Blood on the mat. Sweat in the ring.
A quarter-century ago, those were weekly sights at the brick-laden fortress known today simply as “The Armory.” Boxing has been largely absent from San Francisco for 25 years — the last title fight in the City by the Bay was in 1992.
Now gloves are set to fly at the “Madison Square Garden of the West” once again, and two San Francisco natives are on the card to represent their hometown in a historic fight.
Karim “Hard Hitta” Mayfield, of the Fillmore, and Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller, of the Bayview, each will fight Saturday, bringing boxing’s high stakes back to San Francisco.
For the ‘Hard Hitta’ in particular, this is a comeback tale. His opportunities seemed limitless in 2011, but after a 2016 loss to a challenging opponent — Bakhtiyar Eyubo — who at the time was 11-0 with 10 KO’s, Mayfield is ready to redeem himself.
“I won the fight but the nod didn’t go my way,” Mayfield, 37, told the San Francisco Examiner.
Showtime commentators, “fans in attendance and a worldwide outcry” viewed the match as Mayfield’s win, according to boxingscene.com, but the judges didn’t agree.
Sitting at the barbecue restaurant Black Bark in the Fillmore (or as Mayfield calls it, “The ’Mo”), Mayfield is optimistic he has what it takes to win the World Boxing Union Welterweight title against the undefeated Miguel Dumas on Saturday.
Still, to some, even bringing boxing back to San Francisco is a victory.
Legendary California politico John Burton, a former state senator, assemblymember and Democratic party chair, grew up in San Francisco and recalled the bygone era of boxing by the Golden Gate.
Boxing in The City “used to be a big, big, big deal,” he said.
The National Hall on Mission Street, for instance, had Friday night boxing through the late 1940’s, Burton said. Additionally, the Cow Palace featured boxing, and it took place at a ring on South Van Ness Avenue at the site of a current car wash.
“I actually boxed at the YMCA and fought with the Salesian Boy’s Club out there in the Bayview,” he said, referring to his childhood. He and his friends would report their wins to Eddie Muller, a long-time boxing columnist for the San Francisco Examiner who was nicknamed “Mr. Boxing.”
That heyday lasted up through the 1960’s, he said, until it faded from The City.
“Boxing was an integral part of the Armory’s history, and San Francisco history,” Audrey Joseph, director of events at the Armory, said in a statement. “We couldn’t be prouder to host this historic night in our venue.”
In the eyes of Board of Supervisors President London Breed, Mayfield is already a champ. She grew up with Mayfield and his family, just two blocks from each other in the Fillmore. In 2008, she said, Mayfield helped her reach out to kids in gangs to help them see a better life.
“The boxing was secondary. He’s an artist, he made great things happen at the center,” Breed said.
Mayfield recalled one summer day when his brother, himself and Breed brought a bus filled with gang-affiliated kids to Mayfield’s mother’s property in the East Bay to camp. The kids fought at first, and fists flew. Later, though, they found peace, and played in swimming pools together.
“It was literally me and my brother cried on the last night,” Mayfield said. “We was blessed we saw that happen.”
Breed recalled gang warfare in the 1980s and 1990s, and said, “The fact that Karim was able to come through all of that unscathed and be this hero in the neighborhood is like, a miracle.”
Mayfield said boxing helped broaden his horizons, and show him what was possible outside the violence of The City. He traveled to Russia, England and the Virgin Islands, and soon he’ll head to Israel.
“I’ve been able to see the world through boxing,” he said. “They say from the ’Mo to HBO.”
And on Saturday, Mayfield will bring his pugilistic artistry from the world to the Armory.