Each year, spectators descend upon the quiet farming town of Chivarreto, in the municipality of San Francisco el Alto for one of Semana Santa’s most unique events: bareknuckle boxing, or Pelea a puño limpio (Fight with a clean fist). The yearly fights are held in the early afternoon on Good Friday of Holy Week.
No one seems to know the origins of the event, but they all know that the community has held the fight annually for generations now. “This event has a long history that dates back to our great great grandfathers,” said Miguel, a 46-year-old resident of Chivarreto who hasn’t missed a fight in the last 20 years. “We don’t know how exactly it started, but we have carried it out each year.”
“This really is a beautiful event,” he adds.
The rules are really quite simple: no drunks, no children, each fight is voluntary, and keep it above the belt.
“This is our tradition here in Chivarreto,” said Diego, a 60-year-old resident of the small town. “Outside of Semana Santa, we do not believe in fighting. But when Good Friday comes around, everyone in town goes out to watch boxing.”
Each fight lasts about a minute or less. The crowd shouts at the fighters as they spar in the ring. Each blow is announced by the Master of Ceremonies, Alberto Maldonado, over the loudspeaker. Mr. Maldonado is well versed in his play-by-play style of narrative, channeling the vocal rhythms of the classic boxing announcer from a by-gone era in the United States.
The office of the community’s mayor is responsible for putting the event together every year. They organize the volunteers to maintain order, and supervise the logistics of the fights.
The matches are monitored by a group of referees and volunteers in and around the ring. These volunteers from the community also contribute to the security of the event.
Chivarreto’s boxing has grown in notoriety as well. Every year, it draws thousands of attendees and participants from across the country, and the world. According to residents of Chivarreto, past events have drawn participation from Mexicans, Koreans, Chinese, Hondurans, and El Salvadorians.
The popularity of the event and the international attention has led the mayor, Manuel Pérez, to begin to charge a fee to anyone who wishes to take photos. Media pays Q.100 (13.63USD), while visitors that wish to take photos pay Q.50 (6.81USD).
The event has undergone changes in the last decade. According to residents of Chivarreto, in years past, the boxing matches were held on the open field, and lacked any real organization. But in 2012, the Mayor’s office purchased the ring with support from residents living abroad in the United States.
“The people from Chivarreto that are in the United States raised the money, and helped purchase the ring,” says Miguel. “Now, with the ring, there is more excitement.”
Another major change came after the event brought unwanted attention from the authorities due to the participation of children. In response, the Mayor’s office agreed to ban children from participating, and the yearly event was allowed to continue without further interference.
The event is deeply connected with the identify of Chivarreto, and the residents will hold the fights with or without the community authorities.
“This one year, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, the Community Mayor did not want to organize the event,” remembers Miguel. “So, we responded that we would organize it. The community came out, and we held the event.”