Fight Night

I have always been something of a pacifist, attempting to allow my mouth to do the work some others save for their fists.Excepting cartoons and Tarantino movies, I’ve always eschewed violence. So it was with a great sense of irony that I accepted the challenge of covering last Thursday’s amateur boxing night at the Wild Horse Saloon. These fights happen every third Thursday of the month and are put on by a company out of Denver called Knockout Events. Armed with my pen and notebook, about 10 bucks for beer, and a truckload of preconceived notions, I set off to see what all the fuss was about.

Apparently the fight promoters were having trouble filling the evening’s card because even though I arrived fashionably late, the festivities were not yet under way.My buddy Steve passed the time by getting his boots polished (not a thing one can do just anywhere) by an older gent named Pops while the DJ tried in vain to goad guys in the audience into boxing one of the scantily-clad ring girls.Instead, the girls writhed in the ring to rap music. Occasionally, some guy would hoot suggestively.

Finally, there were enough fighters signed up, and the evening’s first pugilists, wearing 30-ounce gloves, took to the ring. Consisting of three, one-minute rounds, these fights are too short for any real damage to be done. But three minutes is certainly enough time to get one’s bell rung, which is exactly what happened to the wiry Benny.Fighting pretty evenly against a more compact guy named Steve (I called the first two rounds a split), Benny eventually got backed into a corner in the latter part of the third, and Steve let fly with a series of crushing blows to the head that made a few people in the crowd gasp and, curiously, many more roar with enthusiasm. Steve won the fight and was rewarded with what Knockout Events headman Shane Swartz later referred to as “this retarded little belt.”

Before each fight, the contestants could be seen ringside going through their individual pre-fight routines.One guy was jumping rope and doing crunches; another was staring at nothing and drinking a Red Bull; yet another had his buddy screaming in his ear “You’re a madman. You’re crazy. You’re a killer!”At some point everyone went through his or her version of shadow boxing – ducking and weaving, jabbing and poking. Some were better than others, but all were at least proficient.

In the ring, though, it was a completely different story. As soon as the first punch landed, we may as well have been out in the alley.All boxing theory was tossed aside in favor of give-it-all-you’ve-got one-timers and wild, off-balance haymakers that rarely landed.A0 Such a transformation, I assumed, was the natural result of not being accustomed to being punched in the face.

The second fight pitted Tom, a local pizza-maker and longtime martial arts artist, against Steve, a member of the Durango police squad. When it came to size, the two were pretty evenly matched, and it seemed their backgrounds were similar.I know most of the martial arts are based on a defensive type of fighting, and I assume that police are taught similar methods of engagement. I expected a cautious fight with each fighter waiting for an opening.Both clad in blue jeans, these two guys came straight at each other from the first bell.During the first two rounds I counted a total of two total body punches and somewhere around 30 head shots. Truth told, I suspect the two body blows were just misguided shots intended for the head.However, this fight gave us something the crowd really loved: the night’s first, and only, blood, which erupted from Tom’s nose. Just before his bout, I’d asked him why he was going to hop in the ring. He shrugged his shoulders and said “for fun.” It didn’t look like he was having a heck of a lot of fun standing up there with blood pouring out of his face while the other guy got a belt.

Maybe it was the blood or maybe it was the beer, but the crowd took on a whole new life after the second fight. During the third fight, audience members began yelling insults at the fighters and encouraging one to kill the other.When, during the second round, the two exhausted combatants locked up, one juiced-up crowd member yelled to the fighters “get off him, queer!”Just to be safe, I made a quick note of the nearest exit.The next few brawls proved to be more of the same: guys going straight for each other’s heads hoping to land that one punch that would send the other guy sprawling.

Next, my attention turned to the action between rounds.Three ring girls, Becca, Heather and Lindsey, took turns carrying an enormous card around the ring indicating the upcoming round. Egged on mostly by the DJ and partially by the crowd, they took turns trying to outdo one another’s dirty-dance style as they passed around the ring.Eventually, this turned into them giving the referee short lap dances as they passed him. Later, I learned the three of them were locals not hired by the promoter and not being paid.

Eventually, we came to the highlight of the night: a no-holds-barred, ultimate fighting contest.In ultimate fighting, contestants wear the barest of gloves and no shoes, and engage in unorthodox fighting practices such as kicking and gouging, which are not only allowed but encouraged. As the fighters were introduced, it became obvious that we were in for something.These guys were true fighters, not just bored college kids. They were lean, mean and looked like they could do a little damage.

In the end, about three or four punches were landed during the minute-and-a-half match, most of which was spent with the fighters locked up on the mat. Afterwards, people I spoke to said the fight was “awesome” and “killer” and “really action,” so I guess I must have missed something.

Bayfield resident and ultimate fighting nonwinner Dan Cyr, who had never fought like this before and who was only fighting because someone asked him to, said he would not do such a thing again.

I went to the fights hoping to learn something about why people fight. What is that thing that causes men and women (oh, yes there was a ladies bout) to willingly get in a ring in front of hundreds and get punched in the face? Hoping for answers I asked everyone I met.Durango resident Steve Gardenas, winner of the first bout, gave me the typical fighter’s response: “I don’t know, I just love the competition.”When I reminded another fighter that Chinese Checkers also can be competitive, and no one ever got punched in the face playing Chinese Checkers, he just laughed.Gardenas plans to follow Knockout Events as it goes around Colorado and into Nebraska with hopes of eventually fighting in the national Toughman Competitions.

The audience was no more help.When asked why she was there, 21-year-old college student, Jenelle said, “I just love violence, I love seeing people get (beaten) up.”Fight promoter, Shane Swartz,said he sees people like Gardenas who want to advance in the fighting world all the time but insists only around one in 500 actually do. He also gave me the most satisfying answer to my question of the night. Why boxing?

“It’s about the weirdness of humanity,” he said

(mouse over photos for captions)

Tom B., a pizza-maker from Durango, takes an upper cut in his losing bout last week at the Wild Horse.

Event emcee DJ Badazz entices potential fighters to the ring with the help of card girl Lindsey Brown, of Durango, who promised to fight anyone who stepped up to the challenge.  She had no takers.

Event emcee DJ Badazz entices potential fighters to the ring with the help of card girl Lindsey Brown, of Durango, who promised to fight anyone who stepped up to the challenge.  She had no takers.

A female contender practices form while receiving tips from a spectator.

Steve Gardenas receives a pep talk between rounds







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