Brutal, low-road, Vegasy entertainment plays off the faces of blue-collar, heavy-jowled types who suck light beers and siphon cigars while their eyes trace figures of nubile dancers and waitresses. It would seem the perfect night out, eh?
Well . . .
As strains of "The Theme From Rocky" die down, a blind hostility falls over the two female fighters standing in the ring. It's tense, as if they were settling some "You fucked my boyfriend" charge. It is a contempt not lost on the crowd.
The bell rings.
Head shots come hard and fast, delivered with a kind of venom usually reserved for men verging on some hormonal kick.
"The louder you scream, the harder they hit," the MC foments from the DJ booth at the back of the room.
The lithesome women, with gloved fists like amphetaminic, broken-winged butterflies, attack each other with a catfight urgency that consumes their surroundings in a focused, sweaty slugfest. The awkward, windmill arm movements, the leathery protective headgear and shit-talkin' through strange, lipsticked snarls play a struggle bordering the surreal.
After three merciless rounds and swaggering around with a virile precision that implies a youth spent with bullying big brothers, CJ, a statuesque and confident first-time fighter, lays waste to her comely challenger. AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" provides the exit melody.
Not five minutes later, buoyed by the praising crowd in her corner, CJ announces she was "ready to do it again." She has no challengers.
Foxy Boxing, in its women-only context, is a "sport" peculiar with an oddly watchable, lurid scenario: Women--generally garbed in pinup wear--wallop each other's faces and guts with bulbous, padded gloves for the maximum duration of three rounds (less, of course, in the case of a KO). All for the benefit of a heaving crowd.
The locations of the monthly events vary. Tonight's is located at Alaskan Bush Company 2 topless club on West Indian School Road. The last was held with much fanfare at Celebrity Theatre.
And the very idea of Foxy Boxing challenges even the most sympathetic female stereotype--and would certainly have someone like, say, Susan Faludi howling. But judging from the appearances of both crowd and fighters, all concerned seem in varying fits of pleasure, the losers notwithstanding.
"I'm like a really bad tomboy, and I love this," says CJ, 20, who, along with her boxing twin sister, Sassy, works as an exotic dancer at the Body Shop Cabaret.
"Not only do we get paid to box, we also get to fight and not get in trouble for it. It's better than just going up to someone and beatin' 'em up. I got in a lot of fights in high school."
The fighters are dabbling in a sport that is conventionally viewed as a tree house for boys only, and the crowd's expectations still have a typically sexist bent. The horde's faves are not picked for their fighting ability as much as their luck in the genetic lottery: the shapelier the fighter, the louder the hoots. The cacophony can become quite deafening.
And the verve displayed by these onlookers equals, if not surpasses, that of any real boxing match. The room upholds the honor of testosterone-filled sports buff everywhere: clenched fists punching a smoky atmosphere, doghouse yelps, sullied work shirts with sewn-on name tags, untucked and pushed forth by bouncy, oversize midriffs.
And though many of these women have never fought in a ring before, they do possess the prerequisite for inclusion: balls. Or, rather, a willingness to toss all sexuality south while thumbing their noses at convention in front of a live crowd. A brave step, considering many of the participants trade on their sexuality for a living at strip clubs.
"Our brothers used to beat us uuup," a beaming Sassy says. "They were meeeean. They would shove our heads up a chimney while a fire was going."
Sassy, like her twin sis CJ, has sinuous limbs and bounding enthusiasm. She also walked away with the night's trophy after accidentally dislocating the shoulder of the incoming champ--Alaskan Bush Company 2's own Sweetness--in a fight that lasted all of 32 seconds.
"She forfeited the round, and I took the trophy home," Sassy says of her brief debut between the ropes. "They should have paired me with someone else; it didn't seem fair that it was over so soon."
Like standard boxing, Foxy Boxing events come with a pro referee to oversee the action. A ring is set up with a springy canvas floor, a hanging lighting rig and makeshift ropes resembling garden hoses. Boxing coaches are brought in to offer the rookie sparrers much-needed advice and help. (The night's tutors included Fidel Hernandez, recent UBF junior middleweight champ of the world, and Ricky Ricardo Rodriguez, head coach at Madison Square Garden Boxing Gymnasium.) Promoting the events in Phoenix is the management at Alaskan Bush Company 2.
By signing up prior to the night's action, any woman can enter. And after signing on, she will be matched with a woman of comparable size, one that looks, cosmetically, at least, like a fair foe.
For cash, a tip jar is passed around the throng, and at the end of the night the booty will be split equally among all fighters, whether they win or lose. This is their only monetary reward.
Moderating the contest is a 61-year-old boxing vet by the name of Joe Joseph, a trim, salt-and-pepper-headed gent sporting antique tats and a manner of speech long on old-school boxing dictum. Head to toe, he's outfitted in black.
Joseph is the state's chief official for amateur boxing and kickboxing. He has been in the boxing game for 47 years. Speaking between fights, and ignoring the young dancers circulating to offer private views of their minimally veiled anatomy, he says dryly, "I started out as a fighter, then I started training people as a corner man. Ya know, I've done everything in boxin' there is to do."
Joseph's sleepy, seen-it-all eyes open a bit when he's asked about the novice tendencies of Foxy Boxers. "I have never seen anything like what the girls do here," he says.
Asked to elaborate, he says with a jaded chortle, "Well, there is nobody that trains these gals too much. There's not like a gym where they can go learn in and work out. They just get in there and fight.
"Every gal gets their instruction before the fight. And I tell 'em, 'This is a boxing match, not a wrestling match. Let's just have fun, no throwing each other down on the canvas.' I tell them to watch the ropes, that they are real loose."
In the ring, Joseph is continually battered by the neophyte boxing babes, absorbing wayward punches, illegal kicks, inexplicably getting sandwiched between sweaty feminine flesh.
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Why does he do it?
"'Cause I love boxing. You know if you put somebody [a referee] in there that didn't know what they were doing, what do you think would happen to those gals? They'd kill each other."
At the end of the night, eight battered fighters go home in varying degrees of pain, the resulting side effects of so much joy. Tumescent faces, inflamed forearms, tender abdomens and joints that feel like they're packed with sand will greet these women in the morning.
"I can't wait until next month," CJ says like a soldier eager for war. "They asked us to come back, and I'll be there ready to romp."
Why does she do it?
"'Cause it feels good.