A night at the fights
Moffat County Fairgrounds host an evening out with the guys
Craig — Eleven guys stand around Friday night at the Moffat County Fairgrounds listening to the rules being rattled off by Steve Gatorwolf, the owner-showman of Warpath Promotions.
They could care less.
Gatorwolf makes it clear to the volunteer fist fighters there is no prize money. Each sizes up the competition, and nods or shrugs whenever the showman doles out his prototypical warnings.
“We don’t have enough tape or time for everybody to tape up like you would normally,” Gatorwolf says. “We have helmets. Now they might not fit you just right, and we’ll do our best to stop the fight if you can’t see.”
Gladiator boxing is not for the safe, the timid or the macho, he explains.
“Everybody here has had their butt whooped. You’ve also given out some butt-whoopins,” he says. “Take it like a man.”
And the 11 volunteer fist fighters are all right with that.
If they got knocked down, they would get a knockout count if they deserved it. The fight would be scored by Golden Gloves rules, but the judges wouldn’t see everything. There would be a winner after three, one-minute rounds, if the fight makes it that far.
Up for grabs are three title belts: hardest fighter, quickest knockout and a championship belt. To win the championship, a fighter must win all his matches, which could be as many as three.
The contestants stand up straight and file one-by-one into the blue tarp tent to be fitted with their gear.
No one shows signs of doubt, but they are quiet.
An ambulance waits in the wings with the engine running.
Face, meet fist
All together, the fighters are teenagers out of high school, coal miners, a gym owner, a shorter man who recently suffered a heart attack and a taller man from Dallas.
Eric Crsip, 28, moved to Craig from Texas and has “been here long enough,” he says. He looks older than he is, and at 240 pounds is singled out as one of a couple of heavyweights. “I’m just here for the competition,” he says. “It’s good to get out with the guys, throw a couple punches and afterward maybe go out and have a few beers.”
Gatorwolf pairs Crisp with Clint Rogers, the other big man of the bunch, who is much quieter than his opponent.
The two touch gloves and go at it.
Crisp starts strong, zealously swinging his fists in wide arcs. Halfway through the first round, he starts to slow down and Rogers fights back. The two are at a stalemate going into the second.
After two, noses are bleeding and blood streaks across the men’s T-shirts. The once-mellow crowd likes the action more and more.
In the third round, Crisp turns an opening into several hard haymakers, which land on the side of Rogers’ head. The ref stops the action, and he and Gatorwolf call the match.
No sooner has the ref let Crisp’s hand down, he stops Rogers from leaving the ring and shakes his hand.
“It was a hell of a fight, man,” he says.
Both men are bloodied and sucking air. They smile, give a pat on the back and walk off in separate directions.
Richard Larson just moved to the area from Las Vegas. His interests include mixed martial arts and cage fighting.
“It’s just fun meeting some dudes that are into this,” Larson said. “I just came out here, and this is fun.”
He doesn’t appear that big, but he’s stout enough to look hard to move around.
Larson’s second fight is against Barny LeBlanc, 28, from Meeker. LeBlanc is big in the shoulders, too, but a little taller. He coaches wrestling and football at Meeker High School and in his off time is a private contractor.
Some of his teeth look like they have been broken halfway down.
Although he hasn’t fought in a while, he says he used to train at Malli’s Boxing Club in Durango.
“I’ve just been anxious for some kind of competition,” LeBlanc says. “I’m pretty amped. I’m excited to get back in the ring again.”
The bell rings and Larson steps in close, oscillating body blows like a child’s wind-up toy. He fights like he was in the Ultimate Fighter octagon.
LeBlanc jabs a few times to clear space, and when he steps back Larson drops his guard.
The two men swing away and almost look dizzy, like it was the first guy to stop punching loses.
LeBlanc connects with a solid left hand cross, and the bell rings.
Larson goes back to his corner, almost gets there, and throws in the towel.
“I think my jaw’s broken,” he says.
He looks around calmly, rubbing the side of mouth trying to feel for a dislocation.
“I really think my jaw’s broken or something.”
Before he leaves the ring to consult the TMH emergency medical technicians at ringside, he makes sure to congratulate LeBlanc. He sticks his hand out, and LeBlanc throws his arm over Larson’s shoulder.
Neither one says anything.
Outside the ring, Gatorwolf stands between Larson and the EMTs. He holds a microphone and a belt. He takes Larson and addresses the crowd.
“Ladies and gentleman, tonight we present Richard Larson with our first Moffat County Gladiator Boxing belt. He is the hardest fighter tonight. Let him know that you appreciate that.”
The crowd roars and cheers. Larson sheepishly accepts his title, seemingly embarrassed at the attention.
“I feel all right,” he says. “I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’ll take it when I can, you know.”
Then Larson leaves the dirt arena to drive himself to the emergency room.
The main event
“I can’t fight no more because there’s nobody else in my weight class,” Crisp said.
Crisp asks some of the other guys if they want to give it one more go. Everyone says they would, but they’re tired.
“We don’t train for this,” said Arlis Fredickson, who works for Twentymile Coal Co. “We gotta go to work in the morning.”
Gatorwolf doesn’t want the night to end without a champion. He asks around, and Barny LeBlanc says he would fight again.
Crisp outweighs LeBlanc by nearly 50 pounds, but he says he wants the drive from Meeker to be worth it.
Crisp starts the action, not swinging wild haymakers like his first fight, but throwing jabs, crosses and body blows.
LeBlanc is on the defensive and looking smaller all the time as he hides his face behind his gloves.
Crisp throws a right jab that LeBlanc slides around, putting him finally in a striking position. LeBlanc hits a quick left on the side of Crisp’s helmet that knocks the big man off-balance.
Crisp recovers quickly but fires another off-target punch that LeBlanc avoids.
LeBlanc wastes no time pouncing on the big man and pushes him across the ring and back into his corner.
A few more connected crosses to Crisp’s bloodied face, and the ref calls the match three quarters through the first round.
“I was trying to tap the ropes to tell the ref and whoever I was done,” Crisp said. “It’s all good. I’m just glad I got to fight. He’s a hard hitter. I’m glad I got back in the ring instead of sitting around waiting.
“He’s the guy you should be interviewing,” Crisp said. “Right there,” as he points to LeBlanc being congratulated by everyone at ringside.
LeBlanc has few words.
“It was pretty sweet,” LeBlanc said. “I have two boys at home. From here, I’m just gonna go home, go back to work. I needed to compete, and I came and got ‘er done.”
The lights still are on, some people are leaving, the fighters are standing around making small talk and laughing.
LeBlanc holds his two belts, for fastest knockout and the championship, and kids with friends, family and spectators.
Gatorwolf busies himself with taking the blue tarp down, eventually helped by some of the fairground staff.
“Sure I’m beat, but that’s part of the show,” Gatorwolf says. “I think (the people here) really want to see the mixed martial arts ultimate fighting. We’ll bring that in October.”
Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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