My decision to accept the fight was effortless. The date was more than three months out and though I’d been kickboxing for 2 years I’d only been sparring for 12 months. That first year of getting knocked around in the ring by guys three times my size made taking an actual fight seem like a moot point.
Once I’d accepted the terms of the bout- 3-two minute rounds at 130lbs- I started training obsessively. I increased my thrice-weekly kickboxing workouts to five times per week. Sparring sessions with the guys happened twice weekly.
Brandon was strong and cut. His shoulders and middle were chiseled. When I got in the first punch I was always successful pushing him back. However, the extra 35lbs of solid muscle he carried on him regularly threw me off my feet and into imaginary ropes that were in actuality hard sheet rocked walls.
We didn’t have an official ring. Our fighting “square” was taped off carpet floor sided by three scuffed up walls and one mirrored wall we avoided at all cost. The rule was, ‘if you break it, you buy it’, and none of us had the money for that.
Jason was long and fast. More than two times my weight and about five inches taller than me. His hook kicks came faster than a machine gun and I often found myself inadvertently ducking into his snappy foot. Still, he shied away from my powerful back kicks and more than once I’d knocked him off balance sinking my foot into his slightly squishy middle.
The karate studio had become my home when I less than elegantly planted myself there after a volatile run-in with my boyfriend, Michael. I’d walked into the space red-faced, swollen eyes from crying, and bruise marks on my arms after he’d pushed me out of the passenger side of his Bronco.
“I just need an fucking break. Sit on the curb for an hour and cry or go in and take a class. I don’t give a damn.”
I took a class and it was the first time in my life I’d been able to fight back and not be the punching bag.
After nearly 2 years of almost daily trips to the studio I was still too afraid to leave my abusive relationship and unable to formulate for him, family, and friends exactly why it was that I showed myself at this gym to punch and kick. I just knew I needed to go.
David was shorter, squat, but stocky and actually pretty close to my weight. He was a solid 150lbs to my 130lbs. I loved fighting with him. His style was plodder-like, mostly hanging out and waiting which gave me plenty of time to pop in, throw a fast combination, and get out of his range. However, when he hit me it was the worst. His method of lying in wait offered me plenty of room to tag him when I wanted, but when he saw an opening there was usually a grand thump followed by me stumbling left and right for a moment before finding my equilibrium.
After 8 months of sparring I told my coach I wanted to fight. Michael and I were still together but he’d moved back to California for work. He thought it was a ludicrous idea. I didn’t care. It was easier to evade his influence and angry outbursts now that he didn’t live in proximity to me. I was going to do what I wanted, even though I couldn’t break up with him. The thought of that aftermath terrified me. We were still together because he knew where I lived and he knew the buttons to press to keep me mostly in line.
Actually everyone seemed to know which of my buttons to press. I had tried to hide my tells in fighting, but Jason knew that a small flick of his foot could set me running back. Brandon would get close, applying pressure and I’d get flustered. David would load up his back arm and wait. I didn’t want to see stars so we’d stay locked in a who’s-going-to-go-first battle my coach frenzied from the sidelines. “One of you’s got to do something, dammit!”
And Michael knew…a veiled threat towards my family, a guilt trip about imagined indiscretions, an accusation against my sanity; it was all enough to stop me in my tracks from more than a thousand miles away.
But Lisa, the opponent I was going to fight, didn’t know any of this so it was an easy decision to accept the fight.
Today is fight day and everything is different.
I wake to an uneasy realization that I’ll be getting into the ring in only a few short hours. I choke down breakfast and pack up my equipment bag. When I arrive at the venue I go through the nerve racking weigh in, unsettling warm ups, and stretching. My coach tries to give me a pep talk while wrapping my hands. I’m dazed-out. His words are a blur. Gloves on. Ready to go. Feeling every foreboding moment as if it were hours.
My entrance music comes on and my stomach turns over itself. Acid knots eat at my live organs. I remind myself to breathe. I silently wonder if I was crazy to put myself up to fight in front of a sell out crowd at the dingy Knights Of Columbus venue.
People are slamming beers and screaming, “knock ‘em out.” They want blood and every puff they take off their cigs leaves me feeling sicker, greener, and ready to wave a white flag before it’s even my turn to get punched.
I take the longest walk of my life towards the ring. I step through the ropes. The bell rings and I put up my gloves to fight. I feel no fear. It all stops. I throw my first few flurried punches and I know this is why I fight.