Sports

The man who would be king

David Pappin June 11 1979
Sports

The man who would be king

David Pappin June 11 1979

The man who would be king

Sports

Suddenly, the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey filled the arena. In a second, the crowd responded and burst into a chant: “Melo! Melo!...”

In the throng, no one could see him— yet everyone knew that he was there, somewhere in that wave making its way toward the ring. They could feel his presence and the chant started sounding like an immense heartbeat, overcoming the loud music from the sound system.

Finally, l'Ouragan (The Hurricane), as Eddy Melo likes to be called, jumped into the ring. He threw a few deadly combinations at the air, then ran to his opponent to yell his hatred in his face.

He had done the same to Fernand Marcotte Jr., the Canadian middleweight champion, and after him to J.C. Leclair and now to Bunny Avila. And he beat them all: Marcotte in a decision, Leclair in 46 seconds and Avila in less than six rounds.

A little more than a year ago, Eddy Melo was fighting for the first time in Montreal, in a modest bar-reception hall called the Rizzo Hall. He was still an underaged youngster, a kid from a Portuguese-Italian family in Toronto

trying to make his way, or at least a name, in Montreal.

A year later, he has reached the legal fighting age of 18 and he has beaten every local Montreal has to offer. In the process he has also won Montreal. Downtown, on St. Catherine Street, people are walking around in Eddy Melo T-shirts; hundreds line up for hours to get a ticket to his bouts; and radio and TV people are on his trail. His business counsellors are talking of a disco record, of a Canadian championship, even a world championship in the Olympic Stadium by the time Eddy reaches 20.

When you ask Melo how a young fighter from Toronto could make it so big in Montreal, the answer comes easily: “Montrealers are very knowledgeable fans. They can recognize something exceptional when they see it. Toronto let me slip through its fingers. I am not really sorry about it, but someday the people there will be.”

After an amateur career of 93 wins and four losses, after 13 wins without a loss including 11 knockouts as a pro, nobody can tell Eddy Melo that he is not going all the way to the world championship. After all, he has thought

about it for a long, long time—since that day when he followed a few friends to the gym out of curiosity and got hooked by the business. “Seven years later, I am the only one that stuck around.” Melo has stuck around ... for better and for worse.

Torn between businessmen, he is only starting to realize what he really means to a lot of the people around him—money. “There are no friends in this business. You are alone. While guys your age are fooling around in discotheques or at parties with girls, you have to be in bed by 10 o’clock, just like a baby. You have to watch your weight, run 13 miles a day, hit bags and faces and submit to the whole ordeal of training. You are alone. There is always a crowd following you but none of them really knows you. Even your family has a hard time understanding. My father is proud, but my mother is scared to death and I can’t do anything about it.”

“Or rather I did something.” Eddy discouraged his younger brother Joey from following his footsteps. “One boxer in a family is plenty. My mother has enough worrying about me.”

Eddy isn’t worried, though, as he sees the best is still to come. First he plans to take the Canadian middleweight championship from Fernand Marcotte Jr. on June 26 at the Montreal Forum. Then, when he has become a natural light heavyweight, a few months from now, he will try to grab that title from Gary Summerhayes.

At the same time, Melo is shooting for an international ranking. Already some American big shots, such as Don King, the pasha of world boxing promotion, are trying to lure him to New York or Las Vegas. King is already talking TV, big fights and big money.

“I don’t want to think about the money,” says Eddy. “I don’t want to realize that I am making a bundle. I have to stay hungry. No great boxer has a full stomach and pockets full of money.” Melo picked up $21,000 for the Avila fight.

But some days, every day in fact, Melo needs to remember that he is, after all, a teen-ager. He “cons” himself by training to disco music: “It helps my rhythm and it softens the bore.”

The real medicine comes in the ring, when all those people are yelling his name, when thousands shiver at every one of his attacks. “I can feel the public,

they are in there with me. I draw my energy from them.”

Why are the people with him? They have seen greats before. They have seen, latterly, Clyde Gray, the Canadian who has probably come the closest to a world championship. But even in his better days, Gray never provoked such a mass movement. “Eddy has that little something special that makes people vibrate at every one of his moves,” says Melo’s coach, Tray (Travis) Sugden. “He has one hell of a left hook and a right to match it. But more than anything, he has a true killer instinct. He will win at all costs.”

Probably because he has recognized that same instinct in Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran, Melo says he has fashioned his style after them. “They are and were great boxers. But I will be just as great. My future is so full...”

The smile on Melo’s face slowly disappears: “I don’t have any choice. After all, I’m sacrificing my youth to accomplish my dream. Only a world championship would make it all worthwhile.”

David Pappin