By Jeff Reiners
A short, pudgy fellow stares across the ring at a 6'5 mountain of pure muscle fiber. The anonymous man is about to engage in a faux boxing match against former NFL lineman Ray Edwards. A clip of the 29 second farce spreads like digital prairie fire. Even reaching your non-boxing friends.
The man is a welder from Iowa. His back is covered in patchy fur, a Confederate flag tattoo visible through a gap in the forest. He moves away from the towering Edwards in a jittery manner. Then a missed punch and a knockdown, the hapless boxer flat on his face after feeling wind, not contact.
Just like that, Nick Capes, last minute opponent, is world famous for taking a dive on a whiffed right uppercut, thrown dangerously by an ex-football player.
The tabloids call. So does the local news. By Saturday, Capes is scheduling appearances on weekday morning television shows. Capes is baffled by the attention, unaware of the video until the afternoon I reach out for an interview. He is steadfast in his belief that he was legitimately knocked out. Claiming the camera angle has fooled over a million YouTube viewers in to thinking he took a dive.
It's a convenient position, but for Nick Capes, there's one massive problem. Nobody believes him. Video evidence, the angle that exists, indisputably shows Capes flailing backwards after a missed punch.
My angle of belief is different. I've met Nick Capes. I've even seen him fight before. I know his athletic limitation. It's entirely possible that Nick Capes thinks he was hit. It's also possible that an athlete of his caliber could be knocked out by the slightest turbulence.
Eight months prior to global ridicule, Nick Capes smiles awkwardly while a handler offers encouragement. I'm standing in a drafty corridor of an ancient ballroom on the banks of the Mississippi River. Capes has just accepted $100 to fight as a replacement after the scheduled boxer is a no-show 30 minutes before first bell.
"Bet the promoters love you," I joke with Nick, weighing the circumstance.
Capes will fight a friend, the rough guy from his gym back home. Last minute back room arrangements are commonplace at this level. In club boxing, there's no guarantee the opponent will show up. Promoters often dealing with unanswered phone calls in the hours before a card. Opponents get cold feet and disappear. Therefore, a guy like Capes, that hangs around, has a Federal Boxing ID and packs 200 lbs is a valuable commodity.
Nick is your typical laborer from the dying Midwest industrial sector. The kind of guy that legitimately thinks the government intends on taking his firearms. He gets a kick out of large trucks. You see him everywhere on the club circuit. Capes works as a lumper, setting up and tearing down the ring at shows because, you know, somebody has to do it.
I notice the hairy Capes decline multiple invitations to warm up before his fight, instead rocking on his heals, sheepishly grinning to cover his doubt. His eyes wander nervously, darting away from contact. A chuckle rises out of Capes at the suggestion of competition. He hasn't a chance and he knows it. Pain is sure to come, albeit $100 worth of pain. Capes is merely a piece of lamb being fed to a lion.
There's a sense of detachment from Capes; who either doesn't care or doesn't know that he's being used as a human punching bag. He's a misshapen lump, a guy who spends more time on the couch than in the ring, like me. Certainly in no condition to exercise for consecutive minutes.
Nick Capes is not a fighter. He's just willing to get in there.
He winces at feints from his opponent in the ring. His face a mask of fear before he's even hit. Within seconds Capes is down on a body shot, the slapping sound of leather at least giving the indication of violence. Each time he's hit, Capes is down, not prepared to endure the slightest pain.
His conqueror muses to me afterwards about the potential humiliation of letting Capes out of the first round. He'd never hear the end of it back at the gym.
That performance meant nothing to the boxing career of Nick Capes. Nobody uploaded the fight on the internet. No one in attendance gave Nick Capes a second thought. You could say he faded back in to obscurity, if he ever left it.
Then, North Dakota boxing promoter Cory Rapacz put Nick Capes in a boxing ring with former Atlanta Falcons defender Ray Edwards.
Nick Capes agreed to fight an unknown man in North Dakota, on one day notice, for less money than it cost him to drive there. The logic of that choice is debatable, but he was offered and accepted the terms.
Promoter Nick Capcz arranged the match, never mentioning he intended on feeding Capes to a defensive lineman, three months removed from pro football.
As Capes drove north the night before the fight, he joked about eating Big Macs to bulk up from cruiserweight. The promotion also seeing no problem in cross matching weight divisions, all for the good of the show of course.
Ray Edwards was a surprise to Nick Capes, who may have decided he wanted out after sizing up the monster in front of him. He also may have been hit, the internet having fooled us before. The fight and resulting video, in which Capes appears to go down from a missed punch, leaves him indefinitely banned from boxing. Banning Capes something North Dakota failed to do before the embarrassment.
Al Jaeger, the untitled boxing commissioner of North Dakota, deals with a PR nightmare, served to him a la carte by an irresponsible promoter. Jaeger spoke out publicly, denouncing Capes, taking no accountability for his organization's role in the sham.
They say the show must go on. Sometimes it shouldn't.
His messages bubble on to my phone in broken, abbreviated English. Nick Capes is worried. He may have given away his exclusivity by talking to me, a nobody writer, before a tabloid news show.
I never imagined Nick Capes as a man who would ever deal with media. His quite life as gym gofer suddenly interrupted by his athletic failings.
I've talked to people who know Capes and disagree with my imagination. They aren't surprised that Capes managed to get his 15 minutes. He has that Forrest Gump lovable indifference to him. The kind of guy who ends up in the background when history is recorded.
Long after the show ends and folding chairs have emptied, there is Capes. Stacking plywood from the rented prize ring. He's in charge of loading the trailer because he's the only one willing to do it.
A few lingering fight fans pass Capes, then me. I overhear their lubricated banter,
"I'd get in there. For a million dollars!"
No they wouldn't. Nick Capes would. For a hundred bucks.
Jeff Reiners is a failed broker turned columnist, sports writer, historian, web designer and investigative reporter. He grew up in Chicago, but now lives in Des Moines with his three loves; baby mamma Erin, daughter Avery and 90 pound black lab Rose. His upcoming novel, The Underbelly; Boxing and the Business of Hurt, was called "Well thought," by Top Rank's Senior PR Spokesman Lee Samuels, "I enjoyed every word of it."