Outside the ring

I learned a lot about the world from boxing.

I was 13 and had a lot to learn when I started selling soft drinks at a place called Madison Square Garden. This version of the Garden was in Phoenix and it was nothing like the famous one in New York City. It was a sweltering, rundown shed where fights between mostly semi-pros took place. The brutality I witnessed in the ring on Saturday and Wednesday nights was, at first, terrifying to an ineffectual teenage boy.

I was selling Cokes one night when I put down my tray to make some change and some jerk stole all my drinks and started selling them. I confronted the character (there’s always characters at the fights) and he basically yelled boo and I ran away. I summoned all the courage I had for a confrontation and the guy, who was an adult, shoved me down. He had the size, reach and temperament to win. I lost on bravery points. But I learned it was better to go get the authorities than get hammered in a mismatch.

I would occasionally put the tray down and watch. There seemed to be two types of fights and fighters. Some fighters seemed to be dancers, moving to their own choreography with speed and grace; they hardly seemed to be in a contact sport. Then there was the gritty reality of a slugfest, as we called it, those animalistic bouts where the brutes bash each other senseless. On occasion, and it was rare at that Garden, both elements would come into play and the bout would reveal an understanding of the boxers’ mettle by revealing strength, athletic skill and endurance. It was mesmerizing.

And so it was when Chrisanne Beckner witnessed a bout in Sacramento, one put together by promoter Don Chargin (see “The Matchmaker,”). There was raw aggression coupled with a mysterious will.