FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Douglas Farrago, MD
When a highly skilled boxer with autism wants to take part in the corrupt world of professional fighting, whose decision is it to make?
A bankrupt boxing gym, a down-on-his luck drifter, and a desperate father grapple with an opportunity that could solve all their problems, but at a tragic cost.
Forest, Virginia, September 29, 2021 — Noki has grown up in his father’s gym, around the seedy world of boxing his whole life, the fighters there calling him a “man-child.” A young Black man with autism, Noki is gifted with incredible boxing skills, considered by his inner circle as unbeatable. But when the unscrupulous boxing bigwigs see dollar signs, his gym family is torn: Are they permitting Noki to pursue his passion or are they taking advantage of someone with a disability. Noki, a new young adult fiction novel by Douglas Farrago, is a masterfully written coming of age story of loyalty, grit, and self-discovery in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.
Carlo’s Gym, barely scraping by, is owned and operated by Jip who, along with his late and adored wife, adopted Noki after fostering him at five years old. The gym gang is a bit of a motley crew. Bug, a little person with a shady past who worked in carnivals and schemed with unsavory characters, drifted into the gym off the streets with nowhere to go. When he forms an unlikely yet genuine friendship with Noki, Jip allows him to stay. Limpy, a down-and-out boxer with an injury that ruined his hopes as a contender, helps Jip out.
Mostly, the fighters at the gym were indifferent to Noki, who has a penchant for wearing Disney character t-shirts, and treated him as somewhat of a mascot. But then there was Lionel Gideon, a nasty bully who was the gym’s “golden ticket”—its only hope to save them from bankruptcy. Bug starts to show his worth, pitching in at the gym, spending time with Noki, and he discovers something truly amazing. He witnesses Noki, late at night, training in the ring, his shadow boxing as fluid as an artist, his moves like a dancer’s. It was truly unbelievable. When Bug asks him how he does this, he proudly shares his secret.
Noki keeps scores of binders where he meticulously chronicles the techniques and mannerisms not only of every boxer who passed through Carlo’s gym, but of all the world’s greatest fighters. His room was filled with hundreds of VHS tapes that he spends endless hours studying. This obsession enables Noki to transform himself into any great fighter in history when he’s in the ring, not that anyone knew it other than Bug and Jip.
When nasty Gideon gets fed up with the small-scale gym and moves to a swanky competitor’s, he betrays Jip and everything he put into Gideon, leaving the old man with no recourse to pay the bills. The stress causes Jip to have a stroke, further devastating the gym, and his crew becomes desperate for a way to claw back from losing the gym, their home, everything. To make matters worse, Jip’s kind social worker, Fay, says if they can’t pay for Jip’s medical bills and extra care, he will go into a permanent facility.
It’s Noki who comes up with the idea. He can enter paying fights and be the professional loser—get knocked out to get a payday while the winner gets another “w” for his record. To accomplish this, Noki has chosen to perfectly imitate the technique of “The Mouse,” the professional boxer who was able to fake his losses, easy to do in an industry so poorly run and with such little oversight. Bug is concerned about Noki, his one true friend, but knows they have little choice. “It’s not worth it if you get hurt,” says Bug. “I won’t get hurt,” Noki smiled as he responded.
Noki looked at Bug and said, “Ali,” and began mimicking every move that “The Greatest” used…Noki then said, “Alexis Arguello,” and began the hand position and movement of one of the greatest Nicaraguan fighters ever…the boy transformed himself into each fighter as if he were that person.
Bug and Noki approach a slimy fight guy with a long history with the legal system: Frank Calzone. Frank can fix the fights for Noki, but it won’t be long before the system catches on or a rat spills the beans, and they’ll be banned from boxing. Yet what happens is even worse. The Department of Human Services gets word about a person with autism getting knocked out fight after fight and an investigation ensues, bringing Jip’s social worker, Fay into the mix. Luckily for Bug and Noki, Fay has become something of a fairy godmother to the pair and is able to see Noki’s love and talent for the sport. “I am torn about this. My job is definitely at stake. I am letting a man-child with severe autism put his life on the line. How can that be right? But, if he’s winning and not getting hurt,” Fay says, “Why shouldn’t we let an autistic person fight?”
Noki moves up from the fake knockouts, starts winning on his own, and lands in the world of big boxing: Vegas. The hateful Gideon has finally made it up the ranks and is ready to slaughter him in their televised fight. With corrupt fight promoters who lie and cheat to make money, the Texas Boxing Commission now assessing Noki’s competence, Bug’s past coming back to haunt him, and the likelihood of Carlo’s gym being sold out from under them, everything is at stake. Noki has the chance to make them millions, but is it worth the risk?
To Noki, however, it was just part of his game. He loved boxing. He loved the styles of the great boxers. He loved acting like these fighters. It was like a kid who pretends to be…Tom Brady while playing touch football with his friends. This was his fantasy. This was his fun.
“I just want to fight. So that is what I am going to do,” Noki says. The media frenzy surrounding Noki brings hundreds of thousands of people wanting to see him fight. Protestors are angry at what they perceive as a disabled person being exploited. Yet young fans who are in wheelchairs, or with Down syndrome, or autistic are calling Noki their hero. Noki realizes he’s fighting not just for himself and his gym family, but for people just like him, to show they are capable of making decisions about their own lives and to pursue what makes them happy. And there are people who are putting themselves on the line for Noki: Fay, Bug, a team of lawyers aiming to prove his competence, and most of all Noki himself. And in the end, Noki is the one who saves them all.
Through his evocative and powerful story, author Douglas Farrago expertly writes about a young man with autism and his journey to speak his voice and have others hear him, and a man with a troubled past who turns his life around to become a great friend. Young adults and adults alike will marvel at this moving story and the thrill of boxing. Disney enthusiasts will delight at the subtle allusions and hidden references to a beloved work of literature.
Farrago, now retired, was a family doctor by trade, having worked with many patients with various special needs, and an inventor of medical sports equipment. His keen insight into the boxing world comes from being a former boxer himself and working with many world champion boxers when he was employed as the trainer for nutrition and conditioning for the Houston Boxing Association. Farrago has witnessed the dark side of the sport with poor regulations and oversight, bad contracts, corrupt managers, and little care for the boxers themselves. Noki is his love letter to the sport and a thrilling novel for both young adults and adults alike.