Olson’s Arena stood sentry over the western edge of Victoria like an ugly dog that had been in the family so long that your eyes could only see its beauty. Your gaze would skip over the lime green trim around the main doors and see instead the welcoming lobby adorned with classy black and white photos of boxers and crowds from events hosted over its fifty year existence.
The disintegrating carpet beneath your feet as you moved further into the venue was of no concern, especially when you felt like you had the best seat in the house no matter what number was on your ticket. You hardly noticed the mildew adorning the upper reaches of the exterior walls, you were so focused on the magnificent red Olson’s Arena sign that stood proudly on its roof.
At least, that’s the way you saw it if you were a regular patron.
“Are the authorities aware that this building is still in use?” Alex asked as Doc pulled his red Mazda into the sparsely populated parking lot. Well, it was mostly empty - as long as you weren’t including potholes in your census.
“The old girl will grow on you soon enough,” I told him with a weak laugh from the backseat, my eyes returning to his bag resting beside me. Everything had been going fine until Doc took the turn onto Grohman Street too tightly and hit the curb. That was when I heard the rattle of pills coming from Alex’s bag and I had spent the rest of the half hour car ride resisting the temptation to dig them out.
“Well, she does have a certain… charm to her,” Doc said, bringing his car to a bumpy stop next to a battered pickup truck. “And as long as they can keep her standing I’d rather they pay the boxers extra money instead of wasting it on renovations that are only skin deep.”
“Besides,” I added as we climbed back out into the brisk fall air, “it’s a full house every time Gregor puts on an event, so she’s not keeping anyone away. Although she might be doing her part to keep ticket prices down.”
Alex gave me a sceptical look but said no more on the subject. He slung his bag over his shoulder and we moved around to the back of the arena, where we found an unmarked door at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. The door was unlocked, as usual, and we passed through into the gloomy bowels of the building, a slowly dying, bare light bulb providing just enough illumination to avoid the various puddles of unknown liquids on the concrete floor.
I breathed in the smell of old sweat and leather and sanctioned violence that permeated the air and felt like I was coming home.
“Please tell me that the dressing rooms are not down here,” Alex said as we walked single file down a narrow hallway with no rooms leading off to either side. I briefly contemplated telling him that the public washrooms did double duty as change rooms on fight nights but chose not to torture him unnecessarily.
“No, this is just the before hours entrance,” I said as we arrived at the bottom of a metal staircase, its steps red with rust. “Our prep room will be on the second floor with all the others. Up we go.”
We climbed the stairs, our footsteps echoing in a strange, metallic melody, until we reached the ground floor. We spilled out into the middle of another hallway, this one properly lit by bright fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and I led us to the right.
We emerged into the lobby less than a minute later to find a few of the other boxers on the card huddled with their trainers and significant others. I recognized a few faces but none that I knew well enough to go out of my way to say hello to.
The scale had been set up in the small conference room at the far side of the lobby and when we arrived I was surprised to find at least a dozen reporters occupying the folding metal chairs that had been arranged in front of the raised platform on which the scale stood.
Usually only a small portion of the press bothered to show up for the weigh-ins as they tended to be extremely uneventful occasions and, being done only hours before the fights, there was no time to make use of any photos in the paper. I spotted Gregor chatting with the sportswriter for The Province and wandered over.
“Hey Jerry,” I greeted the grey haired reporter with a nod. “What’s all the fuss about, Gregor? You bribe them with dinner or something?”
“There’s talk that The Killer will be in line for a title shot if he wins tonight,” Jerry replied before Gregor could say anything. “We haven’t had a contender based on the West Coast in years – this could be front page news!”
“I see,” I replied flatly, turning to Gregor with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s not a sure thing but with a little promotional muscle behind him it might just happen,” he said with nonchalant shrug. “But he has to do his job in the ring tonight before anything can be done about that. And I’m sure your guy will prove to be quite the challenge!”
“Of course.” It was hard not wonder how much of a cut Gregor would get from that little operation. “Which room should we throw our stuff in?”
“I’ve left the keys with Raymond – I’m pretty sure you’re in ten but you’ll have to double check with him. He should be in the manager’s office. Hey, I’ll see you in a few minutes, alright? I need to finish chatting up the ink slingers before things get underway.”
When I returned to Doc and Alex I could tell by the way they looked at me that my emotions were written plainly on my face; had I been a cartoon character steam probably would have been coming out of my ears. I said nothing as I guided them back to the lobby but instead of going toward the office I turned and headed for the opposite corner of the room. When we got there I turned and spoke to them in a barely controlled whisper.
“Gregor is grooming Kofi for a title shot. That’s why all the reporters are here - to stick him on the front page with his arms raised high and some headline about him being the next big thing. Alex, he didn’t bring you in to fight. He brought you in to lose.”