a weekly column by J. Lowey **************
reprinted from the SF Reporter - 6/9/99
In honor of San Francisco's hosting of ESPN's X Games, I set about looking for something to outdo the pageantry and lunacy that is the extremity implied in the name X games. I believe I have found a challenger to the X-games. It is an arena style sport that you aren't likely to see ESPN 1 or 2 televising any time soon, but that has been firmly rooted in SanFrancisco extreme culture for at least the last ten years. Some fans will tell you that it's been going on since the gold rush days, but I could find no evidence to support that claim.
To all the scientists and philosophers who might suggest that all of the events that make up the history and future of mankind are somehow accounted for in a monstrous equation that awaits our discovery ...I present Monkey Boxing.
I guess you would have to call Monkey Boxing a sport...but a sport that could not be result of a combination of the same set of variables used to create the familiar sports...soccer, football, baseball, basketball, or cricket. It is a form of boxing like nothing I have seen before....Thai kick-boxing....even extreme fighting as advertised in certain Pay Per View markets does not come close to the carnage one witnesses in the so called "ape ring".
The closest I can come to an analogous sport with monkey boxing would be something like cockfighting or pit-bull fighting. The fact, however, that one of the participants in cock fighting eventually dies makes it seem innately more humane than the brutality one witnesses as ape and human beat one another to a bloody pulp. Or as ape beats human to a bloody pulp, as is more often the case.
The rings are housed in some of the seediest basements of the one part of town I have always thought was most renowned for housing the majority of SF's serial killers, the Sunset district. The venue changes regularly, but the majority of the matches seem to be located in basements in the Sunset, or in parts of Daly City. The lengths that trainers will go to to surreptitiously transport their charges from venue to venue border on the ridiculous.
One trainer I saw would dress his 300 pound gorilla in a dress and broad brimmed hat, and walk him into the arena, only to rip the costume off as soon as he neared the ring, whipping the crowd and the ape into a frenzy fevered with blood lust. One starts to wonder if the ape is spurring on the crowd, or if the crowd is agitating the ape. The thrill of the fight seems to somehow change these animals. They respond to the gesticulations of the crowd, while saving the actual physical attack for their opponent.
This is not to say that there have not been incidents. Each venue has a hastily constructed watch tower manned by a tranquilizer dart wielding guard. The guard is always ready to "pop a cap" in any ape that runs afoul of the rules. No trainer wants a drowsy ape in the ring, and no ape present can expect to leave without fighting. The trainers spend much time at home working on the discipline of a well honed attack to avoid having their fighter fall victim to "the sleep". It is this cultivated deliberateness of attack compounded by the vintage smell of rancid ape fur that heightens the disturbing quality of the air around the ring.
Most of the trainers unload their animals in variously sized cages over the course of several days prior to the event. For days, U-hauls arrive unloading large crates with wheels that are rolled down ramps or carried down stairs into the dank basements that provide a home to the savagery of monkey boxing.
The events usually begin no earlier than midnight with several lightweight chimp boxing matches. This is where the smaller monkeys get to show their stuff. This is also when first time human fighters get to see if they can handle the rigors of man/simian hand to hand combat. It is indeed a life changing experience to see a grown man walk into the ring overflowing with his own sense of importance and machismo..a sort of species pride...and walk out with tears streaming down his face, arms and legs covered in bites, and what is commonly known to aficionados as a bad case of "finger face".
"Finger face" is a condition that results from the openhanded slaps administered on the faces of novice chimp boxers by the long slender fingered chimpanzee. The hands of a chimp leave a surprisingly distinctive bruise pattern on the face of the unlucky or inexperienced boxer. Novice ape fighters almost always keep their heads up leaving them open to attack. More experienced fighters will tell you that your best bet against almost all types of simian is to keep your head low, and try to turn the match into a more wrestling oriented combat. It can take several weeks for some novices to grasp this simple point, and several weeks still before they are able to successfully subdue a chimp.
After a string of 4 to 6 chimp matches the feature matches begin. Usually the feature matches are limited to 2, though sometimes a pair of seasoned Orangutans will be brought in for separate matches. As a rule you can count on seeing one Orangutan match and one gorilla fight. A bill that includes two Orang matches is considered quite a treat for most fans.
It is in these matches that the true barbarism of the sport is revealed. With the chimp matches one sees a few bruises to the face and ego. A few chimps may find themselves pinned to the mat (usually face down so the pinner is not bitten by the pinned), but all in all there is a strange civility to the proceedings when compared to the immanent brutality of the larger apes.
For those unfamiliar with simian anatomy, the Orangutan frequently appears shorter or smaller than a human until it stretches it's legs, lifting it's head easily into the 6 foot range. The Orang seems quite friendly perhaps even docile until one sees the damage that can be done to human flesh with the teeth behind that seemingly charming simian smile. I have seen men leave the ape ring after an Orangutan match with large chunks of flesh still lying in the ring, or worse yet in the hands of their opponent. It is my opinion that the Orangutans are far more brutal fighters than gorillas. The gorilla however is saved for the finale, because of it's size, majesty, and mythological stature as simian jungle king.
The gorilla is as the saying goes a 300 lb gorilla, but in this case everyone is talking about him. Only the most experienced fighters are allowed in the ring with the gorillas. Inexperienced fighters are not allowed anywhere near the gorillas, because a death at the matches would inspire law enforcement to look a little too closely at both the cause and location of death.
I haven't ever heard of a gorilla being beaten by a human. The glory of the gorilla fighter is simply in surviving. The less damaged the better. The more time spent in the ring the better. The human stays in the ring until he chooses to leave, or is beaten unconscious. The gorilla is trained to make attacks calculated to prolong the agony of the human while optimizing the damage caused.
The end of the match arrives with little fanfare. One often wonders if the match has in fact ended, as the ring is usually hard to see from the crowd. Word filters from the front rows back to the edges of the crowd. While there is no official scoring mechanism, one knows approximately how well the human did by the tales that make it to the far reaches of the room. Despite the inevitable exaggeration any monkey boxing fan will tell you that the exaggeration operates proportionate to the fight. If a human put on a good show the story people leave with suggests he had a chance at a defeat. If a human does not perform particularly well, and the ape does not seem terribly interested in inflicting maximum damage, we generally hear of a match that could have been a draw.
Usually the gorilla is in such a frenzy at the end of the match that the guard has to "bring out the sleep". In a particularly rowdy match the entire crowd will chant "bring out the sleep", until a hush comes over the room to reveal the sound of a tranquilizer dart flying from the barrel of a rifle. The enraged animal staggers briefly. The crowd remains hushed. The monkey falls with a thud. The crowd cheers. The match is officially over, and the crowd begins filtering out to the street. Their traffic regulated to groups of two or three at a time by a vigilant door man, so as not to awaken the neighbors or otherwise draw attention to the venue.
The gorilla is then dragged back to his enclosure in a deep sleep. And so ends another night of monkey boxing. The monkeys are removed from the venue over the course of several days, and returned to the homes of their trainers where they will be prepared for their next appearance.