There’s something different about watching boxing live and in person, as opposed to the well-lit, expert-announced, and invariably cable or pay-per-view experience of watching it on T.V. This, quite obviously, can be said of most everything, from ice-skating to bowling to basketball. But with boxing it feels as though there’s a little more risk involved. The main difference that I observed personally was the enhanced sensation of sitting in a modern-day Roman ampitheatre and viewing two men, two humans with mothers in the crowd and fragile human brains inside their skulls, looking to harm each other as grievously as possible in the shortest possible span of time. This is a core tenet of this sport. But when you’re there live, when the smack of glove on face comes to you in real time, when the crowd starts to roar and stand up, when they smell blood, you realize the real difference. You can shut off the TV if things get too savage. But if things go really wrong and you’re sitting there in the press section of the Barclays center, as I was, and one fighter begins really hammering the other, there’s no turning off the TV. You’re sharing a common space with a man in serious physical harm, you’re sharing a room with a man, most likely in his 20s, who is having potentially permanent damage done to him, right in front of your eyes. You could, on the worst of days, be sitting comfortably in your seat with an icy Diet Coke in your cup holder looking on as one man murders another man with nothing more than his hands.
And so it was fitting that in the first round of the first undercard of the first boxing match I’d ever witnessed live, a featherweight named Rafael Vazquez knocked out Bradley Patraw (technically a TKO, but Patraw never left the canvas) with an incredible left hook that Patraw didn’t appear to see coming at all. After the referee stopped it (I think the reason it was a TKO as opposed to a KO was, from the moment Patraw went down, the ref knew it was time to end the fight) a team of doctors sat Patraw down on a stool and inspected his face for several minutes before he limply got up and left the arena. The most remarkable thing about this chain of events was that there was virtually no one in the building to see it; the stands were extremely sparsely filled, maybe 10 people per section. It was the first of seven fights for the night. And those who were in attendance cheered: Vazquez is from Brooklyn.
And thus a pattern emerged that continued for the rest of the night. Journeymen with mediocre win-loss records, all from out of town, against heavily favored local boys, mostly undefeated, who proceeded to decisively beat, to the great satisfaction of the steadily growing Brooklyn crowd, the fighters from St. Paul, Houston, Schreveport. The odds were stacked against them so that the New Yorkers could watch, both at Barclays and on FoxSports1, the homegrown heroes demolish their foreign foes.
"Fuck him up!" they yelled, "Show him how we do it in Long Island!"
They started live television coverage for the last three matches. The battles fought in the first four were for us and us alone. A Broadway performer sang the National Anthem while, near where I sat, a group of drunk 30-somethings in flat-brimmed Yankees hats (which they did not remove) argued about how to position themselves in a group photo.
I’ve watched a fair amount of boxing on television. It’s brutal (my mother and girlfriend have a long history of refusing to be in the room when it’s on) and barbaric, detractors say. And it is, there isn’t much denying that. But watching Ali fights on ESPN Classic (especially the Frazier showdowns, and the Rumble in the Jungle about a million times) or the Gatti-Ward slugfests from the early 2000s is watching sport at it’s finest, not to mention the literally hundreds of other fights a year with two little-known fighters who have perfectly complementary styles that make for incredible viewing—if you’re into that kind of thing.
But seeing it live is different. When hometown hero (and, because it was the main event, the evenings only homegrown underdog) Luis Collazo knocked out the famous and favored Victor Ortiz late in the second round of the headlining title fight, the arena erupted. Ortiz was fumbling around on the canvas, hanging limply over the ropes, and everyone around him was screaming screams of joy.
Boxing is the only sport I can think of that can end at any time. Baseball has 9 innings. Football, basketball, hockey have their clocks. Ortiz-Collazo was scheduled for 12 rounds, and lasted just under 2. Never is that more apparent than when you’re in the arena (if only because it means that, scheduling wise, you are now subjected to much longer interims of very loud rap music while the organizers scurry to prepare the next fight). The Brooklyn crowd was jubilant, despite the fact that, walking out among the buzzing, joking, laughing crowd, there were an inordinate number of people holding full beers—they’d expected to be there longer. And this is much of what draws myself and I suspect many others into enjoying this sport. Anything can happen at anytime. Never is that more apparent than when you have your bum in a seat, with nothing but temperature-regulated arena air (and a large camera, in my case*) between you and two gladiators, each out to the crush the other while a paying crowd looks on, expecting to see something dramatic.
*I was there photographing for a local Brooklyn paper. If there are any errors in this stupid little personal essay, it’s because I wasn’t really able to take many notes and the media coverage less than 24 hours after the fight is less than comprehensive. I also only gave this a quick re-read because I have to go buy my cousin some drinks on the LES, and I’m already late. -J