Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Kevin and I went to the downtown Olympic Park to watch boxing that night. The arena was really an elaborate circus tent built around steel scaffolds and bleacher seats, ready to be taken down and forever disappear. Inside the vibe was edgy and mean – I wondered why and then I realized there were virtually no women at all in the entire place. Starving, I got in line for more of the awful, bland food they were serving at all the events. And beer. 

We watched a succession of semifinal fights graduating up the weight classes: tiny, wiry light flyweights giving way to bantamweights, lightweights, bigger, slower, stronger. We struggled to make sense of what was happening in the ring and sometimes the outcome was obvious and sometimes it was not, and sometimes the judging seemed arbitrary and maybe unfair. Many boxers were from former Soviet Republics: Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. It was hard for American boys like us not to root against them in a "Rocky IV" kind of way. With their unpronounceable polysyllabic names and machinelike demeanor they seemed immediately forbidding, their humanity calloused by years of tortuous nationalistic training.

In the audience men shouted at each other in different tongues. They cursed in Russian, Spanish, English and everyone understood everyone else perfectly well. Several times I thought men might wade furiously through the crowd to grapple with each other. We sat directly behind fans of the British super heavyweight Audley Harrison, a black family – maybe his family – carrying a Union Jack. Evander Holyfield sat at ringside and got up between each bout to greet fans across a partition. He posed grandly for pictures, signed autographs. Kevin went down there with his camera and it was funny to look down and watch him stare dully at Evander and the clamoring throng.