The boxers stood on opposite sides of the podium, glaring at one another, their handlers whispering in their ears what I imagine were calming mantras: “Keep your cool.” “Save it for the ring.” You could feel the testosterone in the small Press Room at the Great Western Forum. I was one of just a handful of women in the space, squeezed alongside the men in folding chairs.
These were welterweight boxers. They didn’t appear to be much bigger than me. Shorter, even, but their caramel and dark chocolate skin was taut against their perfectly formed and hard-earned muscles. The man in green satin shorts stood perfectly still, save for his nostrils flaring with every breath and the beads of sweat forming on his forehead then releasing to rest on his furrowed brow or slipping down to his grimacing upper lip. The man in red shorts shifted from foot to foot like a bull swiping at the dirt before the chiquero gate opens.
The media director came to the podium to share stats and energize the press corps over the significance of this title fight and the gamble these prizefighters were taking by stepping on the mat. Crews with cameras lined the back wall as journalists with tape recorders and mics leaned forward in the front row. Big men in suits with dark glasses stood along the sides. Bodyguards, I guessed. Or members of the fighter’s posses. Several men with enormous and likely very expensive gold chains were flanked by women in tight dresses with outrageously long bedazzled fingernails.
My form-fitting suit from Forever 21 with its short Ally McBeal-style skirt suddenly felt overly conservative. I observed the eager interest with detached bemusement. Boxing was never my thing. I was twenty-six years old and worked in sports promotions for a local television station. I was there to get the scoop so as to better sell our clients on promotional advertising opportunities for a series of fights we’d just committed to carrying.
One of the boxers shouted something in Spanish, there was an audible gasp and then all hell broke loose. Friends of the fighter in green stormed the stage, fists were flying as the posse for the red team jumped into action and soon a chair soared across the room. I ducked under the arm of a giant security guard, easily 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds and I slipped into the then empty hallway lined with photos of Lakers Championship teams...80, 82, 85, 87, 88 and images of bands that had rocked the Forum stage: The Rolling Stones, The Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and Queen.
Before I could really take it all in, people began flooding the hall and I was pressed up against the wall facing Devo in their red art-deco “energy dome” hats and I was singing “Whip it Good” in my head as I followed the flow of the mob past Lakers Owner Jerry Buss’s office and out into the bright light of day.
I hadn’t gained much perspective for entertaining clients in the Senate seats at the fight that weekend, but I was relieved to have extricated myself from the chaos and plotted how I could position this battle as one event the boxers literally couldn’t wait for.
Later that month, we were carrying a fight LIVE FROM CAESAR’S TAHOE. I found myself on a plane with the sales staff and a group of advertising clients heading to Reno. Besides a couple wives and girlfriends, I was one of only two women in the sales group making the trip. Though I may have appeared interested, I wasn’t going for the boxing. I was going because my boss couldn’t, because I’d never seen Lake Tahoe and because it was an-all-expenses paid adventure. I’d been on a few business trips, but never one where I found myself alone in a gold-guilded suite with a Jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room. This room was larger than my Hollywood apartment. I day-dreamed about how I might turn this space into my home. A king-sized bed instead of a futon. A skyline view instead of a littered alleyway. I didn’t want to leave my peaceful hideaway, but the slot machines were jingling my name. I pulled on a basic black halter dress, ran my fingers through my frizzy blonde hair and touched up my mascara.
I was a high roller. A quarter-roller that is. I’d brought one roll of quarters that I was willing to risk. I enjoyed a seemingly endless stream of classy cosmopolitans and a big bowl of peanut and pretzel pub mix, making my forty quarters last as long as I could, occasionally cashing out so I could hear the sweet jangling sound of my white plastic Caesars Tahoe tub filling with coins. By the time we were heading to the arena, I’d ridden the wave of tripling my money then nearly losing it all, and I walked to our ringside seats with the confidence of someone carrying an extra $2.75 in her pocketbook.
The buzz in the coliseum was electric. A salesman passed around fat Cuban cigars. His girlfriend, sitting next to me, lit one up and confidently puffed out a mulchy plume of smoke. Not wanting to appear unsophisticated, I joined in. And not realizing I shouldn’t have inhaled, I missed the opening bell, throwing up my free cosmos, peanuts and pretzels in the bathroom.
The boxers bounced off the ropes mere feet from my face as the crowd shouted and cheered, the sound of gloves punching flesh reverberated in my buzzing ears as sweat from one of the fighters landed on my cheek. A bell rang signaling the end of the second round and the boxers went to their corners as the crowd gawked at the ring girls in their gold lame bathing suits cut deep to their belly buttons. As the eye of the fighter nearest us swelled, his coach coaxed, “You’re over thinking it. His left jab is weak, man.”
A splatter of blood from a split lip hit my wrist as the fighters bobbed and weaved around the ring. The crowd was standing and screaming, the scent of sweat melded with smoke and the pungent aftershave of the fan in the Armani suit behind me. I just wished it would end.
Three bells later it did on a knockout punch from that weak left jab as the poor man from our corner’s swollen face rested on the mat for several painful minutes before he swerved to his feet to accept his fate.
We headed out to dinner at a fancy steak house where food, drinks and raucous laughter flowed and the bill was more than eight months of my car payments. As we wandered back through the casino well past 1:00am, one of the senior sales managers asked if I’d ever played roulette. “Why no. And I’ve never played poker or blackjack either. Do they have a table for ‘Go Fish?”
We headed toward a cluster of shiny black and red wheels and he took out a chip. “Call it,” he said as I looked at him quizzically? “You pick, red or black and a number?”
“Oh gosh, I don’t know,” I stalled, “Red, I guess. And 25.” My favorite number.
“$1000 on red 25,” he put down his chip.
“What?! Are you crazy!” I looked at him, incredulous.
“Oh you only live once,” he laughed confidently. “Maybe you’re my good luck charm.”
My stomach turned as the wheel spun, the ball bouncing over blurred black and red numbers, this money he was risking was two month’s rent. It was three flights home to see my family in North Carolina. It was a semester of college, beer included. My heart skipped several beats as I held my breath. The wheel began to slow, the ball bounced on the black 2, hopped the 25, resting on the 17. I exhaled in exasperation.
“Well, you win some you lose some,” said the sales manager, and he shrugged it off, laughing.
I retired to my Jacuzzi with its golden handles and sat in the middle of that ostentatious room considering what I was willing to risk. I’d come to California with only $200 four years earlier and here I was in a fancy room in Reno getting a taste of the high life. Overall my personal gamble had paid off, but even if I ever made it big, I could never see myself wagering $1000 on the spin of a wheel or the roll of the dice.