After yoga, the man whose job it is to break others' dreams talks of his own. "I dream I'm kickin' it with Floyd Mayweather," he says with a laugh. Despite literally having money to burn, Mayweather is famed for his grueling, three-a-day workouts. So, at 1 a.m., Mayfield tiptoes out of his Daly City home while his family sleeps. He starts the car, hangs a right on Hickey Boulevard, and swims laps at 24 Hour Fitness. If Mayweather does three workouts a day, Mayfield must do four.

The juvenile and adolescent culture of the lower socioeconomic levels provides a base for boxing culture.


“Guru” Ken Watson lends Karim Mayfield a hand.
Kelly Nicolaisen
“Guru” Ken Watson lends Karim Mayfield a hand.
The boxer burns off the calories with an infrared treatment.
Kelly Nicolaisen
The boxer burns off the calories with an infrared treatment.

The archway on McAllister between Fillmore and Webster was called "the Bundle," in reference to the sums of money local drug-dealers amassed daily. That wasn't all that was going on, however. Time spent "under the Bundle" was on-the-job training for Mayfield. He and his older brother, LaRon, were the keepers of a quartet of tattered boxing gloves oozing cotton and patched with electrical tape. "When the gloves came out, you had to fight," recalls Mayfield's cousin, Rico Hamilton. Hamilton's and Mayfield's mothers are sisters; they lived in a small apartment with their combined eight children. In such a household, a young boy learns to box — they wrapped their hands with socks and threw down. Mayfield quickly earned the nickname "Little Tyson."

They're not boxing anymore under the Bundle. Youths now resolve their disputes via quicker, more permanent methods — six of Mayfield's eight closest friends have been murdered. "We had a friend who was killed right here," says LaRon while motoring past the Bundle. "I was sitting in my car across the street and he was shot. He took off running down the street — but he was already dead. He was like a chicken with its head cut off."

Karim Mayfield's surviving contemporaries savor his success. But what really moves them is his tenacity. "There were people out here who were even better than Karim. But they never put that first foot forward," says LaRon. "They could have been champions. But the streets done got 'em."

When San Francisco boxing historian Stan Smith was a child in the 1930s, he could take in three fight nights a week for free when he sold programs. That era is long gone and so are the edifices that house Smith's memories, including Winterland Arena, Seals Stadium, and National Hall, a.k.a. the "Bucket of Blood."

At both the state and national levels, the number of yearly sanctioned boxing events is about one-fifth what it was when "Dewey Beat Truman." But the vast majority of that decline took place prior to the mid-1960s; since then the totals have been in stasis. In San Francisco, however, the number of fight cards has dropped, inexorably, toward zero.

A major reason for this is that San Francisco is no longer a place where people of modest means can easily live and play. Nowadays, San Francisco costs. When Jimmy Sosa — the last regular San Francisco promoter — put on some 50 fight nights between 1981 and 1990, he could negotiate rates at venues like the Galleria Design Center for as little as $1,100 nightly. After his first event at the Kabuki Theater, he actually talked Bill Graham into letting him use the place for free (booze sales more than made up the difference). That's a far cry from the $12,000 promoter Phil Di Mauro says was eaten up last year in site-related expenses for one night at Kezar Pavilion — which is, objectively, a dump. A pair of cards promoted earlier this year by Don Chargin at Longshoremen's Hall cost around $70,000 apiece to put on, but only generated him about $10,000 total profit, according to event coordinator John Chavez. With such a daunting break-even point, promoters must charge a bundle for tickets — $50 minimum for the Longshoremen's shows. These are hardly blue-collar prices. But, then, there are hardly any blue-collar fans left to support regular boxing here. Sosa used to stock his shows by leaving rolls of tickets with bartenders at working-class watering holes. Those people are now dead or relocated, and the establishments have gone the way of the Bucket of Blood.

The inherent costs and inefficiencies of San Francisco keep big-time boxing away, too. In 2001, local promoter Peter Howes put on a Floyd Mayweather championship bout at Civic Auditorium — plans fell through in Vegas "and I was Johnny-on-the-spot." But nothing like that has happened since, and there's no reason to expect it to. Casinos overbid to host major bouts, knowing they'll make the money back at the gambling tables. Most cities can't compete, especially costly, red-tape-happy San Francisco. Little surprise that Olympic gold medalist and undefeated champion Andre Ward, after fighting before a scant 4,100 fans at his hometown Oracle Arena last year, will next box in Atlantic City.

Without local events, the Karim Mayfields of the world — late bloomers who missed the Olympics and weren't taken on by a major promoter — cannot build up fan bases. Mayfield, whose fame outside the Fillmore is limited, cannot draw enough fans for an out-of-town promoter to pay an opponent what it would be worth to step in the ring with an undefeated knockout artist. "Making fights for Karim is hard," says Andy Nance, a contender out of Marin turned matchmaker. "Nobody wants to fight the guy. I've tried many times to make fights for him."

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Cassandra Flipper
Cassandra Flipper

A well-written story about an unusally focussed and disciplined young man who has courage, principles and dignity.

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