It’s the time of year when a sports fan’s fancy turns to college basketball. But there’s another kind of March Madness going on in the often forgotten sport of boxing. A new international league is trying to make boxing relevant again. The World Series of Boxing wraps up its first regular season this week with playoffs and a championship just around the corner. The WSB has 12 teams in cities from Beijing to Paris to Baku to Los Angeles. It features some of the world’s best amateur boxers. They’re paid and treated like professionals but with the promise that they can still fight in the Olympics.
The Avalon Hollywood club, just north of L.A.’s legendary intersection at Hollywood and Vine. has seen its share of music and entertainment greatness. The Beatles had their first West Coast appearance there; the club has featured comedian Jerry Lewis, singer/actress Judy Garland, jazz great Louis Armstrong and countless others.
But on a recent Monday night, before a big show, the sounds coming from backstage were the steady rip, rip, rip of adhesive tape. Young boxers, members of the L.A. Matadors of the World Series of Boxing, are getting their hands taped up before a match against a team from Memphis, Tenn.
“If it’s too tight, too loose, you let me know,” says L.A. head coach Manny Robles, as he uses gauze and adhesive tape to turn Joseph Diaz’s hands into padded weapons.
Robles fixes his eyes on 18-year-old Diaz, who’s about to fight his first match at the club. “This is L.A.,” Robles says, trying to get Diaz in the right frame of mind.
“You don’t know what pressure is until you come to L.A. This is your backyard. You ain’t gonna let no man come in and disrespect you in your own backyard, right?”
Read more: NPR