The floor was sticky with spilled beer. The hall smelled like a bus station where the custodian had quit three days before. The crowd was overdressed, underdressed, expressive and ... unfiltered.
I'm about as likely to watch a boxing match as I am to attend an NRA convention, but that's where I was last night, at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live downtown. I'm editing a biography of a boxer, and although his line of work is not a sport I care for, it is my job to understand it. Besides, it's not fair to diss a sport you've never seen. Except for rhythmic gymnastics.
Like all major boxing events, several bouts were on the card last night. My boxing-expert companion and I arrived in time to see the last three matches of an event promoted by Top Rank, run by the irrepressible Bob Arum.
Everything in boxing is irrepressible -- the ginned up rivalries that sell tickets and TV time, and turn fans into profane and sometimes violent participants; the ring girls, circling between rounds, hoisting a card display and shaking their asses out of outfits that look like they shrank in the dryer; the gaudy championship belts issued by so many sanctioning organizations in so many weight divisions that they run out of adjectives to denote them (Note to self: "junior lightweight" does not connote lesser skill or status, simply an unwillingness to explore the English language.).
The main event featured Vasyl "Hi-Tech" Lomachenko of Ukraine by way of Camarillo versus Miguel "Escorpión" Marriaga of Colombia. Lomachenko, according to the standard irrepressible accounts and measured by fan enthusiasm, is unbeatable. Rumor has it he holds the key to world peace and has a cure for the common cold.
But first, we watched the oxymoronic super lightweight bout between Arnold Barboza, from South El Monte, and Jonathan "El Carismatico" Chicas from San Francisco. Most boxing matches are staged in an arena where fans sit around the ring -- a concert hall seemed unsuited to the raucous exhortations from the audience. The Chicas partisan sitting behind me, about 10 rows away from the ring, possessed an impressive array of vocal expression. He whistled, he clapped, he yelped. His boy was losing, but he kept yelling, "give him a shoe shine."
Boxing Expert shrugged his shoulders at that one.
I turned around and asked the cheerleader what "giving him a shoe shine" meant. "You know," he said, beer in hand, "working him from the bottom up."
I still have no idea what that means.
The heavily tattooed guy next to me with the buzz cut had watched Barboza/Chicas intently, and, unlike everyone else, quietly. He focused even harder on the next fight, between Bryan "El Tiquito" Vasquez of Costa Rica and Raymundo "Sugar" Beltran, from Mexico by way of Arizona. Tattoo Guy is a lower-level promoter of boxing and MMA matches at places like the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. Beltran, he told me, was a really great guy who worked out at Wild Card gym in Hollywood as a regular sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao. He was rededicating himself to the sport, Tattoo Guy said, and is just the right kind of fighter to be promoted by Arum, "the Bobfather of boxing."
Beltran won the match. According to the L.A. Times, his nonimmigrant visa is nearing expiration, so his argument for permanent residency is more persuasive if he can claim "extraordinary ability in professional boxing." His English is excellent, so last night he made a tremendous Trumpian case for himself.
As usual for the main event, the boxers entered the ring encased in hooded satin robes. Lomachenko generated a boisterous fan welcome, and a member of his posse wielded his WBO championship belt aloft. The Chicas cheerleaders behind me had left, replaced by a group of Brits. Among the evening's nine fights, the boxer geographically closest to their homeland was from Green Bay, Wisconsin -- a girl fighting in only her second bout. Boxing Expert wondered why there were so many Brits at a fight night unrepresented by the motherland.
Just before the match began, Boxing Expert noticed his wallet was missing from his back pocket. After a frantic 30-second search, Brit Guy sitting behind me retrieved it from the floor and handed it to my relieved companion with a sweet smile. Ten minutes later, he and his bros were screaming epithets at a Yank a few seats over, invoking the "C" word multiple times with the singular passion only a British male can muster to another of his gender.
Neither Boxing Expert nor I was aware of what started the fan fight. It reminded Boxing Expert of the time he was at a hotel in Vegas that was hosting a prizefight and a similar fan argument had erupted in the lobby. Boxing Expert had departed the premises when he noticed a gun tucked into the waistband of one of the debaters.
The fight progressed clearly in favor of Lomachenko. Marriaga put up little resistance, and spent most of the bout cowering behind his blue gloves as Lomachenko chased him around the ring, twice knocking him on his keister. The predicable posturing -- Lomachenko taunting his opponent with come-hither gestures, fans yelling for Marriaga to "fight! fight!" -- was insufficient to overcome the considerable separation in boxing skill. As the ring girl was promising an eighth round, Marriaga's corner declined to make him available for it, and the referee threw his hands up, signaling that the fight was over and Lomachenko was the victor by a TKO.
My lesson on boxing and its enablers was completed by 10 p.m., and I walked out of the theater grateful that nobody appeared to have suffered brain damage, and that I had sat far enough away to escape the spray of sweat and blood to which people sitting ringside are vulnerable. I also walked out confirmed in my view that boxing is a difficult sport played by superbly fit, superior athletes, as well as my belief that it is as much a "sweet science" as the Donald Trump administration is a finely tuned machine. They're both carnival sideshows. Only one knows what it is.
Photos: Ellen Alperstein