As though summoned to attention by a drum roll, the sweating men broke from their routine. A trainer who had been dabbing Vaseline on the face of a young 118-pounder paused, greasy hand against greasy cheek. The speed bag swung mutely, its machine-gun chatter briefly stilled. The heavy bag hung un-hit. The heavyweight had arrived, a slight smile on his fresh, unmarked face, his shoulders swaying with the hint of a swagger. Then the moment flickered and passed. The noise resumed. The other cheek was greased. Aaron Pryor, one of the U.S. Pan-American Games boxers, surveyed the largest of his teammates and laughed. "Hey," Pryor yelled, "it's awful nice of you to come over and train."
And so it goes with Michael Dokes, at the moment the best of the country's amateur heavyweights, just 17 years old and a high school senior. There are those who say that he will be—if not the next, then soon—heavyweight champion of the world. After, of course, he wins the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in Mexico City next week and then at the Olympics next year in Montreal. In fact, Dokes is the first who will make this prediction—and the loudest.
"What I am," says Dokes, only half seriously, "is Mister D, that's me. I call myself Dynomite Dokes. Dyn-o-mite. When I'm moving and grooving, there ain't nobody in the world who can touch me. Speed? They ain't seen nothing. My hands are so fast they can't catch them on film. I can hit a guy three times and all he can think is somebody has snuck up behind him. I told Muhammad Ali, 'I'm gonna get you, old man, so you better get out while you can.' "
Muhammad Ali laughed. Dokes was 15 at the time. Another one who laughed was Clinton Cochrane, the 6'6", 260-pound Army champion who fought Dokes in an AAU semifinal bout at Shreveport, La. last June. Cochrane had been around and he had heard about Dokes and his big mouth.
October 19, 1975
"I'm from the Army," said Cochrane, looking down at Dokes, who is 6'2" and 195. "We know about you, and they sent me here to cut you down to a midget."
"Listen," said Dokes, "I'm gonna whip you so bad they're gonna have to give you a medical discharge."
Cochrane laughed. Dokes knocked him unconscious in less than 20 seconds of the first round. Then the high school kid from Akron went on to add the AAU title to the Golden Gloves championship that he won two years before. In all, he has won 94 of 99 fights, with 25 knockouts. And he is growing taller and getting heavier.
"I heard Dokes sass Cochrane, and I feared for his life," says Vern Woodward, the Pan-Am team coach. "Then, when the fight started, I turned to say something to someone, and I heard this thump of a body hitting the deck. I missed the whole thing."
A few weeks ago Woodward brought his boxing team to the lofty altitude (6,500 feet) of Durango, Colo. to begin preparing for the Games in even loftier (7,800 feet) Mexico City. All of them worked hard except for Dokes, who insists he is dedicated, but shows no fondness for training. Woodward was just deciding upon a strong action when the fighters took over. They called a ringside meeting.
"He kept telling us he's the champion of this and the champion of that," says Clint Jackson, a 147-pound southpaw deputy sheriff out of Davidson County, Tenn. Jackson has had 115 fights with just 13 losses and he has won 78 by knockout. "I told him, 'You're the champion of nothing here unless you work. All you heavyweights think you're the best. Well, prove it.' "
Dokes said fine. The next afternoon the two went at it in the ring. At one point Woodward, acting as referee, called for a break. Dokes stepped back and Jackson hooked him twice in the mouth. Later they went outside and did it all over again in the street.
"Since then he's sharpened up," says Jackson. "I guess he felt bad because I made him look bad. But he's a good kid."
"Yeah," says Pryor, a veteran 132-pounder with 150 KOs and only 12 losses in 190 fights. "Dokes was out in Las Vegas recently and all those pros kept offering him money and telling him how good he is. He thinks he's another AH. I told him there's only one Ali."
Jackson agrees. "I don't care who he thinks he is as long as he works while a part of this team. His mouth is starting to run off a little again. Maybe I'll have to cut him down to a 146-pounder again."
Dokes dismisses the incident as a misreading of his motives. "I just needed a little time to get it together," says the young man with the zippy wardrobe, most of it designed and some of it sewn by himself. At South High in Akron all but one of his classes are in home economics. "It took a lot of training and a lot of fighting just to get here, and I was tired. There's no more dedicated fighter than I am. I know what I am and just where I'm going, and I know the right way to get there. I'm going to be heavyweight champion of the world, and I'll work just as hard as I have to. But I don't want anybody to think I want to be champion just for the money. I don't want to be a millionaire. I just want to be able to live like one."
The consensus of those who have seen him fight is that the only thing that stands between Michael Dokes and the rich life is his own head. He is an excellent boxer with only fair power but very fast hands and quick feet. When he was 15 he ran the 100 in 10.1. Early in his career there was pressure for him to play both football and basketball and to run track. But he rejected all appeals.
Ever since Dokes became the national AAU and the Golden Gloves runner-up at the illegal age of 15, the professionals have made it impossible for anyone to forget boxing within the Dokes household. That's when the first offers began to come in, and hardly a week has passed since when someone hasn't phoned with a deal that would make the family instantly rich.
"But that's all they are, just offers," says Dokes. "They offer you this and they offer you that, but what they give you is something else. I don't even listen to them any more. The longer I wait the more valuable I get. Joe Frazier just bought Duane Bobick and what he paid couldn't get my leg. A hundred thousand. What's that? I feel maybe in another year I might be worth $2 million."
Woodward listens to Dokes and shakes his head. "He'd be a lot better off if people would stop telling him how great he is," the coach says. "Right now he's a good fighter, a little lazy, with a lot of promise. But nothing is going to happen unless he gets his body and his head together. There's a lot of good fighters waiting to get at him, including Teofilo Stevenson, that big, tough Cuban Olympic champion. Telling Dokes how great he is isn't going to help him stop Stevenson's right hand."
Dokes scoffs at Woodward's worrying. "Shoot, the Cuban hasn't got anything but a right hand. And if he thinks he's going to hit me with it, when I get to gliding and sliding, he's nuts."
As a heavyweight, a class Dokes grew into just a few months ago, he has had only 16 fights and he has won them all. He has a 31-inch waist, which makes him look at least 10 pounds lighter than he is. But within a year he hopes to be two inches taller and 10 to 13 pounds heavier.
"I'm not much of a puncher now, but I don't think I'll be much of one no matter how big I get," Dokes says. "Power thrills, but my speed kills. And that's me, Michael Dokes, talking, not Ali. People say I'm trying to be like him. That's not true. Sure, I've studied him. But I studied a lot of other fighters, too. I looked at Sugar Ray for uppercuts and at Joe Frazier for a left hook. And Jersey Joe Walcott. If you look at Walcott films, you got to know that Ali must have been looking at them same films a long time ago. Jersey Joe was a mover and a groover long before Ali came on the scene. But nobody said Ali was trying to be another Walcott."
Like Ali, Dokes does not permit himself many serious moments in public. But there are some. "They say I idolize Ali," he says. "That's not true. The only person I ever idolized was Tap Harris, my stepbrother. He was a great fighter, and he'd be a champion now, except he got a bad break three years ago. Got sent to the joint. He killed a person. That's why I'm going to be champion. Then I'll have the bread to try and help Tap. And I'm just lucky that I'm a great fighter so it will happen."
Who knows? If he does whip Stevenson in Mexico City maybe it will happen. After all, not everyone took Ali seriously when he was 17.