The first time I saw street boxing for money I was a child in Mexico. The tropical night air of the Pacific coast added a sense of magic to the dirt roads lined by cheap restaurants and scraggly dogs. A crowd knotted around two younger adolescents (daring and glamorous to my eyes) with boxing gloves on, and an adult referee encouraged onlookers to cast coins into the haphazardly demarcated circle. I remember many large Mexican one peso coins with monumentally sized heads on their faces being tossed in the direction of the fighters as well as various smaller denominations. The fight itself was short and somewhat brutal, and I was unclear who the winner was until I saw the majority of the money being divided in favor of one of the individuals. The whole experience left me in awe of the participants and more than a little intimidated by wildness of the whole scene.
A year or two ago I came upon a similar occurrence on the other side of the world. In Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, surrounded by locals and tourists, was a boxing “coach” who brought forth fighters of different ages to compete against both one another as well as members of the crowd. This time the experience of watching was very different for me. I worried about the equipment: lack of both head gear and mouthguard, old gloves and no hand wraps. My nervousness was exacerbated by the possibility of a fall by one of the contenders onto the hard pavement. Thankfully, the bouts were short and controlled and no one was seriously hurt. Nonetheless, the glamour I had perceived as a child in Mexico was gone, replaced by a realization that the young children slugging it out with minimal precautions were most likely in more need of the money that came their way than of the boxing instruction.