Lots of Philadelphia fighters have been likened to Rocky, but
only David Reid is compared to Sylvester Stallone. The left
eyelid of the WBA super welterweight champ is soulfully,
Stallonefully, adroop. He always looks as if he's in the middle
of a nap.
Reid's eyelid has been at half-mast ever since the finals of the
1995 Pan Am Games. Two operations haven't helped. "Opponents use
David's Stallone Eye as a target," says Dan Goossen, his
promoter. "David uses it as a badge of honor."
Last Friday night at Atlantic City Convention Hall, in his first
title defense, Reid's Stallone Eye almost cost him dearly. His
opponent, Kevin Kelly, a lightly regarded Australian
longshoreman and the WBA's No. 1 contender, targeted it from the
opening bell. Though Reid won a unanimous 12-round decision,
Kelly scored repeatedly with overhand rights and decked him in
the fifth round with a winging left hook.
As the fight went on, Reid's eyelid drooped lower and lower
until, by Round 7, it was completely closed. "It stuck out like
a giant bull's-eye," said IBF middleweight champion Bernard
Hopkins. "There are two things you must have in this game: legs
Had the 1996 Olympic gold medalist been looking past Kelly to
bigger paydays with Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas, who
retained his IBF junior middleweight title Friday night with an
11th-round TKO of Raul Marquez? Or was his problem, as manager
Al Mitchell insisted, not his eye but his ears? "David has to
work on his listening skills," Mitchell said after the bout.
"Sometimes he makes me look like a superstar, sometimes like an
Since age 11 Reid has been practicing what Mitchell preaches.
They met at a rec center near Reid's North Philly home. "I'd
been suspended from school for fighting," Reid recalls. "My
mother told me I needed to take my butt to the boxing gym. Which
I did. Everybody there told me to talk to the guy in glasses."
The guy was Mitchell. "I asked if he could teach me to box. He
said, 'Sure. Come back Monday.' Which I also did. He's been
schooling me ever since."
Reid's hands are quicker than a three-card monte dealer's, so
Mitchell made him stay away from the left hook--the ruin of many
a Philly fighter. Instead of swinging freely, Reid was taught to
take advantage of amateur scoring rules by punching in
combinations behind the jab.
When Mitchell moved to Michigan in 1988 to join the Olympic
boxing program, Reid, then 15, quit the sport. "I stopped for a
year," he reports, "until I got inspired by a movie on TV." The
movie was--what else?--Rocky.
Against odds as great as any the Italian Stallion ever faced,
Reid became the lone U.S. boxer to win a gold medal at the 1996
Olympics. In the final round of the 156-pound finals, his
opponent, Alfredo Duvergel of Cuba, held a seemingly
insurmountable lead. "Forget points!" Mitchell told him. "Go for
the KO." Bulling in from the outside, Reid countered a Duvergel
left with one of his trademark rights, and the Cuban crumpled to
the floor. Reid fought his first pro fight seven months later
and won his world title on March 6 in only his 12th pro bout, a
unanimous decision over France's Laurent Boudouani.
Reid's first mandatory challenger, Kelly, was considered a
walkover. HBO, which has the champ under contract, deemed the
bout "noncompetitive" and declined to broadcast it. The decision
seemed prescient for the first few rounds, which Kelly spent in
retreat. But in Round 4 he began landing awkward, sprawling
righthand leads, and Reid began backing off.
During the fifth, Mitchell screamed at Reid to keep his hands up
and throw combinations. His head a craning target, Reid
carelessly turned to Mitchell and waved him off. "When I turned
back," Reid later said, "Kevin's left was waiting for me." The
punch caught Reid flush on the jaw and put him on the canvas for
the third time in his pro career. Afterward he showed just
enough aggression and threw just enough punches to gain a narrow
"David didn't do a lot of the things we worked on in camp,"
Mitchell said. "He was trying to knock Kelly out. You don't try
to knock people out. Knockouts come naturally. You can't force
Mitchell figured his protege obeyed him maybe 50% of the time.
"The day this mamajama obeys me 100 percent is the day I drop
dead," he said. "I'll be carried out of the arena, just like
Mickey in Rocky III."
Peering through a swollen eyelid of the tiger, Reid softly said,
"Next fight I'm gonna give you 100 percent. So you might as well
get ready to drop dead."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Reid (above, in red) was taught to punch in combinations behind the jab.