It was a close call whether the fighters in the ring or the spectators around the beer tents were the more hostile.
I had only night in Dallas, but having spent the morning looking around art galleries and visiting the JFK museum (housed in the old school book depository building), I was feeling that this would be quite sufficient time in the city.
I was therefore very happy to take up the suggestion of my host in Dallas (Jennifer) that we go to an amateur boxing contest to be held at the nearby country club.
She explained to me that her friend, Kyle, was one of the boxers who would be fighting later in the evening. Since it was an amateur event, she also added that an extra twist would be added to each fight to provide further entertainment for the crowd.
Kyle was from near New York, so for the purposes of this bout, he was to be referred to as The Yankee. He was paired against a local man from Texas, to be known only as The Southerner. The historical rivalry between the northern and southern state was to give the contest additional spice.
It struck me that that this was a decidedly one-sided arrangement. I expected the home-grown spectators to be thoroughly partisan – and imagined that this Yankee would be booed and heckled at every opportunity.
We arrived at the country club just before seven in the evening. The club was located in a reasonably wealthy suburb of Dallas, and had swimming pools and several sports fields on the site.
Somewhat at odds with this more formal and exclusive atmosphere, was the entirely relaxed dress code. Most of the men wore shorts and t-shirts (many carrying whimsical comments or colorful designs). Women were fewer in number – but made up for this by wearing more flamboyant clothes – ranging from cut-of jeans to skimpy evening dresses and bikinis. Several members of both sexes also sported various tattoos on their forearms, shoulders and legs.
There were a couple of hundred people already in the country club when we turned up. After having my ID checked, I was given a writstband to show that I was good to be served with alcohol – which promised to be in plentiful supply.
An impromptu boxing ring had been set up on the lawns of the country club. There was also a small stage on the far side of the ring where several commentators were sitting. The event was being broadcast on one of the cable channels, so there were also a couple of men standing by the corners holding cameras for filming – while a giant boom reached out over the ring carrying another camera and microphone.
The evening was being sponsored by Corona, so there were numerous stalls set up on the lawns selling beer. This could be purchased by the single can or, for the more determined drinker, it was possible to purchase an ice-bucket filled with half a dozen or so cans, suitably chilled.
Small pennants and gaudy flags belonging to the sponsors were hanging up in the trees or draped around the iron fences which separated the lawns from the swimming pool. To complete the ambiance, several large electronic speakers had been set up all around the country club, which were pumping out a loud and continual beat of heavy rock music, to create an appropriately aggressive atmosphere.
One of the earlier fights was already in progress when we arrived. As an amateur contest, all boxers were required to wear padded helmets. In addition, the rounds seemed to have been shortened. It was difficult to determine exactly how long the rounds were meant to be, since the bell was almost inaudible and somewhat arbitrary. Each fight consisted of three of these rounds.
As well as having to cope with the loi bai hat punches of his opponent, each fighter also had to deal with the onslaught of sarcasm from the commentators. They kept up a non-stop banter during the entire bout, usually disparaging the abilities of both boxers. One of the commentators was nicknamed The Man with a Laugh like a Telephone. And before he spoke, he would always guffaw raucously – imitating the ringing tone of a traditional telephone.
In between rounds, young women wearing bikinis would parade around the ring, carrying a placard showing the number of the forthcoming round on one side, and the name of a local sponsor on the other.
This ritual caused great excitement amongst the crowd, and cries of “Get that top off” were common. At one point in the evening, one of the commentators on the microphone could contain himself no longer and called out “Aw, come on! Can’t someone pull those panties down just a little bit when she goes past?”
At the end of each fight, several girls entered the ring and threw free sponsorship material into the baying mass of spectators. These were usually t-shirts, towels or hats. This was also a popular activity, and many of the audience waved their arms enthusiastically, clamoring for one of the gifts.
Although later in the evening, when beer and boredom had taken greater hold, several of these items were hurled back into the ring with as much enthusiasm as they had at first been received.
As I approached the ring, I saw that the fighters were between rounds, and the commentators were holding forth on the microphone.
– Is that guy being sick? He must have taken a real pounding. Good job the trainer brought along a bucket.
– He’s not being sick. He’s just spitting out his water. All fighters do that. Haven’t you ever been to a fight before John?