Saturday, September 20, 2008

The final bout of the evening was particularly ferocious

Friday evening I went to an open day at Joey’s boxing club (Joey is a freelance graphic designer).

Joey had originally intended to fight, but had to pull out because of an injury.

The club is based in a brick-built 1970s building in a south London suburb. Inside the main hall the ring was in the centre with seating around four sides. The walls were painted dark green on the lower half, with white paint on the upper half - almost entirely covered with photographs of boxers and posters of boxing champions.

About two hundred people were at the event, mostly friends and relatives of the boxers. There was a bar at one end of the room, and there was continuous traffic back and forth between the seating areas and the bar. We drank pints of beer from plastic beakers.

As well as being a boxing club the hall doubles as a gym. All the weights and fitness equipment had been moved to the other end of the room. The seating was on old metal-framed chairs covered in canvas – very uncomfortable.

The bouts started almost immediately we got there, with the junior fighters going on first. These included tiny children who couldn’t have been more than five or six. One of them burst into tears and refused to fight.

Teenagers followed, and then the senior fighters. Generally the taller fighters seemed to win, most of them giving snarling grins as they accepted applause (I think the snarling was a result of the gumshields). During the break one of the club trainers got in the ring and encouraged people to sign up as members:

“Whatever your condition we guarantee we can get you fitter than you ever thought possible. Learning to box is one of the best life skills you can have. You’ll be fitter, you’ll be more confident, and you’ll know how to look after yourself.”

The final bout of the evening was particularly ferocious. One fighter’s nose began to bleed, and blood spread in a thin red film over his face and splattered onto his opponent. The referee wiped away the blood and let the crumpled crimson tissue fall onto the floor.

As the fight became more intense the audience became caught up in the excitement. Several club members (who had fought earlier in the evening) rushed over from the bar area and began yelling encouragement (“Get in first…” “Make him look silly…”). They made punching motions with their right hands, spilling the pints of beer they held in their left.

The bout was won by the fighter with the bloody nose. He looked aggressive and triumphant as the audience applauded. A little later I saw him changed into ordinary clothes and looking much more docile, carrying a tray of drinks over to the club trainers.

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