A bikini-clad Hooters girl munches dried fruit bits and complains about her ballooning weight (up seven pounds to a grotesque 125) as she sits ringside, awaiting the signal to hold up the next ring card. The reporter suspects a ploy: She may, in fact, be keenly aware of how good she looks, using this as a modest means to get people to tell her so. But we're the ditz in this scenario. "Excuse me?" says bystander Ann Ruiz, a reformed Hooter, when we ask when the "game" starts.
Big, bad Lou Savarese, the headliner for next month's match against Marcus Rhode, is a regular here, and we've been warned to nab him before the fans do. True enough, a group gathers the moment he enters, making promises to visit people's tables when he makes the rounds. "This is the true way to see boxing," Savarese says as we watch the match already under way beneath the chandelier of the Radisson banquet room. In New York, they call these smaller fights "smokers," the more intimate venues where you're likely to meet a "bunch of characters."
We talk during the women's match, which Savarese doesn't like so much. Not to be sexist or anything, he just doesn't like seeing girls "all bloody." Lou's a vegetarian, one of the few in the sport, and gets his protein mostly through soy products. "A lot of heart disease and cancer in my family," he says. He's friendly, the kind of guy you might automatically assume is a mama's boy, but he put his parents through hell. "Boys will be boys. It was not like now, with guns and knives. It was just your good, clean brawls. I always would be in the middle of some stupid things." He lives in Houston now, and is a successful investor in real estate and the stock market.
What he will always be remembered for is a 38-second bout with Mike Tyson, one of the shortest in history. He's proud that he went toe to toe with Tyson, and wishes the ref hadn't call it when he did. He's quick to point out his successes, though. In his first legitimate test as a pro in 1997, Savarese was on the short end of a 12-round split decision in favor of George Foreman. A year later Savarese downed the former undisputed heavyweight champion Buster Douglas by technical knockout in a mere two minutes and 34 seconds.
At the Radisson, Savarese is the man. People chant "Lou" as he's called into the ring to hand out a trophy for the best fight of the night. "They make him come up on stage every time he's here," Ruiz says. After the final match, he's pulled away again to pose for photos and sign autographs. His upcoming opponent's a quick starter, but Savarese thinks he'll do okay if he makes it past two rounds. This is sort of a preliminary match before an upcoming fight to be broadcast on ESPN in June, but you can't take anything for granted in the heavyweight division. Judging by the reaction here, the upcoming smoker will be a big draw, regardless.