"Dangerous" Dannie Williams hadn't been back to St. Louis since April, so he made his rounds before the weigh-in at the Amerisports Bar and Grill at the Ameristar Casino, slapping hands and giving hugs to his people.
It was the eve of the one of the biggest fights of his career, and he was restless and ready to box.
"We finished strong," he said of his training camp in Youngstown, Ohio, under trainer Jack Loew. "Got good sparring in the last couple of weeks."
Williams wore sunglasses, a red and black Southside Boxing Gym track jacket, and a black bandana over his thick dreads. Tonight's fight co-headlines ESPN's Friday Night Fights at 8 p.m. -- almost certainly making it Williams' most watched fight yet.
Williams' opponent, Antonio Cervantes, meanwhile, sat serenely at a table with his small entourage. He'll be the night's antagonist, fighting against an up-and-coming champ in his hometown. Cervantes, who has the weathered face of a proud Mexican fighter, leaned back in his chair and eyed the scene around him.
Women in white capris pants, fresh off a round at the slot machines, looked confused upon entering the restaurant and seeing short stone-faced youngsters standing on a podium in their underwear as grown men snapped photos. An elderly couple curiously glared at the table next to them where doctors were taking fighters' blood pressures, their stethoscopes tangled among Ketchup bottles and cutlery rolled in white napkins. The eatery had been transformed into a prizefighting spectacle.
The news of the night was the announcement that 114-pound amateur standout and St. Louis native Stephon Young will make his professional debut on the undercard, after barely missing the cut for the Olympic team last week. He has lightning fast hands and impeccable footwork, but just like any other fighter transitioning out of headgear and four round bouts, his chin and stamina have yet to be tested.
"Amateur boxing is more of a sprint," said Young's trainer Buddy Shaw. "Pros is a marathon, so you gotta train for a marathon."
The fighters on the card, presented by Rumble Time Production, took turns standing on the scale and posing for pictures. A parade of flashes rattled off when Kermit Cintron, the biggest name in the room and a former IBF welterweight champion, was introduced. He will be fighting Antwone Smith in the other main event.
On the table on the podium, Williams' WBC Continental Americas championship belt glimmered against the lights from television cameras. He and Cervantes took their places, standing toe to toe with their fists in front of their faces-- the usual promo-poster stance. At first they stared toward the horizon, then into each others eyes, trying not to move or blink as the cameras flashed. But Williams couldn't hold the front any longer, so he broke character and let loose a smile.
"Dannie, man, he's always smiling," said someone in the crowd.
The two men shook hands and descended the podium. Tonight they fight.
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