Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Howard Ross is Smiling

Great show this week. We've got Andre Dirrell and I'll introduce you to undefeated welterweight prospect Lanard Lane.

Now on to more important matters.

Despite its reputation for being filled with backstabbers and snakes, one of my favorite things about working in boxing is the people. I've met plenty of interesting characters and good folk. Some of them have become close friends.

When I first moved to Florida in 2003, I met Howard Ross. He was a retired senior citizen who lived near the gym and seemed to be there all the time. He knew a lot about the sport and everything about the local scene. As the years went by, we would talk on the phone and compare notes.

Howard was always honest with his assessment of boxers. With me or with the boxers themselves. The world class fighters like Kassim Ouma and Richard Hall would all turn to Howard when their yes men would tell them they looked great. "What do you think, Howard?" they would ask. "You looked like shit and you're going to get your ass kicked if you don't get your butt in gear and start training like you mean it," was often the reply.

Howard had a soft spot for local fighters, who didn't have management or couldn't get breaks. He would help them out, offer career advice, try to get them fights or do whatever he could. One fighter he particularly liked was a heavyweight out of West Palm Beach named Dieuly Arisitilde.

If he didn't think you were championship material, he'd tell you. But then explain what you need to do to still make some money in the sport.

That was the relationship he had with Dieuly. No one will confuse Dieuly with a top contender. But he is a brawler, with plenty of heart and he sells a ton of tickets. Dieuly is a likable guy and his many friends show up to support him, so promoters are happy to put him on their cards.

Somewhere around 2006 Howard got sick and told me he didn't have long. He would say the same thing every time I spoke to him for the next few years. In fact, in late 2008, his doctor told me he passed away. Every hair on my body stood up straight when one day in early 2009 I got a call and his unmistakable voice said, "Marc? This is Howard Ross." He was alive and living in New Jersey. Despite being quite ill, he still was up to date on the South Florida boxing scene and we once again compared notes.

Howard died a few months later. When I spoke with Dieuly about it in September, he was clearly upset. It was amazing how an old crotchety jewish retiree affected a young Haitian slugger. We swapped stories about Howard and remembered him together.

Last night, Dieuly fought at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, FL. Oliver McCall was supposed to be in the main event, but he was in jail on drug charges. So McCall's son, Elijah was moved to the main event and Aristilde was his opponent.

Going into the fight, McCall was 4-0 (4). He clearly had genetics on his side. Plus, he had proper training. Dieuly was the proverbial opponent. He was 6-1 but was brought in to lose.

During the first round, it looked like your typical prospect blowing out his opposition. Dieuly hit the canvass twice and looked awful heading back to his corner. In the second, he fought much better, likely winning the round. The third was McCall's as Dieuly was out of gas.

But in the fourth, Dieuly landed a left hook that sent McCall into the ropes. Dieuly went after him and connected with several big shots including a right hand while McCall was on his way down. McCall was knocked cold and Dieuly had scored the upset.

Despite being exhausted, Dieuly paraded around the ring like he had just won the biggest fight of his career, which he had. Climbing out of the ring, he strutted like a peacock, enjoying the moment and shaking hands.

I grabbed his hand and offered my congratulations. Still brimming with adrenalin he practically looked past me. "Hey Dieuly," I said. "Somewhere, Howard Ross is smiling right now." Dieuly stopped in his tracks and looked me in the eye. "Yeah. He is," he said calmly." He went back to strutting down the aisle and I headed home with a smile, thinking about my friend.

1 comment:

John said...

awesome story
very touching stuff
Way to go Dieuly !