By: Robert Eugene Rubino
Wrestling vs. Boxing (or Silliness vs. Seriousness vs. Dead Seriousness)
It’s false, it’s fake, it’s fantasy, it’s scripted, it’s silliness & at 14 I can’t look away.
Musclebound bound-for-glory Bruno Sammartino getting set to pin villainous Killer Kowalski to the mat, golden-maned Nature Boy Buddy Rogers sneaking up from behind & clobbering buffed Bruno with a folding chair, cueing 601-pound Haystack Calhoun to come to the rescue. A magnificent melee ensues while the see-no-evil referee becomes an incurious bystander.
In my pliable Play-Doh of a mind, pro rasslin’ via our 12-inch black & white TV in 1962
was violence stylized, violence operatic, violence as theater of the absurd
with ample amounts of huffing & puffing & blowing the house down
with headlocks & dropkicks & body slams & back-breakers & skull crushers & sleeper holds. Violence at its best — nobody got hurt — they’d all be back next week — good as new.
Of course the attraction was made stronger by the revulsion expressed by my blue-collar father — well-muscled himself — whose bellowing “It’s phony, it’s staged!” cued my cry of resistance: “Oh yeah? Mr. America’s bashed head bled last week. Real blood!” — even though I knew it’s all fake, even the blood, but that wasn’t the point, the point being we watched stuff together while eating thin-crust pizza — my rasslin’ on Thursday nights & his Friday night fights.
I’d soak up his punchy boxing history lectures about the Great John L. & Gentleman Jim
& the Jacks — Johnson & Dempsey — & Joe Louis, of course, while mesmerized by
the sweet-science artistry of aging Sugar Ray Robinson or one-eyed courage of Carmen Basilio but neither of us was prepared for the finale in the Emile Griffith/Benny ‘Kid’ Paret trilogy, Griffith beating Paret to death after Paret called Griffith a faggot earlier that day at the weigh-in.
Griffith punching Paret in the head twenty-five times in the thirteenth round,
Paret giving nothing in return, Paret slumping but still on his feet, the ropes holding him up but he’s already gone, gone to where a K.O.’s black lights never blink, past the point of no return while referee Ruby Goldstein stares at this public execution as if he’s merely a curious bystander. It’s true, it’s serious, it’s unscripted, it’s brutality, it’s reality & at 14 I can’t-look-away.
Rumble, Old Man, Rumble
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!”
— Cassius Clay (before molding himself into Muhammad Ali) bellowing in unison with court jester/cheerleader Bundini, while training for his first title fight, against Sonny Liston, in 1964.
And now, live! From inside your mind, some seventy years in the making,
the moment of truth. Main event in the evening … of your life —
The Fight of a Lifetime!
In this corner, from the fabled land of spirit-nourishing stone-cold sobriety,
wearing spine-straight heart-healthy optimism of believing it’s not too late
to make profound personal change …
Introducing the late-blooming proverbial overnight success who arrived
on this planet some 26,000 overnights ago,
… Frrrreedom Frrrrom! (stretching fr sound as if it were salt-water taffy).
And in this corner, wearing know-it-all cynicism & dead-eyed Darwinian survival skills,
desultory champ for decades of decadence, weighing in with chump’s usual baggage
of guilt and shame, but also pluck and dumb luck …
from deep in the heart of long-buried traumas — Frrreeedom To!
(rolling the r with the flair of Orson Welles channeling P.T. Barnum)
Bell rings. Sounds like Reveille. Or Ravel. Bolero.
Freedom To looms like Harm, in the way. But Freedom From comes ready
to rock and roll, unafraid knowing he might get hurt, get knocked on his ass,
but he’s prepared to get up, bob and weave, stick and move, rope-a-dope.
Freedom To goes for the KO. Freedom to steal, cheat, lie, get high, sink low,
fuck around & fuck up. Freedom From counter-punches floating like a butterfly
stinging like a bee — formula made famous by Cassius lean and hungry.
Freedom From finds his rhythm free and easy, freedom from righteous indignation,
from revenge, from anti-social media, from angry haunting pasts, paranoid daunting futures,
from addled consciousness, from deceit, including especially self-deceit, from self itself.
Freedom To throws slow aimless punches at air hot with rot.
Freedom From digs in, cheers up, hears hoary exhortation enlivened, enriched,
transformed, infused with timely twist: Rumble, old man, rumble!
Since retiring from daily journalism in 2013, Robert Eugene Rubino has published poetry and prose in various online and print literary journals, including The Esthetic Apostle and Gravitas, and in the anthologies Poetic Bond IX and Earth Hymn. On most Wednesday evenings he can be found at Sacred Grounds Cafe in San Francisco, participating in the West Coast's longest-running poetry open mic.
"Like so many others, I've been amazed (not in a good way) with popular and political culture's apparent seamless blending and obscuring of truth and lies, facts and so-called alternative facts. Also like so many others, I often think about our culture's portrayal of violence as opposed to the horrific ugliness of real violence. It wasn't until I connected those meditations with my particular memories of witnessing commercialized televised violence while growing up, that I came up with "Wrestling vs Boxing" after countless false starts, drafts, revisions, etc. In "Rumble, Old Man, Rumble," I was attracted to the idea of using my knowledge of a boxing broadcaster's rhythms and vocabulary to illustrate an imagined inner fight, if you will, between someone's image of themselves stuck in a lifetime of bad habits against an image of themselves with the ability to get unstuck from those habits, indeed to make profound personal change, even in old age."