Fight Night in Omaha
THIS PAST JUNE we had the opportunity to spend a week in Omaha. While there we found ourselves caught up in one heck of a fight on a Saturday night. It was a bigger deal than I had anticipated and noisier than I could comfortably tolerate.
It was a World Championship Title fight for the Lightweight crown and it took place at the Century Link Center, just across the street from where we were staying at the Hilton hotel.
I should have become suspicious when the Baseball College World Series crowd moved out on Saturday morning and several hundred trainers, boxers, fans and hangers-on from all over the western hemisphere moved into the hotel. I haven’t seen that much scar tissue since I performed at a California biker bar in the mid 1980s.
We also saw lots of heavy duty bling bling, big biceps, big hair and really big high-heel platform shoes. The bling and the biceps were on the men and the big hair and shoes were on the women who were also in ultra short skirts or anatomically impressive bodysuits.
I had the chance to meet two gentlemen who were going to be part of the festivities. The older man was the head trainer at a “Christian Boxing Club” right there in Omaha. He tried to explain to me the seeming contradiction in that, and I’m still not sure that I get it. The younger man was a boxer, who was to be in a match preliminary to the title bout. The slight, but quite muscular, boxer was very polite, smiled and shook my hand. I saw him the next morning at breakfast. He didn’t look so cheerful. The puffiness and bruises on his face may have had something to do with his change of mood. I thought about going over to their table again, but since neither one of them were talking or smiling I decided to leave them to their quiche.
More than ten thousand people attended Saturday evening’s bouts. Ticket prices started at $27.00 and went up from there. I was told that that was a real bargain. The Champion hailed from Omaha and wanted his first title defense to be at home with ticket prices low enough to allow his local fans to attend. It worked – they attended by the thousands, and those who still couldn’t afford a ticket watched the fight from the bar across the street -The bar where I was sitting with my Diet Coke. I think I spent more time watching them than I did the TV sets tuned to the fight on HBO. Jim Lampley has gotten gray and “Let’s get ready to rumblllllllllllleeeeeeeee.” Some things never change.
The fans in the bar were jammed in bumper to booty, very loud, and exhausting the bartenders. The aficionados dress for this night on the town ranged from bas couture to haute couture or perhaps better phrased as going from, “I’ve been sleeping in the park for the last two weeks,” to, “Let’s see Giorgio Armani and The Ringling Brothers Clown College top this.”
I felt sorry for the guys dressed poorly, but I was entertained by the fashion choices made by the folks who went “all-in” for the evening. There were a few poorly fitting rented tuxedos and a number of suits that looked like they had been borrowed from a struggling road company production of “Guys and Dolls.” I never would have thought of wearing a plaid double-breasted suit and a Sherlock Holmes style Deerstalker hat at the same time. But that’s just me.
The women in attendance brought their own panache to the event with either the miniest of mini-skirts or bright, exotic animal print full bodysuits – really “onesies,” that left nothing to the imagination while managing to stifle it at the same time.
“Where did you get your outfit, Trixie?”
“Earl Scheib – $49.95, no ups, no extras. I got the Carnauba Wax for free.”
Spray painting is the only way I can imagine that they got into their eveningwear. And a hot tub filled with paint thinner might be the only way to get it off.
The gals in the electron micro-mini skirts had different display motives. Rather than covering up everything, they felt it necessary to have an anatomical yard sale right there in the bar. Unfortunately, too many of them should never, ever, have tried to stretch that small an amount of leather, spandex, or vinyl to that extent. It was obvious that none of them were there for an Anorexia Support Group meeting. One word: Acreage. The last time I saw that much meat on the hoof was during a screening of, “How The West Was Won.”
There were also plenty of very expensive, tailored suits wandering through the crowd. Jimmy Smits would have fit right in. Clothes Horses – tall, slender, beautifully tanned with $300 haircuts and the phone numbers of every “nip and tuck” doctor in Omaha on speed-dial.
Among the expensive suits working the room was a young man who stuck out precisely because he didn’t. He had the suit, the tan and the haircut, but he was barely five feet tall. As he criss-crossed the room he was more noticeable by the parting of the crowd as he moved through – like a duck swimming through tall reeds. When he did pop into sight I could see him passing out business cards and shaking the hands of men so large they could have carried him in their pockets. This little dynamo was doing business. My guess is that he was a promoter of some sort, trying to arrange deals for the “next big thing” in Omaha. He never stopped moving for more than sixty seconds – move, business card, hustle, shake hands and then corner the next prospect. He was fascinating.
I saw him the next morning, checking out of the hotel and still handing out cards to others waiting for the valet parking to deliver their Escalades. As he climbed into his Town Car he looked like a well groomed twelve year-old who was late for school.
There actually was a prizefight that night. We all watched it on the TVs in the bar. With each flurry of punches the crowd would “Ooh” and “Ahh,” cheering when the Champ’s foe fell to the canvas. When the referee stopped the fight, raising the Champion’s hand, the folks in the bar went into ecstasy. One rarely sees that many people that happy, outside of the day in Denver when pot became legal.
About an hour later the victorious Champion, surrounded by his entourage, entered the bar on his way to his suite in the hotel. He waved to his fans and smiled even though his face looked like he had been stung by a pound and a half of bees.
I don’t know how much money he won that night, but he was still the “Lightweight Champion of the World!” And I suppose that was more important to him and will stay that way until he retires, loses his entourage and adoring fans, and has to pay the rent.
For me the night was about people-watching. For the boxers and the crowd in the bar I think that it was all about hope and feeling a part of something bigger than yesterday or tomorrow morning.