The gray short hair in the buzz cut gave him away. All the other fighters were hungry. And young.
Mike Englert is not young by any measure – 46 years old, 11 years out of the professional boxing ring, a veteran of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hellish places. Englert sported the only gray hair and smile-less face of a dozen fighters.
“This is work,” Englert said before the fight as he shadowboxed in front of a mirror to work up the sweat and energy and heat he would need to fight a guy 22 years younger than him. “I’m just happy to compete, be out here. A win is a bonus.”
And the eyes were different, too. Mike “Double Clutch” Englert’s 46-year-old eyes had seen so much in wars as a Special Forces Army soldier, and the streets of Rock Hill as a cop, that the boxing ring is somewhere where he could get punched, but not shot. A few other fighters, to get ready, yelled and talked loud, bounced and scowled.
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Englert quietly prayed, and punched for the warm-up. He weighed in at 170 pounds. His stomach was taut. Just muscle, experience and guts.
His Saint Michaels Boxing Club team, wearing Team Englert T-shirts, featured boxer Alonzo Lumpkin from Rock Hill, a training partner over the years, and several Rock Hill cops. The officers – Carlos Culbreath, Arhur Philson and William Andrews – yelled about this night being Englert’s night in the dressing room. They paced and readied as they would when catching a killer holed up in a house.
Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame judge and trainer Marge Hammond of Rock Hill, whose free Rock Hill gym for boxers was home to so many boxers including Englert, came into the dressing room like a queen attending a coronation. At 80, she is still one tough boxing lady.
“Mike is ready,” Hammond declared.
Englert stared at the mirror and saw a life of being as tough as he needed to be, always. He grew up in Rochester, N.Y., a step away from the wrong side of the law. He started boxing at age 11. A cop showed him the way. So Englert is starting a nonprofit boxing gym for kids in Rock Hill.
But tonight was not about keeping kids on the right path.
Tonight was different.
Saturday night at the fights.
His first as a professional in 11 years after putting his fight career on hold for military service. He had climbed Asian mountains and dug in deserts since, as a soldier doing secret missions. That came after he was in the Marines.
But not tonight.
This was in front of a crowd.
Outside in the hallway the opponent, Charles Parker, so much taller and younger, warmed up in the hallway. Parker talked of being ready for his shot at Englert.
Englert said nothing about Parker or anyone else. The concrete walls carried the noise. Englert heard none of it.
The opponent was age. And age is unforgiving, and without mercy.
The Rock Hill National Guard armory filled up Saturday night for the fights. Fans from across the spectrum, bikers, tough guys, ladies wearing clothes that were skimpy at best. Dozens of off-duty cops from the Rock Hill Police Department, who have Englert’s back on the streets, had his back in the stands. They ranged from the chief of police, Chris Watts, to the patrol guys and ladies and the records clerks.
There was a concession stand and the beer flowed and the old armory smelled like a barroom with sweat and canvas. The metal folding chairs were set up. The ring was set up in the middle like a shrine.
An immigrant from Mexico whose only chance at a better life is his fists in America won his fight, then brought his tiny son born in America for the chance at a better life into the dressing room to pose for a picture with Englert. Englert even smiled. It was thin, though.
He had work to do.
Inside the dressing room, former professional boxer Shane Benfield of York, a Carolinas Boxing Hall of Famer and training partner over the years with Englert, taped Englert’s hands and talked about Englert being 46 years old and out of the ring for 11 years.
“Boxing takes the toughest people from the streets, and they become boxers,” Benfield said. “Mike has something you can’t teach. He still has it.”
That thing is heart, experience, will and desire, Benfield said.
In a word – guts.
Finally, the five undercard fights were over. A few in the crowd had drank a few beers and the ring announcer called out: “And the main event!”
The off-duty cops stood and howled and the crowd was right there with them as Englert made his way to the ring. His wife, Casey, was right there for her husband, watching him risk getting punched in the head. Englert, as a boxer, is so old his grandson was there.
Up the steps Englert climbed to the ring and he was introduced and, although the crowd was bonkers, the only two people in the world right then for Englert were his opponent and himself. He was introduced, but he did not smile.
The bell rang.
Englert circled and threw a few punches and got hit a couple of times. A lady called out the words heard at fights since there have been fights: “Kill him!”
The foes circled and punched and Englert connected with a punch that sent Parker off-balance and sideways. Then Englert approached, shoulders heaving and bobbing, and he threw a short, almost impossible to see, left hook. The punch hit Parker in the jaw and Parker dropped on the spot.
The cops and the crowd jumped and hollered and screamed and the place was bedlam.
Englert bounced to a neutral corner and Parker howled in pain and the referee counted Parker out. Parker had wrenched his knee either right before, during, or after the punch that hit his jaw landed like a thrown concrete block.
The referee called it over.
And then the ring announcer called it. It took just 49 seconds.
“Your winner by technical knockout, Mike Englert!” the announcer yelled.
Englert gave a bunch of his shoulders with his hands out that suggested: “That’s it?”
That was it.
Months of training for 49 seconds, and one punch and a wrenched knee that ended it.
Englert was embraced by family and well-wishers and declared that he felt great.
“I’m looking at trying for a state level title, maybe October if not before,” Englert said.
He was asked if his body felt 46 years old – which by boxing standards, is not old, but ancient.
“Not at all,” Englert said.
Then he walked back to the dressing room to take off his boxing trunks, and trade them for the gun and uniform of the Rock Hill Police Department.
Because Monday morning, at 6 a.m, he was back on shift.
Want to help?
To donate to the Saint Michaels Boxing Club for kids, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.