It’s a knockout endeavour

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

He enters the ring wearing velvet.

A Boxing Alberta-sanctioned Pro-Am event descended on the Bowness Sportplex on Sat., Mar. 15. After walking down a hallway where the candy machines were chained to the ground, turning left through a set of double doors, paying $40 at a low-slung table set between these doors and another set of double doors that led into a gymnasium, the setting for the battles, a middle-aged woman stamped hands and motions towards the door. The bouncers were young boys somewhere between eight and 12-years-old, which is always comforting in the case of skirmishes.

The ring was set up in the middle of the gymnasium and metal chairs were set along the floor, a few rows deep on each side. There was a concession selling hotdogs in an enclave in one of the walls. Green beer–in honour of St. Patrick’s Day, still two days away–was sold at a table in the back corner. Beer is necessary at a fight, so the audience drank it down even though it was pored with stunning ineptitude–close to 80 per cent foam.

Mohamed Nassar, a fourth-year University of Calgary student fighting on the top card of the amateur portion of the event, was having a mild case of the pre-fight jitters. He held a record of 8-0 going into the match.

“I’m feeling pretty nervous, you know,” he said before the fight. “But once the bell goes for the first round, it all goes away. After the fight is over, [I] feel good again.”

These jitters are understandable. Nassar weighed in that afternoon at 178 pounds, the limit for the class, while his opponent came in at 171 pounds. It was hard to believe. Nassar was strong, but doesn’t have the muscle definition characteristic of longtime weight-lifters. His opponent, on the other hand, did. The man looked like an action figure, or like a character from Street Fighter. A quick glance in his direction, standing just right of the entrance with a large blue hockey bag the mob might use for carrying bodies, immediately provoked a deep sense of fear for Nassar’s sake. But, Nassar was quick to note, the tank was shorter, so he’d have the reach advantage.

“If I have a reach advantage, I don’t care who you are,” he said.

There are four fights scheduled before the top card.The first starts at 7:15 p.m. By 7:16 p.m., a punch landed to the face of an unfortunate boxer wearing the red shorts–each fight was divided between red and blue–opening up his nose with blood gushing everywhere. The ref temporarily stopped the round so that the trainer could wipe it off his face to no avail. After that, the fight might as well have ended. It was a cruel sight as red was scared and kept turning his back on blue. Blue was vicious and, each time this happened, the ref had to stop him from punching his apparently unwilling opponent in the back of the head. One of the officials sitting at ringside got up and talked to red’s trainer and the fight was called with blue winning “by retirement.”

The second fight was more evenly matched and both guys came out swinging. The draw of amateur boxing comes from getting the real amateurs in there, thinking boxing is really just a slug fest–more entertaining for non-connoisseurs. Despite the enthusiasm of the fighters, nothing monumental occurred. The fight ended after the scheduled two rounds. Meanwhile, Nassar stood near the entrance and warmed up, alternately bouncing on one foot then the other in a characteristic style.

Fight three passed without much to speak of except a peculiar insight into the brutal nature of the sport, which came in the second round. The fighter in blue landed a combination and his opponent staggered back. Blue then backed off, apparently not wanting to hurt his opponent too much while his trainer shouted at him.

A big cheer went out when the fighter in red was announced for the fourth fight. He boxes for the same club as Nassar and both had a lot of friends in the crowd, which had filled up from its initial sparseness to a couple hundred people. The fighter in blue was booed from the crowd. He smiled and waved at them encouragingly, as a cheeky protest and then Then he won a split decision.

During the fight, Nassar, who was up next, stood poised near the DJ booth–which, for its part treated the crowd to such soulful numbers as “Still Dre” and “California Love.”

Nassar entered the ring wearing red velvet shorts and a red velvet sleeveless shirt. His opponent was in non-regulation clothing. A black, athletic shirt and what appeared to be blue soccer shorts. The officials decided to let the fight proceed despite this, putting duct tape around his midsection to keep his shorts from falling off. These two were fighting in the senior weight division though Nassar is 21-years-old and his opponent, 28.

The fight started off slowly.

“I’m a reflection of my opponent,” said Nassar. “If he works hard, I will work hard. If he carries a slow fight, I will carry a slow fight.”

None of the first few punches were landed. Nassar started off trying to get some shots into the head, but after the first few failed to land, he decided to try the body. It was a good decision. He found the left side of his rival wide open. After the fight Nassar mentioned that his opponent’s midsection was like a wall. Nassar then tried a couple of tentative shots to the face. They didn’t work. The fighter in blue, covering his head, left his side open for the rest of the fight to Nassar’s took advantage–a constant and devastating parade of right hook to left kidney.

The only substantive blow Nassar sustained was slightly over a minute into the first round, when the muscle mass in blue landed a heavy right to his head, causing him to stagger back and readjust his helmet. He recovered, though, and came right back at him.

In the second round, Nassar came out swinging, landed a couple to the face and his opponent seemed to lose heart. For the remainder of the fight, he just launched big right bombs at Nassar’s head, each one accompanied by an angry toilet grunt. None of them landed because Nassar was far too fast.

There was no recovery for blue. The fight ended after the scheduled three rounds. Nassar won–unanimous decision.

“I felt the fight went well,” said Nassar. “For me it was like a shutout, it was completely on my side. The win was mine, guaranteed.”

Perhaps it is this confidence that allows Nassar to fight in velvet style, he says, that is quite popular.

“That velvet, everybody wants that velvet,” said Nassar. “As a matter of fact, the fight before mine I gave it to my friend so he was wearing it for his fight. We had to go around a corner to change, behind the crowd, but the crowd could look and see. I was wearing gloves, so I couldn’t even change myself. That’s how much he wanted to wear the velvet.”

Nassar will carry his 9-0 record into a heavy schedule of fights in the near future.

“I have a fight this Sat. in Saskatchewan and next Sat. in Edmonton,” said Nassar of his schedule. “It’s fucking killing me, man.”

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