SXSW has little bit of something for everyone. Be it music, arts, food, or booze — every day feels like a corporate sponsored party. That being said, after several days of drinking Lone Stars next to seemingly the same dude in fingerless gloves and a cabbie hat, it was time to break the monotony… by going to an underground fight night featuring rap, DJs, and circus performers.
Friday Night Throwdown, the New York-based “male model fight club” took its operation down to SXSW. Instead of the usual New York-boxers-versus-models, this FNT would feature six NYC fighters against fighters from Texas. Spectators were given a date and time and awaited details of the secret location and special guests.
When we arrived at the South Texas Gym, the woman working the door informed us that things were running a little behind schedule. We were given two options — come inside to listen to the DJ and have a few beers or go do something else in the area and come back in an hour. Considering the cab just dropped us off at a strip mall gym between a Thrift Town and Dollar General, miles from the rest of SXSW action, our options were limited.
The DJs provided a nice change-of-pace from the Mumford & Sons-ish music heard on South Congress and East Austin, but at a decibel level that made it difficult to do anything but stare at your phone or people-watch. Luckily, the people-watching was off-the-charts. From multiple guys going with the Macklemore look to a handlebar-mustache-and-vest crew to a dead ringer for Rick Ross to women dressed for a high-end club to a couple in their mid-60s wearing Costco jeans, it was like one of those “celebrate diversity” Coca-Cola commercials.
After an additional hour of waiting, the fighting mercifully began. The emcee/play-by-play commentator/hype man did his best to energize the crowd, which had become somewhat lethargic after standing around for so long.
The first New York fighter, the aptly-named “Caveman,” seemed to commit to his role like Daniel Day Lewis. The bushy-bearded and longhaired Caveman swung wildly from the opening bell and only stopped when peeled away by the referee. His crazed performance earned him a victory and, more importantly, ignited the crowd.
Most of the rest of the fights followed the same blueprint – raw, super aggressive fighters wildly chased each other around the ring for five one-minute rounds until one got in an awkward position and had to be separated by the referee.
Any time a big punch landed, the eclectic crowd became unified in a bloodthirsty roar.
The fighting was fun if not consistent or incredibly skilled. Matches were decided by the inexact “who gets the most applause” method but, despite the bigger NY-based crowd cheering, the right guy seemed to win.
What separated this event from a run of the mill fight night, though, was the entertainment between the boxing. Early, an acrobatic performance by a Cirque du Soliel-esque trapeze artist caused a man with jailhouse tats and a gold grill to worry like my grandmother when he muttered to his friend, “She’d better hold on tight or she’s going to break her neck.”
The next break in the action featured a sword swallower who, let’s be honest, only succeeded in creeping everyone out. The crowd happily watched men repeatedly punch each other in the face for an hour but the minute the sword swallower got to work, there were cringes and groans all around.
But the big news of the New York versus Texas evening was the appearance of several special guest rappers: Houston’s Mike Jones and Queens’ Mobb Deep.
Jones happily flashed his hook-em-horns University of Texas hand sign for several picture takers which prompted the girl behind me to ironically ask, “Who is Mike Jones?”
Mobb Deep took to the ring after the fourth fight and killed it . Prodigy and Havoc’s performance of their classic “Survival of the Fittest” showed why the rap veterans still have plenty of gas left in the tank.
Overall, the night was exactly what the doctor ordered. As entertaining as SXSW is, the days and nights tend to blend together. FNT Austin was a chance to see something completely different (without having to watch Lady Gaga get puked on).
Now back to drinking next to my buddy in the fingerless gloves on Congress Street.
(Photos: Tod Seelie/ANIMALNewYork)