|. . . THE CBZ JOURNAL||
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By Aram Rocky Alkazoff
"Rocky whats missing in the country now is values," said the burly oldtimer named "Lucky" sitting behind the soda fountain. "Its all the way down the line. All the way down the line in all areas of life. Values. Solid values. You build on solid values and on them you build civilization. Without solid values things crumble. That's why I'm picking and betting on Kostya Tsyzu Rock to beat that flashy Zab Judah. Its all about "values". I'm betting on values. It was values back in the old days, and its still values now."
"Things change Lucky," I said not even knowing why or what for sure he meant. "Things change I guess and what was then isn't now. It just don't fit. Besides, whats all that got to do with the fight?"
The oldtimer just shook his head. Lucky Lindy Watson's mind was way back in another era and he wasn't buying my argument.
Well in this joint how could I argue the present fast moving changing culture against the past? The past and it's values WAS this joint.
See in the neighborhood I live in like in all great cultures, there are centers of great wisdom where the seers of the area gather together to talk and people come and listen to attain wisdom. I wouldn't be surprised if in ancient Athens the great Greeks didn't have "hangouts" where they discussed the happenings of the day the same way. These were places where the great men hung out and wisdom flowed like clear water. Well like I said, we have em here in our neighborhood too. In this case Lucky Lindy Watson and his pals were the "Seers" and Lucky's joint "The Cozy Corner" was where you'd go to get the rare wisdom of the ancients.
In our "Hood" in Southwest Detroit there are plenty of spots like that; Plenty of spots and hangouts where you go for a certain line and slant on certain issues, gossips, news and happenings. Lets see, theres Vic's Pizza, Pee Wee's Sales, Frank's Fill-up, Armando's, Jessie's Bar, Chico Is The Man Resale Shop, and so many others where the neighborhood characters and patricians hang out and talk about whats happening in the world. But of all the great hangout places my favorite was Lucky Lindy's "The Cozy Corner" where the experts on sports betting hung out. That was the place to discuss boxing and I wanted to be there before any big fight to hear what the local "experts" had to say.
The Cozy Corner was a spot where books, magazines, newspapers, cigarettes, soft drinks, and chips were to be had. It had a old time soda fountain with six seats and believe me these six seats were reserved for the regulars, and don't even try to get into one of them without permission if a big event was being televised. Seniority counted big time here. The single 25 inch color television had on sports and the only retreat from that would be Jeopardy or occasionally American Movie Classics. Gambling was the passion here as the owner Lucky Lindy Watson was also a bookie and they bet on every kind of sporting event. Of course there was debate of every sort, but you could hardly call it a debate because the automatic winner of every debate was the "old days" and it's values. This was the hangout where the traditional values of the area were held high, and nothing new mattered. It was a passion to hold the culture of the past that breathed the life into the place.
The minute someone walked into "Cozy's" you could feel the pulse. The whole soda shop layout of the place was rare enough. Those kinds of places don't happen anymore. There are bars and restaurants, but rarely are there the soda fountain type places anymore like this place. It just doesn't happen. When you walked into "Cozy's" you expect "Andy Hardy" in the person of Mickey Rooney to walk out in a soda jerk's outfit and ask for your order. Like it was you were back in the forties or fifties in this place. Then of course there is the owner Lucky Lindy Watson himself. He wears a white apron over suspenders and a white shirt, a bow tie, and a soda jerk's white hat. Lindy is about eighty years old, big and bulky, grey and balding, with a small mustache. He was a ex heavyweight boxer and a Korean War veteran and infamous for physically throwing out customers who give him a hard time.
Lucky Lindy runs Cozy's and he lets you know it in no uncertain terms. He used to hang out here as a kid when the original owner "Skeeter" McClure (whose picture hangs up proudly next to Jack Dempsey's and Franklin Roosevelt's above the cash register) had it. Skeeter was a bookie then and when he died Lucky Lindy took over the action. He took over when Skeeter left Cozy's to him in his will. Lindy holds three things sacred in this world; God and the flag of the United States, (which drapes the pictures of Skeeter, F.D.R. and Dempsey), the memory of Skeeter McClure (Lucky goes to the cemetery once a week to see his gravesite), and his sporting idol Jack Dempsey. You can't mess with those three subjects in this place and nobody did.
Now speaking about the six seats at the fountain they were filled during big events usually by Joey Small, Xavier Valentine, Mike Shopski, Chuck Davis, Tony Bartoli, and Mauricio Martinez. These were the big six and they made the conversations and their experienced words were precious to whoever came in there and hung around. Mauricio was the newest member, and he got his chair because Tommy Butler died aid ninety years old leaving a spot open. Mauricio, a Viet Nam vet, had been hanging out for about twenty years so he got the spot. That made Zavier Valentine the main man now and he was about eighty one, but slim, natty, and in good shape. Zavier kept a "Errol Flynn" mustache and resembled a Douglas Fairbanks Junior movie type. He always wore a sort coat over a shirt or sweater and his clothes were always pressed. He had married a woman of means and never worked as far as anyone knew. He had talent though, and was a expert piano player.
I had come into "Cozy's" this afternoon because I wanted some news about the big fight that would be shown there this evening, for the unified undisputed junior welterweight championship between Kostya Tsyzu, the hard punching baby faced killing machine from Russia, and a flashy newcomer from Brooklyn with blazing fists, shiny ebony skin, and supernatural speed named Zab Judah, who seemed on the verge of being a marketing media hero, and the new boxing idol of the young fans.
Judah was undefeated and so exciting was his style and his braggadocio, that he was already featured as a contemporary hero in hip television features. He moved to "rap music", dressed loud and baggy, and moved to a beat that could only be Twenty First Century. Judah's jolting, hands held low style based on burning speed, was so exciting that a whole new generation of boxing "experts" like Max Kellerman were calling him a sure winner and one of the greatest at the weight of all time. On top of it Judah acted and talked "Brooklyn tough", taunted with confidence, and hung out with boxing's bully of the ring, Mike Tyson.
"I don't know Lucky," I said, taking a sip of apple juice, looking up at the Jack Dempsey picture up on the wall. "This kid Judah is awfully fast. He hits hard too. He just seems to have too many moves for a one dimensional guy like Tsyzu. I watched him fight alot. He zooms in and dares the opponent to punch, then he slips and counters with power. I mean he can hit too! He is just so fast, he makes the other guy scared to lead almost." "He ever fight any punchers?" asked Mauricio, taking a drag out of a cigarette. Mauricio was a heavy set salt and pepper haired Chicano, who had gained alot of weight in the last ten years or so. But then again his wife Rosa was a hell of a cook, and was always sending Mexican specialties to the Cozy Corner for the fellas.
"Punchers?" I asked. "What'a mean "punchers"? He's so fast he don't get hit much." "He's gonna get hit sooner or later," said Chuck Davis, a large framed, curly gray haired guy with a hard beer belly, who looked like a older Babe Ruth. Chuck had been a truck driver all his life and won medals for bravery in Korea. He was strictly "old school" when it came to the fights.
I tried to think about who Judah had fought.
"Mickey Ward hits pretty hard, but he couldn't touch Judah," I said.
"Clubfighter," said Tony Bartoli, a retired Italian-American barber who was as you guessed it, short, dark, mustached, and bald as a eagle. "Mickey Ward is a tough clubfighter. I think they mean someone like a Carmen Basilio." "Carmen Basilio"?" I thought somewhat with surprise.
The "Carm" was one of my favorites as a kid. Tough as nails and never quit coming, Carmen Basilio was a hall of famer from the fifties. But for some reason I couldn't put him in the ring with Zab Judah. It was as if Carmen fought in some grainy black and white era with cracked sound, while Judah was live in theater sound and vivid color with every move and muscle glistening in highlight. The "now" media coverage had me influenced big time. "Yeah Carmen Basilio," said Tony. "A guy like that. Zab Judah ever been in with someone like that?" "Well its a new era fellas," I said. "Basilio type guys just don't come round no more. Its a new game kind of now. Guys don't have to come up that way no more. It all happens alot quicker now. Its different now. Its the flashy guy who seems to get all the press and attention. They seem to be the winners. Its just turns out that way. The guys who grunt when they punch and take punches like marines just don't get the play no more."
"What'a mean "different" Rock?" asked Tony with raised eyebrows.
"Well," I explained. "Now guys have a few fights, and people look for charisma and color. People look for flash and style. Speed and style. If you fit the bill, you get the backing by the powers in the media and then you get the exposure. Then if you catch on, they lead you to a title and then you and everyone around you get paid." "And Judah?" asked Joey Small from his end stool, a guy who looked just like his name; Small, wiry, always chain smoking, about sixty five or so with a brush hair cut.
"And Judah fits the bill for the modern superstar," I went on. "He talks the talk, and he's got the flash and thunder, the talent. He's of the new generation of athletes, trash talking, dresses in the hip clothes, and it just seems like he's being groomed to be a superstar. I mean they already have television specials about him. I'm tellin' you, they're grooming him to be a star."
"So you think Judah will win the fight?" asked Tony with wide eyes.
I didn't answer right away. I really liked Kostya Tsyzu as a fighter. I liked that he was Russian, cause I think that having alot of Russian boxers was great for the game. Great Russian fighters opened up the game to millions of overseas kids, and it could only turn out to be good for the sport. I knew he hit hard, was aggressive, crowd pleasing, and would come in the ring in the best of condition. I actually wanted him to win. But then he had been beaten; He had been stopped by Vince Phillips, who exposed Tsyzu's openness to being hit by fighters with chins good enough to take his bombs and exploit Tsyzu's inexperience at standing in front of his opponents. He had been beaten and stopped, but then too had Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey. To get beaten was not the end of a career. It could make a guy better. Then I thought of Zab Judah. I thought about his attitude sitting in the stands as Tsyzu fought Oktay Urkal in his last fight, in which the tough German upset the odds, and went the distance. Judah was sitting with his street pals, smiling, laughing, mocking the way Tsyzu pushed out his left jab as a finder for his right, a old fashioned style. I thought about how the Showtime commentators including Bobby Czyz were commenting on how Tsyzu's flat footed boxing style would lead to disaster against the faster than a speeding bullet punches of Zab Judah. It seemed that night that Tsyzu belonged to a different era of fighters who fought in black and white films, being displaced by the modern wonders who danced into the ring dressed in glitter. It seemed to the media to be Judah's age and season for victory.
"I think Judah will win fellas," I said, almost with apology. "I love Kostya Tsyzu, but I just think that he might be too one dimensional. Judah knows what he is gonna do, and is just gonna dance, jab, and move and win a decision. He knows what he has to do. Everybody is expecting him to stick and move and the judges are gonna be with him." The regulars on the stools kind of nodded at what I was saying. A few of the younger customers in the place also started singing Judah's praises.
"Judahs just too damm fast," said Tony Anthony, a twentyish kid with a shaved head, wearing a satin jacket. "He's got the moves man."
"Tsyzu ain't no punk," said Blue Edwards, Tony's light skinned buddy, who was about the same age. "But its Judah's time. He's a the new age man. He's whats happening now!"
It seemed the Zab Judah syndrome had everyone leaning towards him, but just then I saw Lucky Lindy shaking his head, as he stood with his burly arms crossed, just listening.
"Its about "values", said Lucky as he kept shaking his head.
"What'a you mean Lucky?" I asked. "Whats with the "values" thing?"
"Values," said Lucky in a low voice. "Left jab, follow it in, throw the right and then a left hook. Train hard, be in shape. Be tough. Take a good punch and if you get hit, fight back hard. Go hard all night and be game. Its values. New age or no new age. Its values. That stuff don't change. It stays forever. No video or new dance or bullshit changes that. Values still wins fights. The basic values."
"You can't hit what you can't see," said another young customer, as he slapped hands with Tony and Blue. Everybody else just kind of made comments like," Well we'll see what happens" and all, but it was obvious most of us were resigned to a Judah victory. The things Lucky was talking about seemed from another age, and it seemed everyone just blew it off. The word "values" just seemed too old fashioned for this fights outcome, and no one payed attention. The night of the fight, Cozy's was the place to be, and I got there early. There was about 25 or so people there, with the regulars in their places, but plenty of young guys too. It was a live crowd, and during the highlight films introducing the fighters everyone "ooed" and "awed" at Zab Judah and his speedy fists. Kostya Tsyzu seemed out of another age with his black trunks and straight, hard punches. It just looked so orthodox and none of us seemed to believe he'd hit Judah with any of those kind of punches. It just didn't seem to be in the cards. It was if Judah was Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard, and that Kostya was just gonna be one more opponent trying, but hitting air and getting peppered all night.
"Who you betting Billy?" I asked Billy Burke, a tall local Irish tough guy who was doorman at a Ronnie Harick's after hours gambling joint on the West side.
"I like Tsyzu Rock," he said shaking his head. "I like him alot. I'd like to see him win. But I bet Judah. It just seems like the build-up is for him. Its his time."
"Yeah, I know," I said nodding. "It seems that way don't it? Thats the way I see it. The judges are gonna let him float and sting."
"Like a Sugar Ray thing," said Ricky Ceccerelli, a stocky guy who was a brother to a pal of mine. "Like they built up Leonard. We all wanted him to lose, but he never did. He had too much going for him. If it was close or if he was losing, he found a way. It was like it was all set up for him or something. Too much hoopla. Too much power behind him. Tsyzu is too old fashioned and all. He don't have no color. "Color" is in these days." "You're probably right Ricky," I concurred. That was the way things seemed in the place. Most of the younger guys were taken with Judah and his now image, and just about everyone picked him to win, but still it seemed to be a Tsyzu crowd. Deep down they wanted him to win, but doubted he could. So they bet what they thought and that was Judah. "Hey Lucky," I said to Lucky who was silently sitting on his stool behind the soda counter, with his big arms folded across his chest. "All the money is on Judah huh?"
"Looks like you're gonna pay tonight Luck," said Jimmy Butler, a fat, dark skinned guy who worked as a locksmith in the Hood. "It don't look good tonight for you Luck."
Lucky didn't show any emotion. He just stared forward.
"It'll be about values," he said. "Values wins big fights."
By this time no one was hardly paying attention to what he said. It was fight time.
Judah was dressed in flashy colors as usual and he seemed very cocky and confident coming into the ring, but then Tsyzu looked focused and ready for battle too. These were two solidly built guys and suddenly it looked like a real shootout. I was excited.
When the bell rung the bout began like I figured it would. Tsyzu was pawing with his left like a radar gun looking to push in his right. He was moving forward, but Zab Judah looked in control of himself and was doing what I figured he'd do. He was stabbing and sneak punching with lightning counters that were landing.
"Its no contest," said Joey Carroll, a obese, bald, bespectacled degenerate gambler famous for picking losers, always dressed in sweaters." "Its the speed. Judahs too fast. Just look at how slow Tsyzu seems compared to him." I looked at Lucky, but he just stared forward.
"Values wins fights," was all he said.
"Tsyzu better look out for that left uppercut," I said, noticing he was open through the middle for Judah's best punch.
Then no sooner did I say that, did Zab Judah land with a tremendous left uppercut that was so fast we barely saw it and landed with a loud smack and the crowd in Cozy's all grunted when it landed. Tsyzu was obviously stunned and he hung on to Judah to get his head clear. Judah finally broke away and was raining lighting fast punches on Kostya as he covered up on the ropes. But Tsyzu had handled it and when the referee broke them up, it was obvious that Tsyzu was punching and back to his strength. In fact as the round ended, I saw that he jabbed hard at Judah and threw a menacing right that seemed in intimidate Judah just slightly, even though it missed. "Tsyzu got a hell of a chin," said Chuck Davis, talking with his cigar in his mouth. "He took a hell of a shot. I didn't think he'd make it."
It was true. Kostya Tsyzu had taken probably the best punch Zab Judah could throw, and he was still strong. He had proven something to me. He still had a chance now. It was early but he'd shown me something. He'd shown everyone in the place something.
The next round had our mouths open. Kostya Tsyzu came out and moved forward behind a very strong left jab. He was backing Judah up and it seemed Judah couldn't counter. He was too busy ducking the powerful right Tsyzu was throwing behind the jab. The whole round went like that, and even the pro Judah commentators had to give Tsyzu credit that he was winning the fight. He was aggressive, and Judah had no answer but to slide around and try to avoid the punches. Just as it became obvious that Tsyzu might be proving a point with his strength as Judah dropped his hands seemingly trying to be a Muhammad Ali type dancing master, Tsyzu threw a jab and followed with a right that almost connected flush. Judah backed up by instinct, but with his hands still down another hammer like right cross landed flush and Judah went down hard!
"Yes!!!" yelled the crowd in the bar almost in chorus and to a man. The crowd at Cozy's money was on Judah but for some reason they were happy that his hands down defense had been cracked by Tsyzu's booming right hand! Judah got up quickly, but the craziest thing happened. His head turned to Tsyzu and he started to "trash talk", but his body had other ideas; It staggered and collapsed back on the canvas! Immediately the referee Jay Nady stopped the fight, and as Judah complained again he started to fall and Nady had to hold him erect! There was only one second left in the round.
What followed in the soda store was shouting, hand slapping, and smiles all around. Even the younger guys who rooted and bet Judah, shook their heads at what happened.
"Glass chin," calmly said Sam Nader, a gigantic dark guy who wore a long beard, and owned a motorcycle repair shop on Michigan avenue. "You can't teach that stuff. The Russian took his best shot, but Judah couldn't take his, Rock." "Yeah, " I answered. But I knew it was more than that.
As Zab Judah made a fool out of himself with his post fight hysterics of pushing the referee, throwing his stool up in the air, and having to be held back by his father as he yelled and screamed, the crowd at Cozy's that once supported him and had believed he was one of the great ones just turned away.
"That's messed up," said Raul Cruz, a local gangleader with a fade haircut. "He's just making a fool out of himself. Hes acting like a real punk. He ain't nothing."
"He got his silly ass knocked out," said Jimmy Murphy, a husky pint sized muscle man with flaming dark eyes and long black hair. "He looked like a hell of jerk too. He was turning to dis' Tsyzu while his ass was falling all over the place knocked out!"
"He wasn't shit," said Geno Perez, a tall lightskinned Puerto Rican who was a ace mechanic. "He wasn't shit and on top of it makes a jerk out of himself. He had no damm class at all."
Well I thought different. I felt sorry for Judah, but as I did I looked at Lucky Lindy Watson just sitting there and smoking his cigar. He had a slight grin on his face, and I looked at the pictures above him of the old standbys, Jack Dempsey, F.D.R., and the legendary Skeeter McClure who originated this joint. "Left jab," I said to Lucky. "Left jab moving your opponent back, straight right hand, aggression, condition and a good chin. That's what it was Lucky. The simple basic stuff. All the hype, big talk, flash and media bullshit about Judah didn't matter Lucky."
"Values," said Lucky, as he puffed on his cigar, blowing out some smoke, his hands on his black suspenders. "Its always values Rock. Values wins fights back in the thirties, forties, fifties, and now. Its values Rock. Tsyzu had the values tonight and Judah didn't. Boxing don't change kid. The people might, but boxing don't. Its still values. Boxing is life and life is boxing. Values kid."
I just shook my head. You pick up the strangest wisdom in this neighborhood in the strangest places. I had learned something again, or should I say relearned something. Thats why I love this place and the old Hood, and will be there at the next big fight trying to learn something more. Let the better healed guys watch the fights in swank bars or the big houses. Give me Cozy's and Lucky Lindy and the fellows.