By Tom Weller
Heaviest Sportsmen. The heaviest sportsman of all time was the wrestler William J. Cobb of Macon, Georgia, who in 1962 was billed as the 802-lb. “Happy Humphrey”
Guinness Book of World Records, 1978
A gasp ripples through the crowd, a sound like a breath being passed from person to person to person, when Happy Humphrey enters the ring. This sound is money.
Happy removes the flat cap from his head, raises both arms above his head, waves the cap like a stranded man trying to signal a passing plane. As the ring announcer takes up his microphone, Happy lumbers, a slow circle inside the ring, arms raised, cap still waving. Happy makes sure every eye in the arena sees just how big he is, stretches himself up to his full height like a man trying to scare off a bear. Arms like sacks of hams, belly like a tractor tire, thighs like wine barrels, big is Happy’s job. Big is good for business. Bigger is better. Bigger, bigger Happy thinks as he strolls around the ring, arms reaching toward the arena lights that cloak him in a hazy yellow glow. Bigger, bigger.
Feedback and reverb twist the ring announcer’s words into incomprehensibility when he announces Happy’s hometown, but the numbers ring out clear as a bugle’s call: “802 pounds.”
The numbers are a boulder thrown in a still pond. Exhales and hoots, stunned whistles move through the crowd, come streaming toward Humphrey. The crowd paid for those numbers. Those numbers are money. Happy drops his arms but leaves them open, a man offering an awkward hug. He continues to circle the ring. He embraces all those sounds, all the voices. Each one enters him, soaks right through his skin like rain, becomes a part of him. Bigger. Soaked by those voices, Happy grows. His bones stretch like a bamboo racing toward the sun. His shoulders, his chest, arms and legs, all of it swells, bigger, bigger. Happy’s joints strain and ache. Still, he thinks Bigger. That’s his job. Happy knows the secret: giants are made of the voices around them.
Jack McArthur charges Happy Humphrey as soon as the bell rings. Poor Jack, 230 pounds. There are no voices for Jack. Jack will never be big. Making Happy bigger, that’s Jack’s calling, that’s Jack’s money. He starts with punches to Happy’s belly. A right-left combo. Boom boom. A sound like a bass drum. Again, boom boom.
Happy feels each punch, each knuckle driving into his flesh, but Happy just smiles. He looks down on poor Jack McArthur incredulous, shakes his head like he is watching a boy try to chop down a mountain with his bare hands. This is Happy’s job. This is being a giant.
And the people love Happy and the incredulous look on his face. They hoot and scream and bray their approval, voicing gathering in the rafters before falling, falling into the center of the ring and feeding Happy. Bigger, bigger. Happy grows with each punch. He stares down on the top poor Jack McArthur’s head, watches it recede into the distance, smaller and smaller with each punch, like watching a lover walk away. Happy’s bones are on fire.
Then it’s Happy’s turn. A forearm to poor Jack McArthur’s chest. Jack trembles like he’s been hit with a telephone pole. More voices. Bigger. Happy picks poor Jack up with one hand and throws him into the corner. The ring rattles, a sound like clattering chains. Jack slouches in the ropes, looks for a way out. Happy charges. There is no way out. Happy’s as big as a house. Deep breaths with each step, Happy struggles to find enough oxygen to feed his growing body. He feels like a man drowning.
The whole ring moves when Happy smashes into poor Jack McArthur. Happy hears the metal ring posts sliding across the concrete floor, and he hears the voices. The voices are growing, too. Making those voices grow, that’s Happy’s job. Bigger, bigger.
Poor Jack McArthur takes one step out of the corner and falls flat on his back, falls right at Happy’s feet. Jack looks so tiny all the way down there at Happy’s feet, like Happy could reach down and pick up Jack with two fingers, pick him up like a man finding a penny on the sidewalk. Happy raises one hand above his head. His signal to the crowd: the end. Voices rattle the arena walls. Everybody knows what happens next. Happy’s as big as a damn barn. Happy grits his teeth. Happy feels like a man about to crumble.
Happy bends his knees just slightly, and every voice in the arena inhales in anticipation. The sudden loss of oxygen makes Happy’s head buzz. Happy counts to himself, one, two. He doesn’t want to rush. He wants to tease the voices, make them really want it, but the burden of being a giant is immense. Happy feels like he’s standing in the center of the earth propping up the whole planet. Happy feels like he is being buried.
Three. Happy leaves his feet, and at the exact same moment, every voice in the arena exhales. And Happy feels that breath coming at him from every direction, swirling around him like a tornado. And Happy Humphrey rides the voices, rides the breath of the people. Suspended in the air like Superman, Happy looks down upon Jack McArthur, so small, so far away.