He arrives at the gym a little after 5 p.m., undresses in the narrow, gray locker room and puts on his red sweat trunks. The lockers are labeled uniformly; the first initials and last names of fighters are printed on white backgrounds that are shaped like boxing gloves, but his locker also has the full name, DANIEL ANDREWS, on it.
He comes outside into the gym proper, a chocolate-eyed black man shuffling across the scraped, gray floor on sandaled feet. His short Afro cut hugs his head like Persian lamb, and his shoulders are hunched slightly forward the way they are when he is in the ring. "That's Danny Andrews," says a man who is pointing him out. "He's sparred with Griffith and a lot of other good fighters."
He walks past the sign that says PLEASE DON'T BE AFRAID TO THROW GARBAGE IN WASTE BIN and heads for the old-fashioned white radiator on the far side of the ring, where he had hung his rinsed-out T shirt the night before, THE CONCORD, it says in faded green letters across the front of the shirt and, for Danny Andrews, the name of the Catskill resort is a royal crest. The shirt represents two visits he made to the Concord to work as Emile Griffith's sparring partner. He was there for three weeks last year, and three weeks the year before that. He earned $100 a week plus room and board, and he had a good time. "I ate in the big dining room, and I went to the shows," he says. "And I met lots of people."
It is also relevant that he sparred with a man who has been a world champion. Danny Andrews is 29 and he has achieved an outstanding lack of success in his six years as a professional prizefighter. He has won only 10 of his 33 bouts; he has drawn two and lost 21. He still sees himself as a fighter, but it does not offend him if someone else describes him as a sparring partner. The names of most of the men he has fought are obscure, but he has been a sparring partner for such top boxers as Carlos Teo Cruz, Frankie Narvaez, Curtis Cokes, Don Fullmer, Ismael Laguna and Griffith. "I feel good that I'm able to go in and spar with those guys," he says. "Like you take Griffith. He's rough and he's strong and he's also smart. When you spar with someone like him, you know the manager picked you because he feels you can do the job. He just can't pick an ordinary guy."
March 23, 1970
Now in the gym, he pulls the Concord shirt over his broad chest—he weighs 150 pounds, is smoothly muscled with good shoulders, a slim waist and no fat—and he sits on a chair and puts on his boxing shoes. He unrolls his gray-white bandages and slowly wraps his hands. When he finishes the wrappings, another fighter secures the bandages with strips of adhesive tape. Then he wriggles into a leather cup and a trainer straps on his headgear. The trainer helps him into his gloves, and fingers grease across his face. He steps into the ring and the trainer gives him the mouthpiece that he bites into place. He moves about the ring loosening up as he waits for the buzzer that marks the passage of working time in the long, white-walled room.
This is Gil Clancy's gym on West 28th Street off Seventh Avenue in New York's garment district. The gym is part of the Telestar Athletic Club, Inc. and Telestar Sports Corporation, which are run by Clancy and Howie Albert, who manage fighters like Griffith and heavyweight prospect Forrest Ward. The building in which the gym is located also contains a fur company, a button manufacturer and a firm that makes costume jewelry. It is across 28th Street from a Spanish-American restaurant and an educational institution called Brown's Pressing School. The gym is on the fifth floor of the building and at the center of Danny Andrews' life. Danny works nights as a $100-a-week maintenance man at York College in Bayside, Long Island, N.Y. and he sleeps days in a $50-a-month room in a private home nearby in Corona. Each day he gets up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and takes the subway to Manhattan. There is little opportunity to express oneself as a floor waxer, and Danny is faceless on the subway and on the streets of the city. But Gil Clancy's gym is his turf. In the gym he is like a party regular in a local clubhouse.
The gym is no Concord, but it is not supposed to be a spa, and the dues are only $10 a month. At the 28th Street end of the room there are two torn couches oozing stuffing as if someone had bayoneted them. There is a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King above a pay phone, and columns of numbers are scratched on the wall. Across the room past the shadow-boxing mirrors, the exercise mat, the three body bags and the blue-and-orange braces for two speed bags, there is the roped altar of the ring. Beyond the ring the radiator squats against the wall, and dirty windows look out upon downtown buildings that line up against each other like gray cliffs. The locker room and the three-stall shower room are partitioned off, and there is a John and Emile Griffith's dressing room. Griffith no longer owns a title but he is still an important fighter and he is royalty at Clancy's gym, where a sign on the door of his cubicle says EMILE GRIFFITH, PRIVATE. When Griffith works out, he is accompanied by a latter-day squire who carries his equipment and wipes him down. (On a recent afternoon Griffith kidded briefly with Danny, who kidded back. "You giving me that tough look," Danny said, and he glanced around to see if anyone had noticed him talking to Emile Griffith.)
There are fight posters on the gym walls advertising bouts at the Felt Forum and the Sunnyside Arena, and there is a NO SMOKING sign and a sign that says ONLY TWO (2) ROUNDS PER BOXER ON HEAVY BAGS WHEN OTHERS ARE WAITING. Next to an office a bulletin board carries an obituary of Rocky Marciano, a story about Jack Johnson and a sheet headed "Telestar Men in Action." One item reports that "Emile Griffith outpointed Art Hernandez in their Sioux Falls, S. Dak. battle." Another tells how "Tom 'The Bomb' Bethea lost a split 10-round home-town decision to No. 2-ranking middleweight Carlos Monzon in Buenos Aires." Bethea is a compact puncher with whom Danny frequently spars, not for money but for their mutual education. "He's nice to spar with," says Danny. "You have to think about what you are doing."
The buzzer sounds. There is the whup-whup of fists digging into the heavy bags, and the boppity-boppity of fists racing against the speed bags. Managers, trainers and assorted hangers-on talk to each other and to fighters; there is more Spanish spoken than English. Kids from Spanish Harlem, who are the new minority group and have taken over what is left of boxing in New York, are represented in the gym, and there is also a delegation of Brazilians who have been imported for fights in Madison Square Garden. Lightweight champion Ismael Laguna of Panama (Danny's book on Laguna is that "he's never there to hit") is stylishly skipping rope, and another lightweight is pounding his orange-gloved fists into a medicine ball held by a trainer. A tall, big-muscled young heavyweight with a mod haircut and a baby face is shadowboxing, a balding little pug is putting his aging body through hard labor on the exercise mat, and a 30ish man who comes to the gym just to work out is hitting a heavy bag—"I'll destroy this bag," he says, grinning. A Latin light heavyweight is working on one of the other body bags; perspiration has turned him into glistening ebony as he follows the instructions of a spindly, coat-sweatered man who is wearing dark glasses. The coat-sweatered man has eye trouble. His name is Sandy Saddler and he was once the featherweight champion of the world.
In the ring Danny Andrews is boxing. He is shooting out jabs and using his forearms and elbows to block the hooks of a quick young Colombian welterweight named Rodrigo Valdes. Danny is competent, he knows how to stick and move and how to handle himself in close, but there is neither power nor fire—he is like a piano player who hits the right notes but lacks expression. Whereas Rodrigo Valdes is all fire; the arc in which he punches is a little too wide, perhaps, but he punches with force and he doubles up on his hooks. After the workout Danny will say, "The boy I sparred with today learned a lot from me." The following week Rodrigo will knock out David Melendez, a red-hot New Yorker, in the Garden, and he will have the sort of headlines that Danny Andrews has never had. Sometimes Danny stands outside himself and looks at the Rodrigo Valdeses of his world and think, "I could have been there, that should have been me." But it never happens. The gym is one thing, and the arena is another. When Danny fought the same David Melendez in June 1968, he lost an eight-round decision. Now, he spars in Clancy's gym, and men sit and stand around the ring watching, but they are not watching him. They are watching Rodrigo Valdes, who is a golden boy. They are not watching Danny Andrews, who is a sparring partner. If there is a credo for sparring partners, it was expressed some years ago by George Nicholson, an amiable heavyweight whose only claim to immortality is that he was Joe Louis' sparring partner. Nicholson's summation was reported by the late A.J. Liebling, and went as follows: "You can hire any kind of cheap help to get theirself hit. What you got to pay good money for is somebody that is not going to get hisself hit. By not getting hisself hit, a sparring partner does more good to a fighter because he sets the fighter to studying why he ain't hitting him."
He could have been describing Danny Andrews, whose approach to his profession puts him in the best Nicholsonian tradition. "I'm a boxer," Danny says. "I'm not a very strong puncher." His record bears him out; only three of his 10 victories have come by knockouts. He is even more succinct when asked why he is neither punchy nor marked up—two characteristics usually associated with 21-time losers. "I'm strong on defense," he says.
"Some guys who spar," says Danny, "well, they like to try to bang a fighter. They try to kill him. I only go in there enough to keep him from killing me. I try to hold my cool and learn things."
Basically, 28th Street experts agree with this self-assessment. "He's a good sparring partner because he's a good mechanic," says Gil Clancy. "He knows all the moves. You don't want a big, clumsy guy who's gonna bust ribs. You want someone who can give your man a workout."
"Danny Andrews?" says Harold Weston, a trainer who helps administer the gym. "He makes you think. He's fast and he's a tough guy to hit. But he don't hit that hard, so you can't get hurt. Some guys put pressure on, and you don't need that."
Danny has never had to imitate another fighter's style while sparring. "No, they don't ask me to fight a certain way," he says. "You just try to give the guy the kind of training he needs. What happens is that the guy's manager knows my style by being in the gym and seeing me. Like before Griffith's fight with Gypsy Joe Harris, I noticed Clancy telling him that I moved back and pulled away like Gypsy Joe Harris."
All of which supports Nicholson's description of a sparring partner's role as a defensive one. The only part of Nicholson's commentary that does not apply to Danny Andrews is the reference to "good money." To begin with, there is the general decline of boxing since the golden days of the small clubs that brought excitement to the big cities, and since the fast-money TV days of the Friday Night Fights. Boxing is still around, but it has the anachronistic overtones of swing and the charlotte russe. Today the journeyman fighter cannot make anything approaching a living out of his profession. In his six years as a professional, Danny has never had a year when he netted more than $1,000. The most he ever received for a single fight was $400 for a main event in Canada. What with such expenses as trainer, cornerman, food and a medical examination, he netted about $275. He does not fight with any great frequency—the record book shows that he had just four matches in 1968 (he lost three)—and when he does fight he usually finds himself in with a local favorite in an eight-round supporting bout for which he receives about $250 and nets $200 or less.
As for sparring, Danny only gets paid when his adversary is a name fighter preparing for a match. If he makes a few hundred dollars a year from sparring, he's doing well. More often than not, he spars with another journeyman or with an aspiring youngster ("I'm good with newcomers," he says), simply to keep in shape. The best sparring pay he ever received was the $100-a-week-plus-room-and-board he got for working with Griffith at the Concord. For sparring with someone like Ismael Laguna at Clancy's he gets from $20 to $25 for eight to 10 rounds. When he sparred with Don Fullmer before the latter's fight with Juarez DeLima last year, he earned $35 for two days work, boxing three rounds a day.
This is not precisely the degree of success Danny Andrews envisioned when he was a kid in Sumter, S.C. watching fights on television and choosing his heroes from among such boxers as Holly Mims, Isaac Logart and Henry Hank. Danny was a teen-ager when he knew he would be a fighter. "I would earn money working on the farms around where I lived," he says, "so I could buy the right things to eat, the things they said you should have to be a fighter—cereals, milk, juice, things like that."
In 1958, a year after his father died, he left Sumter for Washington, D.C., where he lived with an aunt and became an amateur boxer. He still goes home to visit his mother, but he says he will never go home to stay. "You work in the furniture mills down there. Here there are more places to work, more entertainment." He was still an amateur when he moved to New York in 1961. He won 15 of 22 fights as an amateur and was a Golden Gloves finalist in Washington, D.C. and a quarterfinalist in New York. In 1963 he turned pro. The book shows that he won two fights that first year, drew one and lost six. Danny has never won more than two fights in a row and has lost as many as nine in a row. Like most losing fighters, he blames his record on "bad decisions." He says he can remember most of his fights and contends, "I should only have about four losses." He started boxing at 142 pounds and grew to 150, which makes him a light middleweight. "Sometimes I might spot guys six or seven pounds," he says.
Danny had a manager when he turned pro, but managers are for winners, and they split up when their contract expired four years later. Like many club fighters, Danny picks up bouts through trainers, promoters and middlemen who hang around the gym. One recent afternoon, for instance, he was approached by a man who handles Latin American affairs at Clancy's.
"You got a passport?" the Latin American expert asked. Danny shook his head but said he might obtain one. "It's somewhere across the water," he said of the fight. "I could get $700 for a fight like that. That's big money."
On another day in the gym Harold Weston said that he had gotten Danny a spot on an upcoming card in Washington. He said that Joe Shaw, a better-than-average middleweight, might be on the card. But he didn't know who Danny's opponent was.
"Don't make no difference who Danny fights," he said.
Danny Andrews' formal education ended in the ninth grade, and his choice of work is limited. Throughout his tenure as a prizefighter he has supported himself with a succession of outside jobs. He has worked as a construction laborer and he has been employed in a hospital linen room. For a while he was in training to be a hospital orderly but he quit because "I didn't like being around sick people as much as I thought I would." At another point he spent $200 on a training program for would-be IBM operators but dropped out. "It was the typewriter thing," he says. "Not looking at the keys."
His immediate aspirations are simple ones. He would like to buy a new Dodge Charger, and he would like to marry his girl friend, Shirley McNeil, who works in a Harlem five & ten and has two small children by a previous marriage. Each evening he finishes working out at about 7 p.m. and takes the subway to Harlem to see Shirley. "Usually we watch television," he says. Then he goes to work.
Shirley is philosophical about Danny being a prizefighter. "I like it," she says. "It's great. Only I just don't want him to get hurt. I feel good if he feels good about it."
This is in the gym a few days after the fight in Washington. For the second time in his career, Danny had been stopped. The referee stopped the fight in the third round. "It was a home-town thing," Danny says. "In order to make the other guy look good they stopped it."
Was the other guy good?
"He was pretty good," says Danny. "But he didn't hurt me. Oh, he hit me a few jabs but I slapped them away. He hit a few right hands, they grazed me. The referee said he stopped it because it looked like I was outclassed and he didn't want me to get hurt. But the guy didn't hurt me. The referee knowed I wasn't hurt."
There is a further ignominy. Shirley had gone down to Washington for the fight. It was the first time she had seen Danny box. Asked about it, she says loyally, "I was mad 'cause they stopped it."
But the technical knockout has made Danny pensive. A few weeks before, he said that he keeps on fighting because "You feel that someday you might meet one of the top guys and beat him. You could move up if you beat one top guy." Now he says he is thinking about quitting. "I told Shirley I might quit," he says. "If I want to quit, I'll quit. Sometimes I think I will, and then a man comes up with a good offer for a fight and my mind changes."
But he would continue to do what some people think he does best—he would continue to spar. "Even if I quit fighting, I will always be around the gym. It's something I like. And I could make extra money sparring, and I could keep in shape. Any of those top guys I go in there with, I can hold my own. Any of those guys getting ready for a big fight, they'd be glad to have me."
They probably would. It's like Harold Weston says. Danny Andrews is a good sparring partner. He doesn't hit hard, and he makes you think.