Is it OK to treat human beings like animal commodities and sexualized objects for the sake of entertainment, corporate sponsorship and bookies’ pockets if everyone’s in on it? One would imagine that the Toughman World Championship Series would be a good place to find out. So I went to Cobo Hall last Saturday with a slightly open mind.
Having seen Fight Club and a few televised boxing matches at college, when my roommates allowed a neighbor to “store” his black box in our living room, I figured I was prepared. I’ve even been in a fight or two … well, broken up a fight or two might be more accurate. But in the process, I’ve taken a punch. And violent thoughts share space with peaceful ones in my mind, just like they do in most everyone else’s.
Basically, Toughman was a bunch of Detroit-area bouncer-type amateur boxers in gloves and head protectors throwing their weight around to the tune of an obnoxious announcer yelling “Get it … get it … get it!” every 45 seconds. There was one knockout. A few fighters yelled, “uncle,” and the rest of the bouts were decided by judges. Each one lasted probably less than 10 minutes, but the sweaty, beefy man-dance was broken up every minute or so by almost-naked female dancers from Déjà Vu. Prancing and jiggling around the shoddy setup and giving crotch-shots to my side of the ring (woo-hoo!) as they eased their way in and out of the ropes, their supposed purpose was to carry a sign with the sponsor’s name and the number of the round. Because without them, the whole event might, you know, seem kind of “gay.”
Oh … except for the token Toughwoman fight, when a cute little boy toted around the sign between rounds. I still haven’t figured out why, but that sight made me feel even more sick to my stomach than the blood spray. Apart from the brief audience brawl that broke out and tore down rows of chairs within a foot of where I was sitting, the women put on the most “exciting” fight of the evening. One of them, a buff-looking Tae Kwon Do artist who had a bouncy aerobics-instructor style of fighting, put in some serious punches on Barnstorming Bitch, a wall of a woman who kept taking it round after round, even after suffering a nasty bloody nose.
In the end, Smoking Joe won the pocket-change purse. But one of my favorites (can’t remember his name), the oldest contender at age 48, was fighting for his grandson, who has bone cancer. He had to quit while ahead, however, on recommendation from the medic because of a knee injury.
My second favorite, Country Boy, also put in some good fights. He was a friendly looking bouncer from Cobo Joe’s, a bar across from the venue and he hugged each of his opponents in a supreme display of “good sportsmanship.” One of his biggest fans, Ann Tarquini, a co-worker at Cobo Joe’s, was sitting in the row behind me. It was her first time at a Toughman contest, but she was one of the most enthusiastic fans in attendance, standing up, screaming and air boxing along with Country Boy in her black duster sweater with extra-long sleeves. A little disappointed in her friend’s loss to Smoking Joe, she informed me that he has “the biggest heart” and that “he gave him a good fight. It was a tough call. I thought he’d go all the way, that’s for sure.”
So, is it OK to treat human beings in this way? While I’m still having a hard time shaking the strange vision of a small child waving to the crowd and walking around the ring between rounds holding a sign (and that announcer who could’ve said “Get it!” about 50 fewer times), why not? We can assume that nothing except a thoroughly bizarre society forced these individuals to enter this competition. We can’t deny that there’s an audience for violence. And at least this is doctor-supervised violence where opponents are afforded the opportunity to give up before it gets to be too much. And we can hope that no one was forced to watch.
So, yeah, go for it. You probably won’t see me at the next one, but know that I’ll be at home, silently rooting for Country Boy.