The Pugilist's Cock Ring

Undressing the manly art of boxing at the Walker Art Center

"This brings it back to me, how it all started for me," Corn says, as he checks out a series of photographs of Brazilian boxers training at a gym, taken by Miguel Rio Branco. The photos were shot at slow speeds, so that the fighters appear blurry and indistinct. But the details of the scene--the peeling paint, the tape unraveling from the ropes, the dingy lighting--are vivid. For Corn, this unearths chioldhood memories of boxing in his coach's basement on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. Like the vast majority of professional boxers, Corn started out small and--aside from one ill-fated title shot overseas--pretty much stayed that way.

It's a different series of photos that seem to connect with Corn the hardest: Ana Busto's large-scale diptychs titled "Night Flights." Of the six pictures, three are of faces--the notorious promoter Don King and two unknown fighters--and the other three are of their hands. The fighters' hands are taped and battered; King's are generously bejeweled. Looking into the eyes of one of the fighters, Corn sees something familiar.

"This guy in the middle. He just looks so uncertain," Corn says. He scans the unknown fighter's face for a minute. When he speaks next, it seems that Corn is talking about himself, and the big fight that looms less than a week away. "You want to be confident," he says. "You want to think you're going to win. And then reality comes."

He moves on to the next picture and slips comfortably back into commentator mode. He points at the fighter's injuries. "He's a soldier, but you can tell he's been in a war. He's cut. He's got a mark under his eye."

As the night winds down and the partygoers spill out onto the rooftop patio for music and drinks, Corn, Peterson, and I take a final sweep through the exhibit. I ask them what they think of it overall. Peterson, who as best I can tell has never been in a modern art museum before, is more temperate in his assessment than I would have expected. "I hate to disappoint you, Mosedale. But this is pretty exciting for me. Parts of the exhibit were pansified but parts of it were really great."

Likewise, Corn expresses enthusiasm. But as we linger over Busto's photo of the doubtful fighter, Corn's mind seems suspended in the ring. "You think you're going to kick everybody's ass, and it's all going to go your way," he says. "And the next day, you're on your ass. That's life. That's boxing."

 

While not a technical masterpiece, the fight Corn puts up the following Friday night offers some of the best action seen around these parts in years--a sweaty, seesaw battle at the St. Paul Armory. For much of the eighth round, Corn does little but eat leather on the ropes. In the ninth round, the ref stops the bout, and Corn drops his third straight fight.

It's not art; it's just boxing.

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