The ring sits in the middle of an upstairs ballroom, resting sturdily on the maroon and green casino carpeting. The ceiling feels low, as if a fighter announcing his triumph with a hop onto the second rope might actually bump his sweaty head on the panels. Sponsors—Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club and Stein & Rojas Attorneys at Law—have draped low-budget banners on the walls surrounding a projection screen that’s been unrolled for the occasion.
The men come in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops; in designer jeans and shiny club wear; in muscle shirts embroidered with lettering spelling out “Toe 2 Toe” or “Alpha Male.” They come with women, who feign interest and cover their eyes. Women a little too dolled up for their surroundings.
Events like this one—billed as Punch-Out at the Plaza—are not quite underground fight clubs. But they are a long way from HBO broadcasts. It’s mostly local fighters against overmatched out-of-towners. Guys climbing their way up the greased pole that is the professional boxing ranks.
Or guys sliding down.
From the Calendar
- Tuff Girls
- Friday, July 10
- 8 p.m., $20-$25
- Orleans Arena, 284-7777
Last Saturday night the Plaza Hotel on Main Street—the joint next to the bus station—hosted four boxing matches, followed by a series of MMA fights pitting Las Vegas guys against a crew from Idaho. The same night, the South Point also held a boxing card. The Las Vegas Hilton, the Tropicana and the Silver Nugget Casino have also dabbled in similar small bills. The Orleans has long featured Crown Boxing, a series of Friday-night fights. And this weekend, on the eve of UFC 100, it will host Tuff Girls, billed as Las Vegas’ first all-female MMA event.
In a small venue, even from the last row, you can hear each step on the plywood beneath the mat, the thud of the leather gloves touching skin and the panting breath of the fighters. Combatants get their hands wrapped in a conference room adjacent to a bingo parlor half-filled with chain-smoking blue-hairs. At the Orleans, fighters must cut through a pantry on the way from the dressing area to the ring.
The dance of the fight, the science of the punches and feints are close enough to touch. It’s seeing an intimate set at the Bunkhouse versus a rock concert at the MGM Grand. It’s a storefront gallery where the artists mingle with the crowd, compared to the impersonal vastness of a museum.
In a word, it’s fun.
And recession-friendly. The tickets cost about $20 at the Plaza. Beers are $3. Tie one on and witness the carnage for half the cost of a pay-per-view.
It’s better anyhow.
When Floyd Mayweather lands a crushing blow, it’s no different, really, than watching a movie. Big-time boxing matches are as much a celebration of celebrity—Christian Bale sitting down in a $10,000 ringside seat draws as many cheers as a crisp left hook to the body—as an athletic or artistic performance.
When “Lightning” Lonnie Smith, a young lightweight from Las Vegas, knocks the hell out of some kid from Detroit, it’s pure fighting. Everybody in the crowd of 1,500 sees the final overhand right to the temple, gasping at the connection. No magic tricks, gimmicks or costume closet.
Seldom can such honesty be found in Las Vegas.