Click photo to enlarge
"Bug", focuses intensely on her fight during fight night at the East Bay Rats clubhouse in Oakland Calif. on June 9th, 2007. (Antonio Franco/The Oakland Tribune)
OAKLAND — The East Bay Rats may have figured out how to put a stop to barroom brawls that have a tendency to break out where booze and testosterone mix.

The West Oakland biker club puts would-be troublemakers and just about anyone else who dares in a boxing ring at its clubhouse at 3025 San Pablo Ave.

The club's legendary Friday night Fight Nights — aka "smokers" — have become so popular the motorcycle club has attracted some big-time attention.

Court TV is filming for a possible pilot show, Discovery Channel and Current TV already have aimed their cameras at them and the club will be in an upcoming edition of GQ magazine.

Why has raunchy brawling in a dark, dank clubhouse surrounded outside by crackheads and prostitutes stayed so popular for more than a decade?

The reason is violence, says Trevor Latham, founder of the East Bay Rats, so named because members took to ratty, busted-up bikes they make faster instead of prettier.

There is a violent part in everyone, he said. Fight nights give people a safe place to test their courage, "test who they are," Latham said.

"Why not? The worst that can happen is you get a bloody nose."

On fight nights, the club turns into a rowdy melting pot of the roughest stew. Guys vs. guys; women vs. women.

That doesn't keep Rats and their guests from being polite, however.

Not an inch of personal space gets left in the courtyard during fight nights, where enthusiasts of every code, color and fashion sense (although mostly of the black leather jacket, tattooed, headbanger persuasion) surround the boxing ring.

But, at least on one recent Friday, it was "excuse me this," and "Can I get by that," when members of about 10 biker clubs were in attendance.

With a bottle of whiskey in one hand, the referee asked ring rats to give the fighters a hand because "they are going to bleed for you."

Aawww, shucks, how supportive.

The bouts Friday ended mostly after two very short rounds with a tie and a hug, both fighters exhausted.

After one bout, two women who had just tried to knock each other silly kissed, then kissed again ... and again.

They were getting into it.

That is something not seen every day in the ring.

Far uglier scenes have been witnessed at department store clearance sales.

The Rats motto: Boxing is "not for money, always for fun."

"It's one of the best times I've ever had," said Candace Ho, 23, who had come to support a friend who was bloodied in an earlier bout, but ended up fighting a day earlier than planned.

"It's chaotic but still within reason. That's the reason I would do it — because it's fun," she said.

Indeed, it was hard not to get swept up by the generally good-natured but sometimes bloody bouts, which Latham likened to karaoke: people don't plan on doing it, but get carried away.

The fights go on until someone gives up instead of judges declaring a winner.

That way, the underdog can outlast an opponent and triumph, like in the "Cool Hand Luke" movie, Latham added.

One onlooker Friday night, who seemed to have little inclination toward violence, even wondered aloud whether he should jump in the ring.

He demurred and went for another Budweiser instead.

Alcohol may help people suck up the courage to climb into the ring, but it takes something else to stay there.

The jitters go away once the first punch is thrown and the adrenaline starts pumping, said Rebecca "Bug" Roisman, whose Rat club premier was in 1998.

The hopeful premed student has fought three times since — whenever a girl needs an opponent, Roisman said, adding she was still recovering Wednesday from a weekend beating.

The ladies can be a bit unpredictable as boxers, Latham said. "They shake hands then try to kill each other."

Friday the ladies dominated the ring as one woman straddled the rope post during a lull, prodding the "real men" to step up.

She seemed to think there were some impostors lurking, because she told the men to prove their masculine authenticity by checking if a certain body part could be found between their legs. 

It didn't take long for two men heed to the call, although they declined to display the manhood proof so vigorously demanded by the woman.

Instead, they wailed on each other.

They looked like human windmills, arms all flailing around. But then again one of the fighters, a middle-aged man with a distinctive paunch, climbed atop the highest rope on the ring and did a back flip, landing like a gymnast.

Classic ring rats.

One fan remarked that fight night gives folks a place to take their saloon-silly aggression.

The head-shaved, tattooed, big-guy Latham would be enough to dissuade anyone from acting too stupid anyway.

Then again, maybe folks are just thankful to have at least one gritty, underground scene to flock to that they don't want to jeopardize a good thing.

The East Bay Rats are more biker club than fight club, but fight night and their "rattitude" are what set them apart to outsiders, besides their rat 'n' wrench logo inspired by the "The Wild One," the 1953 biker film starring Marlon Brando.

Fight Night originated 12 years ago, starting with bouts between Rats at a big club party — just boys being bad boys.

But after the Rats were out of the ring, everyone else wanted a go, Latham recalled.

"That's when it got interesting."

Contact staff writer Angela Woodall at awoodall@angnewspapers.com.