THE QUIET MAN

What you didn’t know about Wal­ter Kau­ton­dokwa, by Springs Toledo

Boxing News - - BACKSTAGE IN BOSTON -

“POWER IS NOT THE KEY, BUT THE GRACE OF GOD”

ATALL, gaunt fig­ure stood in Monk Fore­man’s gym in the Sea­port district of Bos­ton, peer­ing out from un­der a hood at the chat­ter­ing con­vivi­al­ity a few steps away. Fans snapped self­ies with Freddie Roach and min­gled with world-class box­ers, writ­ers tapped away on lap­tops, cam­era­men ad­justed lenses. It was Wed­nes­day, and the event was a pub­lic work­out be­fore Satur­day’s big fight card at the TD Gar­den. The silent fig­ure was half the main event, but no one no­ticed him. He might have stood there all night had an or­gan­iser not beck­oned him, twice, snap­ping him out of a trance and prompt­ing him to hoist his gear up over a shoul­der and fol­low.

His name is Wal­ter Pan­d­u­leni Kau­ton­dokwa. A na­tive Namib­ian, he never left Africa be­fore last week­end. He would be there still had he not been beck­oned by Billy Joe Saun­ders, a top mid­dleweight with a predilec­tion for dumb de­ci­sions. When he heard that he would take Saun­ders’ place, that he would face Demetrius An­drade seven thou­sand miles from home and be in­tro­duced to the whole world, he cheered. Then he got down on his knees and gave thanks.

“How tall is he? Six two, six three?” I asked trainer Nestor To­bias as Kau­ton­dokwa got ready to per­form for the crowd. “Six two,” came the re­ply. In a few min­utes, he stood in the mid­dle of the practice ring and made the sign of the cross. Then he kissed the crux of his first fin­ger and thumb, raised his eyes to the rafters, and be­gan skip­ping rope. When he fin­ished, he handed the rope to To­bias, blessed him­self again, and be­gan shad­ow­box­ing.

“Are you a Catholic?” I asked him af­ter­ward. “Yes.” At Thurs­day’s fi­nal press con­fer­ence he sat with his han­dlers; hood on, hands folded, and never said a word. He was likely the only per­son in Fenway Park with­out an iphone. When he stood at the podium, he had one thing on his mind and it wasn’t his 94 per cent knock­out ra­tio. “Power is not the key,” he said, “but the grace of God. I thank God for this op­por­tu­nity.”

Matchroom Box­ing USA’S Bos­ton de­but had some­thing for ev­ery­one. Kaza­khs made their pres­ence known with flags, Lan­cas­tri­ans with dit­ties. The Ir­ish vir­tu­ally took over the Gar­den as their fore­bears had the city it­self dur­ing the days of John L. Sullivan; Micky Ward joined “Spike” O’sullivan and Kevin Mcbride at ring­side, and when Conor Mc­gre­gor showed up at 10.30, the roof al­most fell in. Belfast’s James Ten­nyson sported a Mc­gre­gor hair­cut and a Mc­gre­gor beard and was in against Philadel­phia’s Tevin Farmer, who wore furry clown trunks that re­called Floyd May­weather’s bad taste. Farmer toyed with Ten­nyson and ter­mi­nated the con­test when bore­dom set in. Mc­gre­gor had a flash­back. Given this sport’s con­tin­u­ing dal­liance with ab­sur­dity, Matchroom and co-pro­moter Mur­phys Box­ing can be for­given for false ad­ver­tise­ment. Touted as a night of cham­pi­ons, there were only two in at­ten­dance if we’re hon­est: Tony De­marco, 86, shook a lot of hands and Su­gar Ray Leonard, 62, pro­vided colour commentary for DAZN.

Kau­ton­dokwa, 33, is of lowlier stock than De­marco and Leonard, but the Namib­ian flag he wore like a cape into the ring showed as­pi­ra­tions. I watched him head to a neu­tral corner and pray fer­vently on his knees. He was smil­ing, as­sured, when he gazed up at the glit­ter­ing lights and scanned a crowd larger and whiter than any he’d ever seen.

He went down in the first round. He tripped and was crouch­ing when An­drade threw a rogue left hook that tipped him over on his ear. He got up, blessed him­self, sur­vived that round and won the next. In the third, he missed a right and An­drade cracked his pro­file with a left off a pivot. The shock of it lurched him for­ward and sprang him back­ward into a sprawl. The crowd roared. An­drade raced to the turn­buckle with a glove raised in tri­umph, then turned around to see not Kau­ton­dokwa out and on his back, but Kau­ton­dokwa al­ready stand­ing up.

By the end of the fourth round, he went down a sec­ond and a third time un­der the weight of vi­o­lence. His body was buck­ling, giv­ing way.

Ref­eree Steve Wil­lis, of­ten seen bug-eyed and beam­ing dur­ing a good ex­change, was not en­joy­ing the view on this night. It’s an un­en­vi­able ques­tion that must be an­swered at such times – stop the car­nage and vi­o­late the fighter’s spirit or stand aside and risk a med­i­cal emer­gency?

Most times the answer isn’t much more than a roll of the dice. Wil­lis stood aside, but watched him like a mother hen and asked the ring­side physi­cian to ex­am­ine him. Wil­lis did it right. Kau­ton­dokwa kept try­ing. In the sixth round some­one hollered, “Kill him!” In the ninth some­one else hollered, “Put him in a body bag!” In the 11th, the same, drunker still, stood up and said, “Kill this f**kin’ turd!” And then a choir of Namib­ian stu­dents, no more than seven deep, rose up and waved their flag and chanted his given name, as if they knew him. They kept at it as he found his feet and trudged along his own Via Dolorosa. “We held him up,” John Kah­wadi told me. “We are few, but we are here for him.”

When the fi­nal bell rang and ended the or­deal, he walked wearily to his corner and made the sign of the cross.

I didn’t note the scores against him and didn’t much care. I’d just over­heard an un­set­tling scrap of in­for­ma­tion in press row – his mother had re­cently died.

To­bias, towel in hand, was head­ing into the walk­way un­der the stands when I caught up to him.

“Is it true?”

“Yes. It’s true. She died this month, Oc­to­ber.”

She died on the first. He buried her on the sixth, a week be­fore he left Namibia for Bos­ton.

I looked over To­bias’ shoul­der to see his tall, gaunt fig­ure re­ced­ing into the shad­ows. He never looked back.

O Springs Toledo is the au­thor of The Gods of War (2014), In the Cheap Seats

(2016) and Mur­der­ers’ Row (2017) – avail­able at Ama­zon and Ama­zon UK. For au­to­graphed copies, see www. Springstoledo.com (free ship­ping in con­tigu­ous US).

DOWN: But Kau­ton­dokwa would rise and con­tinue the ght with An­drade

Pho­tos: ED MUL­HOL­LAND/MATCHROOM

FIGHTER: Kau­ton­dokwa held the funeral for his mother the week be­fore he left Namibia for Bos­ton

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