The safest address in the Scenic City on Tuesday night almost certainly was the Westside Boxing Club on Central Avenue.
That's because members of both the Chattanooga Fire Department and local law enforcement were feverishly working out in preparation for Friday night's fourth annual "Guns and Hoses: The Battle for the Badges" boxing event at McKenzie Arena.
The charities they'll be fighting for are strictly heavyweight causes: Westside's numerous programs for at-risk youth and the Forgotten Child Christmas Fund, which provides toys for needy children.
As for the skill level of the fighters, Westside founder Joe Smith sounded as if they might fall into the lightweight class.
"Let's just say they'll give it everything they've got," Smith said. "Each bout between a firefighter and a member of law enforcement will consist of three one-minute rounds. They'll follow amateur rules, wear headgear and use 16-ounce gloves.
"It's a war for a minute. And it's a whole lot of fun."
It's apparently been so much fun for the audience that it had to be moved to McKenzie from the Convention Center after last year's event brought in nearly 3,000 spectators.
"Gold tables [for eight] are going for $500, silver tables for $300," Smith said Tuesday night. "And we've only got a couple of those left."
For those running a bit short on silver and gold this holiday season, general admission tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Ringside seats sell for $30 and can be purchased at both McKenzie and online at www.chattanoogagunsandhoses.com. The first of the 15 scheduled bouts begins at 7:30 p.m., with the three-headed "SportTalk" monster of Quake, Doc and Cowboy Joe all set to don tuxedos as emcees.
"We've won the first three," said light heavyweight fireman Keith Liles, who also has won his first three bouts in the event. "So I'm sure law enforcement will be going all out to win this one."
Ten years ago the 39-year-old Liles was a kayaker on the Ocoee. He became a fireman six years ago because, well, "That's one of the big three, isn't it?
"Police, fireman, astronaut. Doesn't every kid want to be one of those when they grow up?"
A natural righty who says he learned most of what he knows watching boxing on television, Liles believes his day job actually helps him in the ring.
"You need a similar type of mindset," he said. "Calm under pressure. Relax out there. Think instead of punch. You can't panic."
Perhaps that's why the divorced father of two boys -- 10-year-old Garrett and 4-year-old Gavin -- refuses to trash talk.
"Some guys do. I don't," he said. "My experience is that trash talk comes back to haunt you."
Hamilton County Sheriff's Department detective Mike Cox is fighting for the first time Friday.
Competing in the super heavyweight category, the 45-year-old former three-sport prep star from Virginia has been working out since the last week of August to prepare for this.
"I've been doing some cardiac, sparring two or three times a week," he said. "I've always been kind of a casual boxing fan, but I'm a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys, the Tennessee Vols and the Atlanta Braves."
An 11-year veteran of the sheriff's department who has worked a total of 22 years in law enforcement, Cox is closely guarding any secrets he may have in store for this opponent.
"We're not going to talk about that," he said with a laugh.
But he will talk about the joy he's found in the ring.
"Our jobs are stressful jobs," he said. "These workouts get rid of some of that aggression. You go three two-minute rounds and you're worn slap out."
Much like Liles, Cox is hopeful his 11-year-old daughter Morgan will be on hand to watch Friday night.
"She's in the fifth grade at Spalding Elementary," he said. "She's come to watch me work out a few times. She'll stand there yelling, 'Daddy, hit him, hit him, HIT HIM!"
Unlike Liles, Cox is all but certain he'll hear plenty of verbal sparring.
"Whenever it comes down to police and firefighters," he said, "there's always trash talk."
In fact, Liles may have already started.
"I'm really just doing this to see Cowboy Joe wear a tux," he said.
Would that be hitting below the cummerbund?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...