Photography by Peter Dean Rickards
On a Thursday Night in the middle of the concrete jungle, the Lions come out to play. Already notorious for its garrison politics, this particular downtown community cements its reputation by adding brute sport to its list of attributes. Unyielding to outside authority, its proud residents are often misunderstood by outsiders who fear what they don’t understand. As a population detached and growing larger each week the anticipation is thick in the air as we witness an incredibly entertaining release.
The crowd that surrounds is jovial, boisterous and dense and since we’re late it takes great effort to penetrate this barrier. It’s a privilege to stand close; everybody wants to see what’s going on. It’s ‘Thursday Night at the Fights’- street brawling in its most organized form; a makeshift ring constructed of two ropes held in place by feeble pieces of wood, lodged not too securely in the ground and a couple of nearby lampposts.
There’s no pretense here. No one bothers about things as trivial as mouthguards or doctors or even a bell. Many are dressed in rags and bear a slight resemblance to guttersnipes. To others, these are the dregs of society. Anyone brave enough (or drunk enough) to step inside must be prepared to take a beating; the crowd doesn’t react well to boring fights. So when two boys calling themselves ‘Tall Man’ and ‘Tupac’, (neither looking a day over twelve) knock fists to start their fight, little Tupac stares up at the other with a lust for blood in his eyes.
Their style of fighting is a combination of traditional boxing and raw street-fighting. Fists are flung without mercy, covered with nothing more than thin bag-training gloves, each blow connecting with a reverberating thud as the commentator echoes “Boop!-Bap!-Boop!” provoking the crowd to roars of laughter. But this only whets their appetite, they want blood.
Though the tall one has the advantage of height he is reluctant to use it, and the smaller is angrier with each blow he receives, eyes bloodshot and filled with tears he lunges at the other.
Dizzy from the impact and only about five minutes into the fight Tall Man asks for water. It’s all he can ask for, all he can get. If he falls there’s no doctor by the ringside or any cars that could transport him to one. Many taxi’s aren’t caught here this close to midnight.
More cackles from the pack as they tease the boy for his weakness and during these water breaks, the DJ plays some tunes to keep the crowd bubbly.
True enough to the crowd’s judgment, the boy punks out after about two more rounds, retreating, in shame to the crowd amidst shouts of disappointment, he will have to answer to whomever forced him in there.
The mob grows restless, they’re hungry for another. In jumps a heavy-set female. She is missing a tooth or two. Apparently she has been here before; it’s a weekly tradition here, and people will gladly take a punch or two, as long as they can prove themselves the more merciless by the end of the fight.
The man on the mic sips his beer and calls for a contender. She is viciously intimidating, this beast of a woman, and although the crowd wants blood, none seem too willing to spill their own, until a pretty adolescent with nothing but skin on her bones steps into the ring. Though she is reputed to be quite an agitator the crowd objects with shouts of “murder!”
She is already wearing her gloves, her face is fixed with a stare that means that she is serious, and it is with a great amount of persuasion that she eventually yields to the wishes of the crowd. It is they who rule this arena. Easily, the girl would have shattered under the weight of the whale’s blow.
Out steps another, equally as intimidating as the one who awaits her; her arms covered in scars and her face bleached to its second layer of skin, there is an sinister grin across her face and the crowd screams in excitement, as she dares her opponent to cross her.
This promises to be a fun fight.
They strike each other with intense force and speed, and the pack must move with them, ducking out of the way because of their proximity to the ring, and when one person shifts, another slides into his space if it means having a better view, and when the crowd shifts again, one squeezes in friends. But in this crowd we are all one and we lean on each other for support, it is one big rollercoaster ride we all enjoy.
The contender smiles though the blows to her face have turned it purple and she is blinded by the hair extensions that keep falling over her face and she is being beaten as a consequence.
We are distracted for a moment as a fight breaks out in the middle of the crowd. Someone falls to the ground collapsing under the force of a punch, but no one really cares. If they wanted an audience they would step into the ring. There’s not much respect for those not brave enough to display their skill in front of the crowd.
Such distractions only last for only a moment.
A little boy has managed to sneak to the front while we are distracted and he is blocking the others from where he is standing. “Go roun’!” shouts an older youth whom he must obey. In this community everyone is everyone’s parent.
Without further delay it’s time for the real rumble. Lu, the reigning King of the ring looks to be about 6 feet tall and 300 pounds heavy. It is he we have come to see. The Dancehall music blares from the speakers as he teases the crowd by pretending to charge at people he could easily knock unconscious and we’re anxious to see him fight someone ominously known only as “Strength.”
After maybe fifteen minutes of the charade the crowd grows restless, the music cannot fool us any longer, we want to see him fight and we’re realizing that a worthy contender has yet to challenge him, Lu disappears with promises to return, but the music can hold us no longer.
The crowd disperses like ants escaping rain, the streets are empty. It’s as though noone was ever here; and seven days seems much too long to wait for another Thursday Night at the Fights.