Three rounds of mayhem: Thursday Night at the Fights is back for another season

October is here – which means it is time, once again, to attend Jim Patton’s downtown Anchorage staple, Thursday Night at the Fights. For 33 seasons, the fights have provided Alaskans with a veneer of civility sitting atop a deep current of rage, manifested in the form of two dudes beating the hell out of each other for three rounds, or until someone drops. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and referees and medics exist at every step of the fight to ensure there’s no serious damage done to the fighters, but at its core, TNATF is one more venue to answer that age-old question guys ask each other in bars, gyms, and backyards across the world – who’s tougher, man? And can you prove it?

I’ve sort of maneuvered my way into a seat that is, if not ringside, pretty close to it, and as Patton (the fight promoter) introduces a member of his security team to sing the national anthem. I scan the audience. Costco, the DMV, and the fights are about the only three venues where you’re likely to find a perfect cross-section of Anchorage life, and represented here are motorcycle club members, real estate agents, contractors, and of course – the fighters, jittering with pre-round nerves or shadowboxing in the corner, steeling themselves for their three rounds. Mixed martial arts and boxing are both represented at TNATF, and seven rounds are scheduled for this evening, two of which are MMA.

A mixture of butt rock and remixes of radio hits blares from the overhead speaker as the first two fighters prepare themselves. Patton plays to the audience throughout the night, introducing fighters new to the sport as having a “perfect record of 0 & 0,” while trying to maintain a certain standard of class – keeping things about as family friendly as fighting can be. At one point in the night, he chastised an audience member who’d gone on an expletive-filled rant while offering to buy one of the boxers new shoes, saying, “There’s kids in the audience.”

The first round, between Steven Sandifer and Rahsaan Perry, is won by a unanimous judge decision in Perry’s favor, after some fiendishly hard body shots from both fighters and a few last minute jabs to the face by Perry.

In direct contrast, the next round is won in the first few minutes, as Jack Moore drops Manuel Flores in a technical knockout. Moore came out blisteringly fast, almost before I’d realized what was going on, and gone for Flores’s face in a fury of jabs and hooks, forcing the fighter in the red shorts to the ropes. Patton, after the fighters had left the ring, sardonically remarked, “That was a quick one.”

There’s a perceptible incline in the energy of both the audience and the fighters as the night goes on – things seem to build up to the main event, and as the fights get closer and the results tighter, people start to loosen up and demand blood with a little more voracity.

Jordan Ross, a lithe EMT rippling with muscle, drops Josh Anzaldna by technical knockout in the first round of his fight. You can hear the flat packing sounds of glove against meat all the way across the Egan Center auditorium at the bar, and as the referee raises Ross’s fist in the air, the crowd screams like a wounded beast.

The first MMA fight of the night, between Joshan Gale and Raul Cagallero, isn’t as fraught with action in the first round. It resembles nothing so much as a sort of brutal square dance, as the fighters lock into each other and circle the ring, trying to take the fight to the ground, until the referee calls time. “I could be watching a hockey game!” a guy behind me yells, and he sounds almost hurt, as if the fighters have personally betrayed him by not laying into each other for all they’re worth.

He’s vindicated in the second round, however, as Gale gets Cagallero on the ground in a rear naked choke, forcing him to tap.

I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in attitudes when you compare boxing and MMA. On two legs, fighting seems to be perceived as vaguely civilized. Boxing brings to mind Ali, Frazier, Lewis, the Marquess of Queensbury. There’s a culture of civility, even gentility, around boxing.

Take the fight to the ground, however, and things change drastically. MMA still flirts around the edges of polite society, and until fairly recently, was even demonized publicly as “human cockfighting.” It’s an interesting dynamic, and I’ve considered why this perception exists. Does the fight, upon touching the floor, bring to mind some ancient, animalistic race memory of fighting for survival, instead of for sport? Does boxing, to a certain degree, remove us from what fighting really means outside of the ring?

You’ve got to wonder.

Intermission finds fans crawling up into the ring to pay ten bucks for a picture with the ring girl, who sporadically throws out hats, shirts, and sunglasses between rounds to tables of semi-inebriated dudes.

The fifth fight of the night sees boxers Devon Paulson and Allhilio Wentworth circling the ring, throwing a few tentative blows. A woman behind me screams, with almost religious fervor, “HIT HIM!” And indeed, in the second round, Paulson does, taking Wentworth down by technical knockout. Victorious, he hurls his mouth guard into the crowd, and a guy next to me catches it, hoisting his sticky trophy aloft like it’s a stripper’s bra or the bride’s garter at a wedding.

There’s one last MMA round to watch before the main event, and Josh Snyder and Claudius Taylor make it an interesting one. As the bell for the first round rings, Taylor throws some kicks as Snyder slams him down to the floor, landing some gigantic body shots as Taylor grimly hangs on for the bell. Second round sees the two fighters circling each other, Taylor throwing some kicks, Snyder looking for an opening.

The fight, at one point, almost ends up on the ground, but Taylor avoids it, as Snyder lands a few knee shots. The third round is hectic – Snyder finds his opening and throws Taylor (it looks like he’s smiling, but I know this can’t be true, it has to be a grimace) to the ground, rattling the ring posts and sending the crowd to their feet, screaming and howling for something beyond words. Unanimously, the judges find Snyder the winner.

And finally, the main event is here. Cody “Peligro” Rice, a 195 pound boxer who bears a striking resemblance to Conor McGregor, is set to fight Mike “Big Smoke” Marquez, a 270 pound fighter. As you’d expect, the match is suitably gnarly, though the first round starts off slow, with both boxers sizing each other up, circling the ring. Marquez throws heat in the second round, and he has a fan in the audience behind me, a lady who demands that Big Smoke “BEAT HIS ASS!” Rice looks like nothing more than the Boston Celtics logo as he squares up to his opponent, shrieking out an unheard challenge, both fighters trying to land body shots, throwing desperate punches.

As the final round ends, Rice ascends the ropes, balancing on the top of the ring, screaming “LET’S FUCKING GO!” to the audience, hyping up his fans, who yell obscenities, congratulations, challenges to “Peligro.”

The judges, in a split decision, score the fight for Marquez.

As I drain the last of my beer, and head out into the bitter October cold, passing a few attendees sharing a post-fight joint, I have to reflect on what I saw (or else what’s the point of being a columnist?) I can only appreciate these guys throwing themselves around up there. All I can do is write about it – the guys that really count are these laborers, contractors, and truck drivers getting in the ring for a shot at 150 bucks and bragging rights. Without them, there’s no column – and there’s certainly no Thursday Night at the Fights.

Jacob Hersh was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. He recently graduated from Washington State University with a degree in political science. He’s back in Alaska taking a year off before he attends law school. He’s been described as neurotic, emotionally distant, and unhealthily obsessed with national politics – all by the same person.

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Lynn Willis
1 month ago

Look at and listen to professional boxers and others later in life to see what constant exposure to head trauma can do. Are these promoters responsible for that very possible result or do we just let our future taxpayers “pick up the tab” when the symptoms manifest?

Pablo
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynn Willis

Boxers, football and hockey players in the past did not know the effects that constant head trauma causes later in life. They have legitimate gripes with promoters and commissioners and team owners from that era. And some are currently getting justice. While not perfect, see the NFL concussion settlement. Anyone who chooses to play those sports or box today has accepted that they may have symptoms later in life. That is why you sign a waver to work out in a boxing gym or to fight in any promotion. They have accepted the risks and live with the consequences There… Read more »

Lynn Willis
1 month ago
Reply to  Pablo

The problem is that these people who later are injured by head trauma and then don’t have coverage will become wards of the state and you and I will pay. I will then spend my money on them won’t I? I don’t care what they do or what you do for entertainment, just don’t expect me to subsidize it and say nothing.