Prizefighting In Monte Carlo

If you ever get the chance to fly into the Cote D’Azur airport in the off-season, try to glance down as you’re coming in and take note of all that Mediterranean water stretching out toward the horizon, and all those cheerful looking palm trees on the shore, and yes, the Alps there too somehow, all snowcapped in the background. When you get on the ground, odds are that you’ll be struck with that strange sensation one sometimes gets when passing through resort destinations in the off-season: that post-apocalyptic feel of emptiness, that paradise in winter (if you call 50 degrees and partly cloudy “winter”).
Though, the rainy streets of Nice will still have a certain charm to them, and in Vieux Nice you’ll still find backpackers huddled inside at Wayne’s Pub, and no one would deny that a pint on a rainy day has the potential for being a whole lot better than a walk on the beach, depending on your disposition. You’d be remiss, too, if you didn’t take at least a cursorily stroll down the Promenade des Anglais, where your view of the sea and the grand old hotels lining it will be as devoid of herded tourists as it will be of the touring Victorian aristocrats who proceeded them.
Still though, if you’ve come this far, you’ll probably go ahead and hop the #100 bus west down the coast 45 minutes to Monaco. (This bus ticket, implausibly, will set you back exactly 1.5 Euros. You could get down the coast in half the time if you took the train and were willing to part with a few more coins, but you might feel that you should go ahead and stick with the  #100 and hold onto that currency. You’ll need it where you’re going.)
At .75 square miles, Monaco is a perfect little income tax-lacking, blind banker-having, Mediterranean paradise for that certain type of person who has the means to avoid taxes and a fondness for bankers who don’t ask too many questions. And though you aren’t this type of person, you’ll find yourself a decent hotel room at a winter discount with a view that looks straight out onto the Port of Hercules. You’ll have big white yachts with names like “Ester II” moored outside your window, and rows and rows more of them stretching out in either direction. You’ll probably go ahead and go for a stroll along the docks as the sun is setting, trying not to be too obvious as you glance into the windows to see if their owners are really even there, or if this is merely a good place to store them so that they may be properly coveted by the masses. You won’t linger though, as you’ll have plans for the evening. There will be, after all, prizefighting in Monte Carlo that night, and you’ll be attending.
As you’re trying to iron out at least some of the wrinkles of your suit jacket, which you’ve been instructed to wear by the awkwardly constructed e-mail you received several weeks ago informing you that you had a seat reserved for the fights, you’ll be somewhat troubled by the news articles about the fights that your friends are sending you, containing phrases stating that it will be held “in front of Monte Carlo elites.” That part about the “Monte Carlo elites” in particular will trouble you, for though you are fairly certain that you have a seat to the fight, you are even more certain that you are not a Monte Carlo elite. You’ll begin to question whether, perhaps, you’d contacted the wrong person with your inquiry in the first place, and whether something has been seriously lost in translation. Still, as it will be too late for anything but staying the course, you’ll stroll out in front of the port and past those big boats and on toward the venue for the fight.
As point of warning, a couple things might deter you along the way: First of all, though you’ll be led along a steady path of banners advertising the fight, straight to the front door of the world famous Monte Carlo Casino, and though this front door will be flanked at either side with large posters advertising the fight, and though the words “Le Casino Monte Carlo” are on signs everywhere, and will even be printed on the ropes of the actual boxing ring, the fight will not, indeed, be held within the grounds of said casino. When the men at front door try to explain this to you, do not insist that this does not make sense, and that they must not have heard you correctly, due to your poor French, and then do not also go on to repeat it incredulously in English, hoping for a better result. This will only cause you to be even more late than you are just realizing that you already are.
Instead, walk the 20 minutes or so down the beach, sweating through your suit jacket even though the sun has gone down and the breeze off the sea is cool, and keep your eyes open for the luxury restaurant called Salle Des Etoiles which, to repeat, is in a separate freestanding building not connected physically to the famous casino. Do not be deterred by the lack of pedestrian-friendly terrain you encounter. If your nice shoes cannot handle a little sand, or if your legs bulk at hopping a guard rail here or there, it is key not to dwell on it. When you reach the gated entrance where the black limousines and red Ferraris and Lamborginis are pulling in, feel free to walk up and through it. You may be especially alarmed that the long palm tree-lined road on which you find yourself walking has stone barriers on either side of it which prevent a human being from walking on the berm, and that you seem to be the only person walking down the middle of the road as luxury cars pass you on your right from behind, headed toward the restaurant, and then again from the front on your left, having deposited their masters at their destination. Do not be self-conscious about the fact that you are the sole person approaching in this manner. If you keep at it, eventually the palm trees will give way and you will come to the end of a little mini-peninsula, at the end of which sits, right on the sea, the large cylander-ish shaped building that houses the Salle Des Etoiles. Though you’ll now be sweating and disheveled from your walk, go ahead and saunter in the open doors with as much purpose and confidence as you can.
In the first room you’ll walk into, as fur coats are being passed off to coat checks and general milling about is occurring, walk to the first person you see who seems to be in authority, and in very poorly constructed French sentences, explain how that whole e-mail reservation thing that went down a few weeks ago, and then sit back in amazement as, fumbling through a small box on the table in front of her, she produces an envelope that has printed on it, simply, your own name, preceded, possibly for the first time ever in print, with the title “Monsieur,” and with the words “Monte-Carlo Boxing Bonanza” printed just underneath. Take this and proceed immediately by following the stream of people through the next doorway, open your fancy little white envelope, which you’ll promise yourself you’ll save forever and then proceed to lose at the cafe later in the night, and remove the small slip of printed cardboard inside and hand it to one of the hostesses, who will proceed to personally show you to your own seat.
It is only then, as you follow your personal dressed-in-black seat hostess, that you’ll fully appreciate the intimacy of the place. Though the ceiling is fairly high, a few stories up, perhaps, the radius of the room is not very large by sporting event standards. In the center sits the boxing ring, and outward in several directions from it are placed folding chairs, 15 to 20 deep. You’ll be stunned to notice that, though you paid the least possible amount offered for the seat, in the belief that it would be a nosebleed seat, you are in fact in an aisle seat only six rows back from the ring. You’ll be pleased also to see that the first fight of the evening, an amateur bout featuring a young local boxer, is only just about to begin, and that you have arrived just in time. Just in time, and not fashionably late, like the rather elegant woman dressed all in black, who walks past you, accompanied by five or six suited men, and takes her seat 20 feet from you. As the amateur bout, a short three round affair, is about to come to an end, you’ll notice that quite a lot of the people around you seem to be looking at the woman in black. You’ll be perplexed by this until, just after the ring announcer proclaims, not bothering to give the scores, that the judges have awarded the bout to the local kid, he makes the special announcement that Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Monaco, is in attendance tonight. At this, the woman in black will rise to her feet and acknowledge the audience, and you’ll realize that you and the Princess both have the same plans for this evening.
You should know, too, that you’ll be seated next to two Brits, who came about their seats due to an untimely death in the family of the original ticketholders, and who are on the tail end of a 16 month contract assignment in Monaco for an energy company. You’ll notice how they are dressed much more shabbily than you are, and you’ll all have a laugh as they tell how they, too, had walked up the center of the road on the way up, and had been stunned to see the fancy apparel of their fellow attendees. Soon, they will begin returning from the concessions table with extra beers, for you, and you will begin to return the favor on your own excursions to the table behind the rows of chairs. One of the Brits will tell you about his assignment just before the current one in Monaco, which was a two year stint in Kazakhstan. He’ll talk too, about the challenging nature of Kazakh culture, of how he believed that Kazakh men possessed a form of machismo that led them to feel the need to prove their strength through fisticuffs far too often for his own personal tastes, though he found his two years there to be quite irreplaceable. You’ll find this interesting also, for as it happens, the headlining boxer in tonight’s card is a middleweight from Kazakhstan named Gennady Golovkin,  who is known for his near supernatural knockout abilities. He is the reason you’ll be at this fight.
There will be four professional bouts before Golovkin comes out, and a switch will be thrown that will cause the walls of the room to shift away and reveal instead only glass, which in turn reveals the dark and sparking Mediterranean beyond the ring, and the starless sky above. In the first professional fight, you’ll see a Russian welterweight easily outpoint an Irishman, and in the second fight you’ll witness, right in front of you, a Filipino flyweight savagely knock out a favored South African. You’ll turn around and crane your neck to see a replay on the big screen behind you, and when you do, you’ll notice a woman in a black cocktail dress, sitting a few rows back, her hands over her mouth, in clear shock, with just a hint of tears welling her eyes. She’ll follow your gaze to the screen and watch the replay, over and over, never removing her hand from her mouth. Suddenly you’ll have a thought, and will turn your head in the other direction and look at the Princess. You’ll want to see how she has reacted. You are curious how a princess is supposed to react to such an act of brutality. But as you see her, she is neither mortified, like the woman behind you, nor is she cheering, like much of the crowd. She is seated, stoic. Unmoved. If she reacted at all, you’ll have missed it. The woman behind you on the other hand will be difficult for you to get out of your head. At first you’ll assume that she is a friend or relative of the South African, who, at this point, is up again and walking around. But then you’ll be struck with the thought that, perhaps, instead, this is the first time she has ever been to this sort of thing, and that, she is simply reacting as almost any person would, in any situation, to witnessing the wounding of another human being. You’ll think for a moment how strange it is that, among these cheering spectators, this woman’s reaction stands out to you as abnormal. You’ll have a very strong urge to find out what the Princess is really thinking. But of course you never will.
In the next bout, a badly out of shape Argentine crusierweight will be stopped by a fighter from the D.R. Congo. The Argentine will be so portly, that you will find it difficult to believe how he made weight in the first place. In the penultimate fight, an Australian middleweight will outpoint a Ukrainian.
And then Golovkin will come out. Suddenly, there will be Kazakh flags draped over shoulders, waved in the air, and held aloft and blocking your view. You’ll be quite curious about where they all came from. Golovkin will fight a Ghanian fighter named Osumanu Adama, who will be tough man, and will be called “The Snake.” At 22-3, he’ll enter having never been knocked out. That this will change tonight will not even be a question in your mind. You’ll witness the Snake be dropped in the 1st round. And the 6th round. And the 7th round. All by different varieties of punches, all with stunning jaw dropping power, as if Golovkin places them all in the style, time and place of his choosing. Each time, The Snake will answer the 10 count and fight on, but shortly after the third knockdown, the referee will step in and call a halt to the whole thing. Even a hardened fight fan will agree that there is no reason to continue it.
In the confusion that follows the win, the singing, the music, the confetti blown into the air, you’ll be unable to locate either the woman behind you or the Princess, and with your head swimming from too many rounds, you’ll bid adieu to your new British friends and begin to retrace your steps back from where you started, abandoning thoughts of dinner. You’ll have skipped several meals that weekend already, due to the prices you’ll have seen on the menus outside of restaurants in Monaco. When you get back to the casino, you’ll sit outside at the cafe again. You’ll order a drink that cost more than a steak dinner back home, and watch Rolls Royces drive around the circle in front of the Monte Carlo Casino. You’ll order a second drink. With every order, your server goes out of his way to let you know that your request is more than welcome. Sometimes in several languages, just to be sure the message gets through. “But of course! Mais bien sur!!” You’ll find yourself missing the waiters back in France, and that the wondering if their French inattentiveness might be malice is preferable to what you are getting in Monte Carlo.
Finally you’ll decide it is time to walk back to the Port of Hercules, back past the Ester II, and back to your bed. As you walk into the long tunnel of road that cuts through the deep rocky hillside, Ferraris race by at speeds beyond anything you have ever seen on public roads. You’ll wonder what the odds will be that one will come up over the small cement divider that separates the road from the sidewalk, and take you out.
The next day, you’ll check out of your hotel and not bother with the #100 bus. Given the amount of money you shelled out the night before on drinks, you’ll find it rather quaint, cute even, that saving such a small amount of money was something that was important to you the day before. Besides, you’ll have some doubts about whether you deserve it any more than whoever will end up with it, anyway. You’ll buy a ticket for the train back to France, and back to the rainy streets of Nice, and you’ll find your way back to Wayne’s Pub, where you believe people who are more like you spend their time. You’ll find, though, that instead of joining their conversations, you’ll sit at a small table near the wall and drink your pint, even though the place is packed with English-speaking expats. When your waitress comes to ask you if you want another drink, you won’t stop speaking in your laughable French. In your hotel room that night, well after midnight, the Super Bowl will just be getting underway. The broadcast will be in French. There will be almost no commercials. The Broncos will get routed until deep into the early French morning. You’ll begin to think about the things you’ve done. The things you want to do. The things that perhaps you’ll do. You’ll think that life is a very interesting thing. And then your mind will turn to an empty cubicle, waiting your return, and you’ll know that all of this will be like a dream soon, something that never happened. And that no matter how hard you try, some things you just cannot hold onto. And then you’ll turn, and walk out onto your darkened balcony, and stare off into the lighted foothills of the Alps, with a slight mist of rain in your face. This is how things work, you’ll understand. And once again, very soon, you will neither cheer, nor will you be mortified. You will be seated, stoic. Unmoved.