Taking Boxing to the Streets

Who knew watching two people beat the crap out of each other could be so much fun? I didn’t, until I went to a Hoosier Weight Boxing match. Hoosier Weight is normal, everyday people boxing in the ring. And St. Louis eats it up. We lick the plate and then ask for more, because it’s people like you and me up there, taking the hits and dishing it out.

It’s no wonder that Hoosier Weight Boxing matches have become major social events in St. Louis. Some fights have been so good, they have become myth. I still hear stories about the time Pablo Weiss boxed Thomas Crone; that was the fight to see. The locations make Hoosier Weight Boxing matches unique. Instead of having the fights in some run-down gym, founder/organizer Steve Smith uses St. Louis to his advantage, booking fights all over the city: outside the City Museum, on a blocked-off cul-de-sac on The Hill, even an art gallery. Again, who knew?

Steve Smith did. Smith liked boxing so much he wanted to make it interesting to the general public. Frequently dressed in vintage clothing and a classy hat, Smith is a man about town who knows just about everyone. When I asked Smith for an interview, he suggested I join him and his grandmother, Elanie Murray Fouche, for lunch and some hat shopping at Levine’s down on Washington. And yes, I got a hat, too.

Tell me how you got started.
I’d been boxing for about four years and training off and on. But the fights that I had been in and had gone to watch were not really all that fun, and I couldn’t get people for the life of me to go with me to these things. But I liked going to the fights, especially amateur fights. I had this good friend, Peter Neukirch from Chicago, [who] would come down to St. Louis and we had just started to get to a point where we could spar. I wanted to have a barbeque, one that nobody would want to miss, [with] Peter and I boxing each other. I was going to hold it in my backyard, although I had a friend at the time who started panicking and got my roommate involved. I guess they thought people would start turning over cars and lighting houses on fire.

Who judged?
If I remember correctly, it was Bev Hacker, Larry Weir, and then Fred Hessel. We sort of said, “Okay, who wants to judge?”

You didn’t have “real” judges?
It wasn’t like we decided who to ask three weeks ahead of time. It was more like, “OK, who here knows boxing pretty well? OK, why don’t you judge?” And we didn’t even score it all that accurately. They called it a draw, even though I did knock Peter down. We had a rematch in my backyard and that’s when we started putting up the ropes. I put out the word and about 150 showed up for that one.

Did you always call it Hoosier Weight?
I called it Hoosier Weight the first time out. I was just sitting around thinking, “What should I call this? What would be fun?” And then we had it in my backyard and we had two fights on the card. That’s when Pablo Weiss [The Jabbin’ Jew] fought Dave Stokes [The Punching Republican]. We had more formal judging, we put carpet down on the ground, and we had a snow cone machine. That’s when it started to get a little more festive.

John Brown, the owner of Ringside Boxing Equipment, wound up sending me a title belt that year. I mean, I had seen his picture in [boxing] catalogs. He was very supportive of what we did. From there, we started jumping around different backyards around town, and more and more people would come by.

Tell me about the belts.
The first belt was decorated by Katy Fischer. She put beer bottle caps on it. Schlafly is a big supporter and actually made a belt themselves. They have the super-large beer cap in the center. That one is really cool. Annette Vinsion made the one with the alligator head; you can see that one at the Way Out Club. Jenna Bauer redid the original Hoosier Weight belt. She used bullets on that one and Sara Ursini did one with a grenade on the front. That one is hanging up at the Famous Bar.

Elanie Murray Fouche: Which Famous-Barr is it hanging in?
It’s not a store, Grandma; it’s actually a bar bar. It’s not like Macy’s or the May Company.

Tell me about the new gym.
I wanted to have an opportunity for regular people to box. This way, you can be 30 years old; you can train. Once you’re prepared enough, then you can box and be in an environment where you want to box. It’s real cheap to join, and you can try it out for free. We’ve got tons of classes. We’ve got kids-only classes, adult-only classes, and all-ages classes. We’ve got six coaches. Not only do we have regular people, like airport security guards to SLU law students, now I also have kids from the neighborhood. I’m a mentor and I help out around town. And this is very hands-on, where the kids are coming in and we’re teaching them discipline and getting them to exercise through boxing. And now were expanding and starting a chess club and tutoring, which is really kind of fun. Granted, it also might drive me crazy, but it will be worth it.

Smith has another round of Hoosier Weight Boxing scheduled for February 4, a few days before the Mardi Gras grand parade. This round will take place in the Soulard Market Gymnasium at 7th and Lafayette—a beautiful landmark that most people haven’t heard of. There will only be 800 tickets sold, so get them while you can. To find prices and times, go to www.pandaac.org. VIP seating is available for $35 and includes free beer and ringside seats.

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