The big fight brought memories


Jeff Gilliland - Staff columnist



As I was driving home from Columbus last Saturday I received a phone call from my wife. It was a typical call, asking how the day had gone and such, then came a surprise. My youngest son was home, he had purchased the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor fight, and they were wondering when I was going to be home.

It was a highly promoted showdown, in case you’re not aware, with Mayweather Jr. making something like a guaranteed $200 million and McGregor around $100 million.

I was a bit of a boxing fan in my younger years, and I had thought in the preceding week about watching what was billed as “The Money Fight” and “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History,” but there was no way I was shelling out $90 for what I figured would be three- or four-round fight at the most.

Still, I was intrigued by the matchup between Mayweather Jr., an undefeated 11-time, five-division boxing world champion, and McGregor, a two-division mixed martial arts (MMA) world champion and current UFC Lightweight Champion, and headed on home eager to see how it turned out.

It was better than expected, and in my opinion McGregor won the first three rounds. But in the end McGregor’s arms tired, he could no longer hold them high enough to protect himself, and Mayweather Jr. scored a technical knockout in the 10th round.

As I was thinking about the fight in recent weeks, I was reminded of the time when I was sports reporter and covered some real, live professional boxing matches – right here in Hillsboro.

How many people around here remember that, I wondered?

I do not recall the exact year, but it was sometime in the 1980s and the matches were held in what is now the Hi-TEC Center at the north edge of town. When the building first opened it was a roller skating rink. By the time the boxing matches were held there the skating rink had closed, but the building still had plenty of wide open space and it made a decent atmosphere to hold some boxing matches.

Being the local sports editor at the time, I had written a preview story or two on the matches. The big match of the night was for the Ohio state title in some weight class, and somewhere as the event approached the promoters asked if I’d be interested in covering it – from a ring side seat.

Like I said, I was a bit of a boxing fan at the time. How could you not be in the 1980s with the likes of “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, Roberto Durán, Evander Holyfield, Hector “Macho” Comacho, Julio César Chávez, Larry Holmes, Alexis Argüello, Aaron Pryor, Salvador Sánchez, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Michael Spinks, to name a few? Anyway, we watched boxing a lot back then and I had always wondered what it would be like to see a live match up close and personal, and I was about to get more up close and personal than I ever imagined.

When I arrived at the venue, I was escorted to my seat. I assumed it would be a pretty good seat, but I did not know that it would be ringside. And when I say ringside, I mean that I could rest my hands on the ring floor. Before the night was over, I knew exactly what it’s like to be a corner man.

When you see a boxer take a good blow to the face on TV – like when his head snaps backward or to the side – you often see a swath of sweat spray through the air. But I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more than sweat flying. There’s is sweat, snot and mucous, blood, and maybe more.

I didn’t really realize that I was being coated in the stuff until I went to put down my camera and take some notes. When I reached for my notepad, I had to flip to the next page because my front page was dotted with all the above. So was I.

Except for the flying body fluids, it was an interesting and eye-opening evening.

There was one old fella they said was 50 (which seemed old then, but doesn’t now), fighting in one match. It was easy to tell he’d been around the game for a long time. He put up a valiant battle, but lost, and as I watched him exit the ring with his head hanging down, it was like a scene out of an old movie, or too many fights I’ve watched. I felt sorry for him, and imagined he was either trying to hold on just a little longer to his one true passion, trying to earn one last payday the only way he knew how, or maybe a combination of the two.

There were lots of people there who weren’t from this area. Before one match started, two different groups of spectators started jawing back and forth. Then they started throwing things. The crescendo rose as the match unfolded and about midway through it the two groups were crawling over tables trying to get at one another. It was pretty ugly there for a few seconds, but completely hilarious, too.

Lots of years have passed between then and now. Boxing is no longer what it once was, and it is rare that I sit down to watch a match.

But for one night, it was nice to relax at home with a son and my wife and watch a fight. It seemed like old times, with a new generation added.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or jgilliland@aimmedianetwork.com.

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Jeff Gilliland

Staff columnist