The only problem with boxing is that it's not real fighting, and so isn't as elemental as it should be. Only no-rules fighting reaches the true essence of sport: finding out if you can stomp me or I can stomp you.
In this regard, its only rival is running--because fight or flight is still mammal's basic set of options. But head to head, running must give way to fighting, as proven by Raiders linebacker Matt Millen. When a local sportswriter, arguing that NFL players weren't real athletes, said to Millen, "I bet I could beat you in a marathon," Millen underlined the primacy of bloodsport in a reply worthy of a Spartan: "Not if I broke your legs at the starting line."
No-Rules fights are so elemental that a good two-thirds of them follow the pattern of all real street fights: big looping punches which bounce off the opponent's shoulder, followed by bodies crashing together and a twisting, torque-ing fall to the ground, then a few seconds, or minutes, of grappling--at the end of which one guy is on top of the other, methodically punching his head in. That's the traditional playground sequence, and it held true. Indeed, all the martial verities were proven anew: high kicks very rarely work; elbows to the head always do; boxers who can't grapple are doomed. And Brazilians still usually win, as a big guy named da Silva proved in a classic Gracie victory: five minutes of grappling and a sudden end.
Most of the fighters were new to me. This is a sport which uses people up pretty quickly. The only familiar face was a hero of mine: Gary Meyers, a man with every disadvantage a fighter can have: short, fat and small-boned, with tiny hands and a bald head. But he fights like a demon, in classic Shoot style, zooming across the ring, dragging his opponent to the mat, and beating his head in with steady shots from those brittle-looking little hands.
Gary was one of three Americans fighting that night. They were not popular with the crowd. Nothing got people up the way Russian-American fights did. When Big John Dixon, a big fat American, fought Nikolai Something, a woman near us with a remarkably powerful voice chanted "Ros-si-ya" till the rafters rang. Then she started chanting something more complex. I was trying to translate it in my head when I realized it was English: "Yankee Go Home!"-but with a hard "kh," "khome" instead of "home." It was flattering, somehow.
I definitely enjoyed her chant much more than her boyfriend, a timid depressed guy in a MVD uniform. He was clearly wishing he hadn't married above his emotional level. Dixon disappointed the bleachers by punching Nikolai into semi-consciousness, but Valerii Pliev cheered them up again by choking out another American, Dennis "Cobra" Crampton.
Then the good stuff was over, and an astonishing spectacle began: kiddie fights. I'd seen a few little kids stomping around in fighting gear, strutting like contenders, but I figured they were just fighters' kids. Nope. They were fighters. And they were good! They were using all the Gracies' stuff, twisting their pipe-cleaner limbs into classic submission holds. But it got just a little old when the third kiddie bout started. One is plenty. One is maybe too much.
But the kid fights were followed by a travesty so vile that it drove me out of the arena. I refer, as fellow survivors will have guessed, to the appearance of a band called Guarana following the baby bouts.
Naming a band after an "energy drink" for people too chickenshit to do speed is a bad sign, but Guarana was worse than their name would have led one to believe. There was a singer in a U2 jumpsuit, and he jumped into the flames and the explosions. Alas, he always emerged intact. There were three very long songs from Guarana, and more might have followed. I don't know, because at that point I exited. All the way to the Metro I mourned my wasted youth, wishing I could have another, wholly devoted to learning Gracie fighting--but aware I am encased in an old, frail body, and so hoping nobody else was having any dangerous thoughts between me and the nice safe Dinamo station.