“Alright Law that’s you done for today.” I bent my head back and blew hard air.
I stood shattered as all around me, the other patrons of Macklin’s Gym continued to work. The air was filled with the usual three-beat drumming of the speed bags, the sound of wire ropes striking the wooden floor and the “Shhhh, shhhh” of people shadowboxing in the corner of the room.
“How did I do, Al?” I asked.
“Nae bad this time son.” Al said in his rich Glaswegian brogue. “Could use a polish. You need to stay looser and you’ve got a fair way to go yet.”
I nodded. Maybe I was slightly despondent because Al’s face lit up. “Aye, but I’ll make a boxer of you yet.” The old man slapped me on the back a couple of times for good measure.
Albert “Doc” Docherty had been a pro boxer back in the day. Born in Glasgow, Scotland and parents from Ireland. Albert worked two jobs in his youth. A full day down at a construction site was followed by a bar shift pouring drinks for the city slicksters in the wealthy part of the Merchant City. But even the daily toil of the work site and the late nights rarely deterred Albert from the two training sessions a day he’d somehow fit in.
In the mornings he would flip the mattress of his bed over to make a primitive punchbag much to his parent’s consternation. This was followed by a five mile run to his day job on the construction site. When that shift ended, he would run down to the gym to train before showering and beginning his night shift at the bar. And while the other employees enjoyed some banter and their free drink at the end of the night, Albert was already making his way home to sleep only to begin the whole cycle again the next day.
The name “Doc” had nothing to do with his surname Docherty which was a common misgiving. His long time friend and business partner Gordon Macklin made a rare visit to the gym one day. On that occasion he came over to talk to Albert while I was mid-session. While Albert disappeared into the office, Gordon decided to verse me in some boxing history.
“What a jab he had.” Gordon said.
“That’s why we called him “Doc”. It wouldn’t matter how hard you covered up he’d find that gap and the angles he’d throw it from.” Gordon shook his head as if the solution still eluded him.
“He had some power as well. He could be two inches from you but he could still knock the wind out of you. We’d spar together since we were kids but once we grew up a bit and Doc started to get some strength, you couldn’t get near him. He was a different class.”
I’d done my homework on him. The Doc had been a genuine contender in the welterweight division back in the day. Back when the titles were far fewer and the opposition in that particular division had an abundance in riches. A detached retina had cut his career short before it really had a chance to blossom but Albert, who had a heart even larger than his talent, scraped together enough money to put himself through college and studied architecture. Long years after a successful business behind him, he returned together with Gordon, to his first great love which was boxing.
I asked him if he ever regretted his career ending so soon but all he did was smile and say. “I think maybe that was the Good Lord’s way of wanting me to go one better and teach these good folk how to box instead.”
He meant it too. The Doc’s boxing legacy was pinned on the far wall where numerous black and white photos stood. There was the standard “fists up” pose but my favourite was a picture of Gordon and Albert maybe no more than seventeen or eighteen together with several men, part of a construction site. How callow they both looked compared to the men standing next to them. The whole world was there for them and as faded as that photo was today, the Doc’s eyes were still shining.
I walked towards the ring trying to bite apart the knot tying my gloves and watched one boxer training with another. “Come on, come on. Work him son. Work him.” Called out the trainer at the ropes.
I watched as a young boxer put a fast series of combinations together only for the other, boxer to slip them casually and turn him round into the ropes.
“Let me help you with that son.”
“Thanks Al.” I said giving him my glove.
“He’s good.” I said nodding at the other boxer in the ring. He was wearing a faded grey Nike T-shirt
“Him?” Said Al. I nodded.
“Would you believe me if I told you he’s lost a hundred fights.”
“No way!” I said.
“Aye. Don’t let that statistic fool you son. When I tell the youngsters that, they start to take the mick and make fun of him but you know what? None of those youngsters can do what he does. His offense isn’t so great but…” he paused and smiled. “One of the best defences in the country I reckon.”
I watched as I saw the boxer land a seemingly flawless punch that sprayed sweat into the sky but the man in the faded Nike T-shirt only smiled and seemed to laugh it off. “…Only don’t you go telling him that.” Said Al. “Riot Act’s got a big enough ego as it is.”
“Riot Act?” I said laughing.
Al chuckled and nodded.
I walked into the office which was neatly tucked away in the back of the gym. My month’s fees were due. Gordon the gym’s owner, rarely visited nowadays and Albert was more of a coach and trainer. The man who did most of the administration and book work was another man named Steve Sidwell. He was on the phone and just waved me in.
“Yeah, yeah.” Steve said on the phone. He motioned me to sit down and then he made another gesture that indicated he’d only be a few seconds.
“You don’t say? I’m not sure pal. It’s pretty short notice. Most of my guys are unavailable. Maybe. I think I can have someone lined up though. Yeah OK cheers. I’ll let you know.” Steve put the phone down.
“You okay? What can I do you for son?”
“My month’s fees are due.” I said. Just then there came a knock at the door.
“Hey Sid you wanted to see me?” Said a voice.
“Danny boy!” Said Steve gregariously. Steve looked at me. “Sorry son, this won’t take a few minutes.” He said apologetically.
I turned round and there was the man named Riot Act. He had taken off his face guard now but he still had his gloves on. I put him in his early thirties. His hair was short and it was the type that despite being sweaty still managed to look good.
“How much do you weigh just now?” Said Steve.
“One-four-seven. Why?” Said Danny.
“That’s close enough. Are you free tonight? Just got a last minute call from Iain McGregor up in Glasgow. They’ve had a last minute cancellation. Their man’s come down with some kind of stomach bug and they need someone for tonight’s fight.”
“I don’t know man. Karen and me are supposed to be going out tonight.”
“Come on Seds.” Said Steve in a pleading tone. “It’s a nice little earner. Three grand.”
“Who am I meant to be fighting?”
“Some new kid looking to make a name for himself. The usual thing. Who cares? What do you reckon?”
“Sixty-forty.” Said Danny.
“The usual. Sixty for me. Forty for you.” Said Steve.
“Fuck that. Sixty for me. Forty for you. You’re the desperate one remember? Unless you know another fighter at one-four-seven who can fight tonight.”
Steve started to laugh. “Nice try Seds. I’ll tell you what, since I’m in a jam for fighters. I’ll make this a one off fifty-fifty right down the middle. Job’s cash in hand.”
“Fifty-fifty then. And you’re driving. Get another guy as well.”
“Another guy?” Frowned Steve.
“I’m not staring at your ugly mug for six rounds. Find another guy for our corner.”
“Are you serious? It’ll cost us.” Steve said.
“Yeah I’m serious. No offence but you’re fucking depressing company as well. I’m not spending five hours in a car with you.”
“Well he can get paid out of your share then. Where the fuck am I going to find a guy from at this short notice?”
“What about you Bruce Lee?” Said Riot Act looking at me.
“Jesus.” Said Steve with his head in his hands.
“Me?” I said looking at him.
“Yeah.” Danny winked. “I’ve seen you training around the gym. Know anything about being a corner man?”
“No.” I said laughing.
“There’s nothing to it. Hold some water for me to sip, a bucket for me to spit in, wipe my head and face occasionally. You ever been to a fight? Ringside seat. Think of it as some work experience kid.”
“Work experience?” I laughed and did he just call me Kid? I was probably older than he was.
“What’s my take?” I said.
“The thrill of watching The Riot Act isn’t enough for you? You should come man.”
“What time’s the fight?” I said.
“I don’t know, what time is the fight Steve?”
“Eight.” Said Steve.
“Eight.” The Riot Act repeated looking at me.
This whole thing was becoming surreal but I was actually really enjoying it. I thought about all the bargaining programmes I’d watched on television Dominic Littlewood sprang to mind. “Boys I’m not doing it for free.” I said. “My month’s gym fees and throw in a nice dinner after the fight and I’ll come.”
The Riot Act grinned and nodded. “Alright Bruce.” He said approvingly.
I have to admit, even with the racial jokes I liked the guy immediately. He had charisma in abundance. It was just impossible not to warm to the guy. He had something about him. He was like a slick salesman but without the dick factor.
“Your gym fees are on Steve and guess what Steve? Dinner’s on Steve too.” Said The Riot Act winking at Steve. “I know this nice place. Good lighting. Good food. Pretty waitresses. Good enough for you Bruce?”
Here was this guy, a professional fighter and he was inviting me to go ringside with him. Was I honestly going to turn that down? “Sure. I’ll do it.” I said.
“Good man.” Said the Riot Act. “What’s your name?”
“Law.” I said.
“That a first name or a last name?”
“What’s your first name?”
“Detroit.” I said.
“Fuck off.” Said Riot Act grinning. “That’s never your real name.” That was a reaction I was used to by now. I took out a credit card from my wallet and showed it to him.
“That’s really your name man. Fuck me. What a name.” He said grinning. “You’re like an oriental McLovin”
Even I hadn’t heard that one before. I started to laugh.
“I’m getting good vibes from this. I’m Danny. Danny Seddon. Most of my mates just call me Dan or Seds.” The Riot Act held out a glove. I made a fist and gave it a light thump. He nodded and grinned.
“Alright. We’re on for tonight then.”
“What time is it now?” I said.
“Ten-thirty-seven.” Said Steve. “It’s about a six hour drive up to Glasgow. Let’s meet up in a couple of hours back here and we’ll drive up. I’ve got to pop out quickly and run some errands.
“Where’s the fight?” Asked The Riot Act.
“I know the place.” Danny said looking at me. “I’m going home to get my other shit together and talk to Karen, I’ll see you boys later.”
“Nice glasses.” He said looking at me. We were in the car park.
“Thanks”. I said.
“Where the fuck is he?” Said the Riot Act. “I thought I was late.”
I had no idea. “Not sure.” I said.
He stood there in his Todds and jeans, a well-tailored black shirt and a leather jacket. He could have easily come off a catwalk in Milan but somehow gave the impression he didn’t give a shit. I was wearing something not too dissimilar but I was convinced I didn’t look nearly as good. I was beginning to feel like Hiro Nakamura stood next to David Beckham. Lucky bastard.
The Riot Act took out his pristine looking Samsung Edge and dialled Steve Sidwell’s number. “Useless. It’s engaged. You wouldn’t think it possible for a person to be non-contactable in this day and age but there you go.”
“It’s starting to get a bit late.” I said.
“Fuck it. We’ll just have to go without him.”
“Can we do that?” I asked.
“I’ve had a few fights for MGM. I’ve been there a few times. They know me over there.”
“Do you want me to drive us in my car?” I asked.
“Mine’s due a service actually. Better to play it safe and take yours if you don’t mind… unless you drive a Robin Reliant or some other piece of shit. Please tell me it’s road worthy.”
“It’s road worthy, don’t worry.” I said.
We piled our stuff into my Jeep Cherokee and began to set off.
“Nice ride.” The Riot Act said.
“Yeah, it’s okay.” I said. “Steering’s a little light but it’s not a bad drive. Probably wouldn’t go for one again. If you know anyone looking for a Jeep Cherokee for sale…”
“What do you do for a living Law-man?”
“I work offshore.”
“Like on the rigs?”
“No, on the boats. It’s IT-type, boring stuff.”
“How long are you away for?”
“Five weeks on, five weeks off.”
“What’s that like?”
“Okay. You probably spend your five weeks off trying to cram everything you missed in your five weeks away – miss every other birthday, every other Christmas, every other anniversary etc etc but I like it. Pays the bills.”
“What about you? How long have you been pro for?”
“Thirteen years.” Answered the Riot Act.
I knew this already having Googled him up but it was good to get a conversation flowing.
“Nine wins, a-hundred-and-one losses and one draw.” He continued.
“A hundred-and-one losses?!” I said. I knew this too but as I looked at The Riot Act, that all too familiar grin had spread infectiously across his face and we both sat there laughing. Slowly at first and then for some reason it turned into uncontrolled laughter. “How the hell does that happen?” I said wiping a tear away from my eye.
“You ever heard of the word journeyman?”
I nodded. “Do you know what one is?”
I racked my brain. “Not sure. What is it? Like someone who practices his trade all over the place?”
“Not quite.” Said the Riot Act. “Boxing’s basically a business Law-man, first and foremost. No matter what they say about the Noble Art and the Marquis of Queensbury and all that other shit. Boxing’s business – especially small hall boxing. Let’s say you’re young and starting out. Your typical manager doesn’t necessary go for the guy with the most talent although don’t get me wrong, that does play a part. It’s down to which fighter can sell the most tickets. It’s a popularity contest. Doesn’t matter if a fighter’s technically great – it’s useless unless they can fill a hall. So that’s your first hurdle right away. You need to be able to sell. So once your hall is full that brings you to another matter. The home and away fighter.”
The Riot Act continued to explain:
“Home and away fighter has nothing to do with geography or where you’re from. It refers to more the support or the manager that owns the venue. You’re a manager with this up and coming fighter, your hall is full and it’s full of support for your new boy but you need someone to fight against. Now it’s important to keep your boy popular so he can keep selling tickets and that’s where someone like me comes in. The away fighter. I’ll come in and take that fight. I get paid and in return I’ll box. I’ll give that guy a boxing education, blood him a little but I’m not necessarily there to win. A guy like me will take it all the way to the last round in most cases. Then, it’s down to a points decision and unless I pull off an incredibly convincing performance, it’ll be the home fighter that wins. The home fighter, mister up-and-coming-popular gets another win on their record. The crowd goes home happy eager for the next fight and the away fighter, me, gets paid and I go off to the next fight.”
I sat there fascinated. “Sounds depressing.” I said voicing my immediate thoughts aloud. “Don’t you ever want to win? Don’t you ever get tired of losing?”
“At first yeah but let’s say I do win then the first thing that happens is I won’t get a call for a long time.
“What manager is going to put their prospect up against someone unpredictable who might hand their boy a beating? They lose out. No more tickets, the hot prospect’s name loses a little bit of its shine and someone like me won’t get another fight anytime soon. No income.”
The next few minutes were held in silence as we both considered the realities.
“Journeyman. A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding.” Riot Act recited.
As we edged closer to Glasgow I began to get more of a feel for Danny Seddon. Despite his losing record the Riot Act was a consummate professional. He fought across two weight divisions sometimes taking three or four fights a month. He had built an arsenal of survival tricks throughout his a-hundred-and-twelve fight career in which he hadn’t suffered a cut for the last fifty fights. Any injury meant the boxing board would prevent him from boxing for twenty eight days. Twenty eight days where he would have no income.
He worked in hostile venues where the crowd would mostly be against him. Venues where he endured horrendous abuse at times. The Riot Act told me how in the early days, Karen, his wife of eight years, accompanied him to one of those venues and left in tears unable to listen to the vitriol of the home crowd. That was the first and last time he ever took her to one of his fights.
When I heard “MGM” I’d pictured a glamorous hotel with bright lights, lasers and dry ice. What I got was a dressed up sports hall in Bellahouston.
We were sat in the temporary office of the manager of one Jamie McGowan, one of those young hopeful types that the Riot Act had described on the journey up. Jamie’s manager was a swarthy, overweight man named Freddie Benson. He eyed the two of us suspiciously and while I’d warmed to the Riot Act immediately, the reverse seemed to be true for this man Freddie Benson. He had an unfortunate squashed, pig-like face and stone eyes that held a lifetime supply of suspicion and mistrust. He was flanked by two toughs, in muted silence, wearing matching over-tight T-shirts. They stood like two stone gargoyles.
“So where’s Steve then?” He asked.
“He couldn’t make it.” Said the Riot Act.
“He mentioned he had someone lined up. So you’re Danny Seddon.”
“Guilty.” Smiled Riot Act.
There was no humour in Freddie Benson’s face. “Two grand. You’ll get your money after the fight.”
The Riot Act looked at me and I stared back at him. Maybe it was because I was the elder statesman but I suddenly felt compelled to say something.
“Excuse me, Mr. Benson, but Steve said Mr. Seddon’s cut would be three-thousand.” Mr. Seddon – I liked that. So did the Riot Act, I think. He nodded approvingly at me.
“That’s right Mr.Benson.” Said the Riot Act. “I know…” But he was cut off abruptly by Benson.
“You don’t like the terms of the agreement then you and the chink can fuck off back over Hadrian’s Wall.”
Freddie Benson leant back in his chair and fixed his stone eyes on him. The Riot Act turned and looked at me as if he wasn’t sure he heard Freddie Benson correctly. He gave me a look and it was the same thing I was thinking. Who the hell is this guy?
“Money up front.” Said the Riot Act.
“Fuck off. Half now; half later.”
“Law-man we’re out of here.” Said Riot Act never taking his eyes away from Freddie Benson. “How many people are in this place? A thousand? Two thousand? What is that fifty, maybe a hundred grand? Good luck refunding those ticket sales mate.”
The Riot Act got up. So did I. We were just about to turn when Freddie Benson spoke up. “Wait.”
He slid open one of his drawers and took out two bricks of notes and placed them on the table. The Riot Act laughed and shook his head in mock disbelief. “Maybe you didn’t hear Law-man earlier but the deal was for three grand.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me earlier.” Said Freddie Benson getting up. He leaned forward placing his two fat arms on the desk. “My deal was with Steve Sidwell – not fucking Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Two grand up front. That’s your deal.”
The Riot Act walked forward, leaned over the desk and placed a hand on the cash. He quickly snapped his head sideways cracking Freddie Benson’s jaw. The two Gargoyles stepped forward instantly. “HOLD IT!” Commanded Benson. The two toughs froze in their tracks.
Freddie Benson glared at the Riot Act nursing his busted lip.
“They’re bloody good.” Said Riot Act. “What breed are they?”
“I wouldn’t get stupid if I was you.” Said Benson.
“No, they’re here already.” Said the Riot Act nodding at the two gargoyles.
“That was for insulting my friend.” The Riot Act said.
Freddie Benson smirked. He brought out a white handkerchief and dabbed the side of his lip which was already starting to swell.
He looked up at one of the gargoyles. “Take them both to their changing room.”
“YOUR WIFE’S GONNA BE A FUCKING WIDOW SEDDON!”
“YOU’RE FUCKING SHITE SEDDON!”
And those were some of the nicer insults aimed at us on the way to the ring. This wasn’t the largest hall in the world but at that moment it felt incredibly claustrophobic. “Thanks for earlier.” I said to Riot Act.
“Forget it.” He said above the catcalls. “I’m a fan of Chinese food as much as the next guy.”
I had to laugh at that.
“That fucking arsehole Benson.” He said. “I’m still fucked off at this whole thing.”
“Just forget it and try and concentrate on the fight.” I said.
I climbed up into the ring. “I’ve never done this before, you know.”
“Piece of piss Law-man. You’ll pick it up no problem. Just be handy with the water and the bucket. Keep my face mopped. Bit of vaseline. Bright lad like you. It’ll be a doddle.”
We watched as the home fighter made his way into the ring. He had to be in his very early twenties. A mop of dark hair. We watched as he did a little shuffle and shadowbox to the delight of the spectators. Young Jamie McGowan appeared to be milking every drop of the adulation. The Riot Act looked at me, nodded to Jamie, and rolled his eyes heavenward. His face said it all. Young, dumb and too full of cum.
What a buzz this was though. I’d never felt anything like it. I loved this next bit. Always have. The part where the Ring Announcer introduced the two fighters. His rich baritone filled the entire sports centre.
“Fighting in the blue corner hailing from Kensington, London, in the purple and black shorts… weighing a hundred and forty seven pounds. His record at nine wins, a hundred-and-one losses and one draw. Ladies and gentlemen, one of the great servants of boxing. Daaanieeel, Riooot Act… Seddon.”
A chorus of boos filled the hall.
“SEDDON YOU’RE FUCKING SHITE MAN!” Came a loud call followed by laughter. The Riot Act turned round. Looking in the vague direction of the catcall… I watched as the Riot Act grabbed his balls and made a couple of kissing gestures, grinning the whole time and sparking a new wave of auditory bile.
I read the tattoo on his back just below the neck. Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem. I’d have to ask him about that one later.
“… Fighting out of the red corner weighing in at a-hundred-and-forty-six pounds, his record stands flawless at four wins, no losses and no draws. Hailing from Bellahouston, Glasgow, Jaaaamie Govan McGowan.”
There was a deafening roar that I swear, shook the sports centre.
“Hey what does that tattoo say on your back?” I asked rinsing his mouthguard.
“It’s something the old man said to me when I was a kid.” He said casually.
He was about to answer when he glanced at the referee waving him over. “Showtime.” He flashed me a grin and opened his mouth. I popped in the mouthguard. He punched me once on the shoulder and winked.
I wasn’t sure if it was the absurdity of my day getting to me… or maybe it was the Riot Act’s little display in Freddie Benson’s office. Or perhaps it was the fact that we were alone in this sports hall packed with people baying for the Riot Act’s blood. I mean, yeah The Riot Act looked annoyingly like David Beckham version two-point-zero. Did I mention he had virtually every woman we walked past doing a double take? He was like a vampire draining what little confidence I had in my ability with the opposite sex. He also had this shit-eating grin.
But with all this stuff going on… fuck me, I could almost feel myself welling up as he strode over to ring centre.
The bell sounded and I watched as the Riot Act trotted out. They sized each other up, just out of punching range, the Riot Act’s head and shoulders turning slightly and bobbing. McGowan flashed out a combination that the Riot Act just casually rolled off his shoulders.
This maybe went on for a minute and although I had a limited boxing IQ, a realization hit me and I knew for certain, the Riot Act knew it too.
The Riot Act was technically a better boxer than Jamie McGowan.
McGowan couldn’t get anywhere near him and the Riot Act knew it. I was about to get a lesson in why Danny Seddon was named “Riot Act”.
For the next six rounds the Riot Act went through his entire repertoire…
He would dance and pivot around McGowan and instead of counter punching he’d slap McGowan on the arse. He grinned and grabbed his balls repeatedly at McGowan’s supporters. He would kiss McGowan when they clinched. He pretended to wobble and hold his glove to his forehead feigning dizziness from a couple of McGowan’s punches that had no hope of hitting him. On a few occasions McGowan would appear to catch him flush with the odd punch that sent sweat spraying into the sky but the Riot Act would hold his glove to his mouth and make an “Ooooooooh!” gesture like Kenneth Williams from a Carry On movie. He’d wave his glove side to side in a “Naughty, naughty.” Gesture and just laugh.
He just completely took the piss.
Even the home support was starting to laugh and celebrate with him. It was insane. The referee had warned the Riot Act a few times already but never really acted further. In fact, I think I caught the referee laughing on more than one occasion. The Riot Act was having a great time as well. When the bell rang he’d plonk himself on the stool I brought out, arms resting out wide on the ropes – like he was sat in a jacuzzi. Jamie McGowan would stare at him from across the ring with daggers coming out of his eyes and the Riot Act would wink back, or make a kiss gesture with his lips.
“You’re doing a first class job Godzilla.” He said to me at the end of Round Four.
“Godzilla’s Japanese.” I said laughing. Then Riot Act looked at me and pulled a face like Kenneth Williams in Carry On. That now familiar “Oooooooh” that he occasionally flashed at McGowan whenever he got hit.
Riot Act looked ridiculous when he did that. The thing is, he did that impersonation so well. It was hilarious. He had me in stitches round after round. I almost had to use the sponge to wipe the tears from my eyes.
McGowan had to endure six rounds of misery before the final bell ended. The judges had no choice but to score 58-57 in favour of The Riot Act and believe me, that score really flattered McGowan.
From what the Riot Act told me in the car, a journeyman fighter will, very occasionally, get paid extra to “show a fighter around” and that was as blatant as you could get without saying “Let my man win” but in most cases, the away fighter wasn’t meant to win. The thing is, I think The Riot Act was still pissed at Freddie Benson and the way the whole evening had started.
I don’t think it happened often but tonight, I don’t think journeyman Daniel Seddon cared that he was the away fighter.
Daniel Seddon and the story of “The Journeyman” was something I thought up while reading a book by Mark Turley. Some things just flow and I really enjoyed writing this to the point where I turned it over pretty quickly. It’s my attempt at one of those funny boxing stories. The rest of the manuscript is tucked safely away but I honestly hope it’s enjoyable. I’ll dedicate it to the hard grafting athletes, and workers out there. Those men and women that are often forgotten amid the glitz, glamor and razzmatazz. If you’re interested try looking up Jody Meikle, journeyman and true entertainer.