It’s many a young man’s fantasy, distilled to its beer-commercial essence: Fighting, sexy women and loud music.
Last week’s Fite Nite in Conway lived up to the billing, with four hours of testosterone-laden entertainment on each of two succeeding nights.
In its 26th year, Fite Nite is an amateur boxing competition organized by the University of Central Arkansas chapter of Sigma Delta Tau fraternity, and sponsored by Budweiser, Mastercraft Boats, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and Papa John’s Pizza. Anyone can sign up to fight in matches that consist of three two-minute rounds, held off-campus at a ring assembled inside a cramped garage at the National Guard Armory.
According to Justin Talley, this year’s Fite Nite coordinator, there was no shortage of willing participants, with 11 fights the first night, and 10 fights the second night.
“One-third of the fighters are UCA students, but the rest are from all over Arkansas,” Talley said.
Every Sig Tau has a role, from directing cars to replacing mouthguards that are knocked out during the fights. Each one of them had a demeanor so sober and earnest you could almost forget they are wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Scrot” in big black letters. (Pronounce “scrot” with a long o sound. It’s a term of affection within the fraternity.)
There are rules and experienced judges like Bill Fagan, who normally works at Golden Gloves competitions, but has been scoring Fite Nite bouts for the last 15 years. The referee, Matt Bartlett, boxed in the Army and in Golden Gloves tournaments.
“This is not my motif,” Bartlett said, “I was a serious boxer, and I don’t approve of this kind of thing. But it’s fun, the kids have fun, and I like the atmosphere.”
As he says that, the lights go down, dramatic music plays, and the announcer says, “Let’s get ready . . . to shake some ass!” But first, a soloist sings the National Anthem. Then two dozen scantily-dressed UCA sorority girls parade through the tunnel to their seats next to the ring. These are the contestants in the Mastercraft Boats Miss Knockout competition. Already, the fights are a sideshow.
The women wear miniscule athletic shorts with Greek letters sewn on the rear, and strategically ripped white tank tops provided by the sponsor. They dance and jiggle as they wait to carry the round card between bells. They are judged by their enthusiasm. Most exaggerate the bend necessary to get through the ropes, strut provocatively in front of the judges’ table, and “accidentally” drop the round card so that they have to, well, pick it up.
Gina Messina, last year’s Miss Knockout, came to Fite Nite this year dressed in white pants and an orange halter top. She seemed shy and soft-spoken.
She said that “your chances are better if you do a few dance moves, just to get the crowd going,” and that being ogled by several hundred of her fellow college students didn’t bother her.
“C’mon, a bathing suit is more revealing than this,” she said.
The fighters are less concerned with appearances. Categorized by weight, they range from tall and lanky to short and stocky, united by a lack of boxing skills.
In the makeshift locker room, Josh McQuain of Morrilton said he had just returned from Iraq, and had only decided to enter the competition the night before. He had not trained in any way, besides “drinking a lot of beer in the last two weeks,” but he was not nervous.
“They ain’t shootin’ at me,” he said.
Most of the fights were ugly displays of boxing, with wild swings into empty air, men falling into and around each other, some blunt pummeling of unfortunate boxers pinned against the ropes, and a lot of tired clinches.
But the occasional connected punch, plus Miss Knockout antics, sustained the standing-room only crowd, which numbered as many women as men. There were no refreshments inside the hot and stuffy room, crammed with bleachers, folding chairs and bodies. (No beer is served outside in dry Faulkner County either, despite the brewery support.)
“I would say this is the biggest social event at UCA,” said senior Erica King, who volunteered to help with the event. “It’s the only one where everyone shows up.”
And there’s no doubt what’s most important. When the last boxing match is over, Miss Knockout contestants are called to the ring and the winner is announced. This year it’s Cristin Busby. Earlier in the evening, she’d detailed her preparation for the competition – sessions on a tanning bed and having her roommate wrap her breasts with tape to make them extra buoyant. Her mother, she said, tore her tank top just right.
After collecting her plaque and $100 prize, Busby was asked the eternal pageant question: How does it feel?
“I was thinking I should have worked out, but I guess it is all right now.” She left to pose for photos with her proud mother.