January 4, 2017


The fight of your life (Lyra McKee, Nov. 22nd, 2016, Mosaic)

The footage is nearly 40 years old but you can see him clearly: pasty, red-haired, more Irish-looking than Italian.

"Some of you may have observed the knee brace on the left knee of Johnny Lira," says the announcer, Howard Cosell. "That is occasioned by the fact that there are pellets in that knee. Remember I told you Lira had a troubled youth? The pellets the result of being a participant in a gang war." He pauses. "Just recording the fact."

Lira, a fierce, determined fighter who has previously served prison time, darts round the ring as he and the Venezuelan Ernesto Espana exchange blows. Espana's using dark brown Mexican gloves, with stitches sewn in where the leather connects with the skin. In round nine, they will rip into Lira's cheek and tear a gash above his right eye so bad that his face is doused in blood. But he doesn't know this yet. It's only round six.

An evenly fought match up to this point, things start to change in the seventh round. "And in a round like this, it seems to me, the more polished style of Espana becomes more visible," says Cosell.

"Oh! That counter-right by Lira! Knocked Espana down!"

Lira's friend Fred jumps on the table, screaming, as Al Capone's ex-driver looks on. Ernesto Espana, the world lightweight champ, bested in the ring by an Italian-American street punk. The first knock-down of the fight.

Espana gets back up. "We will not be going to a station break," Cosell says.

The seventh round counts down: 15, 14, 13...

"Lira's got a lifetime at stake here. You can understand the hunger in this young man. Boxing, as I said, turned his life around: the troubled youth, involved in gang wars, involved in crimes and then here he is, fighting for a championship!"

The bell rings.

"There can be no doubt about the scoring in that round. It was Johnny Lira's round."

But there are more to go.

In the next round, Espana fights back. He knocks Lira down towards the end. In round nine, both men continue to battle.

"But right there - Espana got through with the uppercut and you saw Lira's head snap upward! ... A lot of blood gushing out now! The blood we had anticipated earlier, over Lira's right eye, and Lira is in trouble!"

Watch the scene frame-by-frame and there it is: the point at which Lira's brain must be bouncing around inside his skull, like a snapped elastic band. Concussion? Howard Cosell doesn't realise it but he's narrating the beginning of the end of Johnny Lira's life.

Posted by at January 4, 2017 7:51 AM


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