Boxed In

What's a nice guy like Will Hinton doing in a ring like this?

In case you missed it, Denver heavyweight Will Hinton fought former World Boxing Council champion and current contender Oliver McCall last month in a small arena at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. To say the fight did not go well for Hinton would be like suggesting that Mike Tyson has had some ups and downs in his personal life.

McCall, a menace of a fighter but also one who lugs about an Edmund Muskie-like rep as something of an emotional china doll, has been trying to claw his way back into contention ever since swiping the heavyweight title from Lennox Lewis in 1994 and then losing it a short year later to Frank Bruno. A title rematch against Lewis in 1997 started out reasonably well, then quickly turned embarrassing for McCall when, in the middle of the fight, he started weeping and refused to continue fighting. As is the case with most manly athletic pursuits, shedding tears in boxing is viewed as okay when you win, but unseemly following -- and, particularly, during -- a loss. McCall forfeited the fight, and his wife confined him to a mental institution.

McCall's blubbering was on Hinton's mind as he prepared for the bout. "Oliver McCall -- basically, he's got nothing," he explains. "No jab, no left -- just a right hand. We were hoping that I could go into the first couple rounds, hit him hard to the body, and he'd break down again."

Fighting the urge: Denver heavyweight Will Hinton.
Anthony Camera
Fighting the urge: Denver heavyweight Will Hinton.

Since losing to Lewis, however, McCall has reeled off five straight wins without bawling once, and against Hinton he managed to blink back the tears as well. The December 18 fight drew to an abrupt close when he set up Hinton with a stiff jab and then clocked him with a swooping, circular right hand. Unfortunately for the Denver fighter, all of this action occurred in the first round. It had been a very long trip for a very short fight.

The win lifted McCall's record to a respectable 34-7, 25 of those victories by KO. Hinton, meanwhile, fell to 17-15 -- a startlingly good record if you are the Denver Nuggets, but not so hot if you are a boxer looking for one final title shot. Still, with heavyweights, especially, a fight can turn on a single punch (Exhibit A: Mike Tyson's KO at the slow hands of Buster Douglas in Tokyo). And so now, a week after the battle and back in his small Aurora apartment, Hinton can't help fantasizing how things might have turned out if maybe a few punches had landed on the opposite face.

"People would have been knocking down my door," he hypothesizes. "Can you imagine? Managers would have been chasing me, because I would be up for earning some good paychecks after that."

As it was, Hinton earned 6,000 bucks plus travel money and room and board -- all for what turned out to be little more than a minor scuffle. Not bad dough for a couple minutes' work, and if you want to figure it out in terms of an hourly wage, it's probably close to what a genuine title challenger takes home. The irony of boxing finance, however, is that when a fighter really needs it, when he is scrapping in small smoky rings to build a record good enough to catch a promoter's attention, the money doesn't really matter. It only becomes important when he begins fighting on national TV for belts. Even then, the number of dollars is only partially about economics and all about respect.

"It was a little less than what I usually get," Hinton says of his most recent paycheck. "But since my record is kind of bad..." His voice trails off, then starts again. "I looked at it as an opportunity. If I beat Oliver McCall, I'm goin' somewhere. My next paycheck is fifteen, twenty grand. I'm right back in the swim of things."

Hinton's wife is a beautiful, exotic-looking woman named Trease, whom he met while taking a course at Grambling University in 1986. At the time, Hinton didn't speak to her at all, not one word. He just stared. Six years later he called her, out of the blue -- she was living in Louisiana, he was in Denver -- and asked her for a date. They've been married now for seven years; William III is four years old. It's blissful.

Like her husband, Trease doesn't care much about the money Will earned off the McCall match, but her reason has nothing to do with pugilistic opportunity and everything to do with home. Because when he's in the ring, no matter how good the opportunity is, the money will never provide the insurance she needs.

"At first," she says, "just after we started dating, I was kind of excited about him being a fighter. But then I was just praying that he'd stop. I've never told him no. But I let him know how I feel about it. During the fights, there's really not a lot I can do except pray and hope that it ends quick."

And now, she adds, after the McCall loss, "I hope he's done for good. That's my husband, and I don't want anything to happen to him. And too much can happen."

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