When George Khalid Jones enters the boxing ring tonight at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, most of the cheers will be for his opponent, local fan favorite Darnell Wilson.
But Jones will have at least one enthusiastic fan in attendance, and Denise Scottland vows to scream loudest for the New Jersey light heavyweight. That's how she used to yell for her husband, Beethavean Scottland.
"I'm going to be rooting for Khalid, just like I used to root for Bee," Denise Scottland said. "I'd say, 'Come on, Bee. Come on, you can do it. Hit him with some one-twos.' "
Denise Scottland doesn't have Beethavean to root for anymore. He died in July 2001, from head injuries he sustained while fighting a boxer named George Khalid Jones.
"I've never had any malice in my heart [for Jones]," said Scottland, 33.
In fact, she and the fighter say they have developed a "spiritual bond" over the past three years. Scottland and Jones have spoken on the phone, but after his bout tonight they will meet face to face for the first time.
"I'm very excited about this fight," said Scottland, who lives in Silver Spring. "It's something I've talked about with Naomi [Jones' wife]. ... I used to tell Bee that I was his No. 1 fan. Now, Naomi is Khalid's No. 1 fan. But I'm his No. 2 fan."
Jones, 37, calls Denise Scottland "a true friend, an inspiring woman," and "the reason I chose to keep fighting" after nearly retiring in guilt after Beethavean Scottland's death.
"She told me that she has no hatred toward me, that she understands the business that myself and her husband were in," Jones said. "She said she would rather see me become a world champion to show that Beethavean wasn't in with an ordinary fighter. She caught me totally off guard, but she taught me a lot about forgiveness.
"I'm glad she's a part of our lives, but I hate the situation that brought us together."
A memory lives on
On June 26, 2001, during a bout on the retired aircraft carrier USS Intrepid in New York's Hudson River, Beethavean Scottland absorbed so many head blows from Jones that he collapsed in the ring in the 10th round.
Scottland was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he never regained consciousness and died six days later. The 26-year-old fighter left behind his wife and three children, the oldest of whom is now 11.
Sitting on a couch in her small apartment near downtown Silver Spring, Denise Scottland recently talked about everything from being a single mother and part-time mental health student to the rose tattoo with "Bee" on her left shoulder to how much Beethavean Jr. resembles his father.
A little shrine in the dining area depicts her husband, at 20, in blue trunks, surrounded by trophies and photos of his family.
"[Bee Jr.] is so energetic, so free-spirited the way he'll walk past pictures of his father and box - that's Bee all the way," said Scottland, adding she wouldn't stand in her son's way if he chose boxing as a profession.
"I couldn't say no, not if I want to keep my husband's memory alive," she said. "That's why I press forward, still going to boxing matches and fight cards. I can't do that and then be a hypocrite if my son says he wants to be a boxer like his daddy."
Scottland declined to discuss her pending lawsuit against the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), which asserts that NYSAC officials allowed her husband to be "unreasonably and violently pummeled."
Jones attended Beethavean Scottland's funeral on July 10, 2001. Denise Scottland saw Jones there, but was "too emotional at the time" to speak to him.
Jones felt similarly: "I wanted to approach her, but I knew how hard everything was to deal with.
"This guy died right in front of me. The feeling you have after something like that is too difficult to describe," said Jones, speaking Sunday from his home in Paterson, N.J. "And it was something I never wanted to witness again, so right after the fight, I gave up boxing. I just quit."
Depressed and out of boxing for a month, Jones struggled with his daily routines. He had difficulty focusing not only on his family, but also on his full-time job as an inventory manager at a printing shop.
Figuring her husband might be helped by some kind of closure and wanting to tell Denise Scottland she was "in our prayers," Naomi Jones tried to contact the widow but failed repeatedly.
"Every day, I'd dial the number, dial the number. But every day, I would just hang up," Naomi Jones said. "I guess I was afraid of how she would react."
Although she endured a number of sleepless nights, Scottland said she always felt as much for Jones as she did for herself.
"I felt like even though I'm Bee's wife and I was missing him dearly, I knew he was blaming himself," she said. "I knew he was suffering, if not equally, then more than I was, and that's something that takes a great deal of healing."
Scottland said she is unsure of the exact date she decided to call Jones except that "I remember it was cold outside, so it was winter time. Naomi answered the phone and was like, 'Oh my God!' "
"I was really going through a hard time dealing with Beethavean's death," Jones said, "so it was such a blessing that she made that first step, contacting my family."
When Jones told her, "I'm sorry," she could "feel the energy, the tears welling up in his eyes," she said. "I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was sincere, but I told him that I never had any animosity or hostility toward him.
"I know I'm going to get this, 'How can she have a heart for the man whose fists did the damage?' For one, he's a man who owned up to what happened. He never made excuses, never denied anything, never tried to fault anybody else."
When Jones told Scottland he was done with boxing, however, she encouraged him to go on. Jones has followed her advice. But he struggled in his next bout, a seventh-round knockout loss to Eric Harding in December 2001.
"He still wasn't the same person, wasn't fighting his fight," Naomi Jones said. "He was backing away from everything and anything that was coming at him."
Although Jones is coming off a 10-month layoff, he has won three of his past four fights. He said he will "have it together" for Wilson, and Scottland will be there encouraging him.
"Sometimes, the memories make it hard for me to watch boxing. But that's who Bee was, what he did and where he wanted to accomplish so much," Scottland said. "And I have Bee's son. I want his son to know who his dad was, what he did and the fact that he loved to do it."
When: Tonight, 7 (fights begin at 8)
Where: Michael's Eighth Avenue, Glen Burnie
Tickets: $75, $50, $35
TV: ESPN2, 10 p.m.