Monday, November 16, 2015

A City of Underdogs and Champions

Summer, 1997 - I had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to start college. Excitement buzzed in the hot, heavy summer air, and one of Albuquerque's biggest rivalries was being realized - Johnny Tapia was finally going to fight Danny Romero.

Tapia, whose boxing talent was sometimes eclipsed by his tragic personal life, was going up against Romero - a talent in his own rights who also didn't have the stigma of drug use and legal battles. The fight meant so much more than who was the superior fighter - it was a fight to prove who was Burque's true champion.

Tapia (left) with a left jab on Romero.
Photo sourced from Round by Round Boxing
On fight night, every person in Albuquerque tuned in to see the biggest fight of our lives. Round after round, I alternated between yelling and holding my breath. When Tapia's glove was raised as the winner, we cheered and Tapia did his signature back flip. It was a good night in Burque and the city was buzzing for weeks afterward. Given his personal tragedies and bad choices, Tapia couldn't keep up with Romero's squeaky clean image, but Tapia had heart, and Burque felt his love reverberate all around us. His win was our win, and this Burque son who ran high on emotion made us feel like we could do anything.

I hadn't felt that sort of excitement until Saturday night, watching New Mexico's very own Holly "The Preachers Daughter" Holm as she took the UFC Women's Bantam Weight championship, and she beat Ronda Rousey doing so. Let me be the first to admit that I don't follow MMA/UFC fights, and if I'm being completely honest, I've never had much interest in following the sport. Ronda Rousey's reputation as a fighter made her name inescapable, and when her fight against Holm was announced, my ears perked up and I started paying attention. Holm is New Mexican and her name has been floating in the news for years, and knowing she was going to be on the worldwide stage stirred something in this city that hasn't existed in a long time.

Holm's win is huge for Albuquerque for many reasons. There is the obvious - bringing home the championship belt and even further legitimizing Albuquerque as an MMA town, proving the naysayers wrong and living up to the hype and then some.

There was deeper meaning to Holm's win, however. Albuquerque desperately needed this win. Our city has felt broken for a long time now - unemployment, poverty, violence, an embattled police department, corruption running rampant through our city government and general apathy - all of which came to a head with the tragic, senseless and violent murders that happened within days of each other - one, police officer Daniel Webster and the other, four-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot in an apparent moment of road rage.

There is something that shocks the soul when a child is killed. Lilly Garcia isn't the first high profile case of a child being murdered (we are still reeling from Omaree Varela and the abuse and systemic negligence that led to his death), but Lilly Garcia's death took our city to the pinnacle of despair and the sudden need to wake up - what the hell has happened to the people of this city?

After Officer Webster's death, the head of the police officer's association made a call to action: take our city back. This deeply disturbed me - it reminds me of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again." This is coded language that only harms already marginalized communities. It's the same posturing that led Councilor Ken Sanchez to call for a youth curfew after a senseless murder committed by five young men. Suppressing poor people or young people or whatever group that is easy to scapegoat isn't the way we create change.  If we are going to take our city back, let's start by taking it back from a mayor who legitimized unnecessary violence and brutality within our police department (to the detriment of its own officers and the city at large). A mayor who has done nothing to stimulate the economy. Take our city back from an apathetic city council that is at the behest of business interests and lobbyists. Let's take our city back from the clutches of corrupt politicians who would rather make deals and line their pockets than serve our community.

Holly Holm wins the UFC Women's Bantam Weight Championship

I love Albuquerque. This isn't just where I live, but rather, it's where I'm from - born and raised, Lobo* fan from birth, authentic accent y todo (long before a viral video made it famous).  My love has been tested over the last five years, and watching Holly Holm win opened the floodgates in my heart. Her win was a moment of screaming and high fives and jumping up and down. Seeing my social media news feed bursting with Duke City pride and proudly proclaiming "505 baby!" made me smile and my boyfriend and I can't stop talking about the fight, replaying it in our minds and analyzing every move. I'm not going to lie, it feels good to rub this win in the face of those who didn't believe in Holm - those who went against the home team and rooted for Rousey, but those are just the spoils of war. This win is for all of us - for a moment in time, the whole world stopped and watched as Albuquerque New Mexico produced yet another world champion. How could we not feel proud?

There are lessons to be learned from Holm's win. Always root for the home team. Underdogs can still save the day. Burque women are nothing to f*@& with and this is a proud city, and we can be great once again.  There is a ton of work to do, and the fight to save Albuquerque from bad politics and mismanagement is far from over, but today, we are champions. We are Burque.

*I would be remiss if I didn't give a huge shout-out to the UNM football team, who upset Boise St. 31-24 on the same night as the Holm fight. Everyone's a Lobo! Woof! Woof! Woof!