Hip-hop blared from a pair of speakers in the back as a couple hundred people jockeyed for position near the ring.
A handful of boxers crammed into a back corner, a few of them wrapping their taped knuckles and rolling their necks and shoulders. A pair of ring girls, wearing skimpy bikini tops, looked out of place among the brawn collected in the corner.
People slipping in the back entrance of the place had to bob and weave their way through the crowd.
The “Fight Night” scene at Marana’s Boxing Inc. looked like something out of the New York Bowery, circa 1850.
The first of 15 fights on the card last Saturday evening, however, dispelled any notion that what was to take place that night would resemble anything the bare-knuckle brawler John L. Sullivan might have recognized as a classic bout of pugilism.
A pair of women — Gwen Ujihara and Anita Tillery — took to the ring for two, four-minute rounds of grappling. And the crowd roared with the first takedown.
“30 seconds!” referee/emcee Chad Dietmeyer yelled, looking at the clock. The din coming from beyond the ropes nearly drowned him out.
Sandwiched between the ropes and a back wall, Boxing Inc. General Manager George Castro took in the sights, sounds and smells. When the first-round bell rang, he parted the ropes to make way for ring girl to strut her stuff.
Another grappling match, this time between two men, followed. And then began a succession of three boxing matches. With every blow, the volume of the crowd’s shouts ticked up a notch.
Between its two locations — in Marana and on the east side — Boxing Inc. has about 1,000 members, according to owner Coleman Manchester. He envisioned “Fight Night” as a way for the grapplers and pugilists — young and old, male and female — to show off just “how serious they are about the sport.”
Craning to watch the action, Manchester took a quick sweep of the crowd.
“I had no idea it’d be this big,” he said of the turnout. “We must be doing something right.”
At the front counter, 13-year-old Roderick Flores trained his fighter’s eyes on the ring, watching every blow. He also took fleeting glances at the front door, as more and more people began streaming in for the show.
The 135-pound fighter began his amateur career last year, winning his first two bouts. As part of Boxing Inc.’s amateur team, the kid works out at the gym off Ina Road two hours a night, five nights a week.
“They’re my second family,” Flores said with a nod.
In his last bout, on Nov. 17, he scored a technical knockout of a kid three years his senior. A faint glimmer of pride filled Flores’ eyes.
The great boxing writer A.J. Liebling referred to the sport as a “sweet science.” You ask Flores, and he’ll tell you: “First, you use your head, then your heart.”
In between each bout, Dietmeyer tossed T-shirts and other gym gear into the waiting arms of the throng. “The action’s only going to get better!” he shouted.
Gym owner Manchester plans to hold “Fight Night” events every six months or so, alternating between the two Boxing Inc. locations.
The promise of some ring action drew east side resident Josh Kim to Marana last Saturday. The 22-year-old made short work of his opponent, Kyle Hornung.
A sweeping right knocked Hornung woozy near the tail end of Round 1. Less than a minute into the second period, Hornung took another dizzying tumble after catching a hook across the face.
Castro, who officiated every boxing match, called off the fight.
In the end, however, both fighters, and everyone else who participated, received medals for braving the ring that night.
“That’s what we’re about,” Manchester said. “Everybody’s respectful.”
The real winners that night, he added, were those who came out to watch.