My grandpa told my mother this, so the story goes, perhaps because back in his day — the 1930s and 1940s — boxers got their brains beat in for little pay. Perhaps if he saw today’s paydays he’d change his mind. Or maybe he said it because he didn’t want to see his grandchildren get pummeled for a living and suffer long-term health consequences.
Whatever his reason, he got his wish as neither my brother nor I grew up to be boxers. I never had any aspirations to fight with anyone, so the sport never even crossed my mind other than seeing occasional highlights on television.
But on Jan. 29, 2010, I attended my first boxing match. It was between Nevada native Jesse Brinkley and New Yorker Curtis Stevens at the Grand Sierra Resort. The experience of being ringside as these two men pounded on each other for 12 rounds was thrilling. My work as a photographer gave me the ability to be right up close to the action with a vantage point that no amount of watching on television or even from the regular seats could provide. The fighters were right above me, slamming their fists into each other, sweat and blood flying onto the mat and sometimes onto me. The pain and determination reverberated through the air.
I was motivated — kind of like after watching the movie “Rocky” — to start throwing my own punches. I saved some money and a few months ago bought a bag, stand and gloves so I could punch and kick right in my own living room. I always enjoy finding new ways to exercise, and I figured this would get me off my butt.
But a bag doesn’t fight back. It hangs there and takes a beating without complaint or retaliation. It is a great stress release, but not very challenging. A few times I have thought about finding a place where I could learn to box against another person. But the thing about that is another person will be looking to actually punch me.
“We lose a lot of people because they don’t like to get hit,” Rick Collup, the promoter for Ultimate Reno Combat and Reno Academy of Combat, told me Friday morning during the weigh-in for that night’s fights. “We’ve had Division I wrestlers that come for two, three days and they decide, ‘I don’t like getting hit. I’m a good wrestler but …’ ”
The full impact of someone slugging you in the face doesn’t come across on TV, he continued.
Big, burly football players who kick butt on the field have turned tail when it came to flying fists, he said. If they can’t take it, surely I can’t either. Maybe I will stick to my inanimate punching bag.
The bag also doesn’t hit back, in fact it gives nothing back. It seems that what I’m missing out on is the bond that forms between the people who beat each other to a pulp in the ring.
“Real fighters that actually compete all the time are really cool people,” Collup said. “They’re really humble and they’re really nice people.”
“A lot of people think it’s a violent sport where you just go in to get your ass kicked, but it’s not like that,” said Delorean Heaivilin, a 20-year-old Reed High graduate who is pursuing cage fighting as a career. “There’s a lot of good people that run the sport. … I have a family at the gym that I can go to no matter what.”
Most families like this get stuck with the descriptor “domestic violence.” Watching the action on Friday night, I saw why they use the tagline “Blood happens.” There was quite a bit of it, but after their outburst of violence against each other in the ring, all the fighters hugged each other and smiled and were the best of friends. It seems giving each other these broken bones and cuts and bruises fostered some kind of good feelings. I guess I’ll never understand unless I step in the cage.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if my punching bag wants to be friends.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.