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Fist City

Young fighters descend on Denver for the Golden Gloves.

Unfortunately, none of that did Simeon Dunwell much good against Madrigal, who repeatedly scored with his quick jab and turned the third and final round into two minutes of hell. "Oh, Sim!" his aunt cried. "Oh, Sim! I can't watch. Please, Sim! Stay aggressive, Sim! Oh, I can't watch. Stay aggressive!" Her nephew's moment in the national limelight lasted exactly six minutes, and when it was over Jennifer Allen hadn't even cooled off yet from her troubled daylong journey.

Meanwhile, three of the Michigan boxers (including Lorenzo Reynolds) won their bouts, while three others lost. A 147-pounder from Washington, D.C., Maxel Taylor Jr., materialized in the ring wearing boxing-ready Army garb complete with four silver stars on each epaulet, his olive-drab shorts set off by bright yellow, high-top boxing shoes. Taylor bills himself as "The General," and his ensemble drew a little chorus of jeers from some of his sartorially challenged brethren. But when he decisioned Rene Armijo of Texas, he got a round of cheers.

That's another thing about the Golden Gloves. There's no better fight crowd in the world, because almost everyone in the house -- at least on these prelim nights -- is a boxer or a coach or a bent-nosed ex-boxer or a cauliflower-eared ex-manager and thus has a trained eye for the proceedings. Mostly, the stands are packed with skinny-legged, undergrown young fighters just getting in touch with their bodies and their dreams, and they know what the other athletes are doing and feeling as vividly as if it were happening to them.

"Jab to the body, Pookie!" one of them yelled Monday. "Throw the combination, Pook!" "C'mon, Pook! Jab! Jab! Now, right hook, Pookie! That's it! Now jab!" The shouter's head was dipping and bobbing in rhythm with the actual fight, and he was throwing his own punches. Of course he was! His own hands were already taped; his shoes were laced up; he would do battle in the very same ring in twenty minutes.

"It's a beautiful thing," coach Sutter said of the Golden Gloves. "In the amateurs, you have only three two-minute rounds (four rounds in the finals), so you just go out there with both hands and stay busy and fight your fight. If you need to figure your guy out, you better do it quick, in the first thirty seconds of the fight, or you have a good chance of losing. These guys learn to think very fast on their feet."

They'll continue learning every night this week, culminating in the finals at 7 p.m. Saturday in glamorous Magness Arena.

Hey, no problem. Said Lorenzo Reynolds, who has already won 135 amateur fights and who credits much of his early success to heeding his grandfather's advice about drinking three glasses of milk every day: "I'm not looking past anybody, but I pretty much see myself walking through this tournament." Said blue-eyed, 106-pound Ryan Schmidt: "I'm goin' to the finals this year. I'm ready for it. I been trainin' for it. And whoever I fight, I'm gonna take him down." Said Andre Dirrell, a 139-pounder with high hopes of his own: "First, this. Then the 2004 Olympics. I gotta be in the Olympics. I'm winnin' the Olympics."

Such talk. Such sleek, confident, beautiful talk by teenagers seeking an alternative to mischief. Such big talk. And wouldn't you know it? A certain seventeen-year-old, 156-pounder from Detroit hadn't even gotten to Hamilton Gym, wasn't scheduled until Tuesday night. His name? Coaches and teammates call him "Mo." His full, family-given name is Mohamed Ali.

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