A New Wrinkle in the Face on the Barroom Floor? Promoter Bill Grier Gets Drinkers to Fight for Fun
Sylvester Stallone might call it sissy stuff. The Amateur Athletic Union calls it a "garbage operation." In fact it may be both, but that doesn't bother Bill Grier, a 37-year-old ex-adman turned boxing promoter (sort of) from Phoenix. What Grier has done is to take the old, wide-open Western saloon brawl, add a few rules, a 14-foot ring and boxing gloves, and let the drinking customers in Arizona bars flail away at each other. His Barroom Brawlers Inc. turns a profit by charging less pugnacious imbibers a $3 to $5 cover to watch.
In the past two years Grier has staged more than 2,000 bouts, sometimes 24 a night. He is under no illusion that his cards contribute anything to the art of pugilism. "Most of these people don't know what the hell they're doing," he admits cheerily. "A lot of these are grudge matches between guys who would settle it in the parking lot if it weren't for us. And they can't get hurt too bad with 16-ounce gloves—they're about as soft as pillows."
Grier concedes he might be in legal trouble if a contestant were seriously injured. It hasn't happened yet, and Grier doesn't think it will because, he insists, "We're out for fun, not blood." Would-be battlers are approximately matched as to weight and experience. Each must undergo at least a semblance of a prefight physical conducted by a doctor or, often, a paramedic. In addition to oversize gloves, their hands must be taped. Each round of the three-round bouts lasts a minute and a half, not the usual three minutes of the prize ring. Women and kids are sometimes contestants, though those under 18 must have their parents present. Winners get trophies; losers (and often winners, too) nurse their lumps.
Referees are instructed to stop the fight before lasting harm is inflicted. Mostly the sheer ineptitude of the pugilists precludes much damage. Far more contenders hit the canvas from exhaustion than from knockout wallops. The nearest thing to an all-out brawl, says Grier (who is divorced), "came when a husband and wife tried to clobber each other." Appalled, the crowd forced them to stop.
Not everyone, however, looks benignly on Grier's idea of barroom fun. Colorado banned his promotional efforts, but when the Arizona Athletic Commission tried to shut him down, a superior court judge threw out the suit.
Grier keeps all of the gate receipts, with the various bars he works contenting themselves with the added tipplers his bouts attract. But he says his idea has not made him rich. "I got into this because it's interesting," he says. "People love this and I've had no riots." Grier carefully avoids claiming that he himself can lick anyone in the house. "I'm here to make a living," he observes sensibly, "not to get my brains knocked out."
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