Of Squared Rings And Silver Screens

When I arrived at Cinemark 20 in Moosic, Pa., for May Day:  Mayweather vs. Guerrero, I had no idea what to expect. Of course, I fully expected Floyd Mayweather to dominate his welterweight opponent, Robert Guerrero. And I was looking forward to watching a fight on something bigger than my 36” TV screen. I didn’t know what the fight atmosphere would be like sitting in a darkened movie theater, though. Who attends these screenings? How do fans react to what they see on the screen and to the people around them? How does it compare to seeing a fight in person? Beyond the bigger screen, is a movie theater seat any better (or worse) than my couch for watching a boxing event?

I picked the best seat in the house: The middle seat in the last row. Although I arrived early, I began to wonder if my husband and I were awaiting a private screening. Slowly, other boxing fans finally began filing into the small theater. Many early arrivals came alone, others in pairs. People cited the $18 ticket price as what attracted them to the theater. The $65 price tag for the pay-per-view, more to watch in HD, was certainly the number one reason I had for giving the PPV-in-movie-theater experience a try.

At 9:08, a member of the audience left to find the person in charge of running the show.  Three minutes later the lights went out and the screen lit up. By this time, about 30 fight fans had assembled in the theater, spread out in a room that could seat nearly 200. We were pretty evenly spit between those rooting for Mayweather, those rooting against Mayweather, and those hoping Guerrero could pull off the upset.

I saw my first live fight card on Sept. 29, 2012, at the the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa. That fight card, broadcast live on NBC Sports, had something in common with May Day: Gabriel Rosado. In Bethlehem, he’s a regional favorite; he headlined the card, his second at the venue in four months, after Gabriel Campillo backed out of the original main event fight due to injury.  Rosado was in the opening bout of this weekend’s PPV, brought in as an opponent for a Mayweather-promoted middleweight, J’Leon Love.

The movie theater sound system was blasting the PPV broadcast, causing fan reaction in the room to be muffled, but Rosado was clearly the favorite. One man was enthusiastically boisterous when Rosado found success in the ring. The general mood was that Rosado should have gotten the decision, but the grumblings were largely masked by the the volume of the broadcast.

People came and went while featherweight Leo Santa Cruz punished Alexander Munoz. There was more interest in watching fellow featherweights Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce de Leon slug it out before that match was stopped prematurely by referee, Jay Nady. The reaction in the room to the stoppage mimicked the displeasure directed at the two judges who saw Love winning the opening bout — it was palpable but drowned out.

The audience gradually doubled in size. Latecomers were more likely to arrive in small groups than by themselves. Judging by the atmosphere during the main event, 1/3 of the theater was still in favor of Mayweather winning the fight with the others split between Mayweather-haters and fans of Guerrero.

With that in mind, maybe it’s not so surprising that very few people made a discernible sound during the 12 round fight that featured Mayweather dominating an over-matched Guerrero. One group of friends cheered loudly after every round. A few others joined with sounds of appreciation when Mayweather landed hard shots or avoided shots that had no business missing the mark. Otherwise, the room reverted back to what one would expect in a movie theater. Mayweather’s detractors had nothing to cheer about to be sure, but they didn’t even bother to express their frustration or disappointment in what unfolded on the screen, at least not audibly.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, I wondered if the movie theater would be filled with people awkwardly trying to keep quiet as if it was a movie being projected on the screen, or if there would be outbursts of emotion that might make hearing Showtime’s broadcast team difficult. Floyd Mayweather is such a divisive figure in boxing, and his fights have been known to provoke heated discussion all over the internet. Would there be a similar dynamic in the movie theater, and would such an environment be welcome?

The reality was somewhere in the middle. Sitting in the dark doesn’t lend itself to developing camaraderie, and nothing could have drowned out Showtime broadcasters Al Bernstein or Paulie Malignaggi, much less the hyperactive blow-by-blow of Mauro Ranallo. The ability to see the action so clearly cannot be overstated. Even the ringside ticketholders were clearly visible. (Is that Neil Patrick Harris?  As a matter of fact, yes it is!) That alone outweighs the biggest downside, that the larger than life video was paired with even bigger sound.

At the Sands, the audience was distracting in an unexpected way. It’s hard to focus on a fight, even from as close as the 13th row, when a middle-aged woman wearing an electric blue mini-skirt and cowboy boots isn’t the most outrageously dressed person in the room! That night, I also missed being able to see replays between rounds; the room was small enough that no video monitors were needed for everyone to have a good view of the action in the ring.

Between the lighting and the decibel level there were no such distractions on Saturday.  Movie theater cell phone etiquette was not observed but the use of electronic devices was not intrusive. I was glad I could follow the fights on Twitter between rounds, something I wasn’t sure would be possible in this setting. People weren’t getting in and out of their seats any more than at a live fight. The glow of cell phones, people talking above a whisper, and even the most exuberant fans didn’t interfere with the PPV broadcast.

The biggest disappointment of the night turned out to be the way theater-goers were completely out of the biggest fight of the night by the 2nd or 3rd round. I almost felt guilty enjoying Mayweather’s superb display of defense; so many others losing all interest really sucked the energy out of the room. A more competitive main event might prove to be even more exciting in this setting. I can’t wait to find out!