LONG after Kiko Martínez had left the building, the floor in his changing room was still slick with his blood and water. My notes have his blood all over them, several pages are stained and I’m sure there is enough light-blood splatter on my clothing to make me an easy target for Dexter. Josh Warrington was wiped clean at the start of each round, the blood removed to make him look less like he had come fresh from an abattoir. It was that type of night in Leeds and we expected that type of night in Leeds.
I was looking for Warrington when I found Kiko’s room, but he had been packed off to hospital with a broken jaw and hand; he is now on a two-week liquid diet. I have no idea how many stitches were needed to pull Kiko’s face back together, and close the wounds and cuts and holes.
Back there in the dressing room corridors at fights, the night’s darker side is open and raw; it’s the place where men and women scream in joy, visit the fighter they beat, drink a Guinness, eat a burger and cry.
It’s also a place of extreme contrasts, a private place where access is a privilege.
You know it has been a bad night when the fighter is walking back alone, 10 feet and a life of silences in front of his trainer. This can happen with losers and winners and it is never a good sign. It’s a time of raw emotions and things are said and done that upset people.
An extreme example of this was the sad sight of Mark Breland sitting in the naughty chair outside Deontay Wilder’s dressing room at the MGM in 2020. Wilder had just been stopped by Tyson Fury and Breland was getting the blame. I went up and down that corridor about six times in an hour, in and out of Fury’s room of love and happiness and then in silence each time I walked past Breland. I never saw anybody say a word to Breland. That was an awful way to get sacked, a semi-public shaming in a corridor of emotions.
The loser’s dressing room requires a lot of nimble manoeuvring, a few wise and good words and an attempt to understand how low the beaten fighter feels. In all honesty, it’s not a great place to tell the truth – it’s hard to tell a fighter what he wants to hear if you have just finished talking on radio or television and you have said the absolute opposite. Ouch, careful with that one.
It is also in these corridors that a lot of boxing’s fixers and movers and duckers and divers can reach a fighter; a boxer is vulnerable at that time, ready to hear what he wants to hear and not happy to hear the truth. Nobody wants to walk in on a heartbroken fighter and tell him that he did this wrong and should have done that. Alternatively, telling out-and-out lies is not good to anybody.
On another night in a sad dressing room in Manchester, Phil Martin had to tell one of Errol Christie’s brothers to ‘Shut up’. It was after Christie’s last fight and his brother was talking about what they could do to get back and return as a contender. Martin knew it was over, he cradled sweet Errol and told the brother to knock it off. Lies are never any good in the boxing business. Not good, but popular.
Charlie Magri tells an awful story from the dressing room at the end of his career, the bitter end of his fighting days. He had just lost to Duke McKenzie in five rounds at Wembley Arena in 1986. It was a bad night and then Terry Lawless, who had been with Magri for 10 years, sat down next to the swollen and broken little fighter. The dressing room was grim before Lawless sat down for his little chat. Magri was only 29 and it was his last fight, his 35th.
“You are going to have to get up off your arse and go out and get a real job now,” Lawless told a stunned Magri. The truth, I guess, but the wrong time to deliver it.
Nobody would have said that to Kiko Martínez before he got his six or seven wounds stitched. I’m not quite sure he has reached the same place as Magri had that night, but I would like to see Kiko stay on his ranch with his dancing horses.
By midnight in the corridors, the dressing rooms were empty, their doors were open, their floors covered in the debris of a fight night; there was laughter elsewhere. Bloody towels and empty bottles, sweet wrappers, old bits of bandage on the floor and new bits of tape still on the wall. A few random cans of beer. And on each door the names of the men and women who had arrived for work six or seven or even eight hours earlier.
There is a little tale that I love about the stuff left behind in dressing rooms on fight nights. It was one night in Munich in 1976 and Didi Hamann, the footballer, was just a little boy. However, his father was part of the security detail assigned to look after Muhammad Ali on the night that he met Richard Dunn in the Olympic boxing hall. Ali won; Dunn lost.
Late that night, Didi’s dad was doing a final check of the dressing rooms; people had cleared the building, Big Richard had gone back to his hotel to lick his wounds and Ali was off entertaining people somewhere. Didi’s dad popped his head into Ali’s room and there was a white towel stained with the champ’s blood. Didi’s dad thought that it would be a great memento for young Didi. He took it home, getting in late because of the fight and left it on the side for his son to see in the morning. “That towel belonged to the Greatest,” he would tell him.
However, Didi’s dad was late up, Didi’s mum was up early and the towel was now sparkling white and neatly folded.
There were plenty of bloody tales and towels in the dressing rooms in Leeds and I left every single one of them there. I had taken enough from the night.