Going to the fights, a personal anecdote: As bad as it gets

Milander Auditorium, Hialeah, Florida circa 1987-1992

They used to stage small fight cards at Milander Auditorium, in beautiful Hialeah, Florida (read sarcastically), some were, a great night of fights, and other nights were dogs; it’s what you would expect.

My friend Ruth and I were regulars at the venue, always buying the $50 ringside seats. (We couldn’t afford to go ringside for the big fights, so we consoled ourselves by sitting ringside at the small cards.)

And so, at one of these fights, on one those nights, a kid climbs into the ring wearing gym shorts and street sneakers. (I was at the time a local high school teacher and recognized that the kid was wearing gym shorts from a high school just down the block, Carol City High School.) From the waist up the kid looked pretty good, looked strong, he certainly was some sort of an athlete, but those shorts and sneakers had the crowd murmuring.

(I smiled to myself and thought maybe the police will break in and start arresting people for staging an illegal prize fight, but then I remembered I was in Hialeah, the police were probably busy betting on the local cock fights; I am only half joking.)

When the bell rang to start the fight, the other kid, (a real boxer, dressed like a real boxer) crossed the ring ready to go, but the kid in the gym shorts immediately flung himself, face first, on to the canvas. He threw himself down so hard that I twitched in my seat, fearing the kid might have broken his forearm. Then the kid just stayed there; the other kid (the boxer) literally never threw a punch.

The referee came over and looked down at the kid and said nothing, and then literally did nothing. The time-keeper, the guy at ringside with the rubber mallet, he had started pounding the apron for the count, but the ref waved him off, and so he stopped ponding. The ref did not pick up the count, or start a new count, nor did he wave off the fight, he just stood there looking down at the kid.

Everything and everybody just froze. The kid’s corner (who, I was convinced, had no real relationship with the kid) just sat there staring through the ropes, the kid, who was holding himself up on his forearms, had a terrified look on his face, and was making it clear that he was not getting up. The ref, well as I said he just continued to stand there and stare down at the kid.

This frozen scene went on for some time. In a sport where a ten count can seem like a lifetime, watching this scene, frozen in time, was so disconcerting that the crowd forgot to boo. We all just sat there staring back at the ring; it was as if no one knew what to do, the kid’s corner wasn’t moving, the kid wasn’t moving, and the ref wasn’t moving. (We would find out later that the referee knew exactly what he was doing.)

Finally after some ridiculous amount of time the kid’s corner finally entered the ring and pulled the kid back to his feet, almost against his will. The ref walked away and started talking to the commissioners and eventually the ring was cleared.

Before the next fight the announcer offered the following explanation, (not for the kid, that needed no explanation, but for the referee’s actions), the ref purposely did not count, did not wave off the fight, nor disqualify the kid, because that would have meant there had been a fight. The ref, by refusing to take any action at all, was making sure, and the commissioners agreed, that as far as they were concerned there never was a fight. Nobody won, nobody lost, there wouldn’t even be a ‘no contest’ to enter into the record books, (for that would have constituted a fight.) They wanted it to be as if it never happened.

But of course it did happen, right there in fucking front of me it happened, and I paid fifty bucks for the seat.

Then the announcer added that the kid wouldn’t get paid. That brought a splattering of applause from the audience, I’m not sure why; all I was thinking was ‘what do I care if you pay the kid or not, nobody’s offering to give me any of my fifty bucks back.’

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. . . The fight game never disappoints, even when you’re certain it has hit rock bottom, boxing will grab a pick axe and see if it can’t dig itself in a little deeper anyway.