At boxing matches, violence and beauty have been known to keep each other company. The scene at the Pittsburgh Expo Mart last Friday night was no exception.
Between rounds, bikini-clad women holding numbered cards above their heads carefully stepped over the bodily fluids that had pooled on the canvas between rounds. Gallant men, some wearing pinky rings, held the ropes as the women entered and left the squared-circle.
Monty Meza-Clay of Rankin entered the ring accompanied by a very large, multicultural entourage. The capacity crowd chanted his name so that even the most casual viewer watching the main event on ESPN2 wouldn't have a hard time spotting the hometown favorite.
Eric "Mighty Mouse" Aiken, his much taller and more muscular-looking opponent, had entered a minute earlier with a smaller entourage and no hometown advantage.
Monty had come a long way from a snowy night in January 2002 when Rankin cops swarmed and beat him outside his uncle's jitney station without cause. Cops from neighboring boroughs also were present but didn't intervene. No incident report was ever filed.
While Monty wasn't arrested or charged, his injuries were serious enough to cause him to miss an Olympic berth, so he sued Rankin and several eastern suburbs for police brutality.
Even after reaching a $32,000 settlement with Rankin, Braddock, Edgewood and Swissvale boroughs in exchange for dropping his suit, Monty still had to face a fresh charge that he had sold cocaine to an undercover cop.
Demoralized and broke, Monty Meza-Clay had reached his lowest point in what had once been a promising career as a fighter.
Suddenly, a man who had never been in trouble with the law was being pulled over regularly by cops who didn't like the color of his brake lights.
I ran into Monty at the Swissvale post office during this period. At the time, he was getting around almost exclusively on his bike because he was tired of being pulled over.
Fortunately, he decided it was time to get out of the eastern suburbs and concentrate on his boxing career.
Lawyer Robert Del Greco Jr. of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote took on Monty's cause, representing him with zeal and professionalism. The shaky informant who implicated Monty was no match for a lawyer with first-rate legal chops and street smarts.
In late 2004, Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen acquitted Monty of two counts of cocaine distribution, bringing an end to his absurd misadventures in the justice system.
Monty Meza-Clay's good fortune in court paralleled his even better fortune in the ring. In the featherweight division, Monty has lost one fight in 26 bouts -- his first televised ESPN2 fight in 2006 in Miami.
Bobby Del Greco flew down to Miami for that fight, but had a bad feeling as soon as he saw the much heavier Edner Cherry. His premonition turned out to be right. Monty Meza-Clay suffered his first knockout.
Maybe that's what I assumed would happen when the 5-foot-2 Meza-Clay stood toe-to-toe with Eric Aiken, a fighter who has five inches on him -- easily.
Though Monty looked almost childlike in comparison to his bigger opponent, there was nothing diminutive about his boxing abilities. He swarmed Aiken, delivering body blows and blistering jabs, always careful to bob and cover in a way that kept his opponent off balance and swatting air.
Aiken began bleeding from the mouth in the third round. It never let up. He was like a tree being whittled by a fast-moving ax.
Finally, Monty put Aiken out of his misery in the seventh of their 10 scheduled rounds. He was dazed and on the ropes with no answer for the rapid-fire blows Monty delivered to his face and head. Aiken's corner threw a towel into the ring.
Monty Meza-Clay roared triumphantly and did a victory dance in the ring. He'd won a big one in front of the hometown crowd and on ESPN2. He milked it for all it was worth.
After the fight, Monty told a phalanx of reporters that he knew he would beat Aiken handily despite the stature gap. He trains with bigger fighters in mind. "If he was my size, I might think different," he said with a laugh. "I'm a mature fighter. I chop things down."
Monty Meza-Clay learned to chop big problems down to a smaller size back in Rankin. He hasn't looked back since.
Tony Norman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.