Many of his boxers do not know the man's first name is William, his last, Dunlap. Floyd Favors, the amateur world champion bantamweight (119 pounds) from Capitol Heights, knows this because he and the man have been friends since Favors was 11 and went to him saying he wanted to fight like Ray Robinson. But, unlike Favors, who is unlike any boxer the man has ever coached, many of the young fighters believe the man's name is Don Lapp.
"Don," they say, "how much on the heavy? How long on the speed?"
William Dunlap works in the new poolhouse at the Children's Center in Forest Haven, just outside of Laurel. Freestyle, butterfly, he was a great swimmer years ago at Tennessee State, but now supervises aquatic therapy for retarded children who have the most difficult of times floating on their backs, much less holding their breath. Because the hot waves of chlorine lifting from the blue are so stifling, and because he is often called into the water to program the strokes of confused swimmers, Dunlap wears no shirt and doesn't bother to rake his hair.
Sometimes, his cheeks puff up, then deflate, and his fingers move up and down the scale of an invisible horn. At these moments, he is pretending to play a saxophone to the torpid nighthawks at clubs around the city where, on almost every night of the week, he sits in on jazz and top-40 bands after working out Favors and his 20-odd other fighters at the basement gym in the Eastern Branch Boys Club in Southeast Washington.
Favors, a freshman in general studies at Prince George's Community College and graduate of Suitland High School, calls Dunlap "Dun" because it is easier to say while biting down on his mouthpiece. It is also a term of endearment.
"Dun," Favors says, "come check out this move." And Dunlap obeys, watching closely his first National Sports Festival and world champion slam his fists into the high-ball bag and reel backward, still jabbing.
Favors, 19, has been fighting in Dunlap's gym for eight years. If blindfolded, he could skip rope across the floor and not trip on the radiator pipe poking out of the cracked cinder block walls. There is always a certain smell in this gym, a ripe odor of sweat mingling oddly with the sweet hair lotion and coffee breath of the old sports who sit on the corner benches and wail, "Put your thumb on your chin, Floyd, on your chin."
The fighters here don't worry that the speed and heavy bags hang from the mottled ceiling like petrified logs on hanks of great chains. Neither is a sparring ring mandatory.
Dunlap's fighters need only four solid walls and a good door to shut out the thunder of other young fighters' hearts. Also, there must be mirrors at which to throw, but never land, those mean roundhouse punches that will one day account for the millions of dollars and the ticker tape that fall like rain.
"The gym's way across town from home," Favors said one day last week. "But it's Dunlap's gym and I'm his fighter and there's no place better to work out in where I come from."
"The thing about this gym," Dunlap said, "if you work them hard enough, they won't have the time or the energy to rob you blind on the street. Right now, I have four unknown fighters in my gym who could make the Olympics. Everybody talks about Floyd Favors, but I could fill six of the 12 spots on the '84 Olympic team with fighters from my own gym." Dunlap's gym has blue walls and red windows and a crazy, lazy sort of ring. The drooping ropes, once wrapped with imitation velvet, are now covered with electrician's tape and hotel bath towels. Warm, so warm, it is conceivable that by standing in the center of this ring on a summer night, one could draw a flame by simply holding up a matchstick.
"I'd rather be on television behind a mike communicating to people than fighting in a gym," Favors said. "But that'll come. I have to take my time and be patient."
After Favors beat Viktor Miroshinchenko, the Russian champion, on May 15, 1982, in Munich to win the world amateur batamweight title, Bob Surkein, the former national chairman of the American Boxing Federation, said, "He's not only a good fighter; he's a kid who can keep it all together. I'd bet my right arm he's a medal winner."
For Favors, the comparisons to Sugar Ray Leonard come as frequently as the victories. "I'm certain I'll be the Olympic champion," he said. "Even being put in Leonard's ballpark is a compliment. But I'd rather be compared to Ray Robinson. My style's more similar to Wilfred Benitez and (Wilfredo) Gomez. I'm as good defensively as I am offensively. And I'm pretty positive I'll be the greatest in history at my weight."
Dunlap said, "There are things Floyd can do in a ring that Ray Leonard can't do. But, then again, there are things Ray Leonard can do in a ring that Floyd Favors can't do."
Favors took a nap this day. The night before, tossing and turning till all hours, he imagined himself in the cockpit of an Air Force jet, streaking through a line of storm clouds scudding across the heavens.
"More than anything I'd like to fly airplanes. And I want to buy a car," he said. "I drive my daddy's car but it drinks gas. But really, I'd like to become a millionaire without having to rely on boxing. I want to learn how to play my trumpet better, too."
Then he thought about the racy sports car he'd like to buy, if only he didn't have to sign his life away to get a loan, and how his girl would look beside him in the passenger's seat, the sun in her eyes and the wind rushing through the open windows. Those nights when his back hurts or his head is heavy with worry, he pictures the houses he'd like to build for his folks and his two brothers and a sister, so they won't ever have to work again.
"It's my dream to make millions and pump some into Capitol Heights 'cause the crime's so bad there and I'd like to give everybody a peaceful life. Also, because she's been so good, I'd buy the Washington Monument for my mother, if only it was for sale."
Often, he considers his friends. Which ones, he asks himself, loved him before he was world champion, before everybody started saying he would be the next Sugar Ray Leonard? And which ones love him for who they expect he will one day be?
"If Floyd comes on with this air of superiority he just recently acquired," Dunlap said, "it's because he's still trying to understand just who he is. I can sit him down and bring him back to the shy, withdrawn kid that I knew almost 10 years ago. But he's still trying to differentiate between his friends and the entourage of hangers-on. Floyd could quit today and it wouldn't break my heart."
But it is important to Dunlap that his fighters graduate from high school and further their education, whether at a vocational school or a university. He also urges they learn to play musical instruments, simply as another alternative to the fight life, to the gym. Both Favors and Reynard Knight, another bantamweight from Capitol Heights now on a scholarship at Maryland Eastern-Shore, are learning to play the trumpet.
To Dunlap, nothing is more disheartening than the note he received recently from the mother of one of his boys. Memo to: Don Lapp. Johnny . . . could not make it to practice because he got into trouble. Dunlap crumpled it and tossed it into the corner of the ring, where it remains.
"My own greatest ambition," he admits readily, "is that Floyd Favors graduate from college after he wins the gold medal in the Olympics."
Sugar Ray Leonard had the same idea seven years ago. At the last moment, he changed his mind, skipping college for professional boxing. He became a millionaire.
In a way, Dunlap lives and loves vicariously. When he watched Favors fight Miroshinchenko on national television, it was as though Dunlap himself were wearing the gloves.
His boy owned him that first round, but in the second, when Favors buckled under and dropped to the canvas, had he ever felt a sharper pain? Then, watching his fighter come back to win, Dunlap had never felt better, had never fought harder. If Favors mattered, certainly, he mattered. And if Favors won, he won, too.
Favors (117-14) fights in Tokyo on May 22 against a boxer whose name he cannot pronounce. But today, a long day at school and the shoe shop where he works a few days a week, he will fight only shadows.
Punching at the image in a five-and-dime mirror, Favors steals a glance at a fellow performing jumping jacks in the corner of his gym. Although Favors fought this boxer less than two years ago, his face is only vaguely familiar.
This fighter, from a gym across town, will spar with Favors' friend Robert Jackson. "Don't you give up nothin'," Favors shouts, managing not to pull his gaze from his own eyes in the mirror. "Don't you give up nothin'."
When Jackson and the other fighter meet in the center of the ring, touching gloves before taking those first timid stabs, Dunlap turns to his champion and asks, "What's that kid's name, Floyd?"
And Floyd Favors, fighting for all he's worth, says, "Beats me, Don, beats me."