I don’t think I ever would have come to enjoy watching fights on my own. But many years ago, I dated a guy who was very into martial arts. While we were together, I willingly a) watched wrestling on TV on a regular basis (and even had favorites) and b) went to not one but two live boxing matches. And then we broke up and I sort of figured I’d never do any of that stuff again. But recently I was looking for something cheap and entertaining to do, and I saw that the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament was on. So I convinced a friend with a car that we should go, and he, being a good sport about basically everything, agreed.
First of all, the location: Chicago Golden Gloves was held this year at the Cicero Stadium, which sits on a fairly desolate stretch of South Laramie. Across the street is some kind of possibly abandoned factory, with a sign hanging on a chainlink fence with several letters missing. Up and down the block from the stadium, the sidewalks were mostly dark. But the marquee of the stadium itself was lit up, announcing the semifinal bouts of the Golden Gloves tournament, so in we went.
Inside the stadium looked exactly like any high school gym in America and smelled very athletic. The ring was set up in the middle of what would otherwise be a basketball court, and at one end of the gym a stand was set up selling pizza, soda, and beer. We found ourselves a spot in the half-full bleachers and settled in to watch the action.
One of the most surprising things to me about boxing is how quiet it is in the ring. Outside of the ring, the family and friends of each of these amateur boxers (mostly men, but some women too) screamed their names and cheered them on and gave them important advice like, “Hit ‘im!” But inside, all you hear is the dull thud of shoes against the floor and gloves on bodies–barely a grunt or a shout is uttered.
Despite the fact that these people are definitely beating each other up, it generally doesn’t seem very violent when you watch it. Partly that’s due to how controlled everything is: pads are checked, refs are watching to make sure everybody’s conscious, and someone’s three-year-old sister is dancing in the aisle down front, so how bad could it really be?
But then there’s a moment when a glove connects with a face and you see the head jerk back and when the glove pulls into view again it’s stained red, and when the ref separates the fighters and counts off for the one who got hit, he’s weaving and staggering, and the ref calls it, and the fighters go back to their corners, and the helmet comes off, and his face is all blood and sweat. And you remember that despite the honed techniques and the safety measures, what you’re watching is two dudes trying to hurt the other one more than they get hurt.