Death of Capt. America Samurai Dr. Doom


My interest in bodybuilding was not inspired by an athletic aesthetic, but rather by an instinct to survive. The local YMCA offered memberships to underprivileged kids, and I qualified. The weight room was adequately equipped, but had no instructor, so I simply copied other members' routines. Because I was interested in muscle mass and fighting power, I concentrated on upper-body work, primarily bicep and tricep curls, lateral flies, inclined-board sit-ups, and bench presses.

Every day after school, I worked out for three hours at the Y, a welcome alternative to the Razors' daily ambush. One room at the facility was dedicated to boxing, where I spent about half my time, at first, watching, then, participating. I got a head start when one of the regulars asked me what I knew about the sport.

"Nothing," I replied. "That's why I'm here!" He noticed a cut I had on my cheekbone and the slight swelling around one eye. He nodded. He was called Gibraltar Joe around the gym, perhaps just as much for the fact that he lived in an area by that name as for the shape of his body. He had no neck; his shoulders simply tapered into his head. He looked more like a wrestler, but he packed a killer punch. I saw him once in a brawl at a dance club named Playland, where he decked a 6'6" state cop, knocking him off his feet and sailing through the air until he collapsed into a wall, just like in the movies, but without a winch cable.

"Let's see you throw a coupla punches, kid," he said, pointing to the heavy bag nearby. I did my best and Joe laughed, slapped me so hard on the back my liver hurt. "Whereja learn that, from some nuns?"

"Hey, I told you I didn't know anything--was I kiddin'?" Joe laughed again and stepped up to the bag. "First rule, never lead with your right--unless you're left-handed, which you're not." He corrected my facing-front stance by kicking my left foot forward and turning me sideways. "That gives Ôem less target to hit, get it?"

He told me to keep my head down and my hands up. "Whoever's after you will be punchin' down, 'cause they gotta be bigger than you. Keep your chin against your chest and they'll have a helluva time knocking you out."

He talked for almost an hour, during which I learned more about throwing a punch than in an entire childhood riddled with skirmishes. He told me that a right hook must be thrown from the left foot to have any power, that it's the shoulders and back--not the arm--that puts dynamite in a punch, and that you can't throw a good punch while youÕre moving backward.

I'd see Joe about twice a week for more lessons. He taught me how to hit the speed bag (on which I practiced relentlessly) and the heavy bag (not my favorite pastime). He explained combinations and footwork, how to bob and weave to confuse an opponent, and how to cover up to minimize damage.

He analyzed my strengths and weaknesses. "You've got a lot of stamina, kid. Most of these guys can't hold their arms up after fifty punches." He moved his hand back and forth, asked me to hit it. "You got accuracy and speed, too. That's alright, 'cause it donÕt do you no good to throw a punch if you can't hit nothin'. An' lookit these . . ."

He pointed to my knuckles, then made a fist. "See, my hands are like mallots, sledgehammers, but your knuckles are as sharp as knives. Hit somebody in the face with those, they're gonna bleed. A lotta guys quit when they see themselves bleedin'.

"Most of the fights you're in happen on the ground, not standin' on the canvas Marquis of Queensbury. So fight dirty, use your elbows and knees, head butt 'em in their faces--whatever it takes!" Joe showed me the knockout zones on either side of the jaw and the point of the chin.

"Thing is, you got no knockout power. You gotta keep pushin' those weights. Til then, you gotta use the ol' sucker punch!" He demonstrated, threw a lightning left that grazed my face when I wasn't expecting it. "Get the idea, kid? Throw it when they're not ready, throw it accurately, and throw it hard--then get the hell outta there!"

I practiced the sucker punch like my life depended on it, which it did. Always positioning my opponent to my left, I'd begin by digging my left foot into the ground for leverage. My knees would bend like springs and my hips would swivel left, followed by my shoulders--and this was almost before there was any arm movement. Then, my right would flash up and twist to put an extra snap on the end of it. I practiced it on the heavy bag thousands of times, until it was faster than the thought, like Marshal Dillon slapping leather. Tenth of a second.

Whenever I sensed real trouble, I never waited to get hit first; I used the punch and it worked. A fist battering the nose is very painful and makes an opponent's eyes water; it's tough to fight when you can't see. If they didn't go down, I'd try a kick to the groin or the shins. A knee smash to the face would take almost anyone out. Kidney punches were disabling. The throat and eyes were additional weak spots. If they were down but not out, I'd jump on their heads with both feet, pounding their faces into the cement.

When it came down to me or them, there was no question in my mind about what needed to be done. I often carried a small piece of pipe filled with lead for extra weight. Eventually, it was replaced by brass knuckles, which are even more persuasive. With each successive fight, win or lose, I became a less-desirable target.

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