Ballroom Brawls

A bad boxing match either ends too quickly or, like a midlist porno movie, stretches on into tedious monotony. It's hard to hit it somewhere between those two extremes, but tall, handsome Southern boy Jim Browning manages to make some pretty even matches, with enough fear and blood to make the ringside seats at his monthly fight nights well worth $42. Which fighter has the killer's instinct, and which a certain bluntness in the eyes that spells his own impending doom? While you ponder that question, you can eavesdrop on steely commentator/manager Bob Spagnola, fraternize with frequent celebrity guest Outlaw Dave and keep a close eye on folks such as "world-famous fabulous friendly Finger Furniture salesman" Ronnie Ralston (who moonlights as a referee).

Natchez-born Browning is genteel for a boxing promoter, and during his days in Orange County, California, they called his show "The Battle in the Ballroom." For about a year now, Browning's been re-creating that concept here in Houston, setting up a ring under the giant chandelier of the Sheraton Astrodome Ballroom for Houston's only regular fight night. At Browning Boxing's fights, you can call your whiskey, choose from a selection of fine cigars and scope out the "beautiful ring girls provided by Hooters," who hold up cards between rounds and throw Koozies at the audience. The result is a beautiful mix of high and low decadence. (Unfortunately the dining, on buffalo wings and overpriced hot dogs, is decidedly low.)

This month, Joel Perez, a Houston boxer ranked in the world's top ten lightweights, is the main event, but arrive early for the women's match featuring Houston's Michelle Nielsen. Nielsen started going to the Main Street Boxing Gym to lose weight -- and 60-odd pounds later, she's in good enough shape to make her pro debut. Though women's fights are popular with spectators, there's a shortage of actual gladiators, so Browning's not clear yet on who Nielsen's opponent will be. Probably not one of the Hooters girls.

-- Shaila Dewan

Browning Boxing's next fight is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 29, at the Sheraton Astrodome, 8686 Kirby. For tickets, $42 and $22, call 942-0299.

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Shaila Dewan