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 and headlights."
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 ass."
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 tide 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.