Keep Your Left Hand Up, Amigo!!!April 20th, 2009
by Suzanne Burns
Boxers don’t walk. Boxers don’t strut. Boxers glide, eyes forward, their profiles reminiscent of Dick Tracy, strong and dashing, with a hint of vulnerability that belies the ballet of brutality to come.
Noted author Joyce Carol Oates refers to boxing as, “the lost religion of masculinity,” and the horde that gathered on Friday night in the Middle Sister Building of the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in our neighboring town of Redmond for the preliminary bouts of the Oregon State Golden Gloves championship came to re-christen this loss.
Men dominated the throng as Ozzy Osbourne, Rammstein and Mexican rap detonated from speakers. The overpowering smell of nachos and popcorn blended with the bittersweet aroma of mixed drinks. The bartender, resplendent in a jewel-toned vest and bow tie, attempted to create a little bit of Las Vegas elegance on a linen-draped card table positioned near a hall water fountain.
Before the event, coaches sequestered their boxers in adjacent rooms near the ring. Rooms used at county fair time for the innocuous, yet crucial, task of keeping safe a myriad of cakes and confections waiting to be crowned the blue ribbon best. Much the same way these young men, ranging in age from 16 to 33, ran in place, shadow boxed to the accompaniment of their iPods, sparred with trainers in the all-consuming hope of winning their bout.
There is a basic psychology behind why boxers box and an audience enjoys watching. The adrenaline rush is contagious, the vicarious thrill obvious as men throughout the room stood and applauded at the occasional knock-down, shadow boxed during intermission, treated these fighters as the ideal of male perfection. There is something primeval in watching men box each other, sometimes into submission, sometimes until blood pours from their mouth and nose. More often, though, the spectacle becomes a slow dance sped up, a meeting between two combatants not out to harm their opponent, but to win this corporeal chess match with a combination of vitality and force.
The Golden Gloves are open to any non-professional pugilist over the age of sixteen. Friday’s event consisted of twelve bouts of three rounds each. The lightning quick rounds breed an excitement from the crowd. This is audience participation at its unrelenting best, with “cabeza, cabeza, cabeza (head)” shouted over the cornerman’s commands to “put some glitter in it” and “keep up your left hand, amigo.”
The evening ran the gamut from an opening bout against two 119lb. teenagers who, under their seemingly slight builds, employed enough skill to hold the attention of the eager audience to the final rounds, a display of power propelled by the brawny mass of two 201-plus pound fighters. During the heavyweight bout, a blow-out to a knee already locked in a brace was the only substantial injury of the evening. The fighter, a man whose physique resembled a later-day Elvis, complete with garish boxing trunks and blue suede boxing shoes, fell on the ropes, waved a hand in front of his face and, to the crowd’s silence, said, “I’m done.”
Livin’ Large Larry, the announcer wearing a bottle green sport coat, kept up the momentum between bouts. He also commandeered the night’s raffle. Prizes included an overnight trip to Kah-Nee-Ta, a $17 haircut and a set of pillowcases embroidered by the mother of a boxing coach. The raffle, with proceeds of certain tickets benefiting local charities, added to the familial atmosphere of the boxers and their loyal supporters. Whether in the ring or out, everyone knew each other, welcoming both the winning and losing boxers with cheers.
There were a few sightings of blood during the event, most notably the drops that fell from a boxer’s nose onto his Mexican flag trunks, staining the middle panel of white fabric, which, at the flag’s inception in 1821, stood for religion. The Friday night fights had become, for that one moment, a revival of boys becoming men and men defending their desire, with no apology, to turn their bodies into beautiful, sacred machines.