Glove Story

In search of rhyme or reason inside Phoenix's boxing subculture

I stop by his office, and he shows me a video of him fighting. He's a better boxer than he makes out, and the spectators hate him for it. He knocks one guy out in less than 10 seconds of the first round, but in his other fights he boxes behind a jab, outboxing his inept, brawling opponents and frustrating fans who want to see blood and snot. He taunts his opponents, theatrically winding up punches and illegally hitting after the bell has ended the round. Here in his office, as he watches himself commit one such foul, he chuckles and says, "I like to get one in after the bell."

He plans to fight for as long as he can, and maybe turn pro for a couple of fights. Trying to keep his face straight, he declares, "Any white-collar guy who thinks he's tougher than me, I dare him to get in touch and I'll get Don King or Bob Arum to get it on. I'm the toughest white-collar man on Earth."

He hopes to organize a White Collar Tough Man Contest, for guys with desk jobs to battle it out.

Why did I start boxing all those years ago? In order to be good at something. In order to be praised and respected for what I was good at, instead of being arrested for it. Because I was angry. Because I was sad. Because I was lonely and bored. All of the above reasons. Or none of them.

Why did I quit boxing? All of the above reasons. Or none of them.

It's hard for a boxing club to make money. Madison Square Garden was started with money inherited by Richard Rodriguez's wife. She's still pissed at her husband and son over it. Since then, the gym has kept going on donations from sponsors. But that income has decreased as sponsors decide it's time other institutions got some money. Things are very tight at Madison Square Garden, tight enough to make the owner weird about money. When the New Times photographer asked to borrow a pair of gloves for the cover picture, Richard Rodriguez rented them to him for $13.

Another way the club raises money is by putting on boxing shows. It's a Saturday night in June, and it's putting one on at the gym. Twenty fights, and it's only $8 to get in.

People think I'm a kind person. And I think they're right. But there's something about me that would shock them if they knew it. I love to punch a man on the jaw as hard as I can, then step back and watch him fall apart.

Is that why I started boxing? Maybe. But it isn't why I kept at it.

Boxing shows are about waiting. An hour after the scheduled starting time at Madison Square Garden, nothing has happened. There's no air conditioning that I'm aware of, and the heat is punishing. Because it's indoors, it feels humid, as it never does outdoors in Phoenix unless it's been raining.

There's an impressive crowd, and more people are arriving. It's not the type of clientele you'd expect at a boxing show--mostly families with small children, which gives the place the atmosphere of a fair. A little girl plays with a plaid-suited toddler who tries to climb the steps to the ring. A boy of about 14 with dark brown skin and long black hair, baseball cap on backward, hands wrapped in grimy bandage, shadowboxes with ferocious quickness as his coach looks on, circling and instructing him.

Larry appears from somewhere, and we sit and talk for a while. He's refereeing tonight.

The first fight of the night is friendly and brutal in equal measure. The two guys are novices. They spend half the fight apologizing to each other and the other half trying to put out each other's lights. Then it gets angry--one guy seems to object to a foul that nobody saw--and they carry on fighting even after the ref has told them to stop. One guy is shaken and has to take a standing count.

As they fight, a little kid at ringside shouts expert advice: "Jab! Be first! Keep him at a distance!"

By the end of the fight, the acrimony has worn off. The guys hug each other at the final bell.

Most of the theories people have as to why boxers hug each other at the end of fights are erroneous. It's not a mark of respect or acknowledgment. It's not that the fighters are abandoning their antagonism. It's purely and simply about what it looks like--affection.

When you go through a hard fight, even though you might be showing unrelenting aggression, you don't feel any spite toward the other guy. In fact, the more arduous the fight, the deeper your fondness for him. You feel like you're going through this together, and that he's the only other person there who understands. In a really debilitating fight, the closeness with the opponent is the deepest intimacy I have ever experienced.

This is why the concept of a "grudge fight" is ludicrous. Even if you hate your opponent prior to the fight, it's hard to sustain that hatred when the fight starts.

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