And you’re sitting there and it’s the final round. Sweat drips into your eyes amid rivers of blood. Your ears ring and your lungs cry out for mercy. Months have been spent honing muscles which have served their purpose and now cry out in revolt.
And then, “Thirty seconds,” Sal says.
Sal’s left hand wipes a sponge across your forehead while his right holds smelling salts beneath your nose. Your head rears back momentarily, the fog parts and “One more round!” resounds.
It’s the warmth that gives the tell between sweat and blood, and the blood’s been flowing since the right hand in the seventh. A straight right, angled just-so, a tear at the skin just above the eyelid and therein lies the rub. A cut below the eye is no problem — compression between rounds and you’re fine as long as the ref isn’t the squeamish type. Raise the cut a few inches however and it’s a different story. The blood drips into the eye and there goes your vision. You become a punching bag, your jabs are blind, hooks sent out with a wish and a prayer. These last four rounds have been blurred, at best …
Sal says “You’re doing good kid.” He calls you kid. Sal calls everybody kid though. You’ve been together three years, this is your fourteenth professional fight and the first time you’ve run red. A loss tonight and it’s all over. No one wants a fighter with a 13 and 1 record, you’ve gotta be unbeaten nowadays to be anybody, at least until you’ve made it into the big leagues. A loss is unthinkable, a loss ends it all, a loss and three year’s work goes down the drain.
“One more round kid, run, just run!” Sal yells. “Run, just run!”
You’re ahead on points. You’re a dancer, always have been, you’re the kid that can’t be hit. That one kid in the gym who frustrates everyone, not a great puncher but hard to catch and quick to reply with a punch in kind.
You’re twenty three now. You’re twenty three and you’ve filled out, a little more weight, a little more power and now you’re a threat. “Get’em drunk then mug’em,” Sal always says and that’s what you do. You pepper your opponents with punch after punch after punch, it might not be much but it all adds up and sooner or later the mind rebels and the guy starts to stand on legs less than sturdy. A few more and he’s shuffling toward you, a few more and then it’s time to chop him down.
That’s the plan, that’s the strategy and that’s what got you thirteen KO’s as a professional. But this guy is different. Stubborn. Bullheaded. This guy, he simply refuses to go down. This guy’ll last all night. It’ll be a decision. It’ll come down to points. It’ll come down to points and so you dance. You dance and dance, round after round flicking out that jab, scoring those points and moving to the left. Jab, jab, flick, flick…
And then you’re cut.
You’ve never been cut, not even as an amateur.
The cut’s not the problem, the bloods the problem. Blood in your eye and a guy can’t see. Blood in your eye and suddenly you’re flicking at a vision, a miasma, a mirage. You keep the jab out there though, let him know you’re there, find your way round the ring, feel your way round the ring. You’re ahead on points, just gotta make it to the end, the final bell.
But he knows you’re hurt. He knows you’re damaged goods. He knows you’re troubled and now, after round after round of chasing, he’s finally managed to trap the rabbit, finally he’s able to catch the rabbit and he’ll be damned if he’s not gonna’ give the rabbit a beating while time allows.
So for four rounds you take punch after punch. Fist to face. Fist to face, over and over and you bob and you weave but you can dance no more and he lands, and punch after punch rains down. For the first time ,you’ve just gotta take it. Take the beating, survive the rounds, count the clock down till the ref raises your hand. And it’s your first beating and it’s everything you ever feared it would be.
Slap to the face. You look up at Sal as he gives you another.
“Last round kid, last round. You got this, just stay standing. Be a man kid!”
And you stand for one more round.
Michael Tyler lives in a shack on a cliff at the bottom of the world. He has had several short stories published and hope to have a collection of his work published sometime before the Andromeda Galaxy collides with us and all turns to dust.