In the community of Dam Head, the professional boxer Tsetsi Davis has built his own ring and launched a fight club where the youths come to settle their feuds with gloves rather than with guns.
Dam Head is a small community close to Spanish Town. When you leave the main road, it seems you’ve reached the countryside of Jamaica. Nobody goes there unless necessary. The roads are muddy, full of pot holes, flooded when it rains. There is no store, no jobs neither, and goats freely roam the place. A lot of illiterate youths live here, looking for something to do. It is said to be a very volatile community, and so it is. The two main gangs from Spanish Town, One Order and Clansman, have spread their tentacles up there, dividing the youths. Over the past few years, Dam Head had been nothing but a dead end, a no man’s land where people used to live in fear under the yoke of organized crime. But things have changed. Every Sunday night, the youths from the nearby communities come to Dam Head. Wearing their nicest clothes to impress girls, they cross the community in small laughing groups, up to the bubbling spot. Music, lights, laughters, cars driving all around, it looks like Kingston down here ! Life, after all, has come back to Dam Head. Thanks to boxing, thanks to Tsetsi Davis.
THE WOODEN SQUARE
The wooden square of Dam Head.
Incredible Jamaica ! Rigth here, lost in the middle of nowhere, stands the most beautiful boxing ring I’ve ever seen. It is a wooden ring, a hand-made one. Standing in front of it, the 39 year-old professional boxer Tsetsi Davis explains : I went into the woods to cut the trees. Then we built it up with my brother. It all started early last year, at his brother’s birthday party. I had no money to buy him a present, so I said :come outside, me give you a free round. His brother, Eric “ Club Rat ” Davis, is a keen boxer, but also a keen drinker and smoker. Not a professional boxer at all, but he’s never refused a fight. The two men went down the stairs of Club Rat’s house and started to fight in the middle of the yard. People passing by took a stop to have a look. Fifteen minutes later, several dozens of them were shouting and laughing at Club Rat who was knocked down by his brother. But he got up and they resumed the fight. At the end, we gave our gloves to the people-them, we put a light above them and they faught till the middle of the night. The youths challenged one another, sometimes bare-handed, in the middle of the muddy yard. The next week, people came early and we organized everything. A fight club was born, with neither rules nor gloves. Tsetsi Davis got a few pairs of worn gloves, finally, some boxing headgears, and started to teach a few things to the youths about boxing. There were so many people, says Tsetsi, those in the back said they could see nothing. So I had the idea to build the ring.
THE BLACK BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH
Today is a rainy day. Club Rat sweeps the water from the plastic covers laid on the ring, looking at a threatening sky with confidence. It ah-go good tonight, man, he smiles, exhibiting his golden tooth. Club Rat takes the fight club very seriously. Every Sunday evening, he sets up a little table at the back of the yard, to sell some white rum. At the end of the show, when people go back home, he desperately tries to sell some DVDs shot during the former evenings. Support the fight club ! he shouts. But the youths don’t have enough money to buy beers, they ain’t gonna buy a DVD. Ah so it go, shruggs Rat. We keep the vibes alive, anyhow - that’s the most important thing. Club Rat and Tsetsi never got any support in life. The boxer trains at the GC Foster Gymnasium where the material is in poor condition. The ring dates from the 70’s, it was given to Jamaica by the Cubans – Jamaica was then run by a socialist. One old scratched bag only, no shower, no gloves, nothing. The floor of the ring has been covered up with torn blankets, the fighters just stumble down every minute. The worn ropes of the ring have been repaired so many times, they regularly break in the middle of a round. During a fight, a young boxer leaned against them and suddenly fell backwards as the rope broke, landing 5 feet lower on his neck. He recovered quickly but this fall might have been a dramatic one.
That’s where Tsetsi Davis comes from. He knows it hardcore.Boxing is my revenge on life, he says while driving his old car which is falling apart. As a youth, my step-father used to beat me every day. I was just a child growing wild.Thus bred in the midst of pain and fear, Tsetsi became an outraged boy who faught every other boy from the community. Until he met a boxing coach. He put me on a ring for the first time of my life, in front of one of his pupils. I was scared, I knew nothing ‘bout boxing. The youth started to beat me down. Tsetsi knew nothing about the art of boxing, but he already had that fighting spirit. All of a sudden, he punched back his opponent with all his strength. No lie, the boy hit the ground 4 feet further, and never got up. The coach yelled at me : Wooh, what have you done ?! I got scared and ran away. When I came back, the coach told me : My youth, if you train properly, you’ll be a great boxer one day. He did. Boxing in Jamaica, though, has not been very popular during his days. He went boxing in different countries and has quite a serious record (more than 60 amateur fights and 10 professional ones). But the island not being recognized on the international scene, no money was invested in boxing and Tsetsi’s career suffered from it. Four years ago, laughs a coach at GC Foster, there were only 25 professional boxers in Jamaica ! Thus, although he trains professionaly several hours a day, Tsetsi does not make a living out of boxing, he works as a blacksmith, shoeing horses at Caymanas Park - where the races take place. But the work is few, he complains. It’s hard sometimes to feed my family. Tsetsi lives in a two rooms house, outside Dam Head, with his little boy and a new-born child. His trophies are all over the place. He shows us a picture of his mentor. He was my coach – I wan everything for him, to fullfill his dreams. He died, a few years ago.”
LEATHER AGAINST LEAD
It’s 8 PM, a few dozens of people are in Club Rat’s yard, waiting for show time. The rain has almost stopped but the place is muddy and the cars block the way. Earlier in the afternoon, Rat and a friend climbed a nearby tree to fix a ligth above the ring - it dangerously swings in the wind. The younger youths have already sat in the first row, listening to the hit song of the fight club. It’s been recorded by Doctor Bird, says Rat. He is a young artist living nearby. The tune quotes Tsetsi Davis, Club Rat and describes a - “bif”, “baf”, “bouf” - fight on the ring, over a dynamic dance hall riddim. Boxing and music have always got along very well, it’s all about determination and decisive instants. Rat dances in the middle of the ring in front of a delighted crowd – he is a real showman. In the back, a gambler has laid his board on a table and attracted all the kids from the community. The game is simple : you chose a square on the board and throw the dices. If you end up on the right square, you win. Else, you lose. Kids gravely bet their candies they quickly retrieve anytime they lose, half-amused, half-scared. A teenager girl gets on the ring, acting rough. She looks around in the crowd and suddenly points her finger at another girl : “ You me want fight ! Come up here.” Tsetsi acts as a referee and some friends from the boxing club act as coaches in each corner, advising the fighters. The two girls put on their gloves and headgears and meet in the middle of the ring : “ Fight !” As soon as the first blows land, the crowd gets ecstatic ! The youths shouts in patois, laugh and scorn. Jamaicans have an inborn sense of spectacle. They love it bad, as they say. Life to the fullest, noisy, dirty if it has to, joyful no matter what. As a matter of fact, Jamaicans hate those who “spoil the joy ” of any event. Life is a stage and every one’s got to play their part with as much enthousiasm as possible, it is a matter of dignity.
On the ring, the first girl eventually drives her opponent to her knees under a general “Hooray !” Triumphant, she speaks up : “ You nah see, me told you me would ah-revenge pon you, girl ! You shouldn’t stole the man of me sister !” The defeated girl mumbles and walks away. Tsetsi later comments : We never knew there was a feud between the two girls. They setlled it through boxing rather than to start a war. That’s what most of the yout
hs do here, they use gloves rather than bullets. That’s one way for Tsetsi to fight against crime. But he also fights against the morbid mood of the community. “Respect due to Tsetsi Davis ! shouts a man in a little bar of Dam Head where we’ve sought refuge from the rain. Before, we used to live like rats in our community. Everybody fraid fi go out at night, fear of socializing. Looking at each other like animals, man. Now, we can come out in the evening, enjoy a one-two beers, smoke a little spliff and enjoy the show, man. And live as human beings again.” Club Rat moves around him giving fake punches : So whey you ah-say ? You come fight tonight
- With you ? No problem, man. Me ah-go beat you down, you know.”
Our friend never showed up for the fight – but he was already quite drunk when we met him in the early afternoon. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is his vibes, how everybody in the bar had fun when he was boasting of being the best boxer “inna di world !” Fun is all the people from Dam Head are longing for. Far from the writing on the wall of the very same bar that reads “One Order”. This is the mark of the beast, the name of one of the two most powerful gangs of Spanish Town. It rules a part of the community, selling drugs and racketting people. Another part is ruled by the other gang, Clansman. When they fight each other, they don’t really wear gloves nor headgears, and stray bullets have killed many innocent citizens. That’s why the people from Dam Head stay home at night, the killing time. Of course, the fight club did not put and end to the gang wars. In 2010, the police and the army raided Tivoli Gardens, in Kingston, the former stronghold of the main criminal organization in Jamaica. The Don, or godfather, of the gang, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was arrested and extraded to America. Crime is a political issue in Jamaica. Dudus was supported by the Prime Minister of the time, whose guilty complaisance was thus publicly established. He had to resign soon after. With the downfall of Dudus and his organization, crime stepped back in a Jamaica – at least for a while -, and the new government intends to benefit from it. A lot of policemen are sent daily into the worst communities of the island, maintaining a fragile peace. In the middle of the process, Tsetsi has launched his fight club, helping to sort things out in his own community.
End of part 2