A Hot Night at the Fights
Okay so it was a truly hot night.
The culmination of the heat wave that has left New York City sweltering and gasping with the kind of air that is so hard to breathe the only way to deal with it is to dodge in and out of air-conditioned stores as so many leapfrogged pit stops for crisp cool breaths.
None of that seemed to matter though to the crowd at Gleason’s Gym who’d come out to support their friends, family and gym pals competing at the second weekend of the New York State Amateur championships.
Heading over there to cheer on my fellow Gleason’s gym rats, I was grateful for the breezes moving bits of that heavy NYC summer air through the streets of Dumbo. I was looking forward to the chaos that is a fight night at the gym with fighters and their trainers, crowds and officials, milling around in the run up to the bouts–all in the pre-air conditioned splendor that is a boxing gym with its windows wide open, while the ceiling fans and industrial sized floor fans moved warm humid air from point to point intermingled with the faint hint of hot dog smell and sweat.
This to me is boxing at its purest: a club show with none of the attendant hoopla of a pro-fight, and where the motivation comes from a love of the sport and the possibility of a trophy at the end.
Arriving there, snagging seats for my husband and I, waiting out the hour or so before the fights actually started was an opportunity to watch a world in motion. Friends embraced, young junior olympics kids nonchalantly hung near their families before being beckoned by coaches and trainers, and the novice and open fighters circled about. Having already made their weigh-ins, fighters, some nervously, were calculating just how much longer they’d have to wait before they fought.
“I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go now,” one fighter said.
In this interregnum, I hung for a few minutes with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore who had three young fighters, ran into my fellow Women’s Boxing Symposium pal Sarah Deming who was there with her Cops n’ Kids fighters (one of whom I saw win later) and otherwise sat with a silly smile on my face as I watched the scenes unfold–admittedly in between gulps of water.
At some point, the crowd getting thicker and thicker, and the action at the gloves table heating up, pro-fighter and Gleason’s denizen Sonya Lamonakis took on her duties as ringmaster of the two rings of boxing. Tinkering with the a mic covered in gaffer’s tape, she finally managed to get the equipment working and began making announcements that reverberated with a tinny echo over the heads of the crowd. With two rings going and 15 or so fights in each, the sound, difficult enough to hear, was still something for the fighters and their trainers to key into. They had to wait for their call to the glove table two or three fights before they were due in the ring, and then their second call to get ready for their fight.
Seated right behind Sonya, I had a perfect view of both rings and of the fighters as they had their wrapped hands inspected by the officials before handing over their red USA Boxing Metro books and being gloved-up by their trainer: this done once the proceedings started as the fighting raged in both rings.
Sitting there, I was not so much aware of the individual fighters (though I had friends I cheered on), as the ebb and flow of boxers as they readied, plied the canvas with everything they had, and then in turn alighted as winners or losers. The crowd too had an ebb and flow. Each of us covered in sweat, focused on one or both of the rings, with syncopated cheers and whistles, claps and exhortations coming as one or another pas de deux engaged in some new ferocity of purpose won the attention of the spectators.
My friend Michal Perlstein was up in the sixth fight. This was to be her third amateur fight. Having made her weigh-in with ounces to spare she was elated at the prospect of getting into the ring. Her ring hopes, however, were somewhat dashed by the prospect of fighting others in her 152-lb weight class. Two were former national champions, and one woman, a Polish fighter, was said to have had over 200 amateur fights in Poland, although she claimed she’d only had 3. We all figured the 3 were “here,” with no mention of “there,” with nary a word on her purported MMA experience.
And that is women’s boxing in a nutshell I thought. Not enough fighters for an open and novice division that allows for the opportunity to gain experience in the ring without getting outclassed at the onset. As Michal put it, “the other two American women were asked how many fights they had and they said, like 26 or 27 and I had 2.”
Still, she was game and had a set purpose in her face as she stood outside ring number 1 near the red corner waiting to be called. Indeed she had drawn the Polish ringer in the blue corner, who stood in a shiny black gladiator skirt with all of the confidence of a seasoned pro, her legs, perfectly formed and massive–the kind that can support an onslaught of body shots a la Mike Tyson. Called into the ring, they fought cleanly and hard, but within thirty seconds it was obvious that Michal was outclassed and by a minute in she was unable to really defend herself.
The ref wisely called an eight-count after she sustained a series of head shots and her corner consisting of two great pro-trainers Delon “Blimp” Parsely and Don Saxby had seen enough and called it off.
Michal having worked for weeks and weeks preparing for the fight with hours in the ring boxing whomever she could was bummed at having been stopped–even though she clearly understood why. As she put it on Facebook later that night “I’m all for a challenge, but it’s a shame that most tournaments don’t separate women’s novice and open divisions to give the newer boxers an opportunity to safely get competition experience. I’m looking forward to better matching at club shows.”
Talking to Blimp a few minutes after the fight he just shook his head and indicating the other corner said, “it wasn’t worth her getting hurt.”
And that is the thing about the amateurs too. It’s not about suffering devastating losses in the ring, but the sport itself and the chance to hone skills and learn the craft and science of the game (although after I left, Sonya told me one of the women fighting in the semifinals for the 141 pound weight class allegedly bit her opponent in the third round and was disqualified, Lennox though was not so certain that it actually happened).
Knowing Michal, she’ll be back at it today or tomorrow. She’s that kind of competitor, one who is truly motivated by her love of boxing.
So many others of the fighters who alighted into the ring last night, including USA National Boxing Champion and Golden Gloves champion Christina Cruz (who won her 125 pound semifinal match) gave everything they had as well, and will no doubt feel the same way whether they won their fights or tasted disappointment.
They’ll be in the gym as soon as they are able to pick up the gloves again with all of the attendant pride, humility and fortitude that it implies.