Boxing Selena

Known more for its cocido (beef stew), machaca and green salsa, Pitic Restaurant in south Phoenix on Wednesdays transforms into Mexican fight night.

Last week, rows of chairs circled a makeshift stage that was surrounded by a chain link fence -- it looked like the night's action was going to be a rage-in-the-cage match at the restaurant, which is on East Pima Street south of Buckeye Road.

The boxers tended to be former street fighters, and they'd brought family and friends along to see them battle over a $300 purse. Kids sat just inches from the fence separating them from the action, and the room was filled to capacity.

Jose Duarte, 34, one of four boxers slated to perform, said he was fighting "to have fun." He was surrounded by a large entourage of tough looking guys all wearing matching jerseys. His nephew, Victor Soriano, was asked where else his uncle had boxed, and answered "In the street" with a look that said "Where else?"

Duarte admits that it had been awhile since his street matches. "They were all lost," he said. "That's why I'm here, to get revenge." His fans laughed, and one even suggested that Duarte had missed his calling as an entertainer. But the funny pugilist then got serious and said, "I'm doing this for my son. And I want to get in shape for my wife."

But first he'd have to wait. Because the fights are recorded for a later telecast by Canal 53, an independent Spanish language television station also owned by Pitic proprietor Albert Quiñones, there were long delays. The crowd of about 200 grumbled when games of Bingo were offered as preshow entertainment to keep them in their seats.

There might have been a mutiny if it hadn't been for the efforts of the attractive Tecate girl, who did her best to keep the crowd's mind off the long wait.

Finally, the boxers were brought into the ring. But it proved to be a false start. They were ushered out again and the crowd started getting ugly. Some started raising shouts for a rival TV station, which prompted the corpulent DJ-host to shout back: "Channel 33 wouldn't do this for you!"

"At least they don't play bingo," someone in the crowd quipped.

When the round robin contest at last got underway, Duarte pummeled his first opponent and easily made the championship bout. He was then pitted against the other semifinal winner, Moises Navarro, who, despite his 38 years, goes by the moniker, "El Kid."

Duarte gamely answered Navarro's brutal vollies with a few punches of his own, but the fight was stopped in the second round when the blood gushing from Duarte's nose reached alarming levels. His young son came up to him, looking as if he didn't know whether to cry or hug his bloody old man.

"I'll be okay," the fighter reassured his boy.