Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days
Going toe-to-toe in the ring

By Thomas M.C Chang
Special to The Advertiser

During the Great Depression, we teenagers could have gotten into bad trouble just as teenagers do today, if we hadn’t been for terrific social agencies and their youth programs. For me, it was the Catholic Youth Organization and its amateur boxing tournaments at the gym on old Fort Street. I trained, watched matches, made friends, sparred with all of them, but never fought a real match because they all told me I was too slow, had a soft punch and a softer jaw.

So this story is about my cousin and St. Louis classmate, Walter, who one night climbed into the ring and fought the bout of his life.

It was a packed house Friday night at the old Honolulu Stadium. Suddenly the announcer boomed, "And now, in this corner, from Schofield-Wahiawa, Walter Chang, 115 pounds."

"Hey, Walter? Is that really you?" I shouted. "Yeah!" My friends had to sit me down.

Bong! The first round began. Walter was 5-foot-7 in his shoes, and his opponent was taller by one or two inches and showed a longer reach. He was older, too, and stood up straight, so he looked even taller, boxing with confidence, blocking punches nicely, throwing his left with a snap, got a game plan, looking for something. It was going to be ugly.

Walter was the terrier, constantly moving his feet, bobbing his head, gloves held head high, up to his eyes, not much of a target, flicking his left hand at his opponent’s face three or four times, then a right uppercut when the jaw opened up for a second.

Bong! First round was over. In the corner, Walter’s trainer kept motioning with his left arm and elbow. In the opposite corner, the other trainer was toweling his man, massaging his shoulders.

Bong! Second round. Both men were more intense, less cautious, throwing more glove, a lot of counter-punching, bringing in the right hand more. Walter continued to bob and weave, backpedal, push forward, sometimes even walking into a punch. The continual motion was a neat strategy. His opponent obviously preferred to stand and look for a chance to land his Sunday punch.

Then it happened: Walter threw an awkward looping left jab high up toward the guy’s ear, opening up his own left side and face. His opponents’ right glove flashed! Walter’s jaw and head made a sickening twist. The sponge in his mouth came flying out, making a high, graceful arc, landing about five feet away. Walter wobbled, but didn’t fall.

Between rounds, the referee picked up the sponge, handed it to Walter’s trainer who, out of the habit, I guess, rinsed it out in that pail of muddy, sweaty water, squeezed it dry and popped it back into Walter’s mouth, all the while rubbing his body.

Bong! Round three. The two fighters met at center ring and brushed gloves, a gesture I loved but which is not used as much today. Then, before his opponent could settle, Walter snapped off a stiff left jab, straight out, followed by another, then another, bobbing, moving in.

His opponent was definitely surprised. He blocked OK, but he wasn’t doing anything else. I was jumping up and down, yelling at the top of my lungs, "Yeah, Walter. Yeah, Walter." His message was so obvious, "Hey, man, you ain’t won this fight yet." Finally, the other guy began to box and counter-punch with some of that old authority. At the end, they were standing toe-to-toe, flailing at each other furiously.

Bong! Bong! Both fighters were so tired they just dropped their hands and trudged to their corners. Walter would find out later that his nose had been broken.

At center ring, the referee pulled out his notepad, scribbled something, then walked briskly to the neutral corners and got the judges’ scores, scribbled some more, then motioned the two fighters to come to center ring. He stood between them, grasped their gloved hands, turned to face us in the stands, waited for a long, long second, then suddenly whipped up Walter’s hand!

Thomas Chang lives in Kaimuki.

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