The scene at the `King of the Ring' boxing event Friday night at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall could have been anywhere - Philly, Las Vegas, New York, Juneau. Scantily-clad ring girls strut on five-inch heels, cups of beer foam and lusty fans scream for blood.
What the crowd witnessed could hardly be called boxing, but the small-scale spectacle had all the buzz and anticipation of a heavyweight title bout. In that department, the `King of the Ring' didn't disappoint.
The boxers, though lacking skill, attacked each other with heart and gusto. With just three, one-minute rounds to work with, each boxer had to quickly subdue his opponent. Instead of throwing jabs, they launched bombs. Instead of fancy footwork, they charged each other like bulls.
``A lot of the fights are better than what people would pay $700 in Vegas to see,'' said promoter Bob Haag, who helps run the `Thursday Night Fights' in Anchorage and served as ring announcer at `King of the Ring.'
``There are some people who'll watch guys shoot a basketball, and there are some people who'll watch a guy swing a golf club. But a boxing contest, if the opponents are evenly matched, everybody's gonna watch.''
Like most sports, to truly appreciate boxing, the spattered blood and flying sweat and thumping blows needs to be seen live to appreciate. While some may denounce the violence and aggression of boxing, there is no denying it taps some inner need to test one's self. There is no rush like pitting yourself against another in a ring with throaty fans cheering you on. Boxing is the original extreme sport.
Adam Furlong is a chiseled 25year-old who fought co-worker Matt Markovich in the night's second bout. Furlong said the two were friends and there was no malice between them. But in the ring, that didn't stop Furlong from throwing his wild-eyed bombs. His 18-ounce gloves could be heard from ringside as they smacked Markovich's face.
``Today's been nerve-wracking,'' Furlong said. ``I've been high-strung all day. I just signed up last night, and today I could hardly handle it. I wanted to drop out I was so nervous.''
Why did he do it? Why get in the ring in front of all your friends with the real possibility of being humiliated?
``It was totally intense,'' Furlong said. ``There is nothing else like it. I'm still just now getting settled down. I just knew I'd regret it if I didn't do it. You always watch it on TV and I just wondered what it takes. Even if I'd a lost I'd be glad I did it.''
Rudy Vonda, 35, boxed with the original Juneau Boxing Club before it dissolved from financial troubles in the early 90s. A former Golden Gloves boxer born and raised in Juneau, Vonda received loud cheers from the crowd as he stepped between the ropes. Vonda wore a metallic red robe with his name stenciled on the back.
Vonda bloodied 33-year-old Chico Beierly in the third round with a stiff hook to the nose. When the decision was announced, Vonda walked the ring with arms raised like he'd won a championship belt. Afterward, Vonda got his picture snapped with the three comely ring girls and shook hands with well-wishing friends.
``I'm a crowd-pleaser,'' said Vonda, who tends bar at the Imperial. ``I fought in Golden Gloves in Tacoma. There were 15,000 thousand people yelling `Rudy!, Rudy!' I love the crowd.''
Eighteen boxers fought in nine bouts. Three were decided by technical knockout, the rest by judges' decision. All featured men with something to prove.
``It's a total rush, I'd do it again,'' said 21-year-old Clint Palmer, who won a close fight with 28-year-old Kameron Kessler of Ketchikan. ``People have been coming up to me and saying `Good fight! Good fight!' I had a lot of friends in the crowd and they really amped me up.''
Apparently a lot of people have something to prove. Haag said he plans to work with the local Juneau-Douglas Boxing Association and promote a `King of the Ring' event every month.
``I've already got 20 people telling me they want to sign up for the next fight,'' said Haag, who first brought `Tough Man' or `Roughhouse' boxing, as it's sometimes called, to Anchorage in 1983.
Haag said he helped write the rules of tough man boxing with Earl Davis, an appointee to the State Athletic Commission under former Gov. Wally Hickel.
Professional boxing rules were too prohibitive and made it too hard to make a profit, Haag said. A doctor had to be on hand and boxers would get brain scans after the fights, Haag said. To compromise, EMTs would cover the bouts, and the rounds were cut to one minute instead of three. Oversized 18-ounce gloves replaced the 10 to 12-ounce gloves professional boxers use.
``I've never taken my roughhouse boxing anywhere it wasn't accepted,'' Haag said. He said Alaska is one of just four states to allow Tough Man competitions, though Haag said he believed that's because it competes with professional boxing.
Haag works the crowd like a modern-day P.T. Barnum. He chomps a cigar and wears a black derby while he shouts into the microphone as ``Eye of the Tiger'' blares from the sound system.
``I'm criticized by some for being a nostalgic, old-style announcer,'' said Haag, who used to idolize flamboyant ringside announcer Jimmy Lennon as a kid. ``But you go to some amateur fights now, and it's like you're in church.''
Friday night's fight scene at ANB Hall hardly resembled a place of God, but it did have a higher purpose. The event was a fund-raiser for USA Amateur Boxing and to help the local JuneauDouglas Boxing Association. The local club has amateur bouts scheduled March 18-19 at the Tlingit-Haida Hall and April 21-22 at Centennial Hall.
Club coach Ray Lee said he'll about break even with `King of the Ring.' But as he stood outside afterward shaking hands with contented fans, Lee said, ``This is just to let everyone know that boxing is back.''