Seconds Out! at the Melbourne Pavilion
I am a pacifist by nature, I declare myself to be a non-practicing Buddhist; some may label me a coward. However, I like an event, a spirited match, or a game with determined players pitting skills.
The Melbourne Pavilion hosts organised fights.
Forget smoke-filled rooms with ducks on the pond being whispered whenever females come into view. The Pavilion is spacious, like a nightclub with the lights on and without the lingering dense haze of cigarettes.
The evil odours of the modern era however are just as pungent. Aftershave lotions that loiter heavily in the air and make you sick a little in your mouth. One suspects applications are delivered via an automatic car wash.
Big screens adorn every wall so you can catch all of the action in the ring. There are no replays, focus is required, and distractions are to be avoided. Smart punters don’t turn their heads to talk to mates while fights are on. This is live. No instant replay. No ads for corporate betting concerns. I am immediately hooked.
“Seconds out,” calls the ring announcer, support staff and glamour girls clamour through the black ropes.
There are no seats, the ground floor is democratic, like the outer at the football used to be. When there was an outer.
The ‘haves’ sit upstairs in big cubicles and look down on the continuous parade of activity. Girls in short skirts show tramp stamps have moved further south to the upper thigh. Fashion for men tends toward a combo of expensive jeans with tight designer t-shirts.
The ring announcer wears a pink jacket, with matching tie and pocket kerchief that is so bright the captain of a Mardi Gras float would order its removal. He keeps the show rolling, introducing the fighters as they enter the ring. In the modern tradition, fighters are presented accompanied by a tune of their choice. Johnny Cash “Take Your Guns to Town” and the classic “Don’t Push Me” by Grand Master Flash are the two standouts of the 22 songs played.
There are 11 matches including two contests from women. The mother of the winner of one of these matches is interviewed centre ring. The mother is proud, but visibly relieved that all her child’s facial features remain.
It would be a shame to waste all those years at the orthodon’tist.
Our man in pink poses a question, the response a concise, “I hope she never steps foot in the ring again.” There are no boos to this statement. Proud parents stand ringside taking photos or video feigning smiles, hiding fear for the loved one about to stand inches apart from an opponent ready to punch the suitcases out of them.
There are hordes of women – an eclectic mix of mums, girlfriends, mates’ sisters, gym buddies tarts and trolls. They offer vocal support and in some cases diabolical amounts of abuse.
In the early fights you notice that the ‘corner men’, are more ripped than the fighters. This is not surprising; combatants include an engineer, an accountant and a paralegal. Underdogs are popular; a 41-year-old contesting a match with an opponent 10 years junior has crowd support.
The Yarra divide still exists, the man in pink introduces a pencil thin boxer from Camberwell thus, “the same place that Geoffrey Rush lives and Barry Humphries comes from”. Strange, neither is noted as southpaws of any repute.
Pencil doesn’t possess any of the acting skills of the aforementioned. Can’t fight much either, cops a thrashing without flinching; disturbingly he seems to enjoy every moment. His opponent looks like a boy from Brunswick or Carlton, an inner city type who drives an old Holden with a choke. His cheer squad I guess… science at Melbourne? Beards are popular but not in the ironic hipster fashion. One female member of his crew takes minutes to fill an imaginary swear jar I have in my head, her language fruity, pointy and sharp. Women close by silently separate themselves from her.
The inner city lad is declared the winner, hamming up to his fans; he looks ready for a dart, somewhere there is a case of Strongbow with his name on it.
The next fight lacks intensity, no venom.
My mate Mick is next; he is fighting a thickset boy clearly heavier than him.
We meet Mick earlier in the night; he is calm, defiant, softly spoken, casual and outwardly relaxed. In the ring he is the same, no fuss, simple, the defiant quality etched in the way he fights. I film the fight on my phone and it’s hard to judge who is winning.
The biased group in my proximity yells encouragement. If I close my eyes the words would not be out of place at a football oval, it’s a continuous chorus of, “go hard Mick… yours Mick!”
The fight is close; the judges echo my thoughts. A split decision is given to the red corner.
We are overjoyed immediately, for the combatants it takes a little longer to compute. Eventually it dawns on Mick that he is in the red corner. He has won.
A jolt of adrenalin allows him to briefly raise his arms in triumph; it is short lived, as the lactic acid that is swarming through his body kicks in.
Our attention turns to the next fight, a realisation spreads through our group that they know one of the fighters. “He was in the same year at school as us”.
I recall a name, “Otis”.
Yes yes they reply, that’s his brother – he was in my year.
Tales of the new fighter’s high school psychopathic behaviour are shared, “roundhouse kick to the face” seems a popular phrase. Apparently he had a habit in high school of delivering, unannounced to unsuspecting boys, vicious round house kicks. Tough. In my day the worse harassment I witnessed belonged to a boy with the moniker ‘Nick The Dick’. On the encouragement of his peers, Nick would tackle junior boys to the ground, pin their shoulders then whip out his dick and slap them in the face. There must be some scarred middle-aged men with dark secrets and mysterious sex lives around.
In the ring the brother of Otis is difficult and awkward. He throws few combinations but lands punches. He is hard to watch, he weaves when you expect him to duck. The two fight like boxers, not blokes who train in gyms; the games have gone up a notch. Three rounds are not enough for this pair; I would pay money for the fight to continue. This won’t and does not happen. The brother of Otis is declared the winner. In his post-match speech he mentions that he, “now has respect for fighters”.
After the fight I think I see Otis in the crowd, I go over and ask a man drinking a glass of red wine if he is Otis? No he says, neither is Rachel who is later described to me as their “smoking hot sister”. I apologise and excuse myself from the man drinking red wine. Brother of Otis is an interesting character – his paintings hang in galleries across the world. Suffering for his art perhaps?
Ruff is the name, rough is the nature. There is a bit of Diggers Rest bouncer in Ruff. He commences his bout in unusual fashion. The bell rings, instead of making eye contact as his opponent approaches he is looking away. His eyes lowered on some important imaginary spot. He surprises all assembled by attempting a haymaker that comes out of the lights that hang over the ring. It misses and, with that, so does his hopes of winning the fight.
Fight of the night belongs to a lanky lad from Samoa and a boy from Brighton who has the look of a private school boy, captain of the first XV. This is the 91kg class.
The sounds of this fight are different to earlier matches. The thud of glove on skin is crisper, no duller.
30 seconds into the first round the school captain is on one knee.
A blow I defy anyone in the crowd sees has connected with him. I am a maximum of ten feet away with a clear view and I don’t see it.
The referee delivers a count with the assistance of his counterpart who is keeping time.
3… 4… The lanky lad moves to the neutral corner.
5… 6… His coach motions for him to attack when the bout resumes.
7… 8… At the restart, the lanky lad is surprised when his opponent steps forward to meet him. Not only forward but with conviction. The knockdown has had the reverse affect. The fight has shifted several gears in the space of 30 seconds.
The crowd, sensing this, finds its voice. Anytime the boxers get close and exchange blows the crowd erupts like a punting crowd gathered around a TV monitor in a tote, watching the final furlong of a race. The noise washes around the room, bouncing off walls, it seems the crowd has swelled. The crescendo in the last 30 seconds is the highlight of the night.
Despite having a ‘mouse’ under his left eye, the lanky lad is declared the winner. I am not so sure of the result; I think the judges give too much credence to the knockdown. Maybe they ALL see the punch. The victor doesn’t take part in the after bout interview; he is more interested in searching the crowd.
A thin woman appears ringside. For the first the lanky lad’s face breaks into a smile, the woman kisses him and they wander off together, arm in arm.
The big boys – super heavy weights – close out the entertainment. The first fighter enters. He is massive, weighing 117kg, we joke he must have a small dick with all the ‘roids he’s taken.
Maybe that could be a retrospective punishment for ‘Nick The Dick’, large doses of steroids to shrink his manhood?
The opponent at 96kg looks small, however from the moment the bell rings this is a mismatch. The smaller lighter fighter is quick and nimble enough to step in land a combination of punches and retreat to safety.
I am reminded, looking at the bigger man, of the cartoon bulldog with the small front paws who walks on his hind legs. The resemblance is uncanny. Further comic relief is added when the bigger man is toppled over by a whiff of a punch. He is off balance and stumbles backwards. Everyone laughs.
Three rounds are enough for these boys, halfway through the second round arms are struggling to be held aloft. Blood is spilt as the big man, sensing he is behind, attempts an attack. Unfortunately, as his momentum lurches forward his chin protrudes and his opponent temporarily uses it as a speedball, landing half a dozen punches.
People enjoy the final scene; it is comic and takes the edge off the night. The bell goes and both fighters are rewarded for their efforts. I think they receive extra applause for the fights that have preceded them. In my opinion it is justified.
On leaving, I make the decision that I will be back again; in what capacity I’m not so sure.