April 17, 2008

Ithaca’s Basement Tradition: Part III

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He couldn’t have looked more out of place. Scraggly hair shooting out in every direction, sweat lingering on his forehead, a baggy sweatshirt, baggy sweatpants and the coup de grace — bloody cloth wrapped around each hand. Every few minutes, he reached his hand up to wipe some of the blood dripping from his swollen nose.
He looked around the room and immediately headed for the bar. He held his hands up when the bartender walked over and asked simply, without explanation, “Hey, do you have any scissors?”
To his polo-clad friends accompanying him, senior Andrew Killion looked like a boxer after a fight. To the staff and customers of the upscale Syracuse Italian restaurant, he probably looked like he had just lost a street fight.
But hey, when you’re the New York State Golden Gloves champion at 141 pounds, you can get away with something like that.
“When the waitress came to pick up our dishes I said, ‘I know this isn’t a Chili’s or anything, but can I get a free piece of pie because I just won Golden Gloves and I’m hungry,’” Killion said. “She thought it was funny and talked to the manager. He said I could have anything on the dessert menu for free. So I was like, ‘Gimme some pie!’ I was making an ass of myself.”
Bargaining for free food aside, Killion’s night of celebration was just him letting loose after the Golden Gloves tournament — the culmination of months of intense preparation in a basement room of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC). After a day, a weekend, of uncertainty, confusion, good luck and bad luck, Killion had ended his Golden Gloves run with a happy ending.
It all started last Friday when Killion arrived at the building the tournament was being held at on the Syracuse Fair Grounds.
“It was a warehouse,” he said, laughing. “It was across the street from the cows. It was ridiculous. It was pretty full. I would say there a couple hundred people there. It was freezing cold.”
Then, poking fun at the stereotypes of upstate New York, he said, “You could tell they had just slaughtered cows in there the night before. It was absurd.”
He arrived on the Syracuse Fair Grounds only to learn that he had been given a bye to the championship round the next day for reasons unknown to him. Good luck.
Saturday, he learned that he was matched up against the kid he had beaten to win his region and move on to the state level. Confusion.
“[Killion’s trainer] Danny [Akers] had six, seven guys fighting so he was scrambling since he was the only coach,” Killion said. “I ended up being the only guy that made it to Saturday. I asked him why I was fighting the same guy. He goes, ‘That’s a good point.’ At the weight-ins, Danny said, ‘Listen, my guy doesn’t care, he’ll fight whoever, but how is this guy still in the tournament?’”
Apparently, Killion’s opponent had been given a bye because of the faulty ring and multiple stoppages during his Regional championship fight with Killion. Akers and Killion were flabbergasted at the explanation. The fight had been stopped several times as a result of low blows from Killion’s opponent. And Killion was beginning to take the fight over when the ring broke as his man had started to visibly wear down. When Killion tells the story, he looks bemused, befuddled, excited — but, then again, he always seems excited.
“No joke, they said they felt bad for him,” Killion said, stressing the ‘o’ in “no” and punching the word “bad.” “Basically, he got even luckier [that] he got that break [during the fight], because he was still exhausted in the third round. They said they felt bad for him because the ring broke. He was lucky the ring broke.”
Confusion? Definitely. Bad luck? Not really. He had beaten this kid before, and that was before he knew his tendencies.
“On Saturday, I’m thinking, I know what I’m going to do,” Killion said. “I’ve got my game plan. This kid’s a lot shorter than me. So I’m just going to keep him at the end of my punches. I’m OK with being the outside fighter because I’m more of a boxer than a brawler.”
Finally, certainty in a weekend of nonsensical explanations. A conclusion to a wandering plot line. They even made it through the weigh-ins and everything. Then Akers got a call to the official’s booth several hours later at the doctor’s inspection.
“Ok, he’s not going to fight the same guy any more, we got another guy for him to fight,” they told Akers.
Uncertainty. Who was he possibly going to fight?
“We have another guy from yesterday who had a bye,” the officials said.
Confusion. If they both had byes yesterday, why didn’t they fight yesterday? Uncertainty. Who was this guy? The officials pointed him out.
“No joke,” Killion repeated one of his favorite phrases, “the kid was like 6-3, 6-2. He was huge.
Akers, a little taken aback, asked, “He’s fighting this guy?”
“Is there a problem?”
“No, I just want to see him weigh 141 pounds.”
But sure enough, the kid stepped onto the scale and was right on the money. Akers turned to Killion.
“Remember that game plan we had?” he said. “Just throw it out the window because that’s not going to work.”
Killion had gone from fighting a guy a good four inches shorter than him to fighting someone a good four inches taller than him. Fighting at 141 pounds, Killion was used to being the bigger guy in the ring.
“I have enough trouble making weight,” he said. “I don’t know how this guy did it.”
Defying all logic, the guy wasn’t lacking for muscle either. He was thin through the legs, but wide across the shoulders with a fair amount of muscle on his arms.
“Then I figured, well he’s probably going to be pretty slow, pretty goofy athletic,” Killion said. “But he was fast as hell and threw a good jab.”
So Killion did what he was going to try and make his previous opponent do — run. He ran around while his opponent kept him at arms length. Fortunately, his opponent was also on the defensive, and the two boxed like two dogs playing in a field, alternating chasing and running away.
When each confronted the other, he landed devastating blows. Killion drew his man into the corner towards the end of the first round, then cut him off as he tried to circle out.
“I slipped under one of this punches and got him in the body then came up top and hit him in the head,” Killion said. “But then the bell rung, which sucked because I had just hurt him and knocked him down.”
Killion’s eyes flared up and he rocked back in his seat. “I was like ‘Damn it!’”
The second round saw Killion’s opponent finally assert himself, though. He started slipping jabs through Killion’s hands, with lighting-quick strikes that did a number on Killion’s face. A few days after the fight, Killion’s eyes still have thick black rings around them and his nose is slightly puffy across the bridge.
“I think he might have broken my nose,” Killion said.
But that wasn’t what he was thinking as he went to the corner for his two minute break before the final round.
“Danny told me he thought I was losing, so he told me to go for the knockout to try and win it,” he said. “I just started running after him like a wild man.”
Which is not Killion’s style at all. He boxes in a very constricted, controlled, upright manner. He bobs and weaves and jumps back and forth, then snaps back to attention quickly. But on this day, the new strategy worked for him.
“I really thought the fight could have gone either way,” Killion said.
Good luck?
“Boxing is so subjective,” Killion said. “And they don’t release the score cards after a fight. It’s very sketchy. It’s so easy to rob someone.”
Not that Killion would ever think he got robbed. After all the good luck, bad luck, uncertainty and confusion, Killion finally had his definite answer — he was the Golden Gloves champion. No one could change that. Nothing could change that. Not even the pie after dinner, or the three donuts for breakfast the next day, or the cookies and soda with lunch.
“I’ve been eating the worst food lately,” he said. “Last night I was sitting with my friends and I just wanted some pizza. I wasn’t really even hungry. It was just because I could eat it. … I just want to eat all the time — get back to a normal weight.”
Or even the days off he’s taken since winning.
“I was up the other night at like 5 a.m.,” he said, and I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m usually waking up right now to go for a run.’”
Despite his celebration-induced week of gluttony, Killion is far from done with boxing. With only several weeks left until he graduates, his plans are to stick around Ithaca and train at the GIAC with Willie Monroe, Jr., a professional boxer who trains under Akers.
“I’m considering sticking around to try and be part of his camp where you just basically work out with him all the time,” Killion said. “Before they have a big fight, fighters just isolate themselves and train. So they need people there all the time to work out with them and spar with them.”
After Monroe’s fight on May 29, though, Killion may try to use his boxing connections to get himself a more permanent job.
“My dream job is to be in sports management,” he said. “I might try and get a job with a boxing promoter.”
For now, though, Killion is simply satisfied with some conclusion, and maybe a little bit of free pie.