Fists of Fury
"We need it more than ever," raps the cabbie, weaving around cars on Kearny, beeping his horn. "It keeps kids off the street, they work out their aggressions." We're talking about boxing, and the event down at the Longshoremen's Hall, where he's driving me, if he doesn't get us killed. He rattles off about the old gym at 312 Leavenworth, the facility at Fifth Street and Brannan that is training girl boxers, the girl boxer who is the new pet project of Don King, and the days of Benny Ford, an old local promoter. He swerves and narrowly misses a Muni bus.
The hall is filling up fast, as the old ghosts of the building watch from on high -- Harry Bridges, Ken Kesey and the Acid Trips bunch. It stinks of hot dogs and testosterone musk. The ratio of male to female is easily 20-to-1. Some guys are talking about a bout they attended in Santa Cruz where 13 fights broke out in the audience. Four bouts are scheduled, with an intermission that will feature the national anthem played by Danny Hull, the saxophonist who "brings the spark back to the Doobie Brothers."
The first fight is a super lightweight, two little guys who duke each other around until one gets a cut over his eye and it's called after the third round. The sound system kicks into "Dream On" by Aerosmith, and after a minute it segues to "Walk This Way," then, inexplicably, Van Morrison's "Domino." Skimpily dressed ring girls step through the ropes after each round, holding up the card. Fat guys hoot from the balcony.
Fighters are introduced for the second bout. James Lester Jr. comes out to little fanfare, followed by Everett "The Ghost" Robinson, dancing like a fool to the hip-hop music, wearing a monogrammed robe and leading a big entourage. Lester is a two-time Golden Gloves champ, but The Ghost is the showman. The bell sounds, and the heavyweights go at it, Lester chasing The Ghost around the ring like a bulldog, The Ghost floating motionless, not moving his gloves at all until he punches. Lester nails a jab to the jaw, and grunts. After The Ghost lands a good one back to his forehead, Lester smacks his own face twice. The Ghost's entourage is lively, and appears to consist of:
1) Towel Man, an intense, pumped-up guy with a towel around his neck, who paces far out into the audience, then back to the ring, shouting advice every 2.2 seconds;
2) Stripes & Shades Man, a dude with a slick striped jacket and sunglasses, who leans against the corner pole and stares at the action in silence;
3) White Hat Guy, an older man whose job it is to place the stool in the ring after every round and shout more advice;
4) Fat T-Shirt Guy, who carries the pail of water for every round, and is also full of advice.
Lester wins by a decision, and falls to his knees in victory -- his first professional fight. The Ghost exits with his posse, still bobbing his head slightly to the music. Like Bill Clinton, he has too many advisers.
Fat T-Shirt Guy sits directly behind me. A security guy comes up to him and says, "We've thrown you out of four straight San Francisco fights -- we're watching you."
"Fuck off," says Fat T-Shirt Guy.
"You think because you can carry around that bucket --"
"I've got security keeping an eye on you --"
Great. Tim McVeigh's cousin is sitting behind me -- and he's drinking beer.
AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" cranks up, and it's starting to get embarrassing that all the music is so familiar. Paul "The Assassin" Nave hops into the ring, the reigning IBO Intercontinental Welterweight champion, rated No. 6 in the world; he's from San Rafael. He is swarmed by video cameras, while his opponent, Jose "El Leon" Limones is ignored. The bell rings and it's quite a slugfest. You can't help but get sucked into the action, the strategy of knowing when not to jab, the sounds of the gloves hitting flesh. And then a cell-phone geek starts to speak:
"Kenny? Yeah, he's in the second round right now ... he's doing pretty good. Yeah. OK." He hangs up. Another communications satellite put through its paces.
Between rounds, as the ring girls do their thing, their costumes seem to get smaller and smaller. What's next, two paper clips and a nicotine patch? Two females behind me are reviewing every girl:
"This first one's got the thinnest, tonest body. But the third one," a woman says, wrinkling her nose, "has a bit of a tummy."
Nave retains his title. The final bout -- between Sacramento's Tony "The Tiger" Lopez and "Prince" Wilberforce Kigundu -- is also notable for the entourage. Kigundu is a former California and Uganda champion, and some guy kneels next to me the entire 10 rounds, shouting out instructions to him in some kind of Ugandan dialect, which sounds like:
"SOO-LAH! SOO-LAH WOH-JOE YAY-YA BUELO! NAH KOO PAH-DEE SOO-LAH!"
Unfortunately, the instructions are not enough. Lopez comes out slugging for the final round, and wins by decision. The drunken, big-shouldered crowd spills out into the balmy night air, nostrils flaring with adrenalin. Back in the men's room, one guy stands over the sink, hot water turned up full blast, silently rinsing out the fighters' mouth guards.