Most commuters who drive along Oakland's Stanford Avenue have caught a glimpse of Michael "Pretty Boy" Lloyd. He's the guy on the grass median wearing red boxing gloves, punching the air, dancing from toe to toe.
"I like this area out here when I'm away from the gym," Lloyd said one morning as he shuffled his feet. "It's like an island out here unto my own. A park. I get a hundred yards back and forth to carry my weight."
The 45-year-old is a wispy middleweight. He usually works out in a floppy do-rag and old-school gray cotton sweats that puff out at the legs -- a pugilistic buccaneer.
"Every once in a while a wisecracker shouts out, 'You can't box!'" Lloyd said as he continued to bob and weave. "Or they'll honk and yell at me, 'That ain't a jab!' But you get that in life anyway. The pros. The cons. The people who support you and the people who are against you."
Lloyd, it turns out, is no poser out for a sweat. As a younger man, he fought nine professional bouts, four of them against "Irish" Pat Lawlor, a former middleweight champ from San Francisco's Sunset District. But that was years ago. Pretty Boy Lloyd hasn't danced in the ring in five years, and he last won a fight in 1996. Still, he comes out to train for his next fight.
"I do the things out here I need to do that will get me ready," Lloyd said. "So when I get in that ring next time, I'm prepared. More prepared than the man I'm going up against."
Charles King, the longtime owner of King's Boxing Gym in West Oakland, was leaning against the edge of a weathered boxing ring as he watched two kids on the mat club each other with sparring mitts. "Around here, everyone knows Michael Lloyd," he said. "Michael was pretty good in his day. More important, he's a nice guy."
Gold medallist Andre Ward was here earlier, working out with some of the local pros. But as the day wore on, the pros went home and the room filled in with young guys who ran here after school and older guys who left work early. Lloyd, who works as a landscaper, jogged here.
In front of the mirrors, a sculpted teenager watched himself snap barehanded jabs. He wore gel-soled Nike running shoes and his blue shirt wicked away his sweat. A few feet behind him, Lloyd took his spot to work the mirrors, too. As the youngster ducked and sprouted to land crisp combinations, one after the other, Lloyd stretched out tall, raising his red gloves above his head in a sort of pirouette. He watched himself in the mirror as he brought his gloves down and turned in slow, kung-fu-like movements. For several minutes, he stood on the balls of his feet and swayed his weight back and forth, lost in a trance. The sweat rings puddled through his cotton sweats.
King looked over at Lloyd as he moved: "He's a sweet man."
Lloyd grew up in Oakland, and found boxing after run-ins with bullies at Oakland Tech. He was a runt, but he had two older brothers who'd taught him to wrestle. "There was always that one guy in the school who thought he was king," he recalled. "And I was pretty small. So they thought they could stick me. But they learned."
As a teenager, he trained at Shields & Pittman gym on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. He adapted Muhammad Ali's strategy -- a fancy-toed hit 'n' run -- to fit a small man and developed a swift right cross. But Lloyd was no natural. It took ten years of training before he got his first pro fight at age 27.
When the bell rang for his debut, Pretty Boy Lloyd was dumbstruck. His opponent came out of the corner left-handed, but Lloyd hadn't trained to fight a southpaw. Early in the match, he injured his right wrist when the two boxers crashed punches. Still, he managed to win on points. "I was impressive, if I say so myself," he said. "The bell rang and I did my thing."
For two months, Lloyd was undefeated. In his second fight, his opponent learned about his injury, and each time Lloyd threw a right, his opponent "ran over it" with his own. "The difference was his was coming hard and mine was coming soft," Lloyd recalled. "After a few rounds, you know what happened." Lloyd got knocked out in the third.
Still, he'd caught the attention of promoters with his rapid style. On May 20, 1988, he got his first big chance to box undefeated rising star "Irish" Pat Lawlor in that boxer's own neighborhood. The crowd wanted blood, Lawlor recalled: "They were drunk, Irish, and wanted a war. So Michael and I made potato salad out of each other. We just went for it."
In the end, Irish Pat edged Pretty Boy on points. Lloyd still believes he won. "I was fighting a champion in his hometown," he said. "The only way I get a win is if I knock him out. I couldn't do that, so they gave it to him."
Lawlor's career took off. He won four more bouts before facing Lloyd for their second match, in Oakland. Again, Lawlor won on points. Lloyd got a rematch just five months later, and this time around Lawlor put him on canvas. "I finally knocked the guy out," Lawlor said. "It took me forever, but jeez, I finally got him."
With fifteen wins under his belt, Irish Pat went on to beat Roberto Duran in Las Vegas at the Mirage. Pretty Boy Lloyd, traveling to Sacramento and Napa, got knocked out twice more. With a record of 1-7, he landed on a card against Frank Moynihan, an East Bay cop. A fan from the Boxrec Boxing Encyclopedia, a Web log of sanctioned bouts, remembered the May 1996 event:
"This brawl could have gone either way ... Michael Lloyd was easily the quicker and prettier of the 2 (actually used the name 'Pretty Boy Lloyd' when being introduced to the crowd) and seemed to be somewhat unorthodox in his style. Moynihan had obvious sledgehammer power with both hands, rocking Lloyd several times with bad intention wrecking machine shots ... Lloyd hung on for the decision and looked pretty good, but also seemed to be happy it was over."
That night, Lloyd experienced more than just his second win. He didn't recall the fight at all. He remembers the starting bell, and the finishing bell, but nothing in between. For Lloyd, the safe passage was a signal from God. "I've never had that happen before," he said. "To come out with a win and not remember a moment of it, I have to believe he was looking over me."
Rejuvenated from the win, Lloyd got his fourth and final shot against Lawlor. By the time the two met in Hayward in April 2000, Lawlor's 21-10 record had taken him well out of the Sunset and into a Rocky Balboa-like career. He'd lost a WBO welterweight title shot; fought for a title in Tokyo; announced one retirement, then announced his return; and was now looking to beef up his stats for another title shot against Roberto Duran in Panama.
He knocked out Lloyd in the third.
"I've always been the underdog," Lloyd said at King's one night after a workout. He pointed to a portrait of a boxer with a belt slung over one shoulder and said he had lost to that guy, too. "I've always been the guy they tossed in there to be the scapegoat. But I've fought champions. The reason I'm 2-8 is I have to fight these guys in their hometowns. They don't come to me."
Lloyd gets out to the median three or four mornings a week. He's been coming here five years, by his count. After he shadowboxes for a while, he might run along the strip, practice his footwork, and then take off for a four-mile jog. Sometimes he plods along in the slow lane, forcing cars to swerve around him as he jabs his fists forward.
"Does Michael Lloyd still run with his gloves on?" Lawlor had asked. "I never understood why he did that. He'd go for a run, and he'd be out there, wearing those big ol' gloves. No one in boxing does that."
Lloyd said he does it so he'll be ready. He's aiming for a fight as early as June, his first in half a decade. When he steps into the ring, he wants to be more prepared than his opponent. "The gloves are like weights," he said out on the strip one morning. "I get used to them on my hands so when I get in the ring, they don't feel any different."
Lloyd can't say where his fight will be held, but he'd like it be in Oakland, his hometown. Even better would be on the grass, in the middle of Stanford Avenue, where Pretty Boy Lloyd remains undefeated.
Seven Days - December 9, 6:10 PM
Seven Days - December 8, 2:33 PM
Seven Days - December 6, 9:52 AM
Seven Days - December 4, 9:20 PM
Seven Days - December 4, 5:31 PM