09-05-2011, 01:06 PM
"There will be four rounds, lasting three minutes each," the MC said, enunciating every syllable. "For the first qualifying round, we have, at two hundred and fifteen pounds, Tom Draveling!"
Draveling held up his hands, hailing the crowd. The MC continued, "And his opponent, at two hundred twenty pounds, Glen Ellsworth!"
Ellsworth waved to the audience indifferently, obviously wanting to get down to business. The fighters warmed up by stretching, shadowboxing, and twisting their necks and limbs while the referee took over for the MC. The ref summoned the two boxers to center ring; they tapped gloves as a token of respect. "Round One," the ref said.
The bell clanged, and Ellsworth and Draveling exchanged blows under the observant eyes of the judges. After four rounds, Draveling was ruled the winner, eligible to go on to the next stage. Ellsworth staggered out of the arena, bruised and battered.
"Damn good fight there, kid," Springs said. "That Draveling's got a good arm."
"Wait until you see George," Criss countered.
The MC reentered the ring. "For the second qualifying round, we have, at two hundred eighteen pounds, George Strumpolis!"
The Loyals in the arena went wild, screaming and chanting George's name and holding up their posterboard signs over their heads. George waved to Criss' fans, now his fans for tonight, as he climbed into the ring. Springs was astonished at the crowd's reaction. "You'd think he was the heavyweight champion of the world with that kind of reception," he commented.
"And his opponent," the MC shouted into the microphone, "at two hundred twenty two pounds, Greg Theodoros!"
The Loyals booed loudly, drowning out the cheers from the rest of the audience. Theodoros climbed into the ring, ignoring the animosity of the Loyals, and waved his gloved hand over his head. "Theodoros," said Springs to Criss. "Sounds like another Greek to me."
"Just a coincidence," Criss said drily.
George and Theodoros tapped gloves respectfully, took their stances, then waited for the bell. A pause, no longer than a heartbeat, then KLAAAANNNGG! The match was on. Theodoros came at George with his left. George blocked it with his right elbow and hopped away. Theodoros came in swinging, but George socked him in the chest with his powerful right hook. Theodoros was unbalanced but came back with a devastating right cut to George's head. George reeled from the blow. The Loyals screamed for him to rally. He regained his composure long enough to receive a numbing blow to the chest, payback for the one he gave Theodoros. The Loyals cried out to their champion to come back.
Furious now, George went on the offensive, hammering Theodoros wherever he could connect. The Loyals went ballistic at this powerful display of brute force from their idol's cousin. They cheered, they whooped, they screamed for more. Finally, the bell rang, signallng the end of the first round. Both fighters retreated to their corners, exhausted. Impulsively, Criss hopped the counter and ran to his cousin's side, heedless of his mother's cries for him to come back. Those Loyals who saw him cheered; some took pictures of him at George's corner.
Seamus Linehan stood second for George, waiting with a bottle of water and a towel. "Good goin', Georgie," he said, handing his fighter a towel and water. "Remember to pace yerself; ye don't wanta be wearin' yerself out before the final round."
George nodded, panting. Criss trotted up to his cousin's corner. "George!" he shouted. "George!"
He took George's arm, damp with sweat. "I'm here for you, George," he said encouragingly. "You can do it! We're all here for you!"
George looked down at Criss and smiled through his padded helmet. "Thanks, Criss," he said. "But you'd better get back now. The second round's gonna begin any minute."
"I'm with you, George!" Criss cried. "I'm with you all the way!"
Linehan clapped a heavy hand on Criss' shoulder. "Ye heard the man!" he snapped. "Off wit' ye!"
With that, he shoved Criss aside, away from George's corner. The Loyals screamed for him as a security guard escorted him back to his seat. Criss made a feeble wave and sat down by Springs. His mother scowled at him from the next seat over. This was George's night, not his, she reminded him. Before Criss could protest, the bell rang for Round Two.
The second round was much like the first; both fighters pummeling each other into submission. When George nearly went down, the Loyals cried hysterically. When Theodoros went down, they cheered wildly. Neither man, however, yielded to the other; they stopped only when the bell rang, ending the round.
Criss wanted to rejoin his cousin, but a warning look from his mother kept him in his seat. "Relax," Springs said. "He's fine. He's got one helluva right arm there, your cousin! I wager he'll win in the third."
"It ain't over 'til it's over," Criss stated. "We still got two more rounds to go."
Round Three began. Despite exhaustion, George and Theodoros went at it as if it was only the first round. Theodoros came at George with his right. George skipped away, feinted with his right and delivered a hard left to Theodoros's jaw. Theodoros went spinning, but came back with a blow of his own to George's head. George doubled over, his head throbbing. Suddenly, he felt a crushing weight come crashing down on the back of his neck, sending him plummeting to the mat. The crowd was stunned for a moment. The Loyals screamed frantically for George to get up again. The ref blew the whistle. "Illegal move, minus three points," he informed the crowd.
The bell rang, ending Round Three. George was escorted to his corner by Linehan. Again, Criss wanted to rush to George's side, but this time Springs stopped him. "It's all part of boxing, Angel," he reminded him. "He's gotta take his punches like the rest of 'em. There ain't nothin' you can do about it but sit tight until the final bell."
Criss sat helplessly, watching Linehan revive his cousin with a bottle of water. "C'mon, George!" he cried out. "You gotta pull through for this one! Do it for the family! You can do it, George! We're all pulling for you!"
The bell for Round Four clanged. George stood up from his corner and stepped up to Theodoros, his game face firmly on. Before Theodoros could take a stance, George hammered him with his fiercest right cut. He didn't give his opponent time to block or slip away, but kept punishing him for his near fatal blow to the back of his neck. Criss, Springs, JD and the Loyals cheered him on as George pounded Theodoros into the mat.
"Go George! Go George!"
"Kick his ass, George!"
"Come on, George!"
The final bell sounded. George withdrew. Theodoros stood there in the ring, swaying like a reed, panting. The cheering died down as the MC came into the ring with the judges' results. "The winnah, with twenty-eight points...George Strumpoliiiiiis!!"
Criss sprang out of his seat, yelling like a maniac. The Loyals screamed as if Cousin George had won the heavyweight title. Even Dimitra stood and applauded her nephew's victory. George held up his gloved hands, savoring the accolades. Even sourpuss Seamus Linehan broke out in a wide Irish grin for the Greek's win over his rival's team. It was a glorious moment for them all.
"There will be a fifteen-minute break," the MC announced, "until the next qualifying round."
The seats emptied quickly. Criss, JD, Dimitra and Springs left the arena to go into the lobby. "I knew George would win!" Criss crowed. "I knew he would! With a right hook like his, he couldn't lose!" He stopped suddenly. "You think we can go backstage and see him?" he asked eagerly.
Springs shook his head. "Not after a fight," he said. "He's gotta shower, get a rubdown. He won't be available for a while yet."
Criss thought about that. "Yeah, maybe you're right," he conceded. He checked his watch. "Well, I gotta go now," he said. "I'll see you guys later."
"Wait a minute," Springs said. "You ain't stayin' for the rest of the match?"
"Sorry, but I got a live show to do tonight," Criss explained. "I could only stay long enough to see George." He gave his mother a peck on the cheek. "Later, Mom," he said quickly. "Love ya."
"I love you, too, Christopher," she said.
"I love you more."
Criss ducked out of the lobby before he could be mobbed by the Loyals again. He had to make it back to the Luxor in time for his live show, and there was no time for more autographs or pictures. Springs could only shake his head in dismay.
"He's gonna miss a helluva fight," he said regretfully.
"Well, at least he stayed long enough to see George," Dimitra said. "That's the important thing."
"You stayin' for the rest of the match, Didi?"
Dimitra thought about it. "Well, I am rather tired," she said. "Now that I've seen George's fight, there's really no need for me to stay any longer. I think I'll just go home now."
"Well, I for one am staying," Springs insisted. "I paid good money to see this fight, and I want my money's worth." He turned to JD. "You drivin' your ma back home?"
JD nodded. "We've all had a long day of it," he said. "Nice seein' you again, Springs."
Springs gave Dimitra a hug. "You take care now, Didi," he said. "Come over to my place for dinner sometime, okay?"
Dimitra gave Springs a kiss on the cheek. "I look forward to seeing you again, Danny," she said, smiling. "Good night."
JD and his mother left the Excalibur. "You really like that guy, don't you?" JD said.
"Yes, JD, I do," Dimitra said. "I like him very much." She looked at her eldest son warily. "You have no objection about that, do you?"
"No. Why should I?"
"Because I went through a lot of trouble with Christopher about it when we first met," Dimitra replied. "He became very overprotective of me when Danny and I first went out together. I had to sit him down and explain to him that Danny is not taking his father's place in my life, that we're just friends. I hope you're not feeling the same way he did."
"Mom, I assure you, I have no objections about you seeing Danny Springer," JD protested. "He's a nice guy, really he is! So what if he was in the mob--if he's good to you, he makes you happy, I see no problem with it."
"Good. So long as you understand."
"Okay, then, let's go home and forget about it."
(to be continued)