May 21, 2005. The scene is the United Center in Chicago. Lamon Brewster is ready to defend his heavyweight title against Andrew Golota (38-5-1). Though Brewster is the champion, Golota is the 3 to 1 favorite. Originally from Poland, Golota now makes his home in Chicago. The city's notable Polish community cheers Golota as he makes his way down the aisle. His white and black-trimmed robe glistens under the lights. Some boxing writers consider Golota to be a strong and skilled "nut case" who blew two opportunities to dethrone once-heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, by throwing low blow after low blow, until he was disqualified. The first fight resulted in a riot.
Two-time winner of Indiana Golden Gloves, Lamon Brewster will defend is WBO world title on Sept. 28.
Then, adorned in camouflage, cornrowed hair and a thin beard, the champion begins his journey to the ring, knowing that beating Golota is just the start. Silencing the critics, the doubters, is the bigger challenge. The crowd pelts Brewster with debris, but his face remains stoic. The boos get louder as he gets closer to the squared circle. He knows his first title defense against Kali Meehan was largely criticized. Critics said Brewster wasn't aggressive enough and was lucky to get the decision. Golota would destroy him. Eric Fetzer, Brewster's friend, a boxing referee, would later comment, "I was thinking, 'Just keep booing; boo louder. You're just strengthening his conviction and resolve.'"
If you see World Boxing Organization's Heavyweight Champion "Relentless" Lamon Brewster, you quickly see what is conspicuously missing. Missing are the gold chains, the fancy rings, the designer clothes. Missing is an entourage, the sycophants that sponge off successful athletes.
What also is missing is recognition in Indianapolis, his hometown. After all, what he isn't missing is a world title belt. However, for Brewster, it isn't about ego; it's about his goal to be a role model. To spread a message of "positivity," a word he uses often to express the message that he wants to get out.
But Lamon Brewster is Indianapolis' best-kept secret, and for Lamon, that hurts.
"I pride myself on being a gentleman," he says, his voice soft and friendly. "I pride myself on being able to speak well. These are the things that Indiana requires of a young man. The good things that I do, the good things that I say, I try to be a representative of the state of Indiana. And it hurts me that they don't acknowledge me."
When Michael Buffer takes the microphone, the crowd erupts. "Let's get ready to rumble." The chants begin. Don King bounces back and forth, puppet-like, a Polish flag in one hand and an American flag in the other. The crowd waves Polish flags; some raise red and white banners: Polska!
Back home again in Indiana
It's a hot July afternoon. Brewster walks across the cement floor of the nearly empty Palmer's Gym, located in an old warehouse on Indianapolis' near Eastside. He's here for a photo shoot and interview. Bags hang languidly from their chains. Posters and photographs adorn the walls. A young black man wraps his hands, preparing for his workout.
Wearing a black stocking cap and T-shirt, Brewster walks over to him, puts out his hand, and says quietly, "Good to see you." They exchange a few words and he walks on, past an old boxing ring, its canvas speckled with dry blood.
He's not an imposing figure. At 6-foot-1, and approximately 230 pounds, he is smaller than many heavyweights today. A few other perspiring men step from a side room and greet him. Here everyone knows Lamon Brewster. Outside on the streets of Indianapolis, however, few recognize his name, much less his face.
Brewster's lack of recognition goes beyond his home state. Unless you bite ears during fights, punch opponents during press conferences or rape and assault someone, you probably won't end up on SportCenter's highlight reel.
Brewster, 31, wants to return to the time when fighters were respected and the eyes of the nation - even the world - were on the big championship matches. Consider that, in 1926, the fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia drew 120,757 fans.
"[Back then], they spoke decent of each other. It's just a shame that the sport has been hurt by ignorant people, talking about eating someone's kids or fighting in press conferences. I'm here trying to restore or at least spark a little hope in people that you can be well-spoken, dress nice and you don't have to have the gold teeth and diamonds. Everything I try to do, I try not to do it for me, but for the world. I want to promote 'positivity.' This is the gift that God gave me."
Just before the bell rings, HBO commentator Larry Merchant says, "In the scavenger hunt for a perfect or dominant heavyweight champion, these are two imperfect heavyweights. Will one of them make us want to see him again?"
Finally, the bell rings. Brewster darts from his corner like a man possessed. He meets Golota in center ring, but not for long. He throws non-stop punches, mainly left hooks. Golota retreats. Ten seconds into the opening round, Brewster connects with a left hook to the chin. Golota's knees go, followed by his whole body. He never saw the punch. He never had a chance to employ his game plan. No one sits at the United Center; no one had a chance to. He drops backwards as if hit by lightning. Golota rises on unsteady feet. The crowd remains standing.
Brewster relishes being active in whatever community he is in, whether Indianapolis or Los Angeles, where he currently lives with his wife and two children. "I'm the one who is going to your schools and talking to your kids, telling them to get their education and do the right thing in life. You can do anything in life, because I did it."
And Brewster did do it. The eldest of four children, Lamon entered Riverside Gym at age 7. His mother hoped that he could channel his aggression in a positive way. He played football in school. Beneath the quiet demeanor, Brewster's aggressive side manifested itself.
"When I played football in school, I tried to physically hurt people on the field. I would never 'spear' anybody, but I wasn't above hitting someone under their facemask or chin."
But not until he met the late Bill Brown, the boxing coach at Christamore House, did he begin to take boxing seriously.
"After school, most of my friends were just hanging out, playing basketball and stuff. But every weekday night Mr. Brown would come by, honk his horn and pick me up to go to the gym. I didn't always look forward to spending an evening in a 100 degree upstairs gym, but, since I came with him, I was the first to get there and the last to leave."
Life in L.A.
Brewster won the Indiana Golden Gloves twice. Later, he picked up a silver medal at the Pan Am Games. But Brewster's future in boxing hinged on an impulsive decision to drive his cousin's car to California. "She was in town the summer of 1991, right after I graduated from high school. I didn't even know her that well, but I over-heard her say that she wasn't sure how she would get her car back to Los Angeles, since she was flying back. Without even thinking, I said, 'I'll help.' And that's how I ended up in L.A."
She offered to fly him home, but he wanted to try something different. He began boxing under the guidance of legendary trainer Bill Slayton. He went on to win the California Golden Gloves Tournament twice.
Brewster rushes Golota. He punches the Pole's ribs, arms, and again Golota retreats. Then another left hook slams into his chin. Golota falls through the second and third ropes. He grabs the second rope and pulls himself to his feet. Referee Genaro Rodriquez gives him a standing eight count. Golota's eyes lack focus. He looks confused and unsure of what happened.
A prison without walls
But life in L.A. wasn't easy for Brewster. Living in a hot, upstairs apartment with no air conditioner, he lived off bologna sandwiches and chips. "I didn't have hardly any clothes, no transportation, while living in an area that was predominantly Hispanic. Most people around me couldn't even speak English. Leaving Indianapolis was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I felt like I was in a prison, with no walls. And that's the worst kind of prison: when you're free to go somewhere, but you have no place to go."
His isolation forced him to look beyond himself: "When you have nothing, you find God." He smiles and says, "You see, I had this little thing called the Bible. I just picked it up and started reading it, and I couldn't put it down. It took my mind off the pain of being homesick, hungry and unable to communicate with those who lived around me. For a long time, it was just me and God in that apartment."
The experience changed his life. "I try not to get too spiritual with it, but I believe that God is with me. Every man's fate is already written. Every day of my life, all I'm doing is fulfilling what He has for me to do."
He believes his faith and his upbringing have kept him grounded. He knows that just one punch on the chin - the one you don't see coming - can end his championship reign. That's why it is important to keep his success in perspective. "What comes up must come down. Those people you passed on the way up, you're going to pass on the way down. Nobody stays at the top."
A champion in the making
Golota looks unsure as the referee finishes his eight count. Once again, Brewster bursts forward. Hooks to the body and head. Then the left hook finds its home on the face of the wobbly Golota, and he crashes to the ground. The referee doesn't bother to count. The fight is over. Lamon Brewster has silenced his critics. The crowd's cheers fade away. The champion raises his arms; the challenger, like the crowd, looks stunned, still not comprehending what transpired in the previous 53 seconds. Golota landed three punches; Brewster landed 15.
An excited Brewster stands on the ropes to celebrate his victory, only to be met with jeers and more boos from the humiliated crowd. He yells into the camera, "If you believe in God, all things are possible."
At the age of 23, Brewster turned professional. He started with a bang - a first round knockout. Of his next 21 opponents, he knocked out 20. In May of 2000, Brewster faced rising contender Clifford "The Black Rhino" Etienne, who was 15-0 at the time. At the end of the first round, Lamon tore the ligaments in his knee. He kept fighting but couldn't muster up the attack and defense necessary to win. He lost by unanimous decision. "There was nothing I could do, but do my best with one leg. I'm not touchy on that subject. I just laugh about it."
He fought on, moving up the heavyweight ranks. By April of 2004, Brewster had his opportunity to fight for the heavyweight championship, a fight that turned out to be something straight out of Hollywood. But Lamon would have to fight his most important fight to date without his longtime trainer and father figure, Bill Slayton, who died from cancer a few months prior to the bout.
Taking the title
The fight took place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Odds makers made the champion, Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, who was 42-2 at the time, a 9 to 1 favorite. And for the first four rounds, it looked as though they were right. The champion's jackhammer-like jab jolted Brewster as he stepped forward.
The first three rounds were sloppy, with Brewster eating jabs and Klitschko clinching and leaning forward on the smaller Brewster. But then, in the fourth round, Klitschko landed a perfect combination. Brewster's knees buckled; he wobbled backwards and fell in the corner, the first knockdown in his career. When he rose, he held on, hoping to survive. By the end of the round, Brewster began firing back, and Klitschko started breathing hard.
When the bell rang for the fifth round, Brewster pressed forward like a man on a mission. Clear-headed, he began throwing bombs at his tiring opponent. He slammed a left hook to Klitschko's chin. The Ukrainian fighter fell into the ropes. Brewster followed him, landing punches to the head and body. The referee stepped in and began the count. He allowed the fight to go on.
Brewster attacked. As the bell rang, Klitschko fell to the canvas. He rose on unsteady legs, his eyes glassy and, like a drunken man, staggered to his corner. Referee Robert Byrd waved his arms. The fight was over.
Lamon Brewster is the WBO Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Some have to die
Of course, the natural reaction is, what's a nice guy like you doing in a sport like boxing? "I thought long and hard about that." Brewster pauses for a moment. "God gives favor to certain men, to do certain things in their lives. In order for some people to prosper, some people have to die."
He pauses again. Let me get this right. "It's like when God told Moses about the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. God waited until they got there, and when they did, he said, 'Here it is. Now to get it, you got to go down there and smoke those people,'" he says with a laugh.
Brewster smoked Golota in 53 seconds.
He is scheduled to defend his title on Sept. 28, against the WBO No. 1 contender, Luan Krasniqi. The fight will take place in Germany, a country known for its hometown decisions and unfair treatment of American fighters. On his Web site (lamonbrewster.com), he says, "A lot of fighters don't take chances and won't step out of the United States, but I see this as an opportunity to live up to the term 'World Champion.' Unless Germany can go in and take a punch for him, he's going to sleep."
Brewster had hoped that the fight would take place at Conseco Fieldhouse, but he'll have to wait. "No one here seems interested in putting it on. I think that it would be a sin, a crime, if I don't get to fight in Conseco. I mean, I want Indianapolis to be behind me and recognize what I do. Because what I'm doing might help the generation coming up. Maybe I can influence them."
When talking with Lamon, it doesn't take long for him to wander back to his favorite topic: "positivity." "The only thing I really want to do is promote 'positivity' in the world." Leaning forward, he says, "Who are our role models today? If you turn on the television, everyone is cursing and having sex. Is that really what you want your kids to know?"
After dismantling Golota, Brewster stands with Larry Merchant. Don King stands closely behind them, keeping the American flag in view, with his Cheshire Cat-like grin, both ears perked, eyes darting from interviewer to interviewee.
Then something unusual happens. Before Merchant gets the chance to ask a question, Brewster speaks first, not the usual bravado or calling out. He offers condolences to Merchant for a recently deceased mother-in-law. When asked how he so quickly dismantled Golota, he tells Merchant, "No man can win, if he stands in front of me. That's suicide."
Brewster is determined to leave his mark: on the football field, in the ring and in the public's eye. The latter has been his greatest challenge.
After the interview, reflecting on Brewster's condolences to Merchant, HBO color commentator Jim Lamply says, "In the sport of boxing, you'll meet many very nice and deeply generous people but nobody more than that guy."
Later, Merchant answers his own question: Yes, Brewster is a heavyweight he wants to see fight again.
Those who know Brewster agree that he is a "deeply generous guy." But being a nice guy, a good role model, isn't the point. The question is, does the American public, specifically those from Indianapolis, want to see and recognize Lamon Brewster? He wants to leave his mark in the world, beginning in his own home state.