guy in Homestead and loved by a lot of people. Johnny Torres was one."

Not long after Ben Lonic died, his gym burned down. Torres, who says he felt responsible for carrying on in Lonic's footsteps, opened his own gym on Krome Avenue. A rent increase and racial threats -- he and Rosa say they got phone calls warning the "spic coach" to get out of Homestead -- convinced Torres to set up shop in Florida City. Then in 1988, Homestead Police Chief Curtis Ivy called Torres, offering to pay him to run the boxing program at the PAL gym. That facility was destroyed by the hurricane. Now there's the new gym on Flagler, and Torres says he hopes to move to a bigger location, the AAA Best Lumber building just up the block, in the next year or so. (That edifice has its own claim to boxing history: It once housed a potato-packing business in which the legendary heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano was an investor. Marciano occasionally trained there in the Fifties.)

Like Lonic, Torres has taken his share of young boxers into his home to feed. "A lot of people say I'm the second Ben Lonic," he muses. "There are differences. For instance, he wanted boxers. I want winners."

Eleven years ago, in his dressing room before his fight with Boom Boom Mancini, Torres received the congratulatory bouquets of roses and the well-wishing telegrams with an anxiety that persisted behind his characteristic bravura. In an interview the day before with Miami News sportswriter Tom Archdeacon, he had spoken optimistically of his chances: "'Who knows? If he sets himself right, I might hit him straight on the chin. The main thing is I don't want to look bad for the folks back home. I'm a migrant out of the tomato fields and I've tried to be an example for a lot of the Mexican kids.... I want them to see anything is possible if you try.'"

But for Torres on that Thanksgiving at Caesar's Palace, the fates had decided something else. "I knew I was going to get beat," he says now. Afterward, in despair, he took a trip to South Bend, Indiana, where much of his and Rosa's families have done seasonal work and where many relatives now live, a distant place that represented refuge from the heat and hardship of South Florida. While he was there, Torres recalls, he sought counsel from a priest. The advice was to go back to what he loved, to "start over again, work at what I could." So he did.

For the first time both he and Rosa have steady incomes. She commuted to beauty school in Miami every day for a year and a half and is now a manicurist at Classy Nails in Homestead. In their mid-thirties, with their children mostly grown, they relish their unprecedented freedom. "Everything is starting to come back," Torres says. "I believe I'm going to go back up."

Each of Torres's three pro fighters was scheduled to box on Tuto Zabala's September 10 card at Miami Jai Alai. The main event was to be a title match between flyweights Danny "Bazooka" Nu*ez, a local favorite, and Jesus "Kiki" Rojas. Another attraction was Crawford Grimsley of Sunrise, a 30-year-old some were tentatively calling "The Great White Hope." A handsome heavyweight with a platinum flat-top and legs like pillars, Grimsley had knocked out six previous opponents in the first round.

Unbeaten Fernando Martinez's opponent fails to show up at the weigh-in, where Osvaldo Garza also learns his foe has been disqualified. That leaves Nacho Duran, whose third professional bout will be against Dominican Hilvin Florentino. Nacho's first two outings yielded a draw and a loss by split decision. Former Hialeah mayor and longtime boxing promoter Julio Martinez, whose Mundo Promotions staged both those cards at the Seville Hotel in Miami Beach, says he remembers Nacho's fights quite well and was impressed by his tenacity. "He fought a kid from Puerto Rico who had more fights, and lost a four-round decision," Martinez says.

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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