STILL UNBROKEN — Part One

Below is an excerpt from the upcoming republishing of my first book, “I’m Not With The Band”. I named the chapter after a song by Lynyrd Skynrd. The song is a personal anthem about overcoming adversity and it struck a chord with me. You go through stuff and you keep going.

A few months after my back surgery, I saw a post on Linkedin from a businessman in Boston who announced that he had entered a white collar boxing match through an organization called Haymakers for Hope. Intrigued, I googled Haymakers to find out more about them. Haymakers is a small charitable organization in Boston, founded in 2009. It conducts boxing matches, typically white collar stuff, with all the proceeds and donations going to the Jimmy Fund, which supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Jimmy Fund raises millions of dollars every year through community and fundraising events. Being a Red Sox fan, I knew of the organization since it’s prominent in the Boston community.

According to their website, there was an event in May, which was right around the corner. That was the event the Boston businessman signed up for. The only other matches scheduled for 2014 would be in early November at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. I knew this was the one I had to be in. My back was feeling better. I had enough time to prepare. The stars were aligned. I filled out the online application and in it, asked if I could speak to someone in the organization since the web site did not have a phone number. Within a day, someone emailed me back acknowledging receipt of my application. Included in the email was a cell phone number for me to call. When I called, the gentleman that answered explained that, once an application is accepted, the boxer will be given three months of free boxing lessons at a gym affiliated with Haymakers. Each boxer also had to come up with a minimum of $5,000 in donations. Anyone who donated $15,000 or more could bring eight friends to sit at ringside for free drinks and food. He asked me where I lived. When I told him Ft Lauderdale, he said that they didn’t have any affiliates down here yet. So, I said, “Look, I have a gym I want to train at. I will foot the bill for it. Once I select the trainer, you can interview him and give him your blessing. Is that a fair deal?’ He said, “Yes, it definitely is. If you want to pay for it, that’s fine”. Then, I asked “Does me living in Florida in any way affect me being approved?” He said no. He went on to explain that the boxers are matched against each other by age and weight. Again, covering all my bases, I told him that if I had to fly to Boston and stay there until they could match me up, I would do it. To that, he replied, “Not necessary”. We ended the call after he told me that I would receive notice on my application within a month, it would be sent via email and if I had any further questions, just to give him a call. It was time to get started.

The next morning, I was driving down to Key West for a couple of days to hang out. On my way down, I made some calls to some people I knew, trying to determine who I should hire to coach me. The name that kept coming up was Marty Monroe. I knew Marty but had never trained with him. He used to train some of the fighters at South Florida Boxing when I belonged there. He was a solid guy and all business. One of the people I spoke to gave me his cell number and I called him before I even hit Key West. I left him a detailed voicemail message, explaining the purpose of my call.

My second night in Key West, I was getting ready to leave the hotel when my cell phone rang. When I answered, I heard “Hey Killer, how are you? It’s Marty”. Hearing his voice was music to my ears. I explained everything to him about Haymakers, the event, the date, the location. Marty is from the Bronx so when he heard the fight would be in New York that made it even more appealing to him. He said “I would love to train you. One thing; we are going to have to take some of the muscle off of you. I don’t want you to be so bulky”. That was fine with me. Whatever he wanted me to do to prepare, I was willing to do. “We start next Saturday. Be ready, Killer”. I hung up and literally pumped my fist in the air. I was ready for the challenge.

Grueling, simply grueling

Simply put, the training was grueling. Even though I was used to the intense workouts from Kevin Kohan at HIT Fitness Warehouse, my body was now four years older, a little more beaten up and the type of workouts were different. Marty had me work a lot on conditioning and also on technique. When I wasn’t jumping rope, shadow boxing, running (which I hated) or hitting the bag, I was in the ring with him, working on ring control. “Control the ring” he would tell me. I learned that in order to be a superior fighter, I had to close down the ring space on my opponent, deny him the room to move, back him into the ropes or into a corner and continually put pressure on him.

He told me, “When the bell rings for the first round, I want you to charge to the center of the ring, bury your face in the guy’s chest and pound to away at his body. Ferocious body shots. Use your power”. After the workout, he would show me boxing videos on his tablet, pointing out certain techniques that I had to master. It got to the point where I was watching Joe Frazier videos on youtube because Marty said my style was similar to Frazier’s. “You aren’t going to dance around the ring, Killer. It isn’t your style”. No, dancing is not my style. Neither is floating like a butterfly. I knew that I had to utilize my power in order to win.

Anyone who thinks that a three minute round isn’t long hasn’t been in the boxing ring before. And the rounds for the Haymaker fight were only two minutes each. Still, my concern was getting fatigued. Marty told me not to worry about that since “I will make sure you are in the best shape of your life by the time we get to New York.” I believed him. In fact, I believed him even more when he had me doing suicide sprints, hand speed drills with my feet propped up on the boxing ring, non-stop bag drills, running in the parking lot, jumping rope, more sprints. He would jack up the speed and incline on the treadmill and make me run while he stood next to me, watching. There were times when the incline was so intense, I felt like I was running up the side of a wall. Every day, by the end of the workout, there would be pools of my sweat on the floor around the bags. Some days, I was so fatigued, I would be hanging onto the bag in order to hold myself up and he would yell, “You can’t win a fight throwing one punch every ten seconds. Let’s do another round”. On weekends, I worked out two times a day. I did a light weight workout in the morning and worked out with Marty in the afternoon. On my way home, I would stop and buy bags of ice, throw them in the bathtub so I could get rid of the soreness. My knuckles were perpetually swollen and red. I sacrificed having any kind of social life so that I could focus on the training. And to help take off the bulk, I drastically changed my diet. The majority of my meals consisted of tuna out of a can, some vegetables and water. Hell, half the time, I was too tired to eat a real meal. Slowly but surely, the bulk started to come off. I started to move better in the ring, I had more energy, I slept better. The whole boxing thing was officially in my blood. I would walk down the halls at work, throwing shadow punches. I would stand in my living room, shadow boxing, practicing uppercuts. I was on a roll.

As I progressed through the training, I also started laying the groundwork to get some donations. I was going to have my company put in the initial (and required) $5,000. I made calls to friends and other business people, asking for donations. There were people that I had helped over the years and now was the time to call in a favor. I received commitments that put my total donation close to $20,000. In addition, I had friends and colleagues making arrangements to be in Times Square for the fight. I was even going to fly my daughter and one of her friends in for it.

After a couple of months of training, I started paying close attention to what was in my email box. I was on the lookout for the Haymakers email, officially approving me for the fight. I went as far as to leave a voicemail on the only number I had, asking when I might expect to hear back. Then the day came. I opened the email and thus is what it said:

Hello

On behalf of Haymakers for Hope, I really want to thank you for taking the time to sign up to literally fight for a cure for cancer! At this time, we only have the capacity to accommodate a limited number of potential fighters in this years event, and were unable to find a great matchup for you. We do urge you to keep checking our website and social media sites as we are planning other ways for more people to get involved in the Haymakers family.

Thank you again.

I stared at the computer screen, re-reading the email as if seeing it again would change what it said. I called Carly into my office and pointed to the screen. She read it and looked back at me. At that point, everything became a blur but I seem to recall saying I would call them and find out what the deal was. She asked me, “Do you want me to call? This is bullshit”. I immediately fired off an email asking them why I was not approved. Within a few hours, I received a reply. The reply stated:

Unfortunately at this point in time we can only consider potential fighters who are living and working out in the cities where we are hosting events. This is the hardest part of our program and business, turning away fundraisers for our cause. I have no doubt that you would make a great participant, but logistically we aren’t set up to handle out of town fighters. We pride ourselves on ensuring that everyone is properly matched, and it will be very difficult for us to do that if you are training in Florida. Outside of our mission of raising as much money for cancer research as we can, we also strive to give every participant the best possible experience from day one in the gym to fight night, and we don’t feel as though we’ll be able to live up to the standards we set for ourselves.

I want to thank you for your enthusiasm, and I am really sorry we aren’t at a place yet where we can give you a fight. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the funding to expand to Florida soon!

Properly matched? I offered to fly there and stay as long as they needed me to. They told me logistics were not an issue. My heart was in my throat. I couldn’t even think straight. I called Marty and left him a message. When he called back, he too was shocked. “We don’t need them, Tony. There will be plenty more opportunities. I watched some of their prior fights that are posted online. It wouldn’t have been competitive for you”. I heard the words and I knew he was trying to console me. Carly came into my office a couple of times to see how I was doing but I needed time to grasp what had just happened. All the time, all the sacrifice — down the shitter. At least, that is how I felt at the time. I finished the day out and went home.

The next day, reality started to sink in. When I opened my eyes, my first thought was, “Did that really happen or was it a bad dream?” It was a bad dream. I went to work, licking my wounds. I made a call to Haymakers hoping that perhaps I could persuade them into letting me fight. My voicemails were never returned. Even the amount of money I had raised didn’t sway them. I called and emailed everyone who planned to attend the fight and broke the news to them. We were not going to Times Square.

When the day was done, I began the five minute walk home. On the way, I swung into the Royal Pig for a drink. I sat at the back of the bar which thankfully was empty. When my drink came, I stared into it, keeping my hand on my forehead which clearly sent the message, “I don’t want to talk to anyone”. I felt like a jilted lover. All of a sudden, my hands started to tremble a little and my eyes started to well up with tears. The voice inside my head was saying, “No Capullo, not here. Get your shit together”. However, it was too late. I started sobbing. I had my face covered, hoping none of the bar staff would ask me if I was ok. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice said, “It’s going to be okay, Tony”. It was one of the neighbors in my building. He sat next to me and ordered a drink.

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