SINGIN' THE BLUE IF BOXING HAS A SOUL, IT MAY RESIDE IN A PLACE THAT'S A THROWBACK TO THE DAYS OF SMOKY CLUBS AND FRIDAY-NIGHT FIGHTS: PHILADELPHIA'S BLUE HORIZON

December 09, 1996

Professional boxing has always thrived in an atmosphere of
greed, larceny, poverty and casual violence, so it has always
been at home in Philadelphia, a tough town with an attitude,
where the mob still dumps a few bodies into the Delaware River
every year. Open the Yellow Pages in Philly, and the first thing
you notice are big ads for a pair of ambulance chasers, who
offer a seductive menu of potentially actionable mishaps--bus
accident, dog bite, slip-and-fall. Unemployment is high, scams
mutate and multiply, bookies proliferate, and hard drugs are
easy to find. Crack cocaine has turned certain blocks into piles
of rubble as bombed out as any in Belfast or Beirut, and the
young men who live there are sometimes desperate enough to put
on the gloves and aim themselves toward The Legendary Blue
Horizon in hopes of escaping.

There isn't another sports arena in the country remotely like
the Blue Horizon. It's the sort of raw and smoky cavern that
George Bellows painted early this century, a throwback to the
era of straw hats, stogies and dime beers. Only 1,500 fans can
be crammed inside for an event, but the crowd compensates for
its lack of size with its animal howling. From the rickety
balcony, an overexcited spectator can practically reach down and
slug the participants. The degree of intimacy is both upsetting
and illuminating. It conveys not only the brutal side of the
fight game but also its cardinal virtues: the supreme courage of
the boxers, say, and the physical beauty of the action. To watch
a bout up close is to be one with the dance, a visceral
experience that's the direct opposite of sitting on your hands
through another pay-per-view charade. Indeed, if boxing has a
soul, it might well be located in the City of Brotherly Love.

Whenever the USA Network broadcasts a match from the Blue
Horizon, the ring sparkles like a jewel under the lights, so you
might expect the building to resemble Carnegie Hall in
miniature. Instead, it's a battered four-story row house in
North Philadelphia that was constructed as a residence around
1865. It has many arched windows and a mansard roof with
dormers, and it gives the impression that it's about to fall
down. The overall effect is chilling and brings to mind the
Addams family and spooky Halloweens. It wouldn't surprise
anybody if a vampire bat interrupted a scrap someday, just as a
paraglider dropped in on a fight between Evander Holyfield and
Riddick Bowe. Boxers prone to cuts must be pleased that the
Interstate Blood and Plasma Center is just down the block, hard
by Good Deal Discount Transmissions and the Magic Hair Salon.
The empty lots on the block all have fences topped with
concertina wire, and the early-morning drinkers gravitate toward
the cavelike splendor of Vito's Lounge.

First-time visitors to the Blue are often struck by the sculpted
moose head over the front door. It is a relic from the days when
the Loyal Order of Moose, Lodge 54, owned the building and
transformed it into a clubhouse. The Moose tenancy began in
1914, and the brethren gutted most of the building and
constructed an auditorium with a stage, plus a rathskeller with
a 100-foot-long bar. They added two plaques honoring the Moose
war dead and past Moose presidents. Other groups rented various
rooms for dances, cabarets, weddings and frat parties, but pro
boxing didn't catch on until 1961, when Jimmy Toppi, a canny
promoter, acquired the building and decided to name it after a
big-band tune that he liked, Beyond the Blue Horizon. The name
also suggests the floaty, disoriented feeling that fighters have
en route to being KO'd, but Toppi claims that is purely
coincidental.

Toppi, who used the building as a fight venue and banquet hall,
might have carried on indefinitely, but he suffered a couple of
heart attacks in his 60s that slowed him down. In 1987 he
reluctantly sold his treasured Blue Horizon to a TV evangelist
from Miami, who sold it seven years later to the present owners,
Vernoca Michael and Carol Ray, both African-American community
activists. (They have a third partner, but he's largely silent.)
If you had to compare Vernoca to a boxer, the obvious choice
would be Sugar Ray Robinson. Educated at Harvard and MIT, she is
the daughter of a respected minister and has the same classy,
deceptive style that Robinson used to outwit his opponents.
Carol is more of a brawler on the order of Carmen Basilio. She
grew up in a family of 13 children and had to fend for herself
from the very start. "Hurt me, and I'll hurt you back," she's
been known to say, and no sane person ever doubts her.

The partners are both veterans of the civil rights movement, and
before they tackled their current project, Vernoca worked in
corporate finance and Carol as a teacher. They want to renovate
the Blue Horizon and make it a symbol of hope for a neighborhood
sorely in need of one, with programs for the elderly and for
teens in trouble. Where the money will come from is an open
question. After the three partners put up $600,000 as a down
payment on the Blue and another $200,000 for improvements, it
was difficult for them to finance their mortgage. No bank in
town would lend them any money. Only drug dealers, loan sharks
and mafiosi stepped forward, but Carol and Vernoca felt obliged
to refuse, figuring they'd end up dead behind a dumpster. When
they did get their funding lined up at last, with the help of a
state minority development agency, they were slapped with 27
building-code violations by the city. The requisite repairs were
soon completed, but the Blue remains a masterpiece of
decrepitude. Paint flakes from the walls, cracks riddle the
plaster, mold sprouts in dark corners, and a sump pump churns in
the blighted basement.

If you ask Vernoca and Carol how they'll raise the capital for
renovation, they borrow a page from the Catholic Church and
point to bingo as their possible salvation. "Philadelphia, it's
a bingo kind of town!" Carol says brightly, but she promises
that boxing will continue to play a major role at the Blue.
Russell Peltz, who began promoting fight cards there in 1969,
still puts on shows that include Top 10 boxers, and the three
DePasquale brothers, novice promoters from New Jersey, recently
launched an inexpensive series of Friday-night fights. Those
bouts always feature some of the underexposed pugs who toil in
the city's gyms. For a mere 20 bucks, the friends and relatives
of such hometown talent as Will (Stretch) Taylor and Gerald (The
Jedi) Nobles can convene in the balcony for the rare opportunity
to watch their favorites trade punches in public, cheering or
booing to their heart's content.

No writer of prizefight fiction would dare to invent a character
called Ludovico (Luddy) DePasquale and cast him as a budding
promoter who sells late-model used cars for a living, but those
are the facts. As a beginner, Luddy seeks out expert help
whenever he's drawing up a fight card. Usually he turns to Rob
Murray, who hosts a boxing talk show on WHAT-AM. Murray was
raised in North Philly's Strawberry Mansion district and knows
the gym scene well. He, too, is a part-time fight promoter, as
well as a part-time manager and trainer and also a part-time
purveyor of T-shirts that say, PUT DOWN THE GUNS AND PUT ON THE
GLOVES, a slogan he dreamed up himself. For Murray, boxing is a
way to teach young black men dignity and discipline and maybe
lead them out of the ghetto, an old line of thought that sounds
suspicious until you see the neighborhoods where the young men
get trapped, or trap themselves.

The DePasquales try to serve up enough boxing on their cards to
satisfy even the gluttons, so on one Friday in September they
put together a 10-bout program. On the day before the matches,
Murray set out to check on the boxers he manages, including
Taylor, who would headline on Friday night. Taped to a rear
window of Murray's 4x4 truck was a poster advertising the
fights. It listed several local boxers, but it didn't name a
single opponent, and even Murray couldn't fill in all the blanks.

Murray is a big, shambling, friendly man who's always dressed in
sweats and a baseball cap. You'd never guess that he used to
work as a private eye. He has a taste for celebrity, and he kept
up a running commentary while he drove, pointing out the spot
where Eddie Murphy shot scenes for the movie Trading Places and
a restaurant where he, Rob Murray, once ate dinner with Muhammad
Ali.

As a boy Murray shined shoes across from the old Champs Gym in
Strawberry Mansion, and he remembers paying a quarter on
weekends to see private "gym wars," in which boxers pummeled
each other not for money or trophies but merely out of pride, to
prove who was the better man. In those days the neighborhood was
middle-class and integrated, but it has devolved into a
crack-ridden slum. The original Champs is long gone, but a
couple of years ago, Murray and some friends created a new
version of it on one of the most bedraggled and dangerous blocks
in the city. The brick buildings nearby are all gutted, burned
or trashed, broken glass is everywhere, and crack vials are
strewn in the weeds.

The new Champs is plain and windowless and doesn't seem much
larger than a two-car garage. It feels airless at times, too,
and pitiless and punishing. About 30 boxers, all
African-Americans, were going about the oddly monastic business
of training when Murray arrived. They were doing sit-ups and
peppering speed bags, shadowboxing and skipping rope, and their
efforts produced a soundtrack of grunts, groans and thudding
blows that blended with the funk pouring from a boom box. Such
warmth as there was in the room came from a gallery of
appreciative older men observing from some folding chairs. Faded
fight posters adorned the gym walls like so many blissful
memories, and every stick of furniture, from the wobbly bar
stools to the gritty rubbing tables, was patched with duct tape.
A small ring, its canvas also patched, was framed on one side by
an arch of hand-painted wood, as bright and colorful as a work
of folk art and offering a litany of Philadelphia boxing
greats--more than 200 names inscribed to form a pantheon that
progressed from the ancient Skinny Davis to the current and
still-feared Tim Witherspoon.

Murray went looking for Taylor and found him sitting among the
older men, only inches from the ring, where Tony (Pound for
Pound) Martin was doling out some thunder and lightning to an
ill-fated sparring partner. Taylor, lanky and tightly muscled,
wore tattered sweats and chewed a big wad of green bubblegum. At
30, and with a record of 9-1, he is a late bloomer on account of
all the time he wasted in prison, where he spent the better part
of eight years for the robberies he committed to feed his
dependency on crack and booze. Now he has to rely on his pals
for a place to sleep. Taylor runs six miles almost every day and
reports to the gym religiously every afternoon. He is a bout or
two away from a good TV payday--and would earn $1,000 for his
star turn at the Blue Horizon the next day, more than anyone
else on the card.

Taylor rose to his feet after a while, laced on some gloves and
took over for Martin in the ring. (Martin had whipped three
sparring partners by then and looked fresh enough to whip three
more.) For the sake of confidence, Taylor often told himself
that whatever anybody might throw at him on a fight night,
however hard and fast he might go down, it wouldn't be any
tougher for him to deal with than the life he once made for
himself on the streets--homeless, strung out and unable to
imagine a future. He doesn't want to wind up that way again, so
he has invested his faith in boxing and the support of mentors
such as Murray, who wanted to plaster Taylor's penitentiary
number, AY 2989, on the fighter's trunks as a vivid reminder. In
the Champs ring he bounced around on his toes, warming up, until
Naseem Richardson, a stocky Muslim who assists with his
training, joined him with a pair of catcher's mitts. Naseem held
up the gloves as targets and urged Taylor to double up on his
jab, so as to open an opponent's body to an attack.

The 20 boxers on the Blue Horizon's card showed up for a
weigh-in at the Pennsylvania State Boxing Commission in a
downtown high-rise on Friday morning. Jammed into a suite of
sterile offices, the waiting men avoided eye contact and
displayed a wide variety of prefight attitudes that ranged from
anxiety to panic to cautious optimism to sheer Ali-esque
braggadocio, although nobody spouted poems. The 10 opponents, no
longer faceless, were almost uniform in projecting a melancholy
humility, as if to practice the defeat that was likely in store
for them. They hung their heads and studied the linoleum, while
hangers-on in flashy gold jewelry and NBA-licensed togs
whispered free and probably worthless advice in their ears.

Only Napoleon Pitt, from Richmond, who was slated to take on
Taylor, appeared to be a serious contender. Like Taylor he was
tall, slender and muscular. Nervous energy billowed from him as
he sat on the floor and tapped his right foot repeatedly against
the tiles. He seemed to be concentrating on a point in space
that only he could see, drawing sustenance from it and engaging
in a kind of juju meditation. Taylor ignored him, naturally, and
stayed far across the room, a Walkman echoing in his ears. He
had skipped breakfast and was eager for a meal, but the
examining physician had gotten lost on his way to the commission
and was late, so everybody had to wait.

Meanwhile, the boxing commissioner, a young man who had no more
presence than a midget in the midst of so much brawn,
interviewed the fighters one at a time at a desk, snapping a
Polaroid of each man for ID purposes and checking his
Pennsylvania license. Dennis Cain, a slump-shouldered opponent
from Maryland, looked embarrassed when the commissioner asked,
"When did you have your last fight?"

"In June," Cain said. "Back in Baltimore."

"How'd you do?"

"Lost in five."

"Get knocked out?"

"Mmm-hmm. TKO."

"What's your record?"

The boxer slumped a little more and sighed. "One, eight and
one," he said.

Cain was matched against The Jedi, Gerald Nobles, a heavyweight
with six knockouts in his first six bouts as a pro. Nobles is
well-connected and being groomed for the big time. One of his
two managers, Ivan Cohen, has handled five world champs and wore
more and better gold jewelry than anyone else in the room. When
someone mentioned to him that Cain, at 1-8-1, might not be much
of a challenge, Cohen objected strenuously. "Cain's confused!"
he sputtered. "He misstated his record!"

The Jedi's other manager, Alan Gelb, a New Jersey attorney, does
jobs for Don King Productions, finding and suing bars and clubs
that pirate King's pay-per-view telecasts. He was building up
his client to the hangers-on at the commission office by telling
them how Nobles had just scored a super-powerful knockout on a
USA Network card and had earned a special accolade: Punch of the
Night. "Do you know how big that is, Gerald?" Gelb inquired of
his charge. "It's huge!"

The Jedi is a cheerful, articulate young man--a self-described
221-pound fighting machine. He wore a torn black T-shirt with
Mike Tyson's picture on it. "Only thing I worry about," he said
with a broad grin, "is if I commit a homicide in the ring."

"We're compiling a knockout tape," Gelb told everybody. "Of
every knockout Gerald's ever made. He's up to six now."

Somebody asked Nobles how he got his start, and he acted a bit
sheepish. "Aw, man, there was this girl I liked, and I was
trying to impress her," he said. "I walked into the gym, and
bang-boom-bang, this other guy starts whaling on me! It was
awful! I'm reeling around, and it's like that scene in Rocky
where the girlfriend buries her head 'cause she don't want to
see." He pauses to let the horrible image sink in. "But then I
went into training, and I took care of that guy all right."

"Gerald's very personable," Gelb said. "He's the kind of kid, if
he bumps into you by accident, he'll apologize and then sell you
a ticket to his fight. How many tickets have you sold for
tonight, Gerald?"

"'Bout 175," Nobles answered haughtily. He had kept a share of
the proceeds to supplement his payday. Some boxers on the card
were being paid only in tickets.

Gelb smiled at The Jedi in a doting way, as he might have at a
prize pupil. "You see?" he said. "Isn't he personable? And he
generates lots of excitement at the Blue."

"If I ever get a main event over there," The Jedi said, shaking
his head in awe at the prospect, "I'll probably never shut up!"

Even as Nobles spoke, a carpenter at the Blue Horizon was busy
assembling the ring for the night's festivities. He hauled in
pieces from a truck parked on the sidewalk outside, and a couple
of teenagers from the neighborhood helped him with the screws,
bolts and ropes. The temperature in the auditorium was about
90[degrees] and climbing. In an office downstairs Carol fielded
calls from people who wanted to reserve tickets. She would be
stationed at the phone all night, while Vernoca would supervise
the concession stand and grill the hot sausages.

Luddy DePasquale rolled into the Blue Horizon around 6 p.m.,
carrying a briefcase that held about $10,000 in cash to pay the
boxers. Luddy gripped the handle tightly. It might as well have
been chained to his wrist. His anxious look was due less to the
money than to the lousy weather, though. The tail end of
Hurricane Eduardo beat a tattoo on the windows and rattled the
concertina wire atop the fences, and Luddy worried that the
crowd would stay away. That was bad news, because the
DePasquales needed a near sellout to break even. Truth was, they
lost a little on most promotions and consoled themselves with
the hope that someday a pearl of uncommon worth would drop into
their laps, which is the same dream shared by everyone in
boxing, from veteran trainers to lowly cutmen.

Peter DePasquale, Luddy's older brother, stood guard by a wooden
drawer that held the ticket revenue. Where Luddy is lean and
vaguely haunted, with a pencil-thin mustache, Peter is compact,
curly-haired and outgoing, an ad copywriter who fell in love
with the fight game as a Golden Gloves boxer and later wrote The
Boxer's Workout, a guide to fitness. Four things can ruin a
fighter, Peter likes to say: peer pressure, drugs, injuries and
women. There is a symbolic story he tells that sums up his
affection for the characters in the sport.

"I managed this boxer once, he was undefeated, like 8-0 or
9-0--that's when they always blow it--and he's set up for a big
fight, but he informs me he has to cancel because he's got a bad
cold," Peter said with amusement. "So I ran to the corner,
bought a bottle of St. Joseph Cough Syrup for Children, washed
off the label, dumped out most of it and diluted the rest with
water. 'This is from France,' I told my guy. 'It isn't even
legal in this country! Drink some before the weigh-in, then
drink a double dose in the afternoon.' So he followed my
instructions, knocked out the other guy in 45 seconds of the
first round, dashed over, kissed me between the eyes and said,
'Thanks, Peter. It was the double dose that did it.'"

It turned out the wind and rain didn't scare off all the
patrons. The fans began streaming in as soon as the Blue
Horizon's doors opened at seven, men and women and a few kids,
about half of them white and half of them black, and all of them
mingling freely. Their voices created a happy, excited babble
until it was drowned out by a sound system on the stage that
blared an ear-splitting mix of disco, rap, hip-hop and R&B. The
noise level rose rapidly, courtesy of the old Moose Lodge
acoustics, and the ring seemed almost to glow amid the
anticipation. The ropes and the canvas were blue, and so, too,
was the light inside the arena--an eerie, dusky blue that echoed
the muted color of the evening sky.

Four vanloads of fans arrived from rural Pennsylvania to root
for their hometown lad, Ryan (Rocky) Poletti, an unbeaten
cruiserweight, and a shocking number of people sported white
satin jackets with GERALD "THE JEDI" NOBLES stitched in script
on the back. And who should be roaming about in the audience,
shaking hands and soaking up the atmosphere, but The Jedi in the
flesh! He was still in his street clothes and grinning his
toothy grin. "I'm full of adrenaline, man," he boasted to nobody
in particular. "There's a little monster in me that's dyin' to
burst out." He smacked himself in the palm and laughed. "Here
comes the little monster! He's ready!"

Nobles headed for the motley dressing rooms upstairs just before
the show started at 7:45 p.m. At ringside, everything was
perfect--the referee, the three judges, the announcer in his
shiny tux, the leggy ring girl balanced precariously on her high
heels, her smile fixed and ivory-bright.

Up the main aisle marched two lightweights, each a vaunted 1-0:
Marvin (The Bloodhound) McCoy, from Richmond, and Miguel
Figueroa, from nearby Camden, N.J., who wore a patriotic robe of
red, white and blue. They were supposed to go four rounds, but
Figueroa took it to McCoy early and forcefully, and soon McCoy
understood why visiting boxers sometimes refer to the Blue
Horizon as the House of Pain. The fans were on their feet and
chanting, "Blue! Blue! Blue!," their fists thrust in the air.
Suddenly, McCoy was down for the count, invincible no more,
while Figueroa remained unvanquished and could still imagine
that he was immortal.

The tempo slowed after that bang-up start. The next two bouts
offered no fireworks, only a familiar display of ineptitude. Up
in the balcony, where the humidity was about 2,000%, the fans
fell into a hypnotic stupor, waking from their doldrums every
now and then to shout out a chorus of half-hearted boos. But
when Chris Walsh and Tom Cameron--two white middleweights who
were supremely fit--slipped into the ring and commenced to pound
on each other at the first bell, the torpor in the balcony
turned into pandemonium. Feet stomped, lips pursed, crazy
whistling filled the air, and applause roared down on the boxers
in ripples, pushing them on. Walsh landed a solid right and
stung Cameron so soundly that he went funny in the legs, but
Cameron had no quit in him and came lunging back with a stunning
flurry of left hooks. For six full rounds, they gave it
everything they had.

Exhausted at the finish, the fighters were showered with more
applause, gathered up in the crowd's embrace. The victory went
to Cameron in a close decision, and when he returned to his
upstairs cubicle, where a sheet of black plastic served as the
door, he was still pumped up on adrenaline. He posed with his
gloves to the fore, the Delaware Destroyer incarnate, while his
manager crowed, "He's 5-2-and-2! He's 5-2-and-2!" as if the
ever-so-slight improvement in his record amounted to a giant
step toward some mythic crown.

"Great fight," said a fan in the balcony.

"Yeah," the fan's friend responded, dredging up an old boxing
adage, "too bad a white guy had to lose."

Then it was time for Rocky Poletti's brief sojourn under the
lights. He polished off Jose Torres (10-17) in less than three
minutes, delivering a haymaker-right to end the tepid affair.
Then Dennis Cain stole through the ropes. He still looked
embarrassed, even though somebody had altered his record on the
program, changing it from 1-8-1 to 6-3. Next, Nobles made a
grand entrance, with his entourage following in a daffy conga
line. It seemed preordained that The Jedi would swiftly add a
seventh KO to his videotape, but he proved to be slow of foot
and laggard of punch. Where had the tiny monster gone? Nobles
held on to poor Cain through the second round, circling in a
plodding waltz, and by the third round the catcalls were loud
and strident and bouncing off the turquoise ceiling. Cain gasped
for breath, let his fists droop and glared at Nobles in
frustration, as if to say, Just hit me one decent shot, Gerald,
and you'll win. But The Jedi couldn't do it, so Cain took
matters in hand and refused to budge from his stool when the
bell rang for the fourth.

In the hallway, Luddy DePasquale was going on about Poletti's
terrific performance and how the kid bore a striking resemblance
to Rocky Marciano--a resemblance that some people hadn't noticed
at all. When somebody said that Torres had been an easy mark,
Luddy scoffed and replied, "Well, at least we didn't put him in
with a guy who's 1-8-1, did we?"

A program was produced for Luddy's benefit. It showed the
altered record. "It says here that Cain was 6-3," someone said.

"Ah, that's just for the public," a fan told him.

Upstairs in a dressing room, his name posted outside it on a
scrap of cardboard, Will Taylor sat by himself and waited for
his summons. It was approaching 11 o'clock, and the wait must
have seemed unimaginably long to Taylor, hour piling up on
listless hour, surely enough time for his nerves to undo all
that he'd mastered in his recent weeks of training. After his
single loss as a pro, he'd suffered a drug relapse that had sent
him crashing into rehab, so he had that to worry about, too.
Taylor had something at stake this night--his well-being, yes,
but also that potential TV payday down the line--as did Napoleon
Pitt, who had been a highly regarded super middleweight until he
dropped his last two bouts. If Pitt didn't win tonight, his
career as a fighter of promise might be over.

Pitt started for the auditorium first. He still seemed
determined, and his juju stare was still in place, but he had
wrapped himself in a tattered old robe that was like a souvenir
from a more optimistic time, and it had a wistful effect. Taylor
trailed after him a minute or so later, accompanied by a small
crew of faithfuls that included Rob Murray, Naseem Richardson,
Naseem's son Bear and his nephew John, boxing prodigies who wore
satin jackets of their own, black with blazing yellow letters
across the back that read HAPPY HOLLOW CONCRETE JUNGLE BOXING
TRIBE--for boxing is undeniably a tribal culture with its own
rites and customs that cannot be explained in any rational way.
The noise rained down on both principals from raucous fans whose
appetites were whetted for the main event, and all the latent
energy in Taylor began to uncoil in response. He was ready to
call on the same survival skills that had saved him in the
streets.

The fighters received their instructions from the referee and
fixed each other with intimidating stares. They were tight and
wary in the first round. It must have been odd for each of them
to face a near double--as though sparring with a reflection in a
mirror. They tried feints and relied on their footwork to keep
out of harm's way, tossing sharp jabs that were always a little
off the mark. But in the second round Taylor went underneath, as
he'd practiced at Champs, and caught Pitt with a jolting left
hook to the midsection. Something went out of Pitt as he fell
grunting against the ropes, and he began a wild protective
flailing. It was as if Taylor had discovered a secret soft spot,
the very spot Pitt had hoped to conceal.

The third round was all Taylor. Everyone could see his
confidence increase as he became less tentative. He was
measuring Pitt now, picking his spots, scoring points with
flawless execution. Pitt caught him with a solid right to the
jaw, but Taylor walked away from it, tapped himself on the
forehead--Will, remember what you've been taught!--and came back
strong in the fourth, doubling up on his jab again. His superior
conditioning began to tell. Pitt seemed tired and broken in
spirit. The tissue around his eyes was swollen, and his nose was
bloodied. In the fifth Taylor caught him with a devastating left
to the body, and down went Pitt. He got up quickly but appeared
to be dazed. The swelling under one eye had split like an
overripe fruit, spilling blood down his cheek, and now Pitt was
half-blind and flicking at the eye with his glove.

Mercifully, Pitt's trainer threw in the towel. There was
jubilation in Taylor's corner, of course, and Taylor, beaming
and dripping sweat, reached toward the sky. He must have felt
immense just then, alive with vital juices and capable of
accomplishing any task that the fates might toss his way. He
skipped across the ring and hugged Pitt in that curiously loving
way of boxers indulging in the higher and finer emotions after
purging themselves of everything base. As he walked up the
aisle, two young women in the balcony's front row, both
temptresses dressed to go the distance, leaned forward and blew
down kisses. Taylor lifted his head, gazed at them with a hero's
weary aplomb and gave them a wave. He looked ready for his next
challenge--make that two challenges.

The show was over, but the spectators were slow to depart. They
lingered on the auditorium floor and chatted with a few of the
boxers. There stood Torres, now 10-18, talking to a pair of
Philly fight fans, his first-round defeat no more unsettling to
him than a mosquito bite, while Poletti divested himself of the
energy he'd been unable to expend on Torres by helping the sound
crew cart its equipment out to a van. Nobles was outside
assisting a man whose car had quit on him in the middle of the
street. The Jedi's victory, such as it was, would go down as a
TKO, so he was assured of another fight and might yet put some
power back into his punches and treat the public to the sight of
that little monster bottled up inside him.

As for Taylor, his win meant even more than Nobles's. He would
continue to get some financial support from Murray and his other
backers, and he could move into his own apartment. Murray had
offered him a part-time job, too, and the DePasquales would use
him to headline another card, given his stellar performance.
Though the gate had again fallen short of the break-even point,
Luddy knew that many satisfied customers would return for the
brothers' next show at The Legendary Blue Horizon. That meant
more money for Carol and Vernoca as well, funds to be poured
into their community-based projects. Maybe someday the partners
would restore the Blue to its 19th-century glory, but even if
they didn't, there would be other Friday nights like this one,
when boxing found its proper context and seemed almost to make
sense.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL Fight Night Boxing fans peruse a program as they prepare to enter Philadelphia's famed Blue Horizon for a Friday evening of fisticuffs (page 70). [People on sidewalk outside The Legendary Blue Horizon--T of C] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL [Two boxers in ring surrounded by crowd] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL BLUE FRIDAY: CLIFF FOSTER (LEFT) AND MARK KONDRATH HELP ASSEMBLE THE RING B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL IN THE CORNER, INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE FIGHTER; IN THE RING, DISTRACTION FOR THE CROWD [Trainer speaking to boxer while woman wearing bikini carries sign] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL ANONYMOUS AND FEARFUL, OUT-OF-TOWN PUGS AWAIT ALMOST CERTAIN DEFEAT [Two boxers and their trainers] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL CAMERON WAS ALL ATTITUDE BEFORE HIS BOUT [Tom Cameron and others] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL RAY (LEFT) AND MICHAEL HAVE A GRAND DESIGN FOR THE BLUE--BUT SCANT FUNDS [Carol Ray and Vernoca Michael] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL EX-CON AND EX-ADDICT TAYLOR USED RIPPING BODY BLOWS TO PUT AWAY PITT [Will (Stretch) Taylor and Napoleon Pitt boxing] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL FOR ROBERT HUNT, THE BLUE IS THE LIMELIGHT [Robert Hunt] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL TRAINING AT CHAMPS GYM IS A FIRST STEP TOWARD A SPOT ON THE BLUE CARD [Boy exiting Champs Gym]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)