On the Ropes

In 1966, Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams fought Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight championship. In 1996, he fights just to get by.

The sound of leather gloves pounding skin echoes ringside. Sweat flies. Roguine's face looks like raw meat. His left eye is swollen to a slit.

Williams explains that the blood and the eye aren't serious. He recounts how once, after his eyes were punched shut, he propped his eyelids open with matchsticks. The problem, says Big Cat, is that Roguine isn't in condition.

Reuben says he never wanted to be a fighter. Fighters, he says, take a lot of punishment.

The match finally ends. O'Shields wins, and Roguine leaves the ring head down, his face swollen and bruised.

The bouts continue, each fight with a winner, a loser, its own rhythm and story.

Sometime after 10 p.m., a skinny blond announcer in a tuxedo steps into the ring. He yells to the crowd, instructing it to give a big hand to Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams, the man who fought Muhammad Ali.

The crowd cheers and claps. Big Cat rises to his full height and extends his long arms high in the air. He spins slowly around the room, waving, facing every side of the crowd as if this were the Astrodome.

For a few seconds, Cleveland Williams looks like a contender.

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