As I watched him scrap with Jeremy Clark, an MMA fighter whose gym in St. Paul was Boogaard's second home, two things happened in rapid succession. The first was that Boogaard changed in a blink, shucking his dozy demeanor to become a hunter, stalking Clark with chopping shots. The second was that I suddenly understood why strangers ask to be punched by Boogaard: However demented it sounds, taking a shot from him is the furthest ledge of courage, a chance to test oneself against absolute power. The next thing I knew, I'd climbed into the ring, demanding to see how he iced huge men with a single blow.
He started by demonstrating grip, teaching how to twist the hand so that the elbow behind it rose to knock down punches. "Most guys get you by the armpit or shoulder, but I prefer to grab you by the neck. That way, I can jab you in the jaw with my grip hand while I drag you toward me to throw the right. That combination – my punch and you coming at it – doubles the power when it lands."
At 6-foot-1 and 190, I'm not a small man, but even with thumbless gloves on, Boogaard yanked me like a sack of crisply folded linens. "But isn't my left arm supposed to block your punch?" I asked.
"Yeah, if I come overhand. But a couple of these here should loosen you up" – he demoed an uppercut to my lower left side; even at 10 percent force, it blistered my ribs, which would moan for the rest of the month – "and then your arm comes down and I've got you."
I received this news while dangling on tiptoe; Boogaard still had me at the end of his meat-hook left. "What if I grab you and move in tight, wrestle you down before you drill me?" I asked.
"Guys try that," he said, "but I've got the bigger reach. All I have to do is shake you side to side" – he jerked me by the collar like I was on ball bearings – "and eventually you'll let go, and I've got you."
He kindly stopped swinging me like a dead cat, though by dint of habit had me fixed at arm's length, incapable of fight or flight. I looked up and saw a horrible sight: his right fist cocked and twitching. The goons I'd talked to said he hid it well, keeping it behind his ear till the last possible beat, but there it suddenly was, big as death. My mind reeling backward, screening It's a Wonderful Life, I blurted the one thing that might deprogram his autonomic urge to strike: "When Carcillo comes to town, will you pound his ass good for what he did to Gaborik last year?"
He gave his awkward smile and loosened his grip, primping my now thoroughly useless collar. "That's the first good question you've asked all day. You hungry? There's a ribs place up the road."