Packing in the punches
By JOY DAVIS-PLATT
© St. Petersburg Times,
"This guy's gonna get worked," said an enthused Gary Schaefer, 19, as he staked out his ringside seat. "He is so gonna die."
At a recent Knockout event at 60-Watts Bar in Brandon, Schaefer sized up the competition and cheered as reigning heavyweight champion Ian Humfeld stepped into the ring. When the punches began to fly, he leaned with each one, and at the end of the first round Schaefer grinned, his prediction fulfilled as the champ won in a technical knockout.
Three months ago, Miss Kitty's Restaurant and Lounge in Brooksville added Knockout Boxing to its entertainment mix.
Once a month, the wooden dance floor is transformed by the springy white floor of a boxing ring. On fight nights, fans show up early for the good seats, said Darlene Terry, better known as Miss Kitty to her regular patrons.
"People keep calling and asking when our next one is," said Terry, who opened Miss Kitty's 15 years ago. "Every time we do it, it seems like we have more people."
Since they saw the 1999 movie Fight Club, Schaefer and his friends have made fighting under a streetlight in an empty parking lot a routine part of their parties. But Schaefer has no intention of stepping into this ring.
"I'm 170 (pounds), and they want me to fight in middleweight," he said. "My luck, I'll get a bulldog like that guy."
Schaefer pointed to 242-pound, 40-year-old television repairman Sam Artalona, who fights in the heavyweight class.
"It gives you a chance to either step up to the plate and be a man or sit down and be a boy," said the Plant City man.
Before the fight, Artalona spent half an hour chewing his plastic protective mouthpiece to make it a better fit. His biceps bulged in a T-shirt that proclaimed: "Gator meat is twice as sweet."
Though referees called him down for hitting his opponent in the back of the head, Artalona defeated his 220-pound opponent in two rounds.
One of the evening's highlights came when two South Tampa forklift operators fought each other in a challenge match.
"I'm too old to be doing this," P.J. Kalil, 29, joked before the match as he was having his wrists taped in the parking lot. Though he drinks only bottled water before and during matches, the fighter was high on adrenaline.
Married with two children, Kalil used to be an amateur boxer and said the sport is a good way to let out aggression. On this night, he planned to turn his aggression toward co-worker Caesar Phillips.
"He won last week, so I had to knock him off his high horse," Kalil said after knocking his opponent into the ropes after only one round. "At least I know I've still got it."
Contenders pay $10 to enter and another $10 for a roll of caution-yellow wrist tape and a plastic mouth guard. They fight three two-minute rounds wearing 14-ounce gloves.
"It's as safe as you can get," said Real Knockout Boxing owner Bob Wood, who began the event five years ago at his Jo Bob's Bar and Restaurant in Zephyrhills. "At least nobody's been in the hospital yet."
Wood began taking his show on the road two years ago, and he now promotes boxing events at several bars throughout the Tampa Bay area.
"I hear a lot of people say these guys are crazy for getting into the ring," said Wood, a former amateur boxer. "But you have to get in there to understand."
Wood's wife and business partner, Jolene Wood, said female contenders often have the most competitive bouts.
"They're great, and they really fight," she said. "Sometimes we have to get in there and make them stop."
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