Published in Athleta Magazine
The weight-ins starts at eight in the morning. The fights are located in the edges of town, in old boxing gyms. The cage waits in the corner. These fighters are at an amateur level, so they pay the admission fee themselves. After everybody has been weighed, the owner of the gym informs that the sauna is warming up for the fighters that didn’t meet their weight limit. The ones who failed start anxiously shadow boxing and running short sprints with their clothes on. The ones that made it seemed relaxed yet introverted, they either don’t know the other fighters, or at least act that way. The air becomes tense and wordless, but not quiet.
All the gyms I visited had some sort of an altar consisting of old trophies and newspaper articles about their fighters who broke through and found success. Some of the altars are more prominently placed, others more secluded.
I felt unwanted there, the owners and trainers who seemed friendly and welcoming before, seemed tense on the day. I don’t blame them. I had simply asked to come to the event and document it, I wasn’t working for a newspaper, nor was I somehow involved in the fighting circles. To them, I was an outsider, politely intruding on their ground.
As the sun keeps rising, more people keep appearing.
The sound of the first fight was deafening. Some of the fighters hit the cage door with their fists while howling before entering, while others went in quietly. It always starts as a wait, for the fighters, for the audience. It goes on in slow motion and then it happens: a few punches, one sided chanting from the audience roars and before I can comprehend anything, the fights on the ground. Three five minute rounds is all they have, most of them end sooner. In between rounds, as the trainers wipe out the sweat and blood from them, their eyes roam endlessly around the room, rarely focusing on their opponent at all. A lot of them were here for the first time, I wonder what it was like inside.
The sounds started to quiet down, but without the tensity of the morning. The fighters who were done for the day were in different shapes, some chatty and energetic, others quieter. Most of them seemed relieved, in good and in bad. One of the fighters, who in his losing effort seemed so exhausted he barely made it to the last round, was laying on the ground, a few feet away from the cage with a towel over his head. You couldn’t see his expression, but his heavy breathing was visible from his rising chest.
The advice of the trainers always looked to go to deaf ears and wandering eyes. When the match continues, they can shout their lungs out, but it would still just be him alone in there. They pay the money alone, and they win or lose alone. The only times there’s a look of disappointment in the eyes of the loser is after a short match. The faces after a fight that goes on for the entire three rounds, both the winner and the loser look ecstatic. Like it didn’t really matter, so long as they both made it to the last bell together.