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A Night in the Foxwoods

Foxwoods Resort, submerged as it is in the misty, ancient, and somewhat decrepit woods of northern Connecticut is a weird juxtaposition of H.P. Lovecraft and Las Vegas. One expects to see “Yog Sothoth Got Divorced Here, So Can You!” on bumper stickers. 

And the sudden view, while driving along the black top that cuts through the ancestral lands of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, of glass towers scattered across the forest floor like monstrous blocks of beveled zirconium is a bit shocking.

I was there in mid-March on (I guess you could call it a) pilgrimage to Foxwoods’ MGM Grand hotel, resort, casino, and whatnot to watch and—ostensibly write about—a prize fight featuring probably the third-best boxer in the world, Sergio Martinez, and a fairly long undercard of fighters comprising boxing’s version of the League of Nations: Ireland, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Detroit, and Oxnard, Calif.

But I was also curious about the place itself. I had, after all, written about Foxwoods before, particularly its marketing campaigns to get New Yorkers, Bostonians and anyone else within reach to come up and spend at the tables, and then maybe take in the entertainment. And what entertainment. Gazing at posters ranged along the casino walls touting coming attractions, my fellow travelers and I experienced a bit of melancholy, a pop-music version of memento mori: “God, how depressing to have to end up playing these joints,” said a fellow traveler. Ah, how soon one’s star fades: Pat Benatar would, apparently, be playing Foxwoods. So would that reality star who used to sing for Poison.

Foxwoods is the largest casino in North America, though I’m not sure what that actually means (more slot machines per quarter mile than Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian combined?) I had interviewed their marketing chieftains about their 340,000 square feet of gaming space, the four hotels, 30 plus restaurants, dozens of shops, the world’s largest high-stakes bingo hall, for those who still go in for that sort of thing.

And I think that’s just in the parking tower. There’s also a hard Rock Cafe amid the piney woods. And there’s a Junior’s, which, for someone driving up from Brooklyn, creates a level of dislocation that is hard to describe.

But in spite of all that, it’s an odd place to hold a boxing match. Atlantic City I get. It’s got the requisite tackiness and squalor for boxing but also the Trump gaudiness and grandeur as foppish as a toupee, all requisite for the fistic context, plus lots of boardwalk to stagger along once you’ve tucked away a steak and a fifth. But voyaging up to James Fennimore Cooper country to watch a night of boxing? That’s one for the books, so to speak.

Face it, only a real hard-core fan of the sweet science would make that damnable drive. Slogging up there is almost as hard as slogging through, well, a James Fennimore Cooper novel. It requires driving for some 130 miles along what I’ve come to regard as “the alimentary canal of all driving,” or “The parking lot that sometimes moves”: I-95. Hell on wheels if you don’t time it right and you’re not lucky. We were reminded of this as we rolled past the Chinatown bus disaster. There it was, overturned on the opposite side, it’s decapitations facing away from us, mercifully otherwise the gawkers would have created a line of traffic leading all the way back to Scranton. That bus, I thought, had been heading back from one of very casinos I was on my way to visit. Might the ghosts of those 13 departed souls make a quick sojourn back at Foxwoods that very evening. Might we see 13 headless gamblers at the craps table at the stroke of midnight; 13 headless gamblers stopping for a chance at the felt tables before heading to their final reward? Anything’s possible at Foxwoods.  

And I wondered on that drive up, past Bridgeport, Old Greenwich, New Haven, why Sergio Martinez’s promoter Lou DiBella would have his guy fight in the middle of a forest, relatively far from major markets (MSG itself comes to mind), where the bars reputedly close at midnight and if you don’t plan on gambling or hanging with the Pequot, you’re shit out of luck. That’s what I thought until I got there, got into the hotel and into the solipsistic world of jangling slots, granite lobby columns, an infusion of some artificial scent of something like orchids that I’d smelled in Las Vegas (there must be a special casino-scent supply channel), happily burbling fountains, happy faces, sheets of water tickling a glass font behind a long Mohegan-themed counter behind which reservation agents assisted with something like ecstatic devotion.

The place was pretty much sold out and I know they weren’t papering the house. Who would be attending this event? The line of fan boys waiting for check in belied all of the cosmetology meant to gloss the natural order of things with fake civility. They were mostly characters you wouldn’t want to meet even on a well-lit street at high noon: skinheads to the last, wearing “Team Andy Lee” or “Maravilla” shirts, referring to two of the big fighters battling it out that weekend. Some were in the various fighters’ camps, most were scarred in some way or another, and all looked at one another with varying degrees of homicidal intent.

They were not going to take shit from nobody. One guy had his eye on me and he did not look pleased. I hadn’t shaved, perhaps that was it. Or maybe it was my earring, about which I’m a bit self-conscious since I just had it installed. Or the hat I was wearing, my effort to look cut from the Bert Sugar mold so as to improve my chances of sneaking down to the ring-side seats from what turned out to be simply awful seats I’d gotten with my press credential, as though the press pass I’d been given were clearly a consolation prize. As if had I not put my proboscis (maybe that was it. My long, unbroken nose indicating that I’m both a simpering Semite and person who had not had his nose broken, the boxer’s bar mitzvah so to speak) up so many rear ends to impress the credentials people, they would have handed me a mop and told me I could listen to the fight through the bathroom walls while mopping up the piss of a thousand drunken gamblers if I hadn’t been such a sycophant.   

And in spite of the fact that the venue bore the name “MGM Grand” evoking big Vegas events with sections reserved for A-listers and their howler monkeys, there were no stars that I could see unless you count Michael Buffer of the anthracite hair and the famous -- trademarked—martial adjuration, “let’s get ready to rumble” or HBO front man Jim Lampley, who, when he did finally arrive for HBO’s broadcast of the last two fights, four crass young men in front of me rose to their feet as one, nearly in tears, shouting, “We love you Jim! We love you!” to which Jim gave them a weary thumbs up, prior to heading over to the ring corner for his date with Larry Merchant, who may or may not have been there.

I didn’t see Merchant, and it definitely wasn’t Vegas. The crowd was more of the Golden Gloves variety with a generous dollop of troglodytes from the Jersey Shore, Five Towns, and points north; a contingent from Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn; and a few gambler types with arm candy. And guys at the very bottom of the intellectual ladder, such as those four in front of me who shouted “Fire the ref! No, kill the ref!” when, during one fight, the third man in the ring made the right decision to stop a fight that was a clear mismatch. Or the two guys drinking gin and tonic to my right who howled, “It’s an abomination! Stop it, dear God! Jesus Christ it’s disgusting! Kill the ref!” when one of the bouts featured two women boxers with physiognomies like fireplugs.

Yes, this was a crowd that was perhaps a notch below the demographic one encounters at the Golden Glove finals in the Felt Forum. And that’s a good thing, really. If you are going to smelt steel you might as well burn the purest coke, and frankly anyone who loves the fight game enough to drive for three hours on I-95, pack a flask of one’s own Balvenie in a gym bag (booze there is prohibitively expensive) and pay $400 to sleep in what in any other place would be an office tower, when you can just watch it all on HBO— Jim Lampley is, truly, a fight fan.

Contributor

Karl Greenberg

KARL GREENBERG is a journalist who covers sports marketing, the automotive business, and his own histrionics.

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