Ain't Nothing but a Good Time: or, How a Lowly 'Chronicle' Writer Learned to Play With the Big Boys
By John Razook,
8:02PM, Wed. Jun. 20, 2007
Let's face it, for many so-called journalists, and especially for elite members of the sporting press (of which I most certainly and humbly include myself), press passes are why we got in this racket in the first place. The Austin Chronicle, quickly earning its place among the most reputable of sports journalism establishments, has now twice awarded yours truly with the golden ticket – complete and total access. Make no mistake, press passes are coveted. Highly. They give their possessor a peek behind the curtain, allowing their holder, no matter how nefarious his purposes may be, past the velvet rope, past layer upon layer of security guards, ticket-takers, ushers, and various signs telling you "you can't go this way."
Invaluable item, the press pass.
Saturday night, I had not one but two such passes for the Texas Title Fight at the Frank Erwin Center. Having never before attended a boxing match, I enlisted the aid of an associate, Kevin Hennessy, entrusting him to masquerade as my photographer for the event. I enticed Hennessy with vague promises of a bountiful and extravagant prefight reception, a chance to eat, drink, and rub elbows with the heavyweights of the rather refined corps of sports journalists who cover boxing, as ancient and noble a sport as we're ever likely to be blessed with.
It took some convincing. Hennessy is a notorious napper, the kind of man who would just as soon prefer to sleep on a late Saturday afternoon in June as drive north of the river and crawl around the bowels of the Erwin Center with the likes of Mark Katz and the reporters and cameramen from Fox 7 and News 8. Nevertheless, I soon had him ready to go, eager to attempt a grand charade. While Hennessy is something of an amateur photographer, having snapped a few strangely beautiful and blurry photos in his time, he apparently knew better than I that such a facade would never work among such respected members of the sporting press.
He showed up with no gear. No camera. Nothing. Jeans and a T-shirt.
"Perfect," I said. "Why try to convince these people you're something you clearly aren't?"
"Next time, I'll bring everything," Hennessy said. "Cameras, lenses. The works. I can get a boom stand and a microphone if you want, and we can do it up right."
I didn't bother to ask him where he'd get all this gear, knowing that most likely it was in my best interest to not know. Soon enough, we were at the Erwin Center, in a conference room of some sort, our eyes alight with the joys of free light beer, wine, cheese and crackers, and chili dogs. Settling into a leather chair while Hennessy made himself at home on a plush leather couch, I soon reflected that the last time I stepped foot in the Erwin Center was for a crushing basketball defeat delivered by the Texas Longhorns to my long-suffering alma mater, Oklahoma State. The loss haunts me to this day, and while the severity of the blow seems to have lessened with the passage of time, all it took was my being back in the Erwin Center to again face my nightmares of D.J. Augustin raining 3-pointers like brimstone on the heads of the bewildered Cowboys.
This is perhaps an appropriate image, considering that soon enough, I would be sitting ringside watching grown men and women batter each other with punches that seemed to come nicely packed with all the fury and wrath of a divine judgment.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? Indeed. The prefight reception is where we're at. Enjoying the perks of the press. Every job, I suppose, has its own unique benefits. Mine happened to be free beer and a chili-dog bar.
The fights themselves were good enough, I suppose. None lasted very long. Neither title fight made it past the third round. Gilbert "Boogie" Vera and Randy Gatica both easily dispatched their respective opponents, Gilbert "Ivy" Guevara and Johnny Casas. None of the other fights were scheduled for more than four rounds.
My instincts once again proved right on the money, as my prediction that the women's fight featuring Austin's S'kati Katz would be the most interesting of the evening. It was exactly that from the get-go, as Katz's scheduled opponent, Lauren Owens, pulled out at the last minute and a replacement had to be quickly found. I'm not sure who did it, but someone found a gal from Missouri and evidently paid her enough to come to Austin and lose a boxing match.
It had the look of a fixed fight. The Missouri boxer entered the ring apparently believing she was to take part in either a bobsled or speed-skating contest, wearing a skintight body suit the likes of which I've never seen worn by any boxer, man or woman. And when 78 seconds into the bout she went down on what, from my angle at least, seemed a phantom punch, it truly did look like the fix was on.
But who would benefit? Hennessy and I had spent great energy in seeking a way to place bets on the fights to no avail. I know there were bettors there. There had to be. After all, what is boxing without gambling? A kind of pornography? A voyeuristic violence trip? I wanted to find a bookie, or someone who knew a bookie, or someone who knew someone who
I did find that after the prefight reception, getting a light beer cost me exactly $6 U.S. at the Frank Erwin Center. Evidently, the perks only went so far.
Damn. Off topic again. Sorry folks, I'll try to stick to the point.
Yes, it looked like a fix. So much so that when Katz left the ring, Hennessy and I immediately followed, our press passes getting us past a middle-aged woman at first determined to deny us entry to the post-fight interview area.
"You cannot go this way, gentlemen," she started to say, immediately changing her tune when she saw the hot-pink press pass pasted on my shirt. Or perhaps it was the malicious glare spreading across Hennessy's face. Who's to say? What is important is that she immediately stepped aside and we momentarily found ourselves in a small room with a sweaty Katz, the reporting team from News 8, and a kid who was furiously scribbling notes in a notepad with all the intensity of reporter for a college paper. I resisted the urge to inform him he missed the free beer and chili dogs at the prefight reception.
Hennessy and I patiently waited as the News 8 team did their thing, filming a quick interview with the elated victor. Then we waited while the kid took his turn. Finally, I spoke up.
"What happened?" I asked. "It was hard to tell if you actually hit her."
"I think she hyperventilated and started vomiting," Katz said.
"What?!" Hennessy said, incredulously. "She vomited?"
"I think so," Katz responded. "She clearly wasn't ready for the fight."
It was Katz who informed us that the Missouri gal was a last-minute substitute, and she expressed her disappointment that a more worthy opponent could not be found. Still, she was 2-0 as a professional fighter and 2-0 is 2-0.
So maybe there was no fix. Maybe there was no illegal gambling ring at work inside the Erwin Center. Maybe it really was simply a case of a girl wearing a too-tight bodysuit, unable to breathe, forced to her knees not by lethal punches but by the overwhelming urge to vomit in front of a paying live audience.
Somehow, this is actually the story I prefer. As a journalist, it's a story I'm glad to tell, knowing that neither Skip Baldwin nor Dennis de la Pena nor any other reporter in Austin got that little nugget of information. How's it feel then, boys, knowing you got scooped by a mustachioed, beer-swilling sports blogger from The Austin Chronicle and his associate, a man posing as a cameraless photographer? You read it here, friends, and you won't see or hear it anywhere else. Illegal gambling rings are nice and all, the glue that probably keeps sport together, but like most other things sporting, they are cliché.
Hyperventilation and vomiting, however, never gets old.
Pass the Pulitzer, please