It's an hour after serial knockout artist Julio Cesar Chavez has made Mesa's Scott "Pink Cat" Walker his latest victim.
Walker is wandering around Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with his girlfriend, looking little the worse for wear. He tries his hand at a $1 slot, but his luck with the machine is no better than in the boxing ring.
Several fight fans politely tap Walker on the shoulder to ask for his autograph or take his photo. Walker obliges, automatically assuming the classic boxer's pose for the latter.
His moment, his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has passed him by, and he knows it. Walker sobbed briefly in the ring after referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight with a few seconds left in the second round.
He wasn't hurt that badly, Walker had implored of Cortez, in a boxer's time-honored tradition of understating the damage. It's true Chavez hadn't dispatched the Pink Cat directly to never-never land. And it's probably true that, if the two fighters' roles miraculously had been reversed, the ref wouldn't have stopped the fight so prematurely.
Suddenly, however, Chavez-Walker was in the past. The real reason for this whole exercise--a chance to promote boxing's next superfight between Chavez and Oscar de la Hoya--immediately took center stage.
And what a stage. In boxing and in Vegas, hyperbole runs amok. After the fight, Top Rank Incorporated promoter Bob Arum told hundreds of boxing scribes, "In the next several weeks, we promise the greatest press conferences in the history of sports."
No one even chuckled.
This, however, is no exaggeration: Millions of dollars rode on Chavez beating Walker and De la Hoya defeating Darryl Tyson on February 9. If either underdog somehow had won, many lives would have been altered, many fortunes lost.
Arum had been heard muttering to himself at the February 8 weigh-in, "Let's get this thing over and done with."
Arum's people dubbed the Chavez-Walker and De la Hoya-Tyson matches as "Prelude to Glory," with the subtitle, "Two fights that will lead to this summer's super-lightweight championship."
Boxing aficionados ache to see Chavez fight De la Hoya. The match will pit the great Mexican warrior against the "Golden Boy" Olympian from East Los Angeles. It promises to be the most significant match-up between Latinos since the contras took on the Sandinistas. Come to think of it, the $50 million the fight is expected to generate may rival a banana-republic war.
The $62,500 Walker collected--Top Rank added $7,500 shortly before the fight--was more than he'd made in his 25 previous fights combined. Under the tutelage of his father, Mack, and veteran trainer Chuck McGregor, Walker had trained tirelessly to prepare for Chavez. It was a golden opportunity to make a name for himself and earn much-bigger paydays.
The night before the fight, Walker had spied a penny in a sidewalk crack near the pool at Caesars.
"My lucky penny," he'd said. "It's all goin' my way."
That may have marked his last brush with luck on this lost road trip. Caesars Palace calls itself the place where legends are made, but the Pink Cat wasn't to become one.
Walker actually won the first round on two of the three judges' cards. But the outcome was irrevocably settled midway through the second when Chavez connected on a powerful overhand right. Walker has a big heart, and he took great punishment as he tried to fight back and survive the round.
But it wasn't to be. After a brief trip back to the hotel room he shared with his father, Walker donned his dirty old cowboy hat and boots and headed for the casino.
His trainer, McGregor, felt terribly for the kid and his boxing future. A loss to Chavez wouldn't have been the end of the world--the almost-invincible champ is now 97-1-1. But an early-round stoppage was the worst-case scenario for the 26-year-old Walker, who has toiled in obscurity for years.
McGregor and a few friends retire to one of the lounges that dot Caesars. There, Earl Turner and the band perform a top-drawer blend of soul, pop and country music before an ebullient audience.
McGregor must return to Mesa in several hours to tend to one of his top prospects, heavyweight Obed Sullivan. He's going to think about things a while before he offers any suggestions to Walker about the next step; retirement is a definite option.
Walker stops by the bar and says dolefully, "All I want to do right now is play some music. Maybe these guys will let me play Vegas twice in one night. Maybe I can do something right."
Walker is a rockabilly composer of some renown, and his wish isn't outlandish. But Turner and company don't have a guitarist, so the idea floats away like the Pink Cat's dreams of beating Chavez.
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He decides to have a beer--his first in weeks--and enjoy the music for a while. Walker is miserable and a bit embarrassed.
"Chavez is great and all that," he says, "but if I only could have gotten through the first three rounds, like Chuck had said, I would have been sailing. I could smell it. Then he caught me. Shit."
With that, the Pink Cat grabs his girlfriend's hand and saunters away.