Its Fight day.
I slept surprisingly well and I feel refreshed tHis morning. Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I am trying to persuade myself I look mean enough. I will not shave today . My hair is the shortest its been in 2 years. I’m good to go.
I am trying to go through my day like any other. Tube, work, routine. But it s not a day like any other. Tonight I am going to go back a million years, when a man had to fight to survive. Sure I will not die there or get seriously injured but my hypothalamus needs to believe that to perform. My opponent will go through the same. Pride, testosterone and ego will prevail. Forget everything else.
The day feels very long. Too slow or maybe too quick..? I don’t know anymore.
At 5.30pm I check in at the venue which, appropriately, looks like a cave (we are in a venue under a bridge) with a massive ring in the middle, lit like the Graal. I feel on the verge of a panic attack! Ringside chairs, some with my name on and some with my opponent’s: it s going to be a close encounter for the supporters too!
I am weighing in at 84.5 with clothes on and my opponent at 95 : should I feel worried? 10kgs in a punch makes a LOT of difference… I know I am fitter from what I have seen but anything can happen.
The ring girls are getting ready, slapping some make up on, the doc arrives, I pick up my “official” fight night T shirt: I ‘ll fight in black tonight and I have matching shoes and shorts so I can look good, at least with my attire. I’m fifth on the list of eight fights and that’s more than enough time to worry and drive myself crazy!
Doc gives me the all clear, I get changed and start warming up. 6.30pm….2 very long hours to go.
My crowd starts to arrive, some clearly had started the celebrations early and are very merry. I m doing my best to look confident. 40 people coming tonight. I’d better deliver! R. has 90 so we have one third of the crowd between us…It s going to get rowdy!
Monster Will wraps my hands and we look at each other in silence. There is tension in the air. The contrast between noise in the bar downstairs and the silence in the fighters ‘ corner upstairs is staggering.
One after the other my fellow squad members disappear for their bout. By that time I have my earphones on to block myself from hearing the crowd, the hits, the results. I have a job to do in one hour…
1, 2 , 3 fights and I am told that now I am fourth, just before the interval. It’s here now. No way back. I feel a surge of adrenaline from my feet to my guts. Monster Will’s cornering a fellow squad boxer in the third so I have to pad with someone else. It shouldn’t matter who at that stage but it does, as anything unfamiliar is unsettling .I feel a bit like an orphan. I also can hear my opponent on the other side of he makeshift partition wall grunting and getting ready. Crunch time.
Will’s face suddenly appears, Shining: Here s Johnny- style, from behind the curtain and its now time to go. 14 weeks have passed to end up here: how good am I going to be? How good is he going to be? What awaits for me down there?
My ring entrance music blasts in the speakers, crescendo, defeaning guitar and drums and I am walking down the stairs followed (dwarfed) by Monster Will…The crowd looks in trance, I feel like I am going through a tunnel…a long tunnel… And, suddenly, I am in bright light, in the roped square, surrounded by all these people screaming. Remember that scene in Gladiator when they wait for their first fight, behind the gate, and the doors finally open? Well, something like that…Thank god I am not wetting myself ! ( I have gone to the toilets 30 times today though)… I am the mighty Werewolf, aren’t I?
So here I am and, strangely, I am now feeling relaxed enough. Head guard comes on, gloves… I am standing here sweating whilst another anthem gets played at high volume (Red Hot chilli Peppers Give it away for the record) and my opponent, the Beast frommmmmmm the East announces the MC, comes up the ring…What a drama: I feel like I am at the circus and I am the attraction.
At that point, the referee makes us walk to the centre of the ring, face to face (remember Rocky?) and although he s talking to us, I m not paying attention. It’ s all a blur. All I can see is the Beast’s eyes and I am staring right back into them trying not to flinch. He obviously wants to take my head off…
I go back to my corner and the bell goes…And nothing around me exists anymore. All I can see is the white head guard of the other man, beast, or whatever is in that ring.
Things go fast but I am seeing them in slow motion. I start quite well , light on my feet, darting jabs at the Beast. I am trying to remember what the gameplan is but I can’t. Did I even have one? He piling on to me , pushing forward and throwing his arms in circles around my head. I get caught a few times and I keep on going backwards. His pressure finally pays off and I trip and fall to the floor. I am not hurt or hit but the referee gives me a countdown….This looks bad.
The fight resumes and he’s clearly taken confidence and starts throwing a lot of punches and pushing me round the ring. I am under pressure. I can see the punches coming but I am desperately trying to stop him by hitting back rather than defending… And finally he lands a mighty left hook to my cheek. I can feel my neck cracking under the impact. I am a bit disorientated and my balance really shaky. He presses forward and pummels me and I lose my balance once again and drop in my own corner . As I am going down I meet Monster Will’s eyes and a 100o words are said without him opening his mouth.
The referee counts me down another time : its only the first round I think and I have already gone down twice. Ok not hurt but this looks REAL bad. Never happened in sparring! Everyone has a plan…Until they get punched in the face!
I pass the countdown test and get another chance to go head to head with the Beast. I feel determined by now but I have zero solution. So I focus on moving around. I can see he is getting tired and I am getting hit less. He has become a lot more predictable. So I revert to jabbing and moving. It’s not great boxing but it is effective. I can hear the crowd trying to encourage me as I land a few punches on his nose right before the bell.
I am sitting in my corner. Monster Will is in front of me, checking I am ok. I can’t hear most of what he says. ” You have to win second and third as you went down in 1st” . As I am not answering back, a thunderous ” DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” wakes me up from my trance. I was in my own world thinking about what I did wrong and what I need to do to turn this around. However I am more determined than ever now, ego bruised. I know he is tiring. He is going to throw the kitchen sink at me to finish me off. I need to stay up and wait for my opportunity or it’s game over.
Bell rings. I bite my mouthguard hard. To the point where my jaw gets cramps. And I take centre of the ring. A few shots are coming but this time my guard is really high and I m not trying to hit back straight away. I actually feel good and I know I can last 2 rounds at this rate. As I try to avoid his left hooks I am circling towards to his power hand which is really not ideal but he is a bit slower and he also drops his guard quite a lot. I can now see openings so I’m throwing jabs at his chin trying to push him back. He’ still all over me but I’m not getting hit so much.
Then he’ s finally slowing down and I manage to move forward a fraction. I am landing some 1 /2 ‘s(jab/cross) and nothing comes back. I am growing confident and the crowd starts to get lively. Now he is in the rope and I am the one pressurising. I am landing a few combos. Still missing quite a lot of shots but the Beast is wounded. As he tries to escape this time I do the chasing around the ring . I need to floor him, I feel this urge to punish him and make him pay for the first round. I enter a different zone, I am possessed . The reptilian brain has come to the surface: it’s like lust.
I corner him and the successive punches without response lead to a countdown, but for him this time, and I am sent to the other side of the ring to wait. I am breathless but I know deep inside I have scored this round, whatever comes next. And I feel ready for more now. My fitness is good and I know I can last the distance for sure at that point.
I see the referee’s fingers going up one by one as he counts, 6, 7, 8 and I see him coming to the centre of the ring with my opponent, haggard, panting , head down and I feel a surge of energy and adrenaline like never before…I want to go for a kill….
But it didn’t happen, the referee calls it a day. The Beast has gassed out, burnt itself out trying to knock me out in that first round (and got damn close to it too). He wasn’t fit enough (thank god!) and my arm comes up saluting the crowd who is screaming my name. Referee catches us by our wrists and awaits for the verdict from the judges. My names comes up as the victor like god ‘s voice from the sky and I feel on top of the world. The ref raises my hand and I can breathe…Finally. I embrace my opponent and walk back to my corner to meet (and bear hug) Monster Will, the room is spinning around me.
As I walk off the ring I see all my friends shouting. But I cant hear them . I m trying to take in what just happened.
I have survived. I did it. I prevailed. I have beaten the Beast from the East.
It ‘s been 14 weeks of sacrifices, discipline, abnegation. I have not cut any corners and I have put in 110%. I have been sick, injured, hurt, scared, worried. I went down but I never gave up.
I would like to think the result tonight did not matter…I gave it all. He gave it all. At the end of the day, in its most basic, raw description, there were 2 pairs of balls and hands in that ring. I don’t think my boxing won the day. In fact I am disappointed about it. My fitness and my capacity to go on despite a poor 1st round got me there. It feels good to win but boxing humbles you: I feel nothing but respect for my opponent.
It’s been a couple of days since the fight now and I have had time to watch the videos, talk to friends, to the other boxers on the night. It s amazing to get people ‘s perspective on the night, how they experienced it, what they saw and how it contrasts with what I felt.
I feel empty. The sudden disappearance of the goal and challenge is like a massive vacuum and it’s affecting me more than I thought possible. From obsession to void in such a short time. I have just messaged R. (who drew on the night after an absolutely epic fight right after mine):
“Lets go boxing tonight, shall we?”