Great White Hopes: A Short Story

Harold noticed the shirt.

Who’s on your sweatshirt?

Denis thought he heard a voice ringing in his head, words that sounded like echoes in the boxing gym.

The two fighters on your shirt, who are they?

Denis touched the front of his jersey.

Let me see, Harold said.

Etched profiles of two men, one on the left with a moustache and one on the right with a full beard, stared at each other from the front of the faded shirt. Printed in smaller letters, the words WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP appeared printed above the men’s names, SPINKS AND COONEY written in stacked white letters one name atop the other across a pink background. June 15 appeared emblazoned across the names in black letters. The words THE WAR AT THE SHORE stood out below the date and above the words BUTCH LEWIS PRODUCTIONS INC IN ASSOCIATION WITH TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL & CASINO.

Whoa, where’d you get that, old-timer?

Denis blinked, staring at sweat-stains on the heavy canvas punching bag.

Harold got excited.

Were you at that fight in Atlantic City?

Denis let his gloved hands hang at his sides, the laces undone.

Harold threw a subtle head feint, tossing off a soft jab and then a straight right hand. He had four amateur fights and one as a newly turned professional, an unheard of advance years ago when a boxer needed dozens of amateur bouts before turning pro,

Man, I watched that on video a hundred times, Harold said. Nineteen eighty-seven, man. I hated Cooney because of all that great white hope shit. Gentleman Gerry Irish bullshit.

Somewhere in the back of his head Denis heard a bell ring. As one of several professional heavyweight sparring partners hired over the years to help name heavyweights prepare for battle, Denis worked with the best, taking heavy blows and weathering a stunning fuselage of power that took a bruising toll on his body and brain.

Cooney’s camp turned him down. But when Gerry saw Denis leaving the casino ring area one day where he still came to watch training because he lived in a room and had nowhere else to go, the polite big man from Long Island gave Denis a shirt.

Here you go, champ, Cooney said.

Harold started rat-a-tat-tat with his boxing babble.

Man, I thought he had Spinks but in the fifth Cooney just stopped punching, Harold said. He didn’t even tie Spinks up. Cooney went down hard how many times? I’ll never understand what happened.

Denis rubbed his eyes with the backs of his boxing gloves.

He didn’t know where he was.