Call it hubris, call it wishful thinking, call it desperation, but make sure you call Saturday night’s SXSW Slugfest what it really was: empty.
Bringing the first-ever professional boxing event to the weeklong festival seemed like a novel concept on paper, but Underwood Promotions bit off way more than they could chew by renting out ACL Live, one of the biggest venues available during SXSW, on a Saturday night. This is the kind of room best reserved for rap superstars like Rae Sremmurd, Wu-Tang Clan or J. Cole. The biggest artist on Saturday’s lineup was OG Maco — yeah, the “U Guessed It” guy — who wound up missing the event because of travel delays and being replaced by Houston MC Doughbeezy. And even though “I’m from Texas” might be one of the most brazenly catchy local pride anthems to come out of the Lone Star State in the past decade, it wasn’t enough to get 2,500 people through the doors when T.I. was playing just a few blocks away.
That’s a shame, too, because the people who did show up got to enjoy a fairly exciting night of boxing, including a visceral bout between Kazakhstan’s Iskander Kharsan and La Feria, Texas, slugger Richard Munoz. (Kharsan won by TKO in the third round.) The audience cheered dutifully during each fight, especially when Austinites like Prisco Marquez and Carlos Trevino entered the ring, but there was something jarring about watching the action from the eerily quiet, mostly barren balcony. It probably doesn’t bode well that Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” earned one of the most spirited reactions of the night when it played over the PA system between fights.
Slugfest made a valiant attempt to subvert expectations on the final night of SXSW, and it’s hard to fault them for taking a swing and missing (sorry). That being said, if boxing is going to have a future at this festival, it needs to happen in a way smaller venue or bring some A-list artists along for the ride next time. Slugfest felt like a wasted opportunity.