When a boxer dies, people in the fight game shake their heads, acknowledge the tragedy — and wonder when the next fight is.
For Patrick Day, the next bout belongs to those who love him as they try to make sense of his death following a fatal knockout defeat in Chicago. Day, just 27, was one of the good guys in a sport populated by too few.
“He was always smiling. Not a care in the world. Nothing really bothered him,” recalled Brian Adams, director of the Daily News Golden Gloves Tournament from 2005-2017. “He was by far the nicest kid that came up under me at the Golden Gloves. Third-nicest person I’m ever met in boxing behind [champions] Mark Breland and Wladimir Klitschko.”
On Saturday, Oct. 12, in the 10th and final round of USBA super-welterweight title fight with Charles Conwell, Day (17-3-1, with 6 KOs) caught a ringing left hook and went down, the back of his head slamming into the canvas. The referee halted the bout while the medical team came in and took Day out on a stretcher.
Four days later, he was gone.
Boxing suffers these tragedies year after year, its viability as a sport so far insured by a loyal fan following that translates into continued profits. Which fails to address the question: Why is the family of Patrick Day, a graduate of Nassau Community College with a degree in food and nutrition, an all-around gentleman and a role model, left to weep?
Sometimes there’s just no explanation. Day died performing in a sport that he loved, leaving the other fighter to live with what happened.
His opponent Charles Conwell (11-0, with 8 KOs) is just 21, the youngest member of the USA squad that went to the 2016 Rio Olympics. A recent Instagram posting showed his pain and a bit of survivor’s guilt over a victory that feels like a loss for everyone.
“I never meant for this to happen to you,” he wrote. “All I ever wanted to do was win. If I could take it all back I would — no one deserves for this to happen to them. I replay the fight over and over in my head thinking what if this never happened and why did it happen to you.”
Former light heavyweight champ Marcus Browne, a long-time friend of Day, recalled the pair launching their careers as teenagers and winning National Amateur titles in 2012.
“I watched him grow up. He was a real sweet kid,” said Browne, 28. “Boxing is a fraternity of brotherhood. You know where we from. We from the hood. [It’s] the way he carried himself. You don’t see a lot of guys like that in boxing. I’m going to miss going to the gym on Saturday with him and Coach Joe. This is crazy.”
Coach Joe would be Joe Higgins, Patrick Day’s long time trainer, manager and, more importantly, friend.
Higgins, who spent 20 years with the FDNY, lost his fireman brother on 9/11. When they took Day out of the Chicago ring on a stretcher, he had the same sick feeling.
“He went from being this snot-nosed kid to a young man who changed my life … he saved my life,” said Higgins, who suffers from bad lungs and throat from his FDNY tour but became a workout warrior because of Day.
“I have four kids and Patrick is son-like,” he continued. “I mentored him, but he mentored me. He made me stop cursing. He never cursed. He made me spiritually grow because he was an encourager. He found the good in everyone. When a fighter would get me mad, I’d yell, ‘Be like Patrick!’”
Promoter Lou DiBella, who worked with both Day and Conwell, stayed busy rearranging his schedule last week to ensure his attendance at the Long Island services for the fighter.
“I’ll be where I’m supposed to be,” said DiBella in measured tones. “I don’t feel like being at a fight right now, you know what I mean?”
DiBella sadly endured this situation 14 years ago, when his lightweight champion Leavander Johnson died inside a Las Vegas ring.
“I don’t think there was anything we could have done to save Pat,” said DiBella. “This is a savage and medieval sport. This is the only sport where practicing the sport (sparring) is just as dangerous as in [the] boxing. The sport is not as safe as it can be and Pat’s death should be a call to action for the sport.”
DiBella paused, then spoke once more.
“I don’t think I’ll ever watch that fight again,” he said. “I don’t feel responsible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty.”
Higgins, despite the heartbreak, tried to put a little positive spin on the devastating loss.
“God needed his angel,” said Higgins. “That’s why God called him home. He was raised well. He made people feel good and he found the good in people. He had that aura around him. That’s why there is so much sorrow.”
Higgins is considering a change for his Freeport, L.I., gym, from a boxing venue to a place for local kids. He’s already got a name: The Patrick Day Fitness Center.
But his mind drifts from the future to the past, to a day two weeks earlier when Day and his family shared a pre-fight meal in Chicago and the young fighter addressed the media one last time.
“Day told the crowd he wanted the fighters to put on a great show, leave and go home healthy,” recalled Higgins before exhaling deeply. “Everybody did. And Pat didn’t.”