Blood on the Shirt: Boxing Too Up Close and Personal

Everything was going just fine until the blood hit me. Now, I have nothing against blood, mind you, so long as it remains in my veins at all times. And should I ever need a transfusion, well, then you'd be looking at blood's best friend.

What I don't like is seeing blood, touching blood or trying to wash blood out of my white shirts.

But there I was Tuesday, hunched over the sink, trying to rinse someone else's red corpuscles out of my Van Heusen. How many times can you say "yuck"?

Blood stains are tricky things. Sometimes you can't even shout them out.

Of course, it was my own fault for wearing white to a boxing match. Everyone knows it's white wine with chicken and dark shirts with bantamweights, especially when you have a ringside seat.

But I was, in a word, clueless. This was my first live boxing match, although a guy was quick to remind me that this was boxing in Irvine, which may be a facsimile thereof. Let's just say the fighters in the ring were wearing gloves.

Anyway, back to the blood. I have never desired to attend a boxing match. I figured it was bad enough on television.

I don't like boxing for the same reason I didn't like picking up grasshoppers as a kid. I'm squeamish. There, I said it. I don't enjoy seeing one man's head jarred by another for no legitimate reason. Now, if the one guy took the other guy's wallet, OK, that's different.

Also, in all my years, I think I've consistently come out against the acceleration of brain damage.

The only real bout I flipped over was the 1975 fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, the Thrilla in Manila. I very much liked Ali in the days when he could string sentences together.

Anyhow, we bought closed-circuit tickets for that fight months in advance. I was so nervous the day of the bout that I had to leave high school at noon. It was only the 37th time I'd been so nervous all semester.

Five guys went to see the fight. Two of us were pulling for Ali and two for Frazier. To keep us from tearing each other apart, we shoved in between us our friend Klaus (Big as a House), who could hold up a Volkswagen transmission with one hand and fix it with the other.

Anyway, we screamed our larynxes out at a picture of a fight that was taking place 6,000 miles away.

Afterward, I prayed Ali would retire. But, as you know, he fought on and on and on until one day his brain just gave out. It sickened me. It still does.

OK, back to the blood. They have these bouts every month or so at the Irvine Marriott, put on by Don Frazier Promotions.

I was frankly embarrassed about having never been to a fight. Sportswriters are supposed to go to fights. Oscar Madison went to fights. Hemingway wrote about them.

I figured I'd go this once and rid myself of the guilt. I wanted to be able to show my face in a smoke-filled bar at 2 in the morning. Only now could I tell my friends that I was there the night Collins Crews of Pasadena KO'd Frank Charles with his famous "Flipper" punch, neglecting to add, of course, that the fighters actually went at each other like a couple of sea otters. Not surprisingly, both were looking for their first professional win.

There may not be a second win between them.

OK, I'm getting to the blood part. I got to the Marriott early to soak up some atmosphere, you know, maybe rehash the Dempsey-Tunney fight again with some old man with cigar breath.

I tried to ignore the fact that this wasn't exactly an Olympic Auditorium crowd. Too many pullover sweaters and way too much mousse, not to mention the hot buffet line serving soft tacos and jumbo shrimp on ice.

I survived the first two bouts without the need of Valium, though I must admit to closing my eyes a few times when the guys stumbled over to our corner.

The third fight pitted Hector Jaiman of San Diego and Larry Musgrove of Los Angeles.

It wasn't long before Jaiman's face was bloodied and his white trunks were washed in red. At one point, the two men furiously pounded each other as they did what looked like the Texas two-step over to our side.

The guy next to me held his program in front of his face. I thought he was scared, too. It turns out the programs make great blood screens, though it was too late for me.

A right to Jaiman's chin jerked his head sharply, the force sending a spray of sweat and blood onto press row.

I didn't get my program up in time. What I did get was nauseated. It wasn't exactly the kind of shower I had in mind.

I felt like leaving then but found there really was no sophisticated way to exit a 1,400-seat arena and not have my peaked face discovered.

I made it through three more bouts, and there was little more blood-letting. One fight featured former bantamweight champion Albert Davila, who once had the misfortune of killing a fighter in the ring. It wasn't very comforting to know.

I just hoped I wasn't there for an encore.

I couldn't help but notice a number of fans who sat through the bouts in a constant state of numbness and rage, like the guy over my left shoulder who felt that he had somehow been cheated.

"Let's see some blood," he screamed out at one point of relative calm. "I didn't pay $27.50 for this."

I guess boxing is for some people and not for others. I guess maybe it's not for me. At least not up close.

Maybe it's time for that expose on shuffleboard. Frankly, I need the shirts.

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