Micky's Corner is less of a boxing gym than a room on the second floor of a Gold's Gym behind a cluster of condos backed up by a reedy patch near US Route 3, a highway that runs south 30 miles to Boston. On a Tuesday afternoon, a half-dozen moms in Phat Farm sweats and tie-dyes watch soap operas and mall-walk on the treadmills. Just beyond, next to the fire exit, are the stairs that lead to the boxing room, where three bored young guys – including Dicky's 27-year-old nephew, Sean – sit around a raised boxing ring, waiting for Dicky Eklund. The Pride of Lowell is 40 minutes late. Shortly after 3 pm, Dicky bursts into the room, dancing like an overserved wedding guest, arms in front of him circling, like he's churning butter, his knees pumping what looks like a jig. "I got CRS," he tells me, referring to his lateness. I look at him, confused. "Can't Remember Shit!" He laughs, a cackle of missing teeth and exposed gums that Bale – like every one of Dicky's charmingly cracked-out tics and motions – has re-created eerily well for the movie. ("Christian is more Dicky than Dicky," Micky says.) Dicky peels off his sweatpants to reveal a pair of pale grandpa legs.
When he's boxing, he says, the pain eases up because the muscles loosen their grip on his nerves. He climbs into the ring with Sean and for the next hour or so gains a steady focus, putting his nephew through a series of speed-punching, ducking, and footwork drills so unrelenting it's easy to see how he pushed his brother to win a world championship and why he is considered by some boxing experts to be an intuitive trainer and an effective motivator.
Amid a steady stream of comedic ball-busting, Dicky catches Sean in a corner and dry-humps him to the beat of "Love Train" blaring over the gym's speakers. Sean giggles in submission while the peanut gallery ringside erupts in laughter. But just as quickly, Dicky is back to business, showing Sean how to quick-slide back and around, leaving his opponent punching air. "Push! Gimme that slide," Dicky says, wielding a pair of focus mitts and directing Sean to rabbit-punch the pads. "Gimme that right and up. Show me who's boss!"Dicky's fighting style is jumpy and frenetic, more like a dancer than a brawler, but he clearly has killer instinct. In a 1981 fight, Eklund put his opponent, Allen Clarke, in a corner and pounded him relentlessly long after Clarke was clearly knocked out cold but still standing. The local TV announcer called it "brutal at best," going on to say that Clarke was lucky to be alive that night. Eklund warms to the memory. "You watch that fight on YouTube," he crows, "and tell me I don't know how to do the job."
Now Dicky is hoping the movie will bring him training gigs that will pay more than the $40 per session he gets from the local hopefuls and gym rats looking to spice up their workout routines. "I got a guy coming out from L.A.," Dicky says, "paying $150 for a lesson." Predictably, there's a website (run by his 36-year-old daughter, Kerry), DickEklund.com, and a line of T-shirts with some of the Dickyese, as he calls it, immortalized by Bale in the movie. "I'll hit you right in the cocksucker," "Hey Quacker!", his pet name for crack.
"I had a notebook full of Dickyese," says Bale. "I would take it with me every day to the set, and I had Dicky there in case I needed more. We would talk to each other between takes in Dickyese."
Outside the gym, Dicky lights a Newport and tells me a story: "Two weeks ago, I was helping this hooker," he says. "Some kid with a screwdriver was holding her up. I said, 'This girl works for her money. She ain't sucking your dick.' So I popped him. Bam. Out cold. Then she calls me up the next day. 'Quacker! I'm at the hotel and I got some stuff. I want to thank you.' But, see, I can't do that anymore."