The fights had just ended Thursday night and a packed house had filed out of Michael's Eighth Avenue, the massive banquet hall-turned-boxing club in Glen Burnie. In an upstairs office, a small crowd of promoters, fighters, managers, a few members of the media, waitresses, an oyster shucker and the night's national anthem singer had gathered.
In the middle of the room, sitting on a too-small chair and clutching an Italian cookbook (a gift from Mike Wagner, the club's owner--and the Michael in its name) was Hall of Fame trainer Lou Duva.
Duva, 77, had come from his New Jersey home because he likes the club scene at Michael's and wanted to see the place's season-opening show, and because he had heard about Jermaine Fields, an undefeated (18-0) 135-pounder from Landover.
He wasn't disappointed on either count.
"It's a really good thing they have going here," Duva said. "There aren't many good places to see club boxing anymore. . . . This is one of the best I've seen. But this Fields kid, he is past this."
Fields's fight Thursday was against journeyman Theon Holland (9-16) for the Maryland lightweight title. It might have looked like a mismatch, but Holland has a reputation as a strong puncher with an even stronger chin. Of his nine wins, seven came by knockout.
"Everyone I spoke to in boxing--people who really know boxing, matchmakers, trainers--said this was a real tough fight for Jermaine," said Kelly Swanson, Fields's manager. "When that many people came up to me, it started getting me nervous. This was a test."
Fields passed. The left-hander displayed a dazzling array of skills, landing combinations at will, effectively working on Holland's body throughout and sticking his right jab with precision. Fields's work in the gym with veteran trainers Rock Simms and Scott Buchanan paid off: He won all five rounds on the judges' scorecards. Buchanan also works with World Boxing Council middleweight champion Keith Holmes, also from Washington, and also a left-hander. The similarities were evident Thursday, when Holland's corner called for the fight to be stopped before the sixth.
"I felt good out there," Fields said. "I trained hard for this fight and was able to do a lot of the stuff I worked on. It's nice to have a belt."
Fields, 26, may have been understating that last part a bit. His parents, Carnell and William, took the championship belt home with them Thursday. Fields picked it up first thing Friday morning and it didn't leave his sight. The belt stayed in plain view as he dropped his wife, Shakia, at work, took son Jamon, 1, to the babysitter and left daughter Ashja, 4, at preschool. He then took the belt on a tour of area boxing gyms.
Duva thinks this belt could be the first of many for Fields. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last year, Duva has worked with legendary fighters such as middleweight champion Joey Giardello (100 wins), Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker.
"Kelly's got herself a good one. She's brought him along nice, now he's ready to step up," Duva said. "Everything about his game is sharp. I love his balance, his body work, the way he goes inside. He's aggressive but he's not careless. Very efficient.
"Styles make fights. I'd like to see him in there with [WBC junior lightweight champion] Floyd Mayweather. Fields could handle him. Angel Manfredy, Ivan Robinson . . . I'd take my chances with [Fields]."
Mayweather was a bronze medalist for the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Fields was an alternate on that team and occasionally worked out with Mayweather, so the two are familiar with each other. Manfredy and Robinson, both ranked contenders, are also former champions. Any of the three would provide a much bigger payday for Fields, who earned $2,000 as the main event at Michael's last week.
Swanson, however, is content with lesser names for the time being. The Holland fight was Fields's second scheduled 10-rounder but he has yet to go the distance. His first 10-rounder went eight--when he stopped tough hometown favorite Khalil Shakeel (16-7) on June 18 in Fayetteville, N.C.
"As long as a young fighter stays busy, that period can be the most important part of their career," Swanson said. "As you develop a young fighter, you have to make sure they are mentally prepared, and whenever you can gain confidence along with experience, you have the potential to end up with a really great fighter."