Saturday night, April 20th, was a special night to be a fight fan. Across the globe they'd gathered-at different venues-for different sports-pilgrims on a journey of truth and simplicity in an increasingly complicated world: a world of terror and violence and fear and loathing
at times part Orwellian nightmare, at others a Bradbury dream. They were searching for answers, for respite, for a vision of goodness, and it was to the rings and cages they went, hoping, praying, that the spectacles they'd come to witness could make some sense of it all
or, at least, distract them from the dreadful, confusing reality-if only for a while.
Five days prior, two bombs had exploded in the crowded streets surrounding the finish line of the Boston City Marathon, killing three and injuring over a hundred-and-fifty others. The media was inundated with the horrific imagery of the aftermath: the blood-splashed sidewalks, the maimed, the blast-dizzy, the forever changed. Questions whirled into the sky like crows-How? Who? Where next?
It would take approximately four days to answer some of these, when-following a massive manhunt and fatal shootout-authorities apprehended one of the alleged bombers (the other was killed in the aforementioned gunplay). Some questions, however, can never be answered. There are forces at work within this world, both light and dark, that defy explanation. It's the great mystery of the human condition-our seemingly unending capacity for destruction, coupled with our panged desires to do right.
The nation was still reeling from the shock of the bombings when the fights kicked off Saturday night. Before sold-out crowds in San Jose, California, and San Antonio, Texas, some of the best athletes on the planet went head-to-head. For glory, they fought, and for titles, and for the sheer absurd love of the act, they fought...and the fans-the United States-the World-reacted. Despite the horrors the week had dealt, despite the pain, the bewilderment, the anger and the sorrow, they found joy in the simple act of watching a fight.
UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson successfully defended his belt against challenger Gilbert Melendez in a terrific display of uncensored savagery, athleticism, technique and heart. Afterwards, Henderson proposed to his girlfriend, right there in the Octagon, with all the screaming hordes of the Shark Tank (HP Pavilion) watching.
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez seized the WBA Championship via a unanimous decision victory over Austin Trout, to the raucous jubilation of the 38,000 fans that filled the Alamodome in San Antonio. He said the victory was for his brother, and both warriors-though fatigued-showed a mutual kind of respect you only see after a good fight.
Both fights (and others on the cards) were a thrill to observe. The fighters fought as if aware that more was at stake than prize money or belts; as if they sensed, on a subconscious level, that this night would mean something and the fans felt it too, as they rocked and cheered. Electricity pulsed from the respective stadiums. Mother Nature herself got a beer, found a good seat, and merely watched, awed into reticence, the hairs prickling on her arms and legs, her whole body tingling with that unique anticipation fighting triggers.
It's a strange notion, to derive comfort from violence, but that's exactly what these fights provided. They showcased heart and courage, blood and pain, discouragement and defeat, elation and triumph. They showed that-after the bloodshed-some sheen of redemption can yet be gleaned from out the stained and dented canvas. A last high white note can still be found. The Dream isn't dead.
In a world where so much appears in utter disarray, it's a small, good thing to see two competitors being honest. For that, simply, is what combat sport strives to be: honest. Competitive fighting takes two people, men and women, young and old, and closes them off from the rest of society; they're alone with their fears, their goals, their doubts. It strips away everything else. There is no disinformation, no terror of the unknown. Nobody can help or hinder your performance. There is only you and your opponent, engaging in the most human activity aside from sex possible. And the stakes, like the rules, are simple: victory or defeat. There are no easy paths; no hidden agendas. Political connections won't keep you from getting punched. Worldly goods won't stop a submission. If you lose, you can't blame it on a teammate, an inept coach, or fickle weather. Your success or failure depends on you and only you.
This is not to say that fighting doesn't get complicated in the aftermath. Inevitably, there will be gripes, complaints from the fans, excuses. But in the heat of the moment, staring eye to eye with another person who wants nothing more than to beat you silly, it doesn't get much simpler than that.
And people react to this straightforwardness. There's something visceral and pure about watching two combatants lay themselves bare, saying, "Here's what I've got, now it's your turn." It elicits a distinctly human response from its viewers, transcends differences in doctrine or culture. It has its own language, understood by all. To fight is a universal symbol of hope, and from Joe Louis, boxing for the entertainment of war-torn troops, to the oppressed female boxers in Afghanistan, striving to compete in the 2012 Olympics, generations of people have turned to fighting as a source of solace.
This fact was evident last Saturday. When heinous tragedies like that of the Boston Marathon occur, people are staggered, dazed-confused. They can't make sense of it; it boggles the mind, stupefies the senses. It seems impossible that a human being could willingly harm others in such a way. And yet the sad truth of this eventuality is clear in day-to-day life across the globe. But on April 20th, those still sifting through the rubble were able find some tiny modicum of relief in the wondrous simplicity with which professional fighting is waged. It was a gift, a magical moment, a suspension of the wave.
Only time will truly heal the hellish rift left behind on Monday, April 15th, and there will always be scars. In those initial days of struggle, however, it was a beautiful thing to be able to sit back, watch a fight, and forget. A small, good thing, yes; but sometimes a small good thing can make all the difference in the world.
Mike lives and writes in Ventura, CA. To learn more, visit his website: www.fightwords.com.