I recently attended my first boxing match on March 1st in Las Vegas between Light Heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. (48-1, 38 KOs) and the world’s first Latin Heavyweight champion, John Ruiz (38-5-1, 27 KOs). Unbeknownst to me, this match was potentially history in the making, as Jones’ win would make him the first person to rise from middleweight champion to win the heavyweight crown in more than 100 years.
I know nothing about boxing, besides what I learned from Rocky – don’t make 4 sequels of anything – and Ocean’s 11 – fight nights are the best nights to rob casinos – but luckily, I attended the match with a group of avid boxing fans who filled me in on the details. In a professional title contest, fights consist of 12 rounds of 3 minutes each, separated by a one minute break, during which a scantily clad “Ring Girl” struts around the ring with a placard announcing the next round, and, if neither of the boxers gets knocked out, the 3 judges tally up a score for each boxer based on the number and type of fair punches landed.
Jones, weighing in at 193 pounds, some 30 pounds lighter than Ruiz, is known for having lightning quick fists, and charisma coming out of his shorts, which sounds dirtier than I really mean it to. Cocky is how I would have described him, but much more fun to watch than Ruiz who barely moved from the center of the ring, even as Jones landed punch after punch. Although Ruiz came out strong early, Jones surely and steadily broke down Ruiz’s defenses, opening up Ruiz’s nose early in the match. From Round 6 on, Jones taunted Ruiz, smiling and landing no-look punches, easily winning the match after 12 rounds in a unanimous decision by the 3 judges. Ruiz left the ring crying like a baby and complaining about the referee, and, as I heard one observer describe, “making more excuses than a pregnant nun”.
At 33, Jones has 6 belts and a rap album (of course) called Round One and is fiercely independent, managing his own career and without the help of a promoter. He’s doing a good job, since it’s reported that he could stand to rake in around $12 million dollars from his 48 minute performance. And he’s not the only one. Promoter Don King – the famous promoter with the even more famous hair – and HBO also made a pretty penny, with pay-per-view customers totaling around 525,000, and revenue coming in at around $27 million.
One thing is for sure, boxing matches are quite the scene. Shaquille O’Neill sat a few rows down from me, Vlad Divac from the Sacramento Kings sat a few seats to the right and I watched a virtual all-star parade of athletes (Donovan McNabb, Charles Barkley, Keyshawn Johnson) and other celebrities (Denzel Washington, a few of the ubiquitous Wayans brothers) saunter by, which explained how the promoters could charge $1,200 a ticket, never mind what you had to pay scalpers for a ringside ticket. Cuba Gooding Jr. made me drop my hot dog (well, one of them, anyway) while he ran around, stopping to sign autographs and shouting, “Show me the money” good-naturedly, since every single person that stopped him asked him to do so. Even Li’l Bow-Wow, who now goes by just “Bow Wow”, made the scene with someone who appeared to be his mother in tow. And of course, Ashanti sang the best rendition of the National Anthem that I’ve heard in years, if ever.
Also worth mentioning is one of the undercard matches (sort of like the opening bands) between two female boxers, which at first seemed to be one of the unfairest pairings ever, but actually turned out to be one of the most interesting to watch. Vonda Ward, who I can only describe as the female version of Drago from Rocky IV, was tall, blond, chiseled, draped in some sort of championship belt and shiny boxing gear, and boasted 13 straight knockouts coming into this match. Her opponent, Martha Salazar, had only fought 5 professional fights, was 9 inches shorter, 4 years older, 51 pounds heavier (not muscle), and looked like she had just come from a softball game in the park. I feared for Salazar’s life, but in the end, although Ward won on a split decision, Salazar, even with a bloody nose and bruised face, won the crowd over by taking a spunky consolation lap with a huge smile plastered across her face.
One last thing. The hot dogs, apple-cinnamon filled soft pretzels, and nachos were amazing, the burger “pipes” (hamburgers in the shape of hot dogs) and chicken fingers were terrible, and the fight itself was kind of gross. Shirtless guys in shiny shorts bouncing around? It sounds great until the first punch opens up someone’s nose and sends blood spraying across his face and the canvas. I’m not going to get into the whole argument about the violent, and some say barbaric, nature of boxing, but the crowd was certainly chanting for some action. At one point, a nice little old lady sitting behind me even shouted, “somebody hit SOMEBODY!” Certainly, the night proved that boxing is a strenuous sport of skill and stamina, but to me, the spirited loss by female boxer Salazar, seemed to most embody the pure joy of the sport that night.