Contending With Life

Years after Evander Holyfield clocked him, boxer-turned-shoeshine-man Seamus McDonagh struggles to conquer his fears -- and to confront Holyfield

McDonagh has never seen the video of the Holyfield bout -- he has never wanted to -- but he agrees to watch it one Monday evening at Susie's place. It's a cozy one-bedroom apartment, with hardwood floors and a lot of mirrors. Susie is there, but he won't let her watch the tape with him. He's closed the bedroom door. She's pissed.

For the past 10 minutes, McDonagh has sat in a chair by the bed and taken inventory on a sheet of paper. Now the page is full, and Seamus -- normally shy and gentle -- is explaining how fucking much he hated boxing. "I hated fucking boxing my whole life," McDonagh is saying. "Hated it. I was terrified as a kid to box. Never wanted to fucking fight ever. I was afraid for my fucking life my whole life." It's the intensity, but not the words, of an athlete before a big game; there's still a good bit of boxer in him. "My whole life culminated in this fight we're gonna watch right now," he adds. "And I was terrified. Fucking terrified." He starts the tape, and ring announcer Michael Buffer says, "Let's get ready to rumble."

McDonagh appears immediately. He's the big, pink guy with the green trunks and the snarl, stalking back and forth across the canvas (a trick he cribbed from Sugar Ray Leonard). The ref draws the fighters together, and the camera zeroes in on McDonagh's wide face, a foot from Holyfield's, trying to look mean and nasty. Fugging bastard. "Oh, my God," Seamus says, laughing. Holyfield looks cut, lean, and sleek (both fighters were listed at 205 pounds, with the champ about two inches taller).

The first round is ugly. McDonagh trots out of the corner, lands a left, then another, then another, but a second later he's flat on the canvas after Holyfield tackles him.

"Nerves," Seamus says, blinking and bobbing a little with the action. McDonagh goes after Holyfield again. And a minute later, he's on the floor again (Holyfield had cracked him with a short uppercut), then again (another tackle), then again (a stumble). "OK, I'm OK," Seamus says from his chair. By the end of the first round, McDonagh is waddling around with his gloves up near his chin, doubled over like a guy looking for his contacts. "I did better than I thought I fucking did," he says.

The second round is an improvement. The two swap punches. Holyfield works the jab; McDonagh gets in a few good lefts. "Different class [of] fighters here," one of the announcers says. "One guy is a barroom brawler, and the other guy's a fine, scientific fighter, finely honed, finely conditioned. We're seeing prime Holyfield here."

Holyfield lands a couple of jabs. "Oh!" goes the play-by-play guy, "McDonagh just being punished."

"Turn the fucking volume down," Seamus spits out. "These assholes know nothing about boxing. Ferdie Pacheco [one of the announcers], what a fucking asshole. Never fought a boxing match in his life. My sister'd beat the shit out of him. My mother'd beat the shit out of him." Susie pokes her head in. She asks Seamus a question, lingers and watches the screen for a second, then shuts the door.

Round over.

The camera cuts to McDonagh, blinking in his corner. Tommy Gallagher's bald head pops through the ropes. "Gotta punch, Seamus," he says. "You gotta punch, now let's go. Punch, don't stan' dere. Move, punch, move, punch."

Third round. A couple of hard rights from Holyfield, two consecutive uppercut-hook combinations from McDonagh. The fans get a little louder. Seamus perks up in his chair. There's a flurry with a half-minute left.

"Oh!" goes the play-by-play guy, "McDonagh showing a lot of heart." The bell sounds.

"Here's the round," Seamus says. "The fourth round."

Holyfield lands two hard rights in quick succession, and McDonagh starts to crouch and backtrack, like he soiled his pants. Seamus sits with the remote in his right hand. It's aimed at the TV. He starts to squirm, shift around, bob his head.

Holyfield bears down on McDonagh: a body blow, an uppercut to the face. They both throw left hooks and their arms lock at the elbows. McDonagh rallies with a quick right -- that's the photo, though it barely registers -- and Holyfield's answer misses.

Then the two left hooks. Holyfield's is a fraction quicker. It lands squarely on the jaw.

McDonagh goes limp. He falls backward, his punch still arcing through the air, now just an echo of Holyfield's. He collapses between the ropes and thuds against the canvas. The referee is counting. He rolls over, hauls himself up against the ropes. The count hits eight. The ref starts waving and shaking his head. "It's all over," an announcer says. "Here in the fourth round, Evander Holyfield has knocked out Seamus McDonagh."

"Not knocked out," the contender says flatly. "TKO."

The National Automobile Dealers Association hits town in early February for a massive, noisy convention at Moscone, bringing just about every wingtip in the industry to McDonagh's stand. Saturday's a mess, the busiest day he's ever worked, so hectic that he says he hardly even thinks about the poster next to his stand:

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