This is pretty much everything I know about boxing:
1. If you’re the Italian Stallion, which is pretty close to white, you always, I mean always, beat the black guy. ‘cuz that always happens in real life. Right, Gerry Cooney? Mainly because Rocky trained like this:
2. Mike Tyson used to box before those Hangover movies. And from what I remember, if he hit Zach Galifianakis in real life, the man would have had trouble remembering his own name.
3. Don’t let Clint Eastwood be your trainer. Ever.
I’ll give you a minute to get some tissue.
4. The only time Marky Mark gets upstaged? By a tweaked out Christian Bale.
5. This is no way to treat the Champ.
So I don’t know a lot about boxing, but I do know about the Fight 4 Peace.
The Loya Jirga Is Usually Never This Much Fun
Some friends and I got to join a whole bunch of Afghans on the site of the Loya Jirga to see this:
“I want to bring peace to my hometown in Afghanistan,” said Afghan-German boxer Hamid Rahimi. “I think sport has the magic to bring all the people and all religions together.”
Afghanistan was at the center of the boxing world as the 29-year-old spoke, one day before stepping into the ring for the first professional boxing match in Afghanistan in more than 30 years.
Rahimi’s scheduled 12-round bout with Tanzania’s Said Mbelwa on October 30 was dubbed “Fight 4 Peace,” with the World Boxing Organization’s unclaimed intercontinental middleweight championship at stake.
From the start it was clear that this was going be a decidedly Afghan venture: from the overzealous NDS working the gate, to the soccer ball juggling, through what can only be described as shirtless Muay Thai interpretive dance, to the solo work of some of Afghanistan’s most popular singers, there wasn’t much Vegas, just a whole lot of Kabul.
And that was awesome.
It starts with tickets…right, Charlie?
We found our tickets at a travel agent in a mall filled with…travel agents. I’ve never seen so many travel agents in a single building that wasn’t dedicated solely to travel arrangements. Apparently Afghan malls (or this one, at least) specialize in food, clothing, perfume, jewelry, and…travel.
Tickets in hand, we arrived at 7:30 for a main event scheduled for 9:30, thinking that we had plenty of time to hang out. Take pictures. And just generally be foreigners in a foreign land.
When we got there, however, we were told on no uncertain terms that no one else was going to be let in. And not just us…there were probably 50 other ticketholders lounging around the front gate that were being told the same thing. This was backed up by a whole lot of NDS folks, some of whom were carrying RPGs as their primary weapon.
If your escalation of force starts at RPG, my hat’s off to you, sir. And I’m going to listen to whatever you have to say while you’re waving that RPG around like it’s a baton.
The NDS were being told by folks at the inner gates that there wasn’t enough room: apparently they’d oversold the event, and there were probably going to be a lot of disappointed ticketholders. Including us.
Difference was: we’re foreign white people. Evidently all the other white people had had the foresight to drive up in their armored cars, slap badges against the interior glass, and make their way inside.
We weren’t that bright.
Our driver had dropped us off, since we didn’t know what we’d be facing. So we were thinking maybe this, while interesting, wasn’t going to be as much fun as we hoped. Finally, after some phone calls and a lengthy negotiation wherein we explained to the NDS commander that yes, these three Afghans (that we’d just met) were our translators, that we worked for a terribly important US government organization, and should be allowed inside, we made our way up the hill.
I know…we pulled the “we are foreigners and therefore awesome” card. I get the hypocrisy. But at this point we were past that first gate, so I got over my moral qualms pretty quickly.
So…past the gate.
Through three more checkpoints.
And four patdowns.
Finally, though, an hour after we got there, we found our seats inside.
While I can say with a fair degree of certainty that this may have been the only time the Loya Jirga building has rocked out to a techno beat (pretty sure the DJ watched Night at the Roxbury…a lot), it was, as most social events like this are here, a decidedly male crowd.
Only slightly louder than your average Afghan wedding, everyone made the appropriate polite noises for the soccer juggling, the singing, and the shirtless Muay Thai interpretive dance (complete with decidedly non-Islamic greetings between the fighters), until the pre-fight video interviews kicked off.
Then it got…louder.
By the time Rahimi entered the room, it was almost deafening. The room wasn’t completely full, but given the price of admission ($60/ticket) it was surprising to see how many people did show up.
Since we hadn’t scored the VIP passes, we ended up on the ground floor with mostly Afghans. Which, as it turned out, was probably a lot more fun than we would have had in the VIP section.
Pre-fight rituals commenced: national anthems, introduction of the fighters, and the prerequisite massive cheering for Rahimi from the home crowd.
As a fight…it was actually pretty good. More showboating on the part of Mbelwa than was necessary (or safe: at the end of a round he made a throat-slitting motion in Rahimi’s direction…not a terribly bright idea given the long drive to the airport), but overall it was a solid contest between fairly matched fighters.
If I was scoring the fight, I’d have had it pretty even up through the first four rounds, with no one getting a clear advantage. Going into the fifth, though, Rahimi definitely had the upper hand, and the ref stopped the fight in the seventh after Rahimi got a shot in at Mbelwa’s shoulder.
Even though Mbelwa seemed willing to go on, that was it…the first professional boxing matching in Afghanistan in 30 years was over.
Not the most amazing fight you’ll ever see, but a solid fight, nonetheless.
And the room exploded in the best possible way: cheering, clapping, yelling, smiling all around.
It was a good time.
And then the AUP hugged me.
You have to understand something about this next part: for most of us as expats, even though we work with Afghans on a daily basis, we live very separate social lives. This is mostly due to security concerns (being seen with us can be dangerous at times), but some of it comes down to plain old colonialist thinking.
Which is sad.
For us as expats to be in a room filled with several hundred Afghans, enjoying any kind of moment with them, is something sadly unusual.
So when this bear of an Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) officer and his friend climbed over several chairs to hug me and my friends (several times) it was one of the defining moments of my time here in Afghanistan.
Not because of any larger conclusions that could be drawn about our impact here writ large.
Not because of any grand statements those hugs made about how different things here than they were under the Taliban.
Not because of any cosmic connection we suddenly felt because of Rahimi’s win.
None of that.
It was amazing because it was simply this: for a brief moment we were humans being…wonderfully human.
The hometown hero triumphed.
Good won, because in that moment there was no place for evil.
And somehow that made a whole lot of things just…better.
This changes nothing. Not really.
I contemplated constructing this painful extended metaphor of Rahimi as Afghanistan…struggling with its foes, and ultimately emerging triumphant from its conflicts. That somehow the lack of ring girls (dudes in khakis and t-shirts, instead) meant something about the male domination of the country, and the continuing need for the championing of women’s rights. Or that the joy felt was the sort of joy Afghans should feel knowing that they have the power to defeat this insurgency, if only they just…believe.
Unless you’re wearing ruby slippers and you’re trying to get home to Auntie Em, it’s going to take a lot more than that to keep this country moving in the right direction.
So nothing probably changes because of tonight.
Tomorrow’s news will probably be of more bombings, chaos, and death.
Sure, the tickets were priced well above what the common Afghan could afford, catering to a financial elite that will likely evaporate with the 2014 drawdown.
And this is Kabul, which should never be a litmus test for the reality of the country as a whole.
All of that? Completely true.
Also true? This from Rahimi:
“This belt is not mine, this belt is Afghanistan’s, it’s yours. I love you.”
So tonight, for a moment, everything was all right in the Loya Jirga. And for tonight, for right now, that’s good enough.
Until next time, you stay on that sunny side, Kabul.
- Afghan-German Boxer Fights In Kabul For Peace (rferl.org)
- Rahimi Prepares For Historic Boxing Match (rferl.org)
- Hamid Rahimi Stops Said Mbelwa at “Fight 4 Peace” (boxingscene.com)
- STAGE TUBE: ROCKY – THE MUSICAL Releases German Trailer! (broadwayworld.com)