Subterranean Fist-fest Unfolds Among Leatherheads At Acacia Ridge (Pre-teen Tycoons Take Inner-London Land Claims To International Court)

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Australian Youth Boxing Championships & Queensland State Championships; Acacia Ridge Hotel; 1/12/2013

“…these girls have put up a significant argument that here in the boxing ring, the art of fighting is the containment of emotion. The distinction between a boxing match and near every illicit form of fighting could be argued on this ground alone to be definitive.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

The smoker’s courtyard of the Acacia Ridge Hotel is an awkward recreation of Roman columns, creeper vines, rock feature walls, floor-tile mosaic and terra-cotta wash. Wedged between the pub and its adjoining motel rooms, it looks and feels like a misplaced opera set, fat lady waiting in the wings. We let the distant patter of smacked leather guide us through the plaster and hanging foliage. By the function room’s glass-door entrance, a game of Monopoly is quietly unfolding between the underage relatives of today’s competitors and trainers. Their laconic gamesmanship recalls the humourless, backstage card-games of tour-wearied roadies. Construction is heaving as far uptown as Pall Mall, but the blue ribbon real estate remains undeveloped. Cash flow issues, it’s safe to assume.

Inside there’s a few hundred chairs and an elevated blue ring and two boxers fighting on it. The judges look up at proceedings from absolute ringside, one from each flank of the square. The timekeeper is situated beside one of the corner posts, stopwatch in palm, the bell a hand movement away. The panel of officials is posted a few feet back, surrounded by trophies and medals. The referee side-steps around the boxers, eyes locked on the agile and most often pre-emptive point of contact. In his short-sleeved white shirt, suit pants, bowtie and white gloves, he looks all at once like a surgeon, croupier and supermarket day-manager.

A combination of the low-ceilinged, long room and its heavily curtained (essentially blacked-out) windows gives the sense that we’re underground. The boxing ring stands right between two room-spanning beams so that it looks as though the contenders are fighting in a space that’s been cut out of the ceiling. From ringside the effect is quite cool (the boxers seem to be almost mythically tall) and from the barstools at the back of the room quite possibly surreal (the boxers may or may not appear to be headless).

The fighters themselves are in the archetypal red and blue; padded headgear, swollen gloves, skin-tight sleeveless top, baggy knee-length shorts (95% of the time, three-stripe Adidas), half-calf socks and high-lacing flat-soled shoes. The sound of rubber soles sweeping around the matt is slightly sandy or else powdery. Some boxers grunt, others hiss. Most keep the noise down to whatever comes from their noses in terms of audible exhalant.

Of the Australian Youth Championship fights that start the day’s finals, the Men’s Middleweight (75kg) is the eye-catcher. From the blue corner, narrow eyed and hair tightly-braided, a quick and closed fighter comes out of the gates with a flurry of genuine three punch combinations. He’s a dancer, a swiveller. His soft shoes draw elegant and fluid patterns on the matt; twisting and playful loops that belong on a gallery wall, both florid and economical – oxymoronic magic. His opponent is looser, calmer, a shuffler, defined by a tattooed left arm that’s a little shy from the outset. He’s on the raw end for most of the opening round, scarcely avoiding a pair of fearsome uppercuts that would each have snatched a rag off his head if he’d been wearing one. But slowly the red fighter unfurls his tightly wound opponent with jabs that get harder and more frequent and land in the right places. He turns out to be a sleeper and very likely clued into his opponent’s jib. By the final round the red fighter’s broken through, and it’s a race to catch up on the officials’ notepads. But the bell just beats him; the judges submit a split decision to the blue.

The primal status of boxing in the world of sport derives from its being perhaps the most timeless and simple of all staged contests. But there’s a complicated relationship between the sport of boxing and the general phenomenon of ‘fighting’ in sports, whose omniscient possibility is the unacknowledged tension of most contests, especially contact ones. In almost every code and type of sport, when players cannot handle or manage the limitations that make each game its own unique thing, or else cannot accept their inability to strive within them, they fight. Fighting is contact sport in chaos. The sport failing. So then boxing, in a way, is the form of contest into which other sports devolve. The irony of all this is that boxing, which can ‘devolve’ no further than itself (without a level of creativity, like ear-biting) is pure in a way that few contact sports are.

Indeed, where other sports forever use boxing analogies to explain their on-field dynamics, boxing need refer to nothing but itself.

The Queensland State Championships unfold over the afternoon and they’re full of quality contests as we move up weight divisions, from flailing whippets to flat-footed thumpers. It’s such an individualised sport, and so explicitly dramatic, that a fight brings certain loved-ones to a point of uncontainable excitement. Most fights are sound-tracked by the grating, singular squawk of a mother or girlfriend or sister who either can’t register her own volume or doesn’t give two hoots. Coaches work the corners in-between rounds exactly like they do in the movies, dragging out mouthguards, wiping faces with towels, etc. They’ve always got something to say between rounds. The fighters just nod and spit.

Of particular attraction today is the women’s middle weight (69-75kg) class, an out-and-out slugfest in which both fighters throw everything at it. More genuine head shots seem to connect here than all previous bouts combined. The crowd find this to be an insatiable contest, and the function-room is whipped into something of a frenzy. The height-advantaged girl in the red corner has that condescending way of beating her opponent, swinging well back and across the body. She’s a very, very strong girl, and even when her punches are blocked the not-very-small opponent is shoved onto the back foot. The blue corner wisely goes for the gut in the hopes of bringing her opponent down to reachable height. And when she succeeds in her plight, there’s a veritable jukebox of face music waiting. Unlike the skipping underweight fighters of previous bouts, where punches mostly seemed to have a technical value, here the girls are going for the kill. Heads jolt cinematically back again and again. The emotional dynamic sways and swirls along with them as they stumble, sway, recoil and fire, moving between the ropes and each other’s arms like pursued adventurers on a wonky suspension bridge, heavy-breathed, reddened and loose-haired.

The red corner wins rightly in the fight of the afternoon. But it’s the kind of exhibition you want to stand and applaud. Aside from being adept fighters that find the target more often than not, these girls are above all tough as hell.  But the sort of grit that really compels is unseen, the mental kind. And part of the beauty of it is in acknowledging the extreme composure required to go so long in such a personal contest without actually personalising it. In which sense, these girls have put up a significant argument that here in the boxing ring, the art of fighting is the containment of emotion. The distinction between a boxing match and near every illicit form of fighting could be argued on this ground alone to be definitive.

Rounding out the afternoon are the big lads of the Men’s Heavy division (91kg), who’ve been ominously stalking the room for hours. By comparison, these guys move slowly, rotating like ocean-liners in narrow harbours. There’s a simple beauty to what they do. Classically sculpted in the physical sense, in roughly the burly Roman gladiator mould, these two spend the afternoon finding just the right footing to throw blunt, heavy and gruelling punches. One realises that the great defensive challenge of a heavyweight fighter is managing the fact that while the pain is going to come from the gloves, it’s those slowly adjusting feet that decide when it’s actually on its way. It’s cruel then that the red fighter, after skilfully manoeuvring his opponent toward the ropes, finds him to be unusually comfortable with his back to the rubber. The decision of where to settle in and launch an assault has been made for him. A couple of rainmakers rock the whole room.

As the bruised and smiling champions slip into casual clothes and tuck their medals in their pockets, the fluorescent lights go out over the empty ring. Boxing really is the last-chance saloon of physical contest. At its best, that’s what people are talking about when they call it a pure sport, a descriptor that on the odd historical occasion has been a little hard to use straight-faced where the professional side of this sport is concerned. Yet today we’ve seen a series of intense, no-bullshit contests that invariably end with mutual respect and little in the way of self-satisfaction or fanfare. They are nothing if not pure.

Match Day (Steak) Burger Score: 6.0

MDB Service Atmosphere: 7.0

MDB Cost $5.50

Results: Men’s Middleweight (75kg) AUS Youth Final, Satali Tevi-Fuimaono (NSW) def Clay Waterman (QLD); Women’s Middleweight (69-75kg) QLD State Final, Chei Aleta Kenneally (Albert) def Tammy Taylor (The Boxing Shop); Men’s Heavyweight (91kg) QLD State Final, Casey Caswell (Noosa Box Office) def Martin Lewis (Gladstone)

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