If you detect a strange absence of police officers on the streets and firefighters hanging around their poles on Wednesday night, here's a hint -- the 17,000 screaming fans at Savvis Center are roughly 50 percent law-enforcement and firefighting personnel.
It's the policemen versus the firemen in the boxing ring at the 14th annual Budweiser Guns 'n Hoses event. The 18 matches, including one women's bout, each go for three rounds. Policemen and firefighters from St. Charles, Fenton, Eureka, Shrewsbury, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well as Alton and Belleville, Ill., have been training and sparring vigorously to help ensure that they leave the ring on their feet.
Overland police officer Cliff Gibson is in his third year of Guns 'n Hoses competition. His first year, he didn't quite make the cut, but last year he was permitted to fight, and he knocked out his opponent in a staggering 58 seconds. This year, it may not be so easy: Gibson faces the Granite City Fire Department's Larry LeMaster, an experienced boxer.
Gibson, like most of the Guns 'n Hoses pugilists, has been training hard with former Golden Gloves champ Tim Burke at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. For four nights per week for two months, Gibson has endured cardiovascular training, stomach-toughening exercises, boxing-fundamentals drills, sparring, sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. He has worked on his jabs, rights, hooks and uppercuts, as well as his bob-and-weave. He says the training has required a serious commitment and that he's ready to strap on the headgear, crotch protector and gloves and get it on.
Yet, when given the opportunity to talk trash, Officer Gibson declines. "I admire Larry LeMaster, as I do all the fighters," he says. "Again, this isn't about winning or losing; this is about helping out the families of fallen police officers and firefighters."
Each year, the substantial revenue generated by Guns 'n Hoses goes to the St. Louis Backstoppers, who provide financial help to the families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. This year, all money will go to the families of the approximately 350 firefighters and 50 police officers killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. With thousands of their brethren in the audience, it will be an emotional and patriotic night.
Perhaps the fight that elicits the biggest crowd reaction is the female bout, which this year pits the 145-pound Laurie Taylor of the Granite City Fire Department (2-1 in previous matches) against 140-pound Karen Berra of the St. Louis County Police Department. Berra, who has also boxed previously, is a K-9 officer who works with a German shepherd named Alan. "Pound for pound," reports Gibson, "the women are just as tough as the guys."
This year, the fights will make as much money as ever; Savvis Center is rapidly selling out. The crowd will go nuts and have a great time, as they always do, with many of the audience members rooting for their fellow officers and firefighters in a friendly rivalry. "You should hear the place erupt," says Gibson. "It is just awesome."