The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. The experience was more like visiting an operating room than attending a sporting event.
I’d never seen a boxing match before, figuring it was one of those things like Sammy Hagar, or Jack Daniels, the enjoyment of which is reliant on a scrotum, or an unhappy childhood.
But a friend invited me to the Chumash Casino to watch five boxing bouts —they laugh at you if you call them “games,” and it’s not a friendly laugh. Since I had never seen a man punch another man in the face — something everyone should really witness once — I accepted.
Approaching the arena, I steeled myself for the male-specific pandemonium I expected to find inside: hooting, chest-thumping, and the hurling of paper beer cups for no apparent reason. And let me say in all fairness that the image was not unarousing.
But neither was it accurate.
Inside, hundreds of people — including women, some of whom appeared to be there by choice — sat silently and politely, fixated on the ring. The only sound was the soft, but consistent, “poof” of a leather glove slapping a sweaty pec, or skidding across a glistening shoulder (again with the arousal).
In fact, you could say my expectations suffered a KO from the first round. Where I had imagined rage, there was control. Where I had envisioned savagery, there was courtesy. A mutual admiration between the opponents of this “noble art,” this “sweet science,” was evident in the way they hold each other up when they need a rest, and hoist each other up when they win. Given the task at hand, though, the respect is almost chilling — like a hunter with a deep reverence for his prey.
Thank goodness there were sparkly pants to distract us. I developed a fondness for the satiny bloomers, embroidered with charming nicknames like “El Perro.” One welterweight had pearls and fringe hanging from his boots. Who knew pugilistic couture could be so sassy?
Or patriotically sexy? The Ring Babes — a stable of nubile young women clad only in star-spangled bikinis and heels — parade around the ring between rounds. Supposedly they hoist signs over their heads that say what round it is, but this is unconfirmed because no one has ever bothered to look above their heads.
Boxing, though, isn’t all hard bodies and flashy costumes. It’s actually quite jarring to watch; ugly, even.
Backlit by an assault of klieg lights and sweat, dislodged mouth guards fly through the air. Between rounds, woozy players apply ice packs to their bruised ears, spit into funnels, and may receive verbal abuse or a smack in the head from a nervous coach.
Plus, there’s the blood. When a guy’s split eyebrow bleeds down his face and smears across his opponent’s white shorts, the injured boxer stops looking like a focused athlete and starts looking like a wounded human. An unfortunately employed man-child. A victim of society’s barbaric lust for base entertainment.
No one seems to smile at a boxing match. No matter who’s winning, there’s empathy on the face of every spectator, male or female, young or old, coach or fan, judge or sportscaster.
And that’s because boxing is personal. The sport isn’t played over a vast field or wide diamond; it’s negotiated within the bright, humid inches between two hopeful, diligent strangers. It’s not happening to a ball; it’s being waged on the flesh of two meticulously sculpted bodies.
Since that’s the case, I’d personally rather watch the Ring Babes have it out — a nice catfight where Raw Passion yanks Respect by the hair.
Call me a featherweight, but I think intent-to-maim should be aggravated and instinctual, rather than premeditated and emotionless.
At least when a chick decks another chick, you know it was cathartic for someone.