News » Feature

Kid Gloves

Once in a while, the whatsoever boxing club can make an honest fighter out of a neighborhood tough.


In the fading summer light, a lone figure jogs around Sheffield Park, near the rusting freight houses in the Blue River Valley. His shirt clings to his chest in a low ring of sweat. Every few steps, he throws a few feeble punches into the sticky air. His fists feel like feathers. This is not a good day.

There's only a week to go before the biggest amateur boxing tournament in the United States, and David Arrieta is worried that he started training too late.

He spent most of his summer vacation in Chicago, visiting relatives and going to clubs with friends. He managed to squeeze in a few training runs, but that's not the same as banging bags in the basement of the Whatsoever Community Center, which has made champions out of kids from this old, working-class Northeast neighborhood for more than seventy years.

Earlier this evening, when he was sparring, Arrieta kept waiting to make his move, ducking away from his opponents instead of stepping in and rolling combos of jabs and hooks. It was plain to all the other kids who sat in the cramped space around the ring that he was out of shape and, worse, not all there mentally.

Sitting around with the kids was Arrieta's father, who'd made a rare visit to the gym. When Marcos Arrieta hunkered down and leaned back against the wall, a piece of the old plaster stuck against his Joe's Crab Shack T-shirt. As he watched his son get pushed around the ring, the elder Arrieta casually picked the debris from his shirt.

Marcos Arrieta had introduced his son to boxing seven years earlier, when David was nine years old. Marcos had been a pro fighter himself in the corrupt circuit of northern Mexico, where fight promoters thought nothing of matching a skinny man with a 300-pounder just to pull in a few more pesos. But he'd given up boxing and left the violent border town of Juarez, Mexico, in the late '80s, just before David was born, in hopes of giving his family a better life in America. Today he's a two-job cook.

After the practice rounds, Marcos chewed out his son. You look slow, the old man said in Spanish. You look like you're being lazy. You're not using your feet. You're not using your head.

I'm tired, Arrieta replied, staring at the floor.

Now, in Sheffield Park, he's pushing, making one last pass around a softball diamond, its infield overgrown with weedy grass. He climbs the hill to the Whatsoever Community Center, a stoic red-brick building raised in 1889. With a high bell tower, the structure seems to lord over the blue-collar homes surrounding it. In the gym, he gulps chilled water from a drinking fountain and mopes through the rest of his routine -- push-ups, jumping jacks, medicine ball.

"What's going on, man?" his coach, Ray Rivera, asks. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Arrieta whispers, grabbing hold of the speed bag's sturdy support and lazily stretching his back.

The room reeks of mold. Rivera leans against a hand-me-down metal desk, takes off his white Kangol hat and rubs his forehead.

"You gotta hang in there, man," Rivera says. "Everybody has a bad day in the gym. Things get bad, that's when you gotta stick with it."

"He had it last year," Rivera says of Arrieta. "He went all the way to the semifinals."

Back then it was pretty much the same story. Arrieta hung around Chicago until a week before the Ringside Labor Day National Championships. Now just three years old, the annual event has grown to be the largest on the amateur circuit. It's the brainchild of John Brown, who owns Lenexa's Ringside Inc., maker of all things boxing -- speed bags, silky shorts, gloves, turnbuckles, ring ropes, even rubber dummies. Part of the tournament's draw is the Ringside name; another part is the vast number of weight divisions in which kids and adults can fight. But the grand prizes are the real lure: At the end of the weekend, the champ in each division gets to raise a jewel-encrusted belt above his head, just like a pro.

More than a thousand fighters compete, coming to Kansas City from as far away as northern Canada and Kazakhstan. Last year, in spite of his late return to the gym, Arrieta almost made it to the finals, relying almost entirely on his raw talent. This year, he came back from summer vacation in Chicago a week early; though he still worries he hasn't had enough time to get in shape, Arrieta figures the extra week will make a difference.

But in Rivera's mind, it's not good enough. His own sons -- Ray, Jesse and Neiko -- work out year-round. And with each tournament, they've inched closer to national championships. This summer, Ray, the oldest, was runner-up in the Junior Olympics, which won him an invitation to represent the United States at one of three international tournaments in Sweden, Puerto Rico or Mexico City. Arrieta has hung around in the gym with Rivera's kids on and off for most of his life, but their dedication hasn't soaked all the way into his veins. Now, as a junior at Northeast High, there are other distractions, too.

"He's too busy chasing girls," Rivera says. "That's why I want to keep an eye on him. He reminds me of me."

Rivera says he's known Arrieta since he was "a chubby little kid" who used to come around the now-defunct Eastside Boxing Club, near the bargain furniture stores and bankrupt restaurants at the corner of Prospect and Truman Road. The Arrietas lived nearby, so it was easy for Arrieta's pop to take him to the gym.

Eastside was more of a men's gym -- training ground for the Kansas City meat served to up-and-comers from other cities trying to pad their records with wins. Rivera was there giving his kids the extra attention young fighters need. He left Eastside for Whatsoever, which has always specialized in fostering young fighters. Arrieta followed and soon became like family.

Rivera will play the father figure to any kid who's willing to work -- even those, like Arrieta, who aren't always dedicated. A few years back, Rivera heard that Arrieta was skipping school. So he started cruising around the back streets of the Northeast, looking for him. When Rivera spotted Arrieta, who was twelve or thirteen at the time, the kid tried to run around the corner, but Rivera caught up with him.

"You think I didn't see you?" he asked.

"What?" Arrieta replied. "I'm here."

"Get back in school," Rivera scolded him. "If you don't go to school, what are you going to do? Cook? Sell aluminum cans?"

Those were mean years for Arrieta. At around twelve, he started hanging with the East Side Locos, one of the bigger gangs in Kansas City. Better known as ESL, the East Side Locos turn up in cities across the Great Plains and Southwest, from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The gang's wide reach sounds more menacing than it is. The ESL isn't so much a multistate syndicate as a fashionable name for neighborhood kids to call themselves as they go around spray painting playground equipment, smoking weed, fighting among themselves and stealing cars. For years, gangs from the Northeast warred with ones from the West Side, where families of Mexican descent had lived for generations. Now most of the fighting among Latinos is contained to groups from the streets north of Truman Road and east of Paseo. Police tell the Pitch they spend almost as much time dealing with internal gang scraps as they do breaking up fights between rival gangs.

Arrieta swears he was never officially a member, but he says his friends in the ESL offered a sense of belonging he wasn't getting at home.

In many of the homes on Kansas City's Northeast side, families shatter under the strain of surviving in an urban economy that's been stripped of well-paying jobs for laborers. The factories and steel mills have long since moved to employ workers more cheaply overseas and south of the border. Men and women like Arrieta's parents, who have a high school education, have to piece together livelihoods out of service-industry wages.

Unlike a lot of the kids he grew up with, Arrieta has a father who has always been around. But at that crucial age of twelve, when inner-city boys start to fall off, he could hear his parents fighting for hours in their squat box of a house near 16th Street and Cyprus, their shouted Spanish echoing through the cramped rooms.

"I felt like I wasn't getting any attention," Arrieta says. "Don't get me wrong. They were there for me always. But seeing your parents fight, it just screws up your head."

The city is filled with kids like Arrieta. More than 300 known gangs roam the poorer neighborhoods on the Missouri side, says Sergeant Hardie Smith, who leads the KCPD's Street Gang Task Force. Most of these gangs are small, usually just four or five kids who grew up together on the same block.

To Ray Rivera, they're a joke.

Growing up in the grimy South Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, Rivera learned to despise being poor and powerless. When he was six or seven, he watched other kids stroll into the corner store to buy candy his family couldn't afford for him. As he got older, it became clear that gangs were the way to quick and dirty self-promotion.

Every kid in Chicago knows about gangs. Even those who keep to a narrow path know which streets not to walk down -- an errant stroll through a gang's territory could get a person killed. Unlike in Kansas City, gangs there are structured like the Army, with a hierarchy of commanders calling the shots for troops who are hustling the streets, trying to distinguish themselves so they can move up. In Chicago, Rivera was just a foot soldier. But when he returned here, to his father's hometown, he became a four-star general. In the early '90s, he started a Kansas City chapter of one of the country's most powerful gangs, the Latin Counts.

Everyone thinks kids join gangs to find the sense of family that's missing from their homes. But for Rivera, it was all about power. He could tell a kid to do anything -- steal, fight, shoot a rival -- and the kid would obey without hesitation. "What's that gonna make you feel like?" he asks. "Like you're God. Like you're the president."

His chiseled features and his dangerous demeanor drew young women to him, sometimes in pairs. Even his girlfriends attained an aura of celebrity. "Ain't you Ray Rivera's girl?" strangers would ask when they stopped by the corner store for a pack of cigarettes.

It doesn't take much to become a heavyweight champ on Kansas City streets. If you're crazy enough to deliver a few broken noses and legs -- much less shoot people, as Rivera did -- word gets out. "I fought every day in school, during school, after school, in the lunch room, on the playground," Rivera recalls. This aggressive streak led Rivera to the boxing ring.

For more than a century, the sweet science has offered a legitimate channel for potentially misguided male energy. And for just as long, its deceptive simplicity has seduced young hotheads into what is often their first dose of humility.

When Rivera showed up at Whatsoever, he promptly got schooled.

"That first fight, I got my butt kicked," he says. "I was a tough kid on the street, where anything goes. But in the ring, there are rules and regulations. It's skill and discipline."

His opponent, who'd had months of practice, easily ducked Rivera's hammer blows, countering with punches that bruised his side and scrambled his brain. So Rivera pulled out his street moves, shoving, kicking and punching his opponent's groin.

The coach tossed Rivera out of the gym. He fumed all the way home.

But he kept thinking about the experience. "I kinda liked it," he says. Having conquered the challenges of the street, this new venue intrigued him. "I had to fight again. I had a lot of pride."

Rivera started working out more, and his coach took him to tournaments. As an amateur, he brought home a shelf full of trophies. He later boxed professionally for a while on low-paying cards in Kansas City and around the Midwest.

But he was never as good as he could have been. Back then, the Whatsoever Boxing Club wasn't what it is today. Plagued by petty rivalries and a dearth of adult leadership, it lacked camaraderie. Rivera didn't feel the same sense of belonging there that he enjoyed in the Latin Counts. So during his twenties, he bounced between the gym and the street, where he kept running the same old hustles and getting women pregnant.

Then, in his early thirties, Rivera snorted a line of coke, and the next thing he knew, he was lying in a hospital bed. He was told that he had overdosed and collapsed on the sidewalk and that a priest who was passing by gathered him up and led him to help. The symbolism wasn't lost on Rivera.

He thought of his own children, whom he had basically abandoned. "Time molds you," he says. "You start looking back at all the things you've done. I said, CEI'm tired of running. I got to take care of my kids.'"

He started going to the Eastside Boxing Club, and then to Whatsoever, while the local Latin Counts wilted. On the one hand, Rivera feels he's living a dream through his kids, helping them to become the champions he never was. But he's also unhappy with where he's wound up in life. To pay his rent, he works at the Whatsoever Community Center, cooking for the preschoolers, running errands, tending the ancient building and, sometimes, counseling kids.

"People tell me, CEIt's never too late to start over,'" he says. "CEYou can go back to school.' But I'm too busy running these kids around to tournaments."

He makes no money coaching the Whatsoever Boxing Club, but the quest for trophies gets him out of bed every day. It's the hope of seeing one of his sons -- or one of the neighborhood kids, such as Arrieta -- strapping a championship belt around his waist or walking through the opening ceremonies at the Athens or Beijing Olympics dressed in red, white and blue.

"I've got something special here," he says. "A lot of talent in this gym. Everybody. David, too. He doesn't even know how much he's got. If he did, he'd be in here every day." Whoever named the Whatsoever Community Center must have had boxing on his mind. The title comes from a verse in Ecclesiastes: "Whatsoever the hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."

The center opened in 1915 as a soup kitchen run by members of the Independence Boulevard Christian Church. Its first home was the basement of Erickson's Café on Washington Park Boulevard, now known as Winner Road. In the early 1920s, the organization moved to bigger facilities on Independence Avenue and became a mecca for the European immigrants who had settled in rows of houses along the narrow blocks.

"Back then, Armco Steel and Sheffield Steel were still going strong," says Charlie Gascich, Whatsoever's executive director. "There were a lot of families in the neighborhood. Mostly white. Irish. Belgian. Germans. It was a melting pot."

The money was good, and families remained strong. Whatsoever gave them what they wanted -- community plays and pageants, pingpong and jigsaw puzzle tournaments, father and son banquets, rabbit dinners for the young men's club, woodland treks for the Campfire Girls. When the Depression hit, neighbors provided relief for those down on their luck, sponsoring fund-raising drives and stocking the Whatsoever food pantry every day.

Recently, Gascich and his colleagues unearthed a box of photographs. The faces of now-elderly or long-gone Whatsoever patrons stare out from the snapshots -- rows of girls in stylish bobs, boys in scratchy wool baseball uniforms with baggy knickers, young men in the machine shop, their white shirtsleeves rolled up as they fix old radios.

Most of the fun stuff has disappeared from Whatsoever's portfolio, replaced by tutoring, mentoring, a school suspension program, a girls club and counseling. Most of the center's patrons are Latino, reflecting the new demographics of the Northeast, which is now filled with recent immigrants like Arrieta's dad, who've fled the broken economies of Mexico and Central America.

Boxing became part of Whatsoever's mix in 1942, a year after the center moved into the schoolhouse overlooking a sweep of I-435 that passes over the train tracks on the banks of the Blue River. It's one of the few offerings that has remained consistent despite the neighborhood's changing fortunes. Regardless of the financial climate, there have always been boys who want to punch other boys in the face. And the ring is the only place where they can become valued members of society doing it.

"We're like a family here," Rivera says. "These kids have all grown up together."

"Ray is like a second father to me," Arrieta says. "I can tell him things I can't tell nobody else. Because he's been there."

Rivera doesn't hide his disappointment when Arrieta skips practice or starts training for a big tournament too late in the summer.

"You've got to get up and run every morning," he says to Arrieta as he goes around the basement shutting off lights after a workout. "We've only got a week before this tournament. You've gotta work harder if you want to win this thing. Come on, man, you just live a couple blocks from the park. Get up before it gets hot and do it."

Arrieta nods silently. "I know, man," he says.

It was a bad session for him. But he should have expected it after skipping the weekend workouts. Rivera even offered to let him stay at his rental house in Independence for the week leading up to the Ringside National Championships, with Ray Jr., Jesse, Neiko and a few of the other kids. With the boxers right there in his house, Rivera is able to rouse them at sunrise for laps around the park and keep the fast food and sugary soda out of their diets. Perhaps most important, being stranded in a boring, foreign neighborhood helps them focus.

But Arrieta stayed home. Arrieta's halfhearted commitment bothers Rivera, but not as much as it did years earlier, when Arrieta was running with the wrong crowd.

"I never considered myself a gangbanger," Arrieta says. "It's stupid fighting for a specific word. I was always going to stay away."

But that's not how it looks on paper. When Arrieta was twelve, he started hanging with the ESL. He'd spend hours away from home each day, patrolling the toughest stretch of boarded-up storefronts on Truman Road. Some of the older guys taught him how to steal a car, breaking the panel under the steering wheel, cutting the wires and touching blue to green, then red to yellow. It was such a rush when that first one fired up -- a Buick Regal. "He didn't tear it up or nothing," Arrieta says of the kid who showed him how to do it. "We just rolled around the city. We wanted to look cool."

It became a habit. In time, car theft took an entrepreneurial turn. Arrieta and his friends would root through glove boxes for valuables, yank out stereos and spare parts and sell them to other thugs. But mostly, they would skip school, jack a car and cruise the back streets of the Northeast, looking for attention and excitement.

Arrieta stopped going to the gym with his dad. Being a boxer was a mixed blessing. The rest of the crew looked up to him, but they always expected him to start fights with rival gangs -- the Vatos Locos, the Mexican Locos, V-13. They'd be hanging out among the trees in Budd Park, at the corner of St. John and Hardesty, when they'd spot someone from a rival gang.

"You're a fighter," someone would say. "Go kick that dude's ass."

He usually complied -- reluctantly, he now says. Nevertheless he was fearless, and that earned him clout. "I don't know what the hell kind of power it was," he says. "But it was power."

It felt sexy. Often, after they nabbed a car, they'd swing by school to pick up girls to party at some house while the parents were at work. They'd crank up the hip-hop, roll some blunts and goad the girls into giving them lap dances. "There was a lot of sex at those parties," Arrieta says.

The Northeast has one of the highest concentrations of gangs in the city, according to police. It wasn't long before Arrieta found himself fleeing flashing lights. He'd rip through the narrow neighborhood streets at 50 or 60 miles an hour, then duck onto I-435, where he'd open the throttle even more.

"I used to love getting on the highway," he says. "Just go. Crank it. Like, a hundred. Or we'd take a truck to the field behind Northeast [High School] and do doughnuts. It was fun. Scary."

He got caught three times -- the last time, stripping a Chevy Silverado in a garage on Independence Avenue. After that pinch, the judge looked at his record and gave him nine and a half months.

"Oh my god, it was so boring," Arrieta says of jail. "Especially the [juvenile] detention center. You don't know what to do all day. You just sit in your cell. It's ugly and small, and it smells like piss. And just a plastic mat on the floor. And you stick to the plastic when it's hot."

He thought about his life and determined that he wouldn't spend it locked up, the way so many other Latino and black males do.

When he got out, he faced another cage of sorts: living poor on the Northeast side. For a teen, that could be just as boring as jail -- there are no movie theaters or video arcades or bowling alleys or shopping malls or dance clubs. The swimming pools are clean but dull -- no slides or high dives or late-night swim/movie nights.

And if they don their best low-slung jeans and XXXL vintage sports jerseys and venture to places like the Plaza or the Ward Parkway mall or Worlds of Fun, they often face suspicious stares and bloated rent-a-cops who sometimes invent infractions just to push them around.

It's as if Kansas Citians expect kids like Arrieta to join gangs. And when some inevitably do, adults go apoplectic. At a recent meeting of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Association, in a room at the Northeast Library Branch, one man told visiting City Councilwoman Deb Hermann that the best thing the city could do for residents was give them guns so they could shoot hooligans. Several people nodded in agreement.

Arrieta appears to be off the would-be vigilantes' radar for the moment. After he got out of jail, he didn't call his friends. Instead, he went back to Whatsoever, where Rivera just shot him a glance and told him to hit the bags. Pretty soon, his old crew figured out where he was -- and that he wasn't hanging out with them.

"When I started to drift away, they'd say, CEBitch. You're a bitch,'" he says. "I made excuses, like my mom wanted me around the house. Next thing I know, they wanted to jump me."

But after four trouble-free years, Arrieta's record is clean. "I don't know him," says Captain Jay Prueding, head of the KCPD's gang unit. "And I know just about everybody who's active in his neighborhood."

Since getting out of jail, Arrieta has spent a few nights each week in the dank basement at the Whatsoever center, subjecting himself to Rivera's rigorous workout schedule. They begin each night at about 5:30 with dozens of push-ups, drops, jumping jacks and air punches. Next, the boxers shuffle sideways around the ring with their hands up. Then Rivera takes them across the street to Sheffield Park for five laps, five hill sprints and five straight sprints. Back in the gym, they spar, pound the bags, lift weights and drop medicine balls on one another's abdomens. By 7:30 or 8, they're dripping wet and dragging their feet.

Soon, Arrieta was piling into the Whatsoever Community Center's fifteen-passenger van, bound for tournaments across the Midwest. Now, at the Arrieta home on 12th Street, there's a shelf for trophies above his bed in the back room, which he shares with the family's washer and dryer. Young Arrieta's crowning achievement was the Golden Gloves in 2000, when he battled past his Kansas City competitors for a bid in the regional championships in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Marcos Arrieta would like to see his son become a pro champion. But having been in the game himself, he's not going to let his son fight a minute past his prime.

"As soon as he starts to lose," he says, "I want him to quit."

For David Arrieta, winning feels like stealing cars again, only better.

"It's in your blood," he says of being a boxer. "It's like being God. You did it all yourself. You worked hard for it and you won."

A few days have passed since Arrieta came home from Chicago, and he can feel his skills coming back. He's dancing around the old Whatsoever basement ring on a Saturday morning, trading blows with Rivera's second-oldest son, Jesse.

Leaning on the ropes, watching Arrieta duck jabs and counter quick hooks, Rivera can feel his doubts about Arrieta start to disappear.

"He could win this thing," he says. "He should have won last year."

Both Arrieta and Rivera agree that last Labor Day, the kid was robbed by a bad decision. To hear them tell it, he out-punched his opponent, a kid from Colorado who had been knocking his previous opponents to the mat. Standard gym lore has it, though, that some boxers, such as Arrieta's opponent, generate a buzz at tournaments that can sway judges.

"He looks better this year," Rivera says of Arrieta. "That extra week helps. I still would have liked to have seen him come back earlier. But, hey, what can you do?"

By Monday, Arrieta is strutting around the gym like a gladiator, moving from bag to bag with his head up and his arms flexed.

"I've got to win this tournament," he says. "It's like a promise I made to myself last year. None of us on this team has won a national championship."

Hundreds of young, suited-up boxers crowd the halls of the Kansas City Airport Hilton early on a Wednesday afternoon, milling in and out of two ballrooms outfitted with boxing rings showered in white light. More than 1,500 boxers are here -- some of the best in the world. They've flown in from across the country, some even crossing oceans for a chance to win the Ringside Labor Day National Championship.

Arrieta punches the air in the hotel lobby, in a space between sumptuous armchairs. He's scheduled for the seventeenth bout in Ring 1. The fights started at noon. At three two-minute rounds each, he has a good three and a half hours before show time. He makes his way through the packed hall and into the far ballroom, where he finds a seat with his teammates against a wall, behind the ring in which he'll fight.

"I'm feeling pretty confident about David," Rivera says, looking at the young fighter, who's joking around with Guy, a sixteen-year-old from south Kansas City. "He looks relaxed. Confident. Confidence is everything. You can be in the best shape and still lose if you don't have it up here," he says, pointing to his forehead.

Arrieta sniffs at the air and deals Guy a punch to the biceps. "Oh, man," Arrieta says, cringing. "That shit is nasty." He glares at Guy, who's doubled over laughing. "This guy farts at least fifty times a tournament," Arrieta complains.

A procession of boxers moves through the rings -- from skinny little kids with gloves as big as their heads to svelte teenagers with wispy goatees. As the action wears on, Arrieta appears to lose some of his giddy energy. He sinks lower and lower into his chair.

When the fighters in the sixteenth bout climb into the ring, he gets up and shadow boxes in a corner. Across the wide ballroom, his opponent loosens up under a light that makes him look bigger than he really is.

His rival, Gabriel Sanchez of Odessa, Texas, tries to make eye contact with him, but Arrieta keeps his gaze locked on the floor in front of him.

The sixteenth bout ends, and the two fighters squeeze between the ropes, their heads tucked into puffy leather helmets. They bounce up and down and shake their limbs.

After the bell, the two circle the ring facing each other. Sanchez steps in first, throwing a three-punch combo. Arrieta pulls his forearms together in front of his face to block them and backs up.

The pair quickly fall into a pattern. They collapse into each other for a half-dozen blows, then back up, as if resurfacing for air.

But Sanchez is doing most of the attacking.

He keeps moving Arrieta toward the ropes. Arrieta does a good job of ducking -- only about a third of Sanchez's punches connect. But he throws few himself. This is a bad strategy in amateur boxing, where the win goes to the fighter who lands more punches. Knockout blows are rare, so a fighter needs to skillfully work his fists into his opponent's safety zone and simultaneously block blows.

The confident stare Arrieta held for hours has been pummeled into a startled, wide-eyed expression. He manages to catch his form for brief moments, ducking in for an occasional combo. But most of the time, he looks as though he's second-guessing every move.

When the bell rings to end the round, Arrieta sags onto a stool Rivera has set up for him in the blue corner.

"You gave him that round," Rivera yells, pouring water into Arrieta's mouth. "You're waiting too fucking long. You gotta get in there with that jab and then throw the right. Come on, David, you gotta step up this round."

When Arrieta gets back into the ring, he seems to have heeded Rivera's commands. He charges forward, trying to push his jab between Sanchez's gloves. But Sanchez counters with fast spurts of blows, and Arrieta is once again on the retreat.

In the break before the last round, he stares at the mat while Rivera urges him to be more aggressive. But it's too late. Nothing changes in the last round, and no one is surprised when the referee raises Sanchez's hand in victory.

Arrieta slumps into a chair. He lowers his head and buries it in a towel. Rivera says nothing to him. There's nothing to say. Arrieta knows what he did wrong.

After sulking for a while, Arrieta makes his way through the crowded hall to a couch in a far corner of the lobby. Guy takes a seat beside him. They don't talk.

"I waited too long," Arrieta says eventually. "I wasn't all there."

Now that he's knocked out of the tournament, he has a whole weekend ahead of him. On Sunday, Rivera will swing by to share the news: Three Whatsoever boxers won coveted Ringside National Championship belts -- Marcus Ivory, Marcos Lugo and Ray Jr.

Rivera's oldest son was the sensation of the tournament, dominating his opponents through five bouts. Afterward, John Brown, whose company makes the equipment in Whatsoever and other gyms like it all across the country, shook Rivera's hand and told him his son was the best fighter he'd seen all weekend.

By Tuesday, Arrieta will be back in the gym, going through the routine again. Rivera has told him plenty of times what it takes to be a champion.

"You just need to work your ass off," he had said before the Ringside tournament, when Arrieta felt certain he would win it all.

But Arrieta isn't sure how this loss will affect him. "In a way, it discourages me," he says. "In a way, it makes me want to work harder."

He knows boxing has helped him escape the forces that have made losers out of too many kids from his neighborhood. He's not stealing. He's getting up early every day, pulling on his uniform of khakis and white shirt and trudging off to school. He has goals. But he knows he's still not all the way there. He's still waiting to make his move.

Add a comment