Jesse May takes a ringside seat for the boxing match between Gus Hansen and Theo Jorgensen
Everyone knows what undercards are for. Undercards are for chugging down some beers, taking in the scene and getting whipped into a frenzy by rap stars in the ring. And after standing outside for half an hour in Copenhagen’s freezing cold and snow, it worked on us. The sun goddess and I were ready to see the spectacle that only Gus Hansen and Theo Jorgensen could dream up: a boxing match – and a real one at that.
Let me be up front and unabashed – I am a Gus Hansen fan, I always have been. I have always been a fan of people who catapult into the poker world with a freshness that re-energises the scene. Gus is blithely unconcerned with criticism that is levelled at him in any quarter.
The pounding that he takes in public forums regarding his cash game exploits is nothing new. He was three years on the circuit and how many WPT titles in the bag before anybody gave him credit as anything other than a crazy Dane. Gus had the brass and conviction to play small-ball tournament poker when not only did no one think it worthy of merit, but they also lambasted him to boot. Gus kept his head down and, with an elf-like smile, just put up the money to keep on playing.
I had a ringside seat several years ago for an event that, though muddled in concept, is still the televised poker highlight of my career. It was called the Football and Poker Legends cup, and featured national teams made up of two poker pros and a football legend all playing on the same table. Though collusion was encouraged by the format, the Danish team sealed its victory by mercilessly trying to knock each other out at every chance. Even when they are on the same team, Gus and Theo can’t help their competitive nature.
The fight? The fight was great. In fact, it was nothing short of magnificent, because these guys, who are best of friends, were fighting the way boxing is meant to be – for the sport. And Theo won fair and square. Theo had been in training for three months, he had shed 20lb, and had taken his lessons well. Gus has a bare-chested physique like Bruce Lee, but when it came to the boxing he was down to athleticism and not much else. Theo simply connected with more punches straight to the face. Gus was backing Theo across and around the ring for two and a half straight rounds, but Theo was the boxer. Neither one could hold their arms up at the end of the third, which says quite a bit for how much nine minutes of trying to pulverise your best friend takes out of you.
Theo won it, and I confess that was the way I was rooting, both with my money and my heart. Theo needed to even the score. I will always turn up to support guys like Theo and Gus. The way they hold themselves under the harsh glare, the way they handle fame, and the way they shrug off criticism with disarming smiles, are lessons for us all.
Speaking of nice guys, I had the pleasure of hanging with most of the Norwegian poker world, both at the fight and the melee that was the after-party in a dodgy bar in the centre of town. Johnny Lodden is a folk hero in Norwegian poker and rightly so. Lodden wears his mantle well, without a shred of bitterness for the travails he’s undergone. It’s all a part of the life – you can see that in his manner and his easy smile, the same now as he was then. When he buys, everyone is included – it’s all a part of the life.
The Norwegians were about 20-strong, packed into an upstairs table with plenty of bottles all around, and when one of them got sideswiped by a local who had gone stark-raving mad, they moved as one, a throng through the bar tracking the bruiser down and prepared to fight for their own. It was a strong statement: we are a team, we are all protected. Suddenly the table was bare and I was left sitting with a whole load of girls – the only guy too dimwitted to realise a fight was on.
It’s important in this poker world to understand the zen-like separation but union between competitors and friends. It’s all about how you play the game.
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