Midget boxing Bali
In a bustling, neon-lit nightclub in the Makati district of Manila, in the Philippines, a gaggle of Western tourists and expatriates cheer drunkenly as three dwarfs climb into the miniature boxing ring that is the centrepiece of the rowdy venue. Raucous laughter rings out as one of the dwarfs grabs a bottle of tequila from the corner of the ring and takes a heavy swig before staggering comically, trying to locate his opponent.
Then – with the Rocky theme tune thumping out from speakers around the bar – the two diminutive boxers stage a chaotic three-minute bout, swapping flurries of punches and even turning on the referee (the third dwarf in the ring) as the crowd whoops and hollers from their seats.
This is just the first of 10 pantomime bouts staged between 8pm and 4am at the Ringside bar, which employs about a dozen dwarfs. For many fights, Western customers are invited to climb into the ring and take a turn at being referee in return for tips and drinks.
The Manila company that operates the Ringside and a number of other hotels and bars in the same area clearly does extremely well out of the quirky attraction it advertises on billboards outside as “midget boxing”. At a time when many neighbouring bars are empty as a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the Ringside’s boxing dwarfs are pulling in money-spinning crowds.
But while the benefits for the bar owners are obvious, the rewards for the dwarfs are comparatively minuscule. They earn just 250 pesos (HK$39, US$5) a night – little more than the price of one customer drink in the bar – and, insultingly, have 50 pesos of that withheld as a fee for laundering their boxing outfits, employees say.
“It’s barely enough to live on, especially when they have to travel long distances from their accommodation to get to work every night, ” says one of the bar girls who sidle up to customers as they watch the bouts. “They’re really not treated well at all.”