Friday Night Fights
Lexington Avenue Armory
On the Friday of an ongoing economic collapse, in the spirit of living the empire before it falls, I trekked out Friday to the Lexington Avenue Armory, on 25th Street, to see citizens pummel each other in near-mortal combat. Friday Night Fights, as they’re called, happen once a month or so, as I understand it; guys from various local gyms and other innocuous walks of life come together on a comfortably overstuffed card, alternating, more or less, between boxing and Muay Thai boxing, the difference being that the Muay Thai guys also allowed, and encouraged, to kick each other in the face. Confusingly, the Thai fighters are also the combatants who don’t wear headgear. There were 14 bouts on the card on Friday, and only one team of paramedics: this swiftly becomes a problem.
Entering, we’re tagged as hipsters on our way somewhere else, which prompts my companion (who knows a thing or two about fighting) to protest, saying defiantly: “We’re here for the fight.” This, of course, is something he’d been waiting a long time to say to someone, but in fact he’s wrong, too: there is, incongruously, a hipster-type VIP, which is nowhere near the ring, but does appear to have free beer; contrary to the door girl’s expectations (probably based on the cardigan I was wearing?), nobody had invited us. We sat instead near a guy with a T-shirt that said “First Fucking Blood.”
There’s not a lot of technique down near the bottom of the card, but there is a lot to look at: first a woman with a lovely voice comes out and sings the National Anthem, then a DJ incites the crowd with some “Apache,” and then the boxers emerge, entourages intact, wearing wife-beaters and in some instances, capes. Ring girls in identical minimalist outfits circle; one walks extremely quickly, thus telegraphing extreme discomfort, which has the effect of making us in the audience feel uncomfortable too. They alternate rounds, or I should say holding cards that say what round it is, and the girl who walks extremely fast wears a tattered-looking, but potentially genuine, fur coat when she’s not out in the ring.
When the fighters fight, you can hear them breathe; sweat really does fly in curtains when a boxer connects. There are old ring guys who hold both spit buckets and towels; the boxing coaches look not unlike Cutty from The Wire, mostly, and the Muay Thai coaches almost uniformly sport shaved heads, tight jeans, and Adidas, like soccer hooligans. When a boxer wins, his friends cluster around; available looking women quickly enter the picture, even after the very first low-status bout.
The kick boxers tend to salute all corners and do a little prayer dance in the center of the ring before bouts: it’s unclear how they figure out who gets to hog the ring before the fight, but it’s usually one guy who’s way more theatrical than the other. When they miss kicks, they do graceful little spins; when they connect full on, as happened once or twice, their opponent may drop to the floor, unresponsive and indifferent even to smelling salts. Eventually, when the victim is roused, he ends up on a tiny, cartoonish stool, on which he visibly sways: you can practically see the bluebirds circling his head. If it’s a kick to the temple, he will then go to the hospital, leaving us to wait for the medics to return; if it’s a punch, the guy usually figures out a way to stagger back to the locker room, although it can take a while. It’s hard to exaggerate the exhilaration and adrenaline that comes on when one fighter cleanly knocks out another; suffice to say I think there’s something embedded deep in the sport that prevents you from empathizing or identifying with the loser, at all, even if you’re an otherwise good guy.
Sometimes women fight, prompting the dude behind us to exclaim: “I should put my fucking girlfriend in the ring.” This, contrary to the myth, is not remotely hot, although the ladies’ bout is the only one with tons of visible blood. We stagger out after the second knockout, having seen what we needed to see; in a year from now, when we’re doing this in the streets, we’ll long for the amateurs who do it for us now.