Show Your Love
It’s not a sign really. It’s an extra-large button-down shirt, stretched out on the ground. It reads, in part, in clean blue Magic Marker outlined in red, “Boxing and Sparring Lesson. Please show your love.” It belongs to retired boxer Aziz Moorehead of Harlem, and it represents a rarely spoken-of rung on the boxing career ladder: fighting for tips in a public park. Because, make no mistake, that’s what’s happening. Lessons are not forthcoming.
Instead, as each new “customer” steps up, Moorehead hands him—it is always a him—a pair of boxing gloves and an Everlast head protector and begins pacing the ring while his opponent suits up. Except it’s not a ring, obviously. It’s a circle of passersby who have stopped just long enough to watch two grown men hit each other under very uncontrolled circumstances. Some of them drop a couple crumpled dollar bills in Moorehead’s backpack after each fight. The customers are all in their late teens to early twenties and presumably have something to prove to someone. Moorehead is 50 years old and a one-time pro. He’s also—it should be noted—fighting cancer.
He comes to Washington Square, he says, “for the exercise.”
To drum up the attention of the crowd, Aziz Moorehead
spars with his wife, Susan, 54. They
have been together for two years now. Originally
from Rhode Island, Susan had never boxed before meeting Aziz, but has grown to
love the sport and recommends it for all women.
“It makes you feel safe,” she says.
“Because you know you can turn around and crack somebody if you have to.”
Moorehead started his boxing career as an inmate at Rikers Island prison as a young man, looking for a way to pass the time and stay out of further trouble.
Moorehead vs. Moorehead. Husband and wife spar in front of the fountain in Washington Square.
After getting out of prison, Aziz Moorehead and a group of friends were hanging out in the gym when a female professional boxer approached them and threw a canvas bag on the ground. “Everybody started taking turns and putting on gloves and she was giving us drama,” Moorehead says. “And I felt so embarrassed, because I never got beat up by a girl.” The “girl” would go on to train Moorehead and introduce him to a series of local professionals.
Aziz and Susan Moorehead embrace after their sparring session. Aziz ends every fight by hugging his competitor, though rarely with such sincerity.
Moorehead spars with Nicolas Benessiano, 22, a Frenchman on holiday. After the fight, as Benessiano walks out of the park with his friends, a smile will be splayed across his face and a tear will be rolling down his cheek.
Employing a common strategy for the tired fighter, Moorehead clinches his opponent, Adan Kohnhorst, 19, during a bout. Kohnhorst, originally from Texas, is an amateur mixed martial artist currently majoring in global liberal studies at NYU.
Susan Moorehead looks on as her husband paces the ring in between rounds. There is no clock or bell or anything so official. Moorehead announces the beginning and end of each round with a simply stated, “Ding, ding.”
Moorehead squares off against Queens resident Chase Saskatune, 20, another in a line of amateur mixed martial artists. Saskatune has declined to wear the protective headgear in favor of his own. The crowds vary in number throughout the day from nearly a hundred to just a handful of curious onlookers.
Moorehead throws a punch against the considerably taller Saskatune. Despite ending each fight with a smile, Moorehead’s intensity rises relative to the level of his competition.
Moorehead douses himself with water to cool off between bouts. By day’s end, he will have sparred with eight thrill-seekers. After taking a quick look into his backpack, Moorehead estimates that he’s made about 100 dollars for the day.