As a critic of boxing, Paul Pender, the soulful middleweight champion of Massachusetts, New York and Europe, could not have looked with great favor upon his bloody fight with Terry Downes in Boston last week. "Who needs this type of abuse?" he has declaimed, with a "psychogymnastic" gesture, on the travail of a prizefighter. "Anyone's stupid to want to think of fighting. There are millions of better things to do, especially when you're 30 years old."
"Psychogymnastics," he claims, is the art, or perhaps it's the science, of moving one's body significantly while performing, as in oratory. Pender picked it up at the Staley College of the Spoken Word, a Boston gymnasium where he also studied argumentation and debate, semantics, Shakespeare and prosody.
"When two people get hit," he goes on in his rueful way, "they revert to their baser natures. Some fighters love to fight, but they're differently motivated, I suppose. I fight to accumulate money. I don't think normal, everyday living should consist of getting whacked around. I never thought people were born for this: to destroy one another."
To which Terry Downes agreeably counters: "If he thinks that way, he's not going about it, is he? We can't all be saints and have no sinners. Think of all the cops that'd be out of work."
Pender regards himself as one of the few surviving prizefighters who believe in "manipulation...not that savage, vicious stuff. Boxing should be manipulation, working out a puzzle, putting the pieces together into an end. That's the satisfying part of the whole thing—to plan, to analyze, to stay with a pattern until it's successful. When I'm in the ring, I don't think of hitting a person. No, it's not humanitarianism. It's just that hitting is only part of the objective. Blood and guts is not the purpose of fighting. But the fans, through the debasement of the sport and deterioration of the caliber of fighter, have been de-educated. The trend is swinging toward the brutes."
In a sense, Downes, the jaunty British champion ("He's a bit of a flash boy," one Cockney greengrocer over for the fight confided), is a brute. But he, too, finds fist fighting "not very pleasant." In fact, he intends to "pack it in" when he is 27. He is 24. "Seven years," he says, "is enough of punishing your head. Other guys go out," he complains wistfully, "while every night I'm going to bed. I never get a chance to take my wife out dancing. It's terrible hard on her. We're two young lives, and you can't throw them away for the sake of the dollar. I don't want to be the richest fighter in the world. I just want to be one of the boys and run around and enjoy myself. Nothing big, nothing elaborate. Just living everybody else's life. But I'm lazy. I'd be working hard for somebody if I wasn't. But I don't like work. I only had one job in my life, running copy for a newspaper. Running! I'd get me a cup of coffee on the way."
Being a brute, Downes was made to order for Pender, a responsible, stately counterpuncher who parts his hair in the middle and uses, almost exclusively, a jab and a series of short, rapid, consecutive hooks off the jab. Since his right hand has been broken four times in a fitful career, he punches with it sparingly. Downes, like most brutes, likes to come recklessly forward: awkward, milling, hooking to the body with both hands.
The first round started predictably enough, Pender jabbing Downes's face a cheerless red, and Terry plunging in. Suddenly, Pender flashed a right hook which traveled perhaps a foot. Downes fell down like London Bridge, pulling Pender on top of him. "There is an exhilarating thrill that runs through you at a championship fight," Pender grudgingly admits. Downes was up at seven.
In the second Pender began hooking off the jab and nicked Downes along the right eye, the first of several cuts. Downes won the third, largely by banging beneath Pender's guard, whacking him noisily. "Naturally," Pender said later, "you feel every punch, but none hurt me."
The fourth round was, as the British press dolefully remarked afterward, "a bloody shame." It was then that Pender cut a ragged, vertical gash in Downes's nose. It was so deep that Downes bled freely through the nostrils. Downes is a bleeder; he had been knocked out four times previously, each time on cuts. Referee Bill Connelly stopped the fight to ask Downes whether he wanted to continue. Downes did, of course, and Pender continued to break his hooks off on Terry's bloody nose.
Dan Florio, the best cut-and-corner man in the game, had been hired for this eventuality. But, though he had been promised a free hand, Downes's handlers interfered with his work when he tried to patch Downes up between rounds; random, desperate hands fiddled with the nose. Florio, still trying to do a proper job at the bell, had to be shoved from the ring by Connelly. The makeshift repairs never took, and the strategy went sour besides. "It was a waste of time," Dan said bitterly.
In the fifth Downes, sensing that he must knock Pender out before the fight was stopped or he became completely nauseated by swallowing blood, ceased to advance in a crouch, which had been his only defense. He began, disastrously, to stand up and punch for the head, his chin hanging out, as Cus D'Amato once said, "like a lantern in a storm." It was Pender's pudding. Previously, Paul had been trying to bring Downes up with a few more feints than he normally uses; now it was done for him. "I had decided," said Pender later, "that I wasn't going to go crazy with his style. I knew that fighting from the outside would be effective over a long period of time but I went in to show him I could fight."
And Pender went in hooking as, stumbling over his feet, Downes courageously fought back. At the end of the sixth, the doctor, who had made regular house calls to Downes's corner, told Connelly to stop the fight if the nose opened again. At 0:57 of the seventh Connelly did. It was a just, merciful conclusion.
It was Pender's best fight, if not as manipulative as he had expected. He showed, in the savage, vicious stuff, that, for a tennis player, he could give and take pretty good.
As for Terry Downes, his dad said, "There's another day." And Terry said, "That's my luck." But it really isn't a matter of another day or luck. Plenty of stamina, pluck, strength are not quite ever enough. You need "psychogymnastics," too.