A few years ago I covered a boxing card in a dusty border town that shall remain nameless. Many of the particulars escape my memory, but the feelings that night provoked have revisited me frequently in the last few days, something stirred up in my subconscious it seems by all this talk from Floyd and Manny about how much they owe “the fans,” how this huge megafight worth hundreds of millions, is “for the fans.”
The fight I’m recalling was a brutal affair between a local prospect and unidentified cannon fodder. Even though the crowd was strictly local, it was as rowdy as they come, profanity being the only means of communication and politeness going only as far as pissing in an empty bottle instead of on the wall. The room was tiny; maybe a couple hundred souls packed it from wall to wall, the only empty space being that between the fighters in the ring. Even so, the roped square itself was also undersized and left no room for decent boxing technique or sage decision-making from the corners or the referee, things sorely missed that night.
Supposedly a showcase for the young up-and-comer, this fight redefined brutality for everyone present. At least it did for me. Round after round the two warriors punished each other for imagined offenses, the room cheering them on, getting high on the savagery and drunk on the cheap beer. Unburdened by fighting proficiency and unconcerned by careerist notions, the “B-side” fought with spite, as if the world owed him something and he’d finally grown the balls to collect. From the opening bell he hurled his fists in complete disregard for defense, looking only to inflict serious damage.
The “A-side”, younger and supported by the local crowd, might have been expected to retreat in fear, or at least in confusion, at the chaotic whirl of arms and fists attacking him. But instead it was as if he felt insulted by the insolence of his opponent, who tried to rip his head off with the first left hook he threw. From the very first exchange, the young fighter planted his feet and elected to battle toe-to-toe, doing so with as much intensity as his enraged foe.
What followed was a relentless brawl, perverse and inane in equal measures. Again, it’s hard to pinpoint the reason the fighters warred with such fury, but war they did. Maybe they both silently agreed to vent their grievances and serve as each other’s punching bag while they pounded away a lifetime’s worth of resentment. All the while, an obviously untrained and seemingly half-drunk referee, instead of reminding them not to use their elbows or skulls as weapons (which they often did), taunted and jeered the combatants, egging them on to battle without restraint.
By the beginning of the second round there was already blood, sweat and spit all over the ring as a deep gash over one of the local talent’s eyes spouted crimson like something out of a Tarantino movie. Both corners appeared to forsake their expected professional duties and instead turned into cheering sections. Even the timekeeper and the judges were swept up in the excitement and started shouting and gesturing. As in so many of the most violent matches, for reasons unknown, the contest turned into a life and death affair, one which neither fighter could afford to back out of.
I can’t remember how many knockdowns there were, but there were several. And I’m unsure which fighter was knocked through the ropes and then quickly shoved back inside the ring by the crowd. But what I do remember is that I’ve never seen a fight like that—inside or outside a roped square.
I can recall the mix of trepidation and dread I felt at what I was seeing. I had the sense I was witnessing something inhumane, abhorrent: a slaughter, a battle to the death. I can also recall with chilling clarity their bruised and now swollen faces, deformed and grotesque, briefly rubbing against each other in one of the few clinches. I can also remember the chill that ran down my spine when for a second the local talent looked directly at me with exhausted eyes—exhaustion beyond anything I’ve ever known—as he staggered towards the wrong corner after finishing a round, his open mouth, blocked by a blood-covered mouthpiece, trying to pull in the air that his bloody nostrils couldn’t.
No matter how many fights I watch from now until I die, the memory of this bout will always remind me of how senseless and merciless boxing can be, and how I will never fully understand those who choose to lace up the gloves and climb into the ring. Why would they put themselves through this? There surely are other ways to make a living.
After six savage rounds the decision went to the local fighter, so the result of the bout was what his matchmaker had intended all along, even if the way in which it arrived was anything but. There stood the young fighter, with a bloody towel draped around his shoulders and his hand held high by the referee. But victory had come at a tremendous cost: he could barely see out of either eye, and he would need more than a few stitches to close up his skin where it had been cut.
Riding with him and his trainer to the nearest hospital after the fight, I asked him why he stood his ground against such a vicious opponent, when he could’ve tried to stick and move, given he had the better fighting pedigree. The youngster initially seemed at a loss for words. This is when I realized he really didn’t know why he’d chosen to fight that way. At the very least, he couldn’t articulate it, which sometimes equates to not knowing. After some more pondering, he finally mumbled through torn and swollen lips, something about “the fans”: “I did it for the fans; they like to see a good fight.”
I am very happy that Floyd Mayweather and I can give the fans the fight they have wanted for so many years.
— Manny Pacquiao (@MannyPacquiao) February 21, 2015
I’ve been reminded of that bloody fight and that taxi ride to the hospital with every variation of that mantra posted in social media outlets recently. And the participants of what will soon be the biggest fight in boxing history will no doubt keep repeating it everywhere they go from now until May 2. “We’re doing this fight for the fans,” they say. Some of us even believe them.
But let me be the first to tell you: it isn’t true. Those two guys don’t care about the fans. The only reason they’re fighting each other is because they’ll be paid obscene amounts of money to do so, and because they’ve literally run out of opponents. If they actually cared about the fans and the sport, they would’ve fought five years ago, and they would’ve given us at least a trilogy by now.
Anyway, good for them. I have nothing against people making a living the best way they can. The only problem I have is with the way these celebrities expect us to believe every word that comes out of their mouths. Exciting as the prospect of this confrontation is, the fact that they did everything within their power to postpone it for as long as possible says something about them. At the very least, it tells me they’re not cut of the same cloth as those two warriors in that cramped barroom near the Rio Grande. Maybe at some point they were. But not anymore. — Rafael Garcia