Last Saturday night, fans of pulverizing hits had to choose between two options. The Portland Pirates, who hardly lost to start the season, were at home trying to end a four-game skid. Across town, at the Stevens Avenue Armory, were USA Boxing’s New England Championships. Since the Pirates have many games left and local boxing cards are rare, I attended the fights, as did some interesting VIPs.
Red Sox great Luis “El Tiante” Tiant was there, signing anything for ten bucks. Autographed baseballs cost more. Tiant’s moustache was amazing, one of the most majestic in baseball history, right up there with that of Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas. It was cool to see, in a Seven Wonders of the Facial-Hair World kind of way, but I don’t pay for autographs.
Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure was also in attendance. McClure captured the light-middleweight boxing gold at the 1960 Olympics, where he roomed with Cassius Clay. A pugilist who earned a doctorate in psychology after a brilliant ring career, McClure once fought Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to a draw. It was cool to see him walking through the crowd, shaking hands for free. But the best part of the night happened in the ring.
The third fight provided the most dramatic sports moment I have personally witnessed since Trot Nixon’s 11th-inning walk-off homer in the 2003 Division Series. Chris Nickerson, from Detroit, Maine, faced Worcester, Massachusetts’s Kylie Nortey in a three-round contest to determine the 178-pound sub-novice light-heavyweight division champion (boxing’s taxonomy is beyond nitpicky). Round one: Nickerson, with greater size and physique, chased Nortey around the ring. Nortey looked scared, out-classed, and doomed. It took all he had to barely dodge Nickerson’s fierce punches. Round two was slightly, if not much, better. Nickerson dominated, and everyone in the joint had to know that he had a commanding lead on the judge’s cards. Round three: Nortey was still on the run, praying for the bell. But then, a couple minutes in, Nortey planted his feet and hit Nickerson with his only good punch of the evening. And down went Nickerson like 178 pounds of coal.
The near-capacity crowd came unglued. Nickerson staggered up, badly hurt. The suddenly stouthearted Nortey charged like a savage when the ref stepped away. Nickerson had his arms up, protecting himself, trying to move. If Nickerson could have gotten on his bike and lasted the round, he would have probably won. The drama was brief but gut wrenching. Nortey landed again; Nickerson was out on his feet. He took a standing eight, but the ref stopped it. Nobody seemed more surprised than Nortey. Nickerson might have been, but he probably didn’t know his name, the poor kid.
That night the Pirates lost, and nobody dropped the gloves. Everybody skated like Lady Byng Memorial Trophy finalists. But then, on Sunday, in the third period, Colin Murphy and Paul Baier of the Pirates both threw some punches, and the Pirates ended a five-game losing streak. Coincidence? I say heck no. Just like Kyle Nortey, when the Pirates finally show some fight, they win.