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I almost always come away from boxing events with mixed emotions -- and last weekend was no exception.
On one hand, I have great admiration and respect for what boxers do in this vicious and beautiful sport that requires the utmost degree of physical and mental toughness.
Every instant, a boxer must battle his fight-or-flight instincts; every instant, the boxer must make a hurt-or-be-hurt decision. The greatest fight is cerebral, rage and fear, fear and rage, incessantly sapping the athlete's strength much faster than any cardiovascular/aerobic exercise. That boxers master these primal instincts so gracefully is deserving of the highest regard.
On the other hand, boxing can be maddeningly frustrating. Boxers are like foot soldiers, with the various hustlers who insinuate themselves around the boxing world playing the politicians. The boxer is on the front lines, risking life and limb in the ring. Meanwhile, the various flacks and hustlers that make the boxing world wobble, the ones who supposedly have the fighter's best interests at heart, often barely cloak their completely self-serving motivations.
For the fans it all comes down to one question: Are you getting your money's worth?
Last Friday night saw bouts at the World Arena, and Saturday night, former champions Roberto Duran, age 50, and Hector "Macho" Camacho, age 39, were the featured main event at Denver's Pepsi Center.
The World Arena card offered six professional fights, with local professionals Patrick Walker of Colorado Springs and Benji Marquez of Pueblo featured in separate bouts. Walker's opponent didn't show and his bout was canceled. Marquez's bout was entertaining, but the rest were average or below par. As always seems the case in boxing, 20 minutes of blaring music separated each bout.
There's never any problem prying yourself away from the action to go to the restroom at boxing events, not that the 800 or so on hand needed many restroom breaks after 8:30 p.m., when the World Arena responsibly stopped selling beer. Just before that, fans booed loudly after Fort Collins' Shane Swartz was given a technical knockout (TKO) over Rich Galvin, a human tomato can from Des Moines, Iowa. In the first round Galvin dropped to one knee after a seemingly innocuous punch from Swartz, and the referee stopped the fight. One of the World Arena ushers commented that it was probably smart to quit selling beer -- with some of these questionable decisions, fans might get rowdy.
I looked up into the shadowy rafters and thought, "Decisions, hell, at between $15.50 and $45 per ticket, I'd be worried about the fans getting rowdy when the booze makes them realize just how little they're getting for their entertainment dollar."
But there was no riot, and the Marquez fight went the distance to end things on a somewhat positive note. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if the fans got their dollar's worth. I'm in the press, so I get to go for free, but how much would I have paid otherwise? Short answer: not much.
Press or no press, passes were hard to come by for the Duran/Camacho fight on Saturday in Denver, though not because of high demand. Instead, it was because boxing is so mismanaged and disorganized that a fundamental thing like credentialing media is beyond their frontmen. The only reason I got in was because -- while waiting to talk to some Pepsi Center manager, wondering if I'd just wasted $15 worth of gas driving up from the Springs -- I ran into a colleague from the Denver Post. He pointed me to a nondescript guy with slick black hair, standing just a few feet from Will Call, who turned out to be the credential man. I had a pass within 15 seconds, but it was just more casual evidence of the Byzantine ridiculousness of the boxing world.
The boxing again, by and large, was terribly average, and the Camacho/Duran main event was nothing spectacular. I'm no boxing historian, but I don't remember either of these guys leaning their heads on each other's shoulders so much when they were in their prime.
Legendary manager Lou Duva told the Rocky Mountain News earlier in the week that the fight, "should be for the Geritol world championship." Walking into the interview room after the fight, one reporter said he was going to remind his assigning editor that these were five hours of his life that he would never have back. Again, looking at the shadowy rafters high above, I thought: How much would I have paid? Again, not much. Surely not the $39 to $300 per ticket paid by the estimated crowd of 4,000 (announced as 6,579, but no one believed it).
To be fair, there were some good fights on the undercard. The ladies' super middleweight fight between Ann Wolfe and Diane Clark was far more entertaining than the main event, and showed just how proficient female boxers have become in recent years. Wolfe won by TKO in the fourth round. Duva's new prospect, junior welterweight Demetrius Hopkins, a wiry kid from Philly, was brutally efficient with his third-round TKO of Abdul Blackburn. Hopkins is now 8-0 with three knockouts.
And sure enough, every time I'm getting ready to write off boxing for the sham it has become, something happens that gives me reason to hold some hope for the future of the sport.
The Zen moment came during Oba Carr's welterweight bout against Norberto Sandoval Saturday, by far the best fight of the night. Both fighters were highly skilled and cunning. They fought a brutal 10-round war of attrition that left both bleeding and scarred.
But Carr's performance was highlighted by that of his wife, Monique. During the fight, sitting three seats from me, she reflected the whole range of emotions her husband had wisely and professionally blocked from his mind before stepping in the ring. She would go from exhilarating cheers of "Go baby, you have him now, baby," to pained winces, to moments where she would rest her head on the table and stare at the floor as if mustering her strength for the next round.
During a time-out in the ring, Carr retired to the neutral corner closest to us. "You've got 'em now baby," Monique shouted. For a moment, Oba stirred from his competitive trance, looked over his shoulder at Monique, and flashed her a humble smile that said, "Everything is in control."
He won by unanimous decision.